As a musician you might think I love being surrounded by music all the time and that music always brings me happiness. That was for the most part true until spending the past 6 months here in Tokyo. I mean — don’t get me wrong. I still love making and listening to music, but Tokyo has proven to me that when used in the wrong way, music can destroy you. Here’s my Top 10 list of the ways music used in Tokyo can crush your soul and make dolphins cry:
10. Coldstone – Yes, that Coldstone. From what I recall in the good ol’ U.S. of A., the staff will sing only when you tip them, which means often – though not always. At the Tokyo Coldstone, however, the staff sings for each customer while they’re preparing your ice cream. To their credit, they do ask “Do you mind if we sing?” Unfortunately most Japanese don’t want to be “rude” so they just nod “ok” and then the insanity begins. Sure, it’s entertaining at first – I can just hear some Japanese girl squeal “kawaii!!” (cute!!) like an ice-pick in my head – but it quickly descends into some quasi-Disney version of hell, where you’re surrounded by singers with English pronunciation so horrible that you’re left wondering what they’re singing beyond “happy!” and “smile!” You then notice that their blush is totally overdone and that they (men and women) look like cheap whores. And you’re probably there on a date with your wife who isn’t putting out anymore because she’s too busy raising your spoiled children… Incidentally, I went with a friend who very sternly said “NO!” when asked if they could sing. It was an absolutely amazing moment. They blushed. They awkwardly bowed. They looked down at the ice-cream in front of them and pondered questions like “why am I here?!” And for one glorious moment, Japan Inc. came to a grinding halt.
9. Right Wing Military Vans – Japan’s extreme right wing goons have this unfortunate habit of driving around in white or black vans blasting military music accompanied by announcements extolling the virtues of a “pure” Japan free of certain immigrants, foreigners, space aliens, etc. Given how annoying they are, I highly doubt they’re going to get any new recruits through their daily public service “announcements”. Seriously? If they want to recruit they should just get an anime girl with pink hair and giant boobies to flirt with wealthy captains of industry. She can then ask them to switch their political affiliation from moderate right winger to hard-core right winger/crypto-fascist conservative. Now – the music itself isn’t all that bad if you have a thing for military dirges but it’s SO LOUD plus with the announcements all the time I just want to cry. Even better is when the police escort them around like they’re BFF. Can I get a WTF? Thank you.
8. 7/11 – When you walk into any 7/11 convenience store here – and they are everywhere – you get assaulted by ::[bell-bell-bell]:: (as if the doors automatically opening don’t cue the staff that someone has entered) matched with cries of “Welcome!” You then notice that the store jingle “7/11 good feeling!!” is playing over and over and over interspersed with occasional rings, bird chirps and other random noises. If you listen closely you can make out a whisper of “would you like to play a game? How about Global Thermonuclear War?” from the ATM innocently glowing in the corner of the store.
On an aside, the 7/11 near my office is staffed by four crazies who – combined with the aforementioned soundtrack – might drive me to start drowning my morning Wheaties in warm sake: (1) “The crazy grandmother” – She mutters “welcome!” to no one in particular repeatedly while staring out the window as if remembering her childhood in a rice paddy. When she does notice you she speaks as if she’s jacked on speed. So HAPPY!! So DERANGED! Lord, get this woman back on her meds. Please. (2) “The gay magician” – This character is painfully skinny and flamboyantly gay. He likes to return change to you with a series of hand motions like he’s performing parlor tricks. (3) “The cartman” – This guy sounds just like a Japanese version of Cartman from Southpark. His voice can make paint peel. (4) “The brute” – Built like a linebacker she has all the grace of a hippo in a tutu.
7. The Life Department Store Jingle – Near my apartment is LIFE, an oddly named frumpy answer to the all-purpose higher-end department stores you find in more desirable parts of Tokyo (I live two stations north of Ikebukuro station – shit is country). Think of LIFE as K-Mart’s neglected step-child. Shopping there on weeknights is a decidedly understated affair but Sunday nights, thanks be to Jesus, they BLAST their stupid jingle on 6 different tape machines hidden throughout the grocery section. The jingle is about 30 seconds of pure torture – singers sounding like kids high on helium. If all 6 machines played the song at once, it might be tolerable but they’re Never. In. Sync. 6 machines! 6 Times the Insanity! The 6th level of Dante’s inferno!
