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.

Continue reading

Long time no see…

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and whatever other holiday greeting I forgot about in between.

Sorry guys, I’ve been really busy and I’m sorry to say that this blog has kinda been at the bottom of my list of priorities.  I have been showing up on the Big in Japan podcast a lot of late and have been on Twitter and Instagram if that’s the sort of stuff you’re into.

 

I’ve been busy going back and forth to Osaka helping prep the big show for the grand opening of Cool Japan Park Osaka.  Besides that, I’ve been busy with a bunch of miscellaneous translation jobs and English lessons and that’s just on the non-creative side.

My comedy career has always been a bit of a rocky road but more good than bad of late.  Oh I also happened to form a trio (something that somehow was the top entertainment news story in Japan last night).

 

不思議なタンバリン!! 宣材写真.jpg

 

Fushigi na Tambourine!!.  We’ll see how this goes.

I’ve Been Busy: Big in Japan, King of Conte, and All the English Classes in Between

IMG_9747

Like a nesting doll, only bald and lifeless.

I know, I know.  Long time no see.

In my defense, I’ve been busy with stuff.  My career as a comedian hasn’t exactly been amazing or anything but I’ve gotten increased work behind the scenes with English logistical stuff (surprisingly, or perhaps not, almost no one at one of the biggest entertainment companies in Japan speaks English) and teaching English lessons to company employees, spouses, et cetera.

It’s sho race (comedy contest) season in Japan and this year, my comedy duo somehow made it to the quarterfinals of King of Conte, a yearly contest to find Japan’s best sketch comedians.  Thanks to a variety of inter-agency political issues, we wound up having to go on first but it was an educational experience nonetheless and there was much rejoicing (and my comedy partner apparently dropping 100,000 yen, a thousand bucks, on celebratory bottles of champagne with his friends).

fullsizeoutput_ed5

Meanwhile, I (and Nick and Ann) have been busy building up Big in Japan, launching a Patreon, expanding our podcast content, and, perhaps biggest of all, working on the launch of our new online variety show with the alternative idol group NECRONOMIDOLStarting mid-September, the Witching Hour will be broadcast live every Monday (Japanese time) at 12 PM, with highlights of the show being edited and posted on Necronomidol’s official Youtube page.  Thanks to agency restrictions, I will not be appearing on the show (at least regularly) but I will be directing and producing it in addition to putting together most of the script.  This has, obviously, been a very time consuming process.

 

While I haven’t had and probably won’t have going forward much time to update the blog, I have been attempting to post more on instagram and always talk about my comings and goings on the Big in Japan podcast.

 

Stephen Starts a Diary: June 9th

6/9 Saturday

So I broke my phone and a wall today.  There are no euphemisms involved in that statement.  Today, for a plethora of reasons, I threw my phone and made it so my screen didn’t work anymore and punched a hole in the wall of the dressing room of a theater before a show.

My obvious anger issues aside (and now is probably a better time than ever to emphasize that your mental health should be your absolute first priority as a human being), the fact that I had to waste most of my Saturday (a rare half-day off) sitting in a cramped Softbank store getting a new phone (my phone was three years old and my contract was up anyways)  was what probably ground my gears the most.  I know that I have no one to blame but myself for the entire ordeal but there is pretty much no good reason someone should have to sit around and wait for anything for two-and-a-half hours, let alone a phone sold just about anywhere on a contract 90% completed while waiting in line.

Of course, as with any other country in the world, the phone guy’s gonna try to upsell you, trying to get you to buy the biggest, most expensive thing possible.  I suppose, then, that the phone guy would consider himself lucky as I preceded to upsell myself to the 256 GB version of the iPhone X, the most expensive option available, with little prompting from him on the matter.  What can I say?  I’m an easy mark.

Of course, in the few hours since I’ve had the phone I’ve been suffereng from phantom home button syndrome, aimlessly pressing the flat portion of the screen where the home button used to be on the older less fancy models of Apple’s ubiquitous smartphone.  It’s enough to make a guy want to punch through another wall.

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 22nd

May 22nd Tuesday

So I suck at all video games.  When I was a high schooler, I had trouble beating Madden on Rookie mode.  Mario?  Only after a couple of years.  Zelda?  Forget about it.  What about first person shooters?  Forget about it.  Hell, I could barely beat Pokemon and that game is meant for grade schoolers.  Video games are fun, no doubt.  I’m just not all that good at them.

I mention all of this because, as I told you all yesterday, I got a Nintendo Switch.  I should say that I haven’t really played all that many video games since I moved to Japan, which meant that the graphical jump between the last time I played video games and when I played them for the first time today came as a major shock to me.

Playing Super Mario Odyssey, a couple of things hit me: (1) open worlds are now huge and open open and (2) years of not playing video games hasn’t made me any better at them.  My experience thus far playing the critically acclaimed game has gone somethign like this:  Stephen things “oh that looks cool”, Stephen gets distracted by cool thing, Stephen fails to succeed at basic game tasks, Stephen dies.  I think one of the problems about having an open world thingy is that it’s hard to find where the open world closes, leading to death after death.

Do you think Mario feels pain?  As graphics get better and better and programming improves to such a degree that artificial intelligence outpaces human intelligence, why is it hard to imagine a digital avatar feeling pain?

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 18th – May 19th

It’s starting to warm up.  The heat hasn’t gotten anywhere near summer levels, mind you, but it’s gotten hot enough to draw a sweat with a brisk walk.

Working, as I do, in a ramen shop, this change is represented by the change in the popularity of certain menu items.  Down go the sales of the thick, hearty ramen.  Up, up, up go the sales of the slightly (and I do mean slightly) lighter tsukemen dipping noodles.

Even working the graveyard shift like I did yesterday/today/tonight, you’re struck by how much people’s food preferences are affected by the weather outside.  

Working consecutive graveyard shifts whilst mostly maintaining a regular daytime lifestyle has a way of making feel like you’ve been “unstuck” in time, like you’ve gone down the rabbithole and when you pop your head back out again, you have no idea whether you’ll be greeted by sunlight or the stars.

In Japan, wages go up a mandatory 25 percent past ten at night so there is incentive to work the night shift.  Everytime I have one of those shifts, I feel like a part of me dies.  The faster I get out of the midnight shift lifestyle, the happier I’ll be.

Stephen Starts a Diary: May 17th

5/17  Thursday

When I first decided to become a comedian and went to my first owarai class, there were over 400 or so people there with me, all taking their first steps down the path of Japanese comedy at the same time as I was.  Time passed, people quit, and that number soon dwindled down: 300, 200, down to the one-hundred-something people that it is now.

Even among those hundred-something people, you have dozens of people who haven’t been active for months and are really just comedians in name only.  Since I’m, as the Japanese people like to say, tongatteru, most of my “friends” among my douki are in this category. Continue reading