Painless Dentist

January 30, 2008

Thanks to Frank for this picture of a weirdly-named dentist’s in Yokohama. The sign looks like something you might see hanging outside an old British country pub. “Ye Olde Dentist.” Perhaps it’s painless because they’re tranquilizing the patients with pints of brown ale.

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A Star Isn’t Born

January 28, 2008

A lot of westerners arrive in Japan with a cocky swagger, expecting to be propelled to great success and stardom, naively wishing for instant fame, just by virtue of being an exotic foreigner. This may have been the case in the 60s, judging by the wooden white actors in the Godzilla movies, but not nowadays with thousands of tourists, business people and English teachers flying here every week.
Deluded wannabe actors and models expecting to given their own TV show upon arrival at the airport, are going to be dismally disappointed.

I must confess that I, myself, tried to dip my toes in the waters of fame, with zero results.
Despite having no acting talent whatsoever, I signed up with an agency hoping to get some work as an extra. I thought it would be a laugh to be on TV in Japan, just once or twice, the token white face in the crowd. I failed even at that humble goal! Someone pointed out to me that extras are supposed to be unobtrusive and inconspicuous, and that as a towering 6’5″ blond oaf, I’d be the worst extra ever. Nonetheless, I did get a few work offers, but I was usually too busy to go.

One day I got a call inviting me to a casting call in Tokyo. ‘An audition?’ I thought, ‘I only want to be an extra, I don’t want to get abused by a Japanese Simon Cowell.’
But, since it was my day off and I had nothing else to do, I went along just for the hell of it.
Big mistake!
I arrived at a small studio and found my myself in a room full of assorted international misfits, fatties, skinnies, midgets and giants. Evidently they had called up all their unconventionally-sized clients to audition for some kind of humorous commercial or TV show. Perhaps they were making a new “Police Academy” film set in Japan. It was as weird a gathering of misshapen oddballs as you could imagine. I’d like to think they called me up because I’m tall, but my expanding beer-belly might qualify me for the fat category, too. ‘Hire me!- two for the price of one!’
We then had to line up and parade in front of a director who quietly assessed our suitability. It was a bit like a beauty contest but, instead of judging beauty, they were judging our novelty-value. It’s a relief that I didn’t get the gig in the end. I didn’t want to be “Mr Misshapen 2007.”

Things became more surreal when we were required to stand around wearing massive cardboard masks of members of the pop group “SMAP.” I had to pose for photos behind the huge face of singer Takuya Kimura.
Despite the absurdity of events, a lot of people there were taking it deadly seriously. One guy, a musclebound body-builder, looked incensed to see all the competition when he first arrived at the studio, and was glaring at people and flexing his mutant muscles competitively throughout the day.

Next we were all led to a local park where, for some reason, we had to have a power walking race. We were taught the rudiments of power walking by a trained instructor, then encouraged to make fools of ourselves by racing each other. It is impossible to power walk with dignity. Passers by pointed and laughed at the ridiculous spectacle of twenty funny-looking foreigners waddling like Donald Duck.

After all that madness I didn’t even get the job. A few weeks later, a friend told me she’d seen a television commercial for an estate agency featuring people power walking in SMAP masks. But I didn’t have the slightest twinge of jealously. By that point I’d lost all interest in appearing in front of a camera. Now I want to be behind the camera, cackling sadistically while I make people do stupid stuff like power walking and wearing silly masks.


Inappropriate Hair Salon Names of Japan

January 23, 2008

Japanese youngsters always have amazing, beautiful hair. While old men comb their few remaining, greasy strands of hair over their head in a style known as “the bar-code,” and old ladies inexplicably dye clumps of their hair luminous shades of green and purple like septuagenarian Green Day fans, their offspring look like magnificent peacocks.
To maintain these spectacular coiffures, every suburban town seemingly has as many hair salons as houses, and often these salons have unusual names. Unlike western hairdressers, who try to give their shops chic and sophisticated names, usually incorporating a European guy’s name, like “Chez Toni” or “Mario’s” even if they’re run by a bloke called Kev, the Japanese take a refreshingly different approach: just use any English expression you can think of.
This is why you can find places like “Hair Freak” in Chigasaki.

“Step inside, we’ll turn you into a freak.” I’d be a bit disconcerted about going in that salon. I’d be even more worried about visiting the place below, in Yokohama.

“Kamikaze” means “divine wind” which, in this case, presumably refers to the hairdryers. Let’s hope the barber doesn’t stab himself in the stomach with his scissors if he screws up someone’s perm.

Beauty salons at home tend to have pretty, feminine names. Not like the decidedly butch and unladylike “Guts”, in Shimokitazawa. With a name like that, you’d need guts to go inside.