6. Auld Lang Syne – This once-beautiful melody always signified closure on the year just passed and a deliriously optimistic (and shitfaced) look forward to the year ahead. But Japan has taken all the punch out of it… it’s played every time a business closes for the evening. The gym? Auld Lang Syne. The grocery store? Auld Lang Syne. The Pachinko (gambling) parlor? Auld Lang Syne… with an announcement in English saying “Thank you for shopping at our business. We hope to see you again soon!” As I have yet to see a non-Japanese person play Pachinko, I cannot for the life of me figure out why this announcement is in English – and further why it mentions shopping…
5. Gym Music – Music at the gym is not in of itself a bad thing. It can definitely help make workouts go by faster and, if the beat is good, motivate you to push harder. But at my local gym well… something’s not quite right. Perhaps it’s not just the music alone, but the juxtaposition of mediocre music and a very specific demographic. You see… if you mistakenly gaze into the aerobics room you will turn to a pillar of salt while leopard-print spandex-clad Japanese grandmothers do aerobics to dance remixes of such musical “gems” (vomit) as Celine Dion’s “Titanic” theme. Then afterwards they all mount stretching machines that closely resemble a mechanical bull/sex toy, rock back and forth on them in reckless abandon while lyrics such as “I wanna go down on you / taste your ice cream / in my mouth…” play on the gym speakers. I wish I was making this shit up folks.
4. Love Hotels – Yes I’ve been in them. Don’t judge. If you lived in an apartment made of timber with walls as thin as toilet paper, you would do the same. And if being in a hotel that exists solely for the purpose of having sex doesn’t bother you, the décor and music just might. Or so I hope. First, the visual inanity – upon entering you are confronted with any (or all) of the following: a Christmas tree, a bridal dress (that can be yours if you have 50 gazillion points – like every other business here Love Hotels allow you to accrue points on a point card which you can later redeem for gifts), a display case of hello kitty products (if you’re a slut you can get the whole collection in just one week!), plaster dogs dressed in wedding outfits, statues of Snow White and the 7 dwarfs, wrought iron farm animals and pretty much anything else you can conjure up while high.
How about the music that goes with the disturbing clusterf*ck visuals? More often than not Disney melodies played on a music box! To me it’s just downright creepy but this being Japan… In any event, if the lobby music (or that bridal dress!) doesn’t inspire you enough to get it on, each room is equipped with a television (for viewing porn or… the news?) and a karaoke machine (??)
My favorite love hotel (from which I am now banned – don’t ask) was a “Caribbean” themed one, replete with oversized parrot sculptures and fake coconut trees. While the lobby was remarkably free of music-box Disney melodies, once in the room we could not turn off the praise reggae soundtrack. There was something painfully amusing about getting it on while being immersed in refrains of “Lord save us! Lord save us!” Thinking we could escape from it in the bathroom, we were met with traditional Japanese post-war era songs. Wth, Japan.
3. Tofu Trucks – As Tokyo suffers under yet another summer of hell (Rain! Humidity! Mold! Body Odor!) I can feel my brain melting out my ear. I thought I had totally lost it a few weeks ago when I started hearing two notes over-and-over again on what sounded like a harmonica. Like a mosquito buzzing in my ear, I couldn’t quite find it and swat it. I couldn’t even tell if it was coming through my office window or from the depths of hell, those notes sound eerily like the theme to Jaws. The other day I was out getting lunch and heard it again. If you buy it they will come. I seriously thought the mothership had come to claim me. Or that a shark was about to jump through the pavement and maul me. I swung around ready to defend myself and saw a small Japanese woman pulling along a cart of tofu as she blew on what could best be described as a rinky-dink-plastic shofar. I was not amused. I have yet to try the tofu. It had better taste like Skittles and make me shit glitter.
2. Trucks Making Left Turns – Ok, I get it. Safety is important. People don’t kill people, trucks kill people. But is it really necessary every time a truck is turning left for it to blast an announcement that goes “[musical bells] The truck is turning left. Be careful! [musical bells] The truck is turning left. Be careful! [musical bells] The truck is turning…” … ::Danny hadoukens truck::
1. Door closing jingles – On many of Tokyo’s commuter trains and subways, music is played to advise passengers that the train doors are closing, as if we can’t tell by the “Be careful! The doors are closing!” announcements shouted multiple times. While door closing jingles are, I suppose, cute in theory there’s only so many times one can hear the Astro Boy theme song at Takadanobaba Station before wanting to light Astro Boy on fire. I’ve caught myself humming these door closing jingles as I go about my day, occasionally stopping to think “Who sings this song and how did it get stuck in my head? Oh that’s right – it’s the door closing jingle from Zoshigaya station?!?! FML!” This is not a good thing, trust me. It means I am losing my mind.
And there you have it, folks. Come visit 🙂 But be sure to pack your iPod and your earplugs!
How about your life – what are some ways that music has driven you bonkers (and I don’t mean that positively)?