I’m at a crossroads (again).

Hello again, from a dinky, dark Showa-era concrete apartment in Tokyo. It’s been a year but I’m finally back in Japan. It wasn’t my original intention to spend an entire year with my parents in America but that’s what happened.

A lot can change in a year but, much to my bemusement, not much did in Japan. Embroiled in possibly the worst heatwave in its recorded history (along with other places in the country experiencing record breaking rain), Tokyo continues to be staunchly pro-mask despite repeated attempts by government officials to convince citizens it’s alright to take them off when no one else is around outside. That’s right, coming from America, where it seemed 95% of the country up and decided to pretend the last two years didn’t happen, it’s been shocking to find myself in a society where people are willing to give themselves heatstroke in the 100+ degree weather rather than remove their masks.

That isn’t to say that Japan is some COVID-free utopia, with Japan seeing the highest reported case rates in the world (lots of this is simply due to Japan being one of the only places in the world to still be testing people regularly) and various offices and services having to cut back on services due to all their employees.

Live show theaters seem to be back up to full capacity (though I haven’t been in one since I’ve been back) and people are getting sloppily drunk at izakayas again (Dudes are passing out in the gutters in front of train stations again). The only thing missing seems to be the tourists.

Sure, as of June 10th, Japan was “officially” opened up to tourists again but that came with serious caveats, the main one being that they could only enter the country as part of a guided and heavily surveiled group tour.

Is it weird being one of the few people in Japan with a “different” face again after a year in California, where everyone is generally “different” by Japanese standards? You bet. Thankfully, with it being as hot as it is (one thing I didn’t miss during my year away: the freaking humidity), I don’t have many excuses to leave the apartment and meet the prying eyes of my increasingly isolationist neighbors.

It also helps that I pretty much have absolutely no work in the pipelines right now.

As I’m writing this, I’ve been back in Japan for about two month and aside from some low-key translation work and one Yoshimoto compliance seminar (drugs are bad, kids!), my schedule has been completely blank.

My comedy duo broke up last year (hard to perform together when one of the members is overseas) and a couple of big projects sorta wrapped up for me over the last couple of months, which has led to my entire life being enveloped by a sort of general malaise since coming back to Japan. I’m no longer a fresh-faced precocious youngster or a new “Gaijin” talent on the scene, which does limit some of my opportunities compared to before I left for America. (Just in general, the Japanese entertainment industry seems to have pulled back from the ‘fetishization’ of foreign talent as a thing during the last couple of years of the pandemic and some of the guys who came in after me are really good at what they do.) In other words, I’m here in career No-Man’s-Land and need to find a way out.

Yeah, this all sounds like a whole lot of me complaining about a whole lot of nothing but all this alone time has give me nothig but time to think (also immense writer’s block).

I obviously can’t just keep doing nothing and wait for the next gig to show up on its own but at the same time, that year away from Tokyo has left me in a weird position where the connections and avenues I had access to before are gone and/or shifted.

So what choice do I have but to strike out on my own?

Here’s what’s out there/what I’m working on (or at least hoping to work on):

The Japanese History Junk Food podcast (AKA that other podcast that Nick and I were doing that absolutely no one was listening to) is back up and running and hopefully going to be on a semi-regular release schedule. Unlike before, these are probably going to be a solo endeavor from now on and are thus probably going to be more produced/stylized than they were before. I just released an episode about a Ancient Man Lookalike Contest last month and, in the coming weeks, there will be more epsiodes that will hopefully be somewhat interesting or educational (and more importanty be on a semi-regular schedule).

On the Japanese language side, the old Iruka Punch YouTube channel is now the Stephen Channel, though I’m not sure what I’m going to post on it aside from the English teaching videos random people keep telling me to make despite there already being thousands of good Japanese-language ESL videos out there. Just to give myself something to do though, this might be something I keep doing.

Before my combi broke up, we had gotten approval for an English language channel on YouTube (yes, getting approval opening up a YouTube channel is a must in the Japanese entertanment industry). While we never actually posted anything on it (even though we did actually film stuff in English), the channel’s still there for me to do whatever I want with it.

Small in Japan largely went on hiatus during the pandemic and after a discussion between the hosts, we decided to close down the old feed. (The season one episodes are up on Patreon and I’m working on getting the rest of the old episodes on there as well.) The Small in Japan YouTube Channel is still up, however, and I’m planning on posting stuff there in the interim (voice only to skirt jimusho rules about non-company sanctioned appearances) while I figure out what to do with Small in Japan. (Plus Small in Japan remains a sweet name for something.)

So yeah, this was a bit of a nothingburger of a post that took me way too much time to write (I swear this Japanese summer heat is sapping my creativity) but it was far past time for me to post an update/force myself into doing stuff by putting the plans out there in the public. We’ll see how long this lasts but it’s something, which is better than nothing. I’ve made these sorts of posts in the past. Hopefully this time, it sticks.

Things you learn during a hellish 18-hour Japanese TV shoot

It has come to my attention that some people think my writing “doesn’t suck” or is even, as someone put it, “good”. You’d think I’d take that as a hint that I should write more often and consistently. (If I had an editor, they would probably tell me that often and consistently both sorta mean the same thing in this context and that a proper writer would never drop a ‘sorta’ into their work.) Hell, it’s almost been a year (the start of COVID-19!) since my last post (in which I promised to showcase some of those much ballywhoed Seventh Generation of Japanese Comedy members in my next post but then summarily never go around to it) and to tell you the truth, I don’t think I got enough riding juice in me to squirt out all over this keyboard on a consistent basis (is that how sex/writing metaphors work?).

But look out world! Stephen was on a hellishly long 18 hour shoot for a TV show segment that he’ll probably be cut out of and he’s got some things to say!

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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