So What the Hell IS Manzai Anyways?

Don’t tell anyone now but this is apparently “real” manzai.

When we last left off, we were talking about the rise of a new batch of Japanese comedy stars, dubbed by the media as the Seventh Generation of Japanese Comedy, a term determined more by savvy marketers than by any actual generational shift in how comedy is crafted in Japan.

I had originally planned on introducing some of the “top” members of this “new” group in a new post but while writing it, I had a long and deep conversation with my podcast co-host and actual Japanese comedy researcher Nick about manzai and its various evolutionary shifts as a comedy form. More specifically, we spoke about the act of performing manzai in the era of remote lives and plastic shields aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19. (Side note, it was a great and really deep conversation about the craft of being a manzai comedian that probably only five or six people in the entire world would probably enjoy hearing.)

A long long time ago, Yoshimoto attempted to introduce the world to manzai via a Netflix “documentary” that I still have crazy stress nightmares about being in. In it, we said that manzai was one mic, two people, and the “Japanese Dream” (Note: I really wasn’t lying about those stress nightmares.). But is that really true? In the four years since then and in the last several months, I’ve given this idea a lot of thought.

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The Comedy Landscape in 2020 Japan – The Seventh Owarai Generation and the Great Corona Pause

The “New” Generation of Comedians appearing on Ametalk

As pretty much any returning reader to this blog knows, I am an “owarai geinin” in Japan. Why don’t I just call myself a comedian? Because the more and more time I spend in the Japanese entertainment industry, the more I’ve come to understand that comedians and geinin are two completely different categories of roles/people entirely.

With the novel coronavirus pretty much putting everything on hold everywhere in the world, now is the perfect time to take of stock of how the Japanese entertainment world has changed or shifted over the last couple of years.

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Keeping it Corona

I’d rather be alive and broke than dead and still in a functioning economy. In recent days as this whole new reality, this bizarre world of social distancing and quarantines and complete and total lockdowns, this thought has become a light sort of mantra, the general idea being that the economic sacrifice of shutting down restaurants, offices, and retail outlets to quell the spread of this new deadly virus (the result, I always finding myself thinking, of some dude somewhere in China deciding eating undercooked bat meat was a good idea) would be worth it in the sheer number of lives saved. Japan, it turns out, seems to operating under the complete opposite doctrine.

Dumb people DO exist in Japan.

Really I’d compare living in current bizzaro state-of-emergency-in-name-only Japan after watching things unfold (badly, it should be said) around the world to watching Jaws and knowing that there’s a giant rabid shark (can sharks get rabies?) swimming in the water where those teenagers are gonna try to get it on. Since Prime Minister Abe declared a State of “Emergency” earlier this week, it’s become abundantly clear that what he had in mind lies somewhere between an “Emergency” in name only and some oddball reinforcement of the tried-and-true nihonjinron concept of Japan being safe from the worst of the coronavirus outbreak simply by being Japan. Yes, it is the 21st century and, yes, just like the rest of the world, Japan is still being run by morons.

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Stephen Starts a Diary: May 10th

5/10 Thursday

I’ve been seeing a lot of head office of late.   With my new part time job and increased first-thing-in-the-morning English lessons, I’ve spent far more time sitting around the offices of the biggest comedy entertainment company in Japan than I have actually being a comedian for the company itself.

I don’t really mind.  I get more money doing menial office tasks and teaching English than I do with the all-too-often pay-to-play set up afforded to young comedians in the labyrinthian Yoshimoto Creative Agency bureaucracy.  Today after my Yoshimoto work ended, I went to my ramen job.  I’d like to say that I enjoy doing it but it turns out I enjoy eating ramen more than I do slinging noodles and taking orders from drunk assholes til the crack of dawn.  Considering how much I’ve been working at Yoshimoto recently, I don’t really need to be working that job anymore.  But (a) the ramen is good and (b) I live in constant fear that my cushy sit on my ass at a desk all day doing absolutely nothing gig is going to go up in flames sooner rather than later. Continue reading

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 8th

5/8 Tuesday

Today was a desk day.  I’ve been working part-time at Yoshimoto head office for about a month now, sitting at a desk in the Live Production Department under the guise of helping improve the entire department’s English on my free days.  Really, this job mostly consists of me sitting around on the internet all day, occassionally shouting basic English greetings to people as they pass by on the way to some place or another.

The work’s much easier on the body than my normal parttime job at a ramen shop so I’m not necessarily complaining but, after spending a couple of years away from the officework lifestyle, I’m finding it rough getting back into the flow of things.  Plus, getting paid (however little) to do literally nothing is better than not getting paid to do the same.

I went to work at ten and clocked out at six.  Literally nothing happened during those eight hours.  Yay me.

A Good Ol’ Slice o’ Life Post: Taking Down the Lights in Osaki

So one of the many office complexes by my apartment is finally taking down its Christmas decorations.  Of course since it’s Japan there was a half dozen random people and heavy machinery involved.  It’s currently Valentine’s Week, which sort of begs the question:  How late is too late to take your Christmas lights down?

 

 

Slight parenthetical here but Christmas lights here are a purely aesthetical thing that seem completely detached from even the faintest Christmas connection so I suppose you can say that the office complex or whoever is in charge of these things is taking down the winter lights.  Even though winter here seemingly lasts until April.  Tis not the season, I guess.

 

PS:  Here’s a shot of the lights in full bloom (from a different angle).

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Smokin’! in Japan

This has happened to anyone who’s spent any time in Japan at least once.  You’re sitting in a restaurant, enjoying your meal when the dude sitting at the table next to you, hell, maybe someone at your table, leans back in his chair, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and starts puffing away, totally stinking up the joint with that patented tobacco stank and ruining your evening because you are a self-respecting human who is entitled to the experience of first world problems, goddammit! Continue reading

The Dog Days of Summer?/Early Fall?

It is hot.  It’s rather obvious but it’s still hot out.

Here in Japan, most stores switch into autumn gear almost as soon as the clock hits 12 AM on September First despite the fact the weather often fails to make the same sudden transition to cool nights and fair days.  Really, the only difference here between the “late summer” (August) and the “early autumn” (September) is all the typhoons that conveniently decided to strike the Japanese mainland this month rather than the last.  What the hell’s up with that?  (That’s a rhetorical question, you humorless meteorologist.  I don’t need an actual explanation regarding high and low pressure systems.) Continue reading

Five Things You Should Know Before You Come to Japan

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Stereotypical Tokyo Tower picture.

I know, I know.  This is a horse that’s been particularly beaten to death over the years and there are like five-thousand other articles out there on the internet with the exact same title, most of them probably better than this one.

But, ever since What’s Manzai?!!! went live on Netflix, I’ve started to receive a steady stream of the typical “Hey, I want to come to Japan but totally don’t know where to start so I just randomly decided to contact a dude that I saw in a random TV show on the internet” message (most of these for some reason landing in my personal email account, Facebook Messenger, and, in one case, through text message on my phone).  Rather than answering each query one by one (while I appreciate the fact that you’ve taken the time out of your life to contact me, I don’t have the time or resources to come up with a satisfactory response that doesn’t make me seem like the total asshole that I probably am), I thought I’d kill thirty birds with one stone, something that should totally be an Olympic sport by the way, and start answering some of these questions somewhere everyone could see them.

Which brings us to our main course for today:

Five Things You Should Know Before Coming to Japan

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