Similarly, “Brains” in Sangenjaya, sounds about as elegant and alluring as a bucket of vomit.

“Triple Napalm Bomb”, in Shibuya, sounds like the customers can expect horrific burns from industrial-strength hair-bleach.

…and the less said about “Burning Blood” in Shimokitazawa the better!

My personal favourite is the grotesque “Hair Slug” in Yokohama, a name which creates all sorts of horrible images in my head. Slimy slugs slithering on my scalp. Urgh! I suppose it’s one way to save money on hair wax.

Well, even though these names are weird, at least they didn’t go for the tired old cheesy puns that I’ve seen at home, like “Hairs Looking at You, Kid” and “Curl Up and Dye.”


Toilet Trouble

January 18, 2008

Visitors to Japan find much amusement in the high-tech toilets. You know, the sort of futuristic robo-crappers that C3PO might drop his techno-turds into. Tourists point and guffaw at the heated seat and the panel of buttons so complex you need a pilot’s license to operate.
I wasn’t laughing, however, when I was puking into one of them the other day.

In a state of drunken delirium I had blithely missed my last train home from Tokyo after a frenzied drinking session, and had to stay on my friend’s sofa. His classy new apartment was equipped with a space-age lavatory and, early the next morning, I was kneeling in front of it, miserably spewing up the acidic contents of my guts. I felt bloody awful and deeply regretted the three pints of gin and tonic I had knocked back towards the end of the night.

After some considerable time I finally stopped heaving and I reached blindly for the control panel to flush the toilet. However, as I fumbled feebly with with the buttons, I somehow made the mistake of operating the bidet function instead. As the sudden jet of scalding hot water hit me in the face, startling me and drenching my shirt, I sorely missed the traditional, cold porcelain toilets of home.


Attention, Class

January 15, 2008

My friend Ethan arrived home at his poky second-floor apartment one evening, exhausted after several hours of teaching. After he unlocked the door, kicked off his shoes and staggered into the living room, much to his surprise he discovered one of his students, a nurse, waiting for him on the sofa. A surprising development after a mundane day in an English conversation school.

The obsessive woman had been pursuing Ethan for quite a while, booking lessons with him as often as possible, and persistently hanging around outside the school. Finally, she had somehow got hold of his address and broken into his flat after climbing onto his balcony. This was an audacious invasion of privacy, behaviour which could be legitimately branded as stalking.

Thoughts raced through Ethan’s mind when he laid eyes on the crazy woman, sat there smiling at him suggestively. What should he do? Throw her out into the street or try to talk to her? Notify his superiors at work, or call the police and seek a restraining order?
His decision?
He shagged her.

Now it’s fair to say that this was an unorthodox course of action, and surely not one that experts would recommend. However, it seemed to do the trick. She never bothered him again. Far from disturbed by the experience, the one thing which bothered Ethan was the girl’s loss of interest after he’d delivered the goods. He took this as something of a slight on his performance.


Gene Hackman Japanese Beer Ads

January 13, 2008

Here’s an embarrassing collection of old Japanese ads for starring the usually great Gene Hackman, miscast as a romantic lead. These commercials are hilarious because Hackman looks tired, confused and disorientated throughout, and has to say incomprehensible things like “dry…dry.”


Bowie Night

January 10, 2008

One advantage of living in a city as rammed with people as Tokyo, is that you can organize any kind of event, safe in the knowledge that people will show up, no matter how weird or esoteric it is. In a city of twelve million people, you could throw a German polka music party, and expect a full house.
One place which proves this theory is Shinjuku’s excellent Club Acid Tokyo, where each night is themed around a completely different kind of music. Over the weekend I went to “Bowie Night,” where they strictly played only songs by David Bowie for the whole night. This is a fantastic concept if you’re into The Thin White Duke, but it’s like Guantanamo Bay if you’re not. Fortunately, I’m partial to a bit of Bowie, and had a fine time grooving to “Heroes” on the dancefloor.

It’s a credit to Bowie’s long and varied career that I wasn’t bored by the music once. I left the club with a renewed respect for the dude- there aren’t many artists who could fill up a DJ’s six-hour set-list without getting repetitive. I’m a big Ramones fan but I’d grow tired of hearing “1.2.3.4!” after a couple of hours. (…Or perhaps not.)
You couldn’t get away with an event like Bowie Night in most countries, but such is the obsessiveness and dedication of Japanese fans (who eagerly blow their savings on rare B-Side compilations and T-shirts of their favourite musicians), that the crowd in Club Acid were loving it.
Once, Club Acid even had a night entirely dedicated to the 80s Goth group Bauhaus, I kid thee not. That is very obscure indeed, but it must surely have brought smiles to the faces of the small cluster of Bauhaus fans living in Tokyo, (perhaps for the first time in their miserable lives.)