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05 June 2003
Taken From: Burrn Magazine (Mar 97) #2

Even though the list of differences between Japan and the U.S. goes on forever, I put together a short list of some of the things a typical American like me might notice.


Many of the most popular female singers in Japan sing remarkably out of tune. To the American ear, at first, one might wonder how anyone could listen to these irritating voices. I?ve discovered the secret - there?s something extremely innocent and sexy about these cute singers who may not have the vocal talents of Misora Hibari, Miyako Harumi or even Matsuda Seiko. Once I came to understand this concept, I began to really get into this kind of pop music. I wish America would pick up on this idea. The trend in American pop is for female singers to be plain and worn-out looking and sing mostly complaining about how bad their relationships are. There?s nothing sexy about that. I believe we have a real hang-up about sex in the U.S.. I may be a sexist, but if I don?t find a female singer at least a little erotically stimulating, I don?t want to listen.

Music in general is a large part of Japan?s society. there is background music playing almost all the time in the subway stations, on the streets, on television. Music magazines in Japan are diverse and comprehensive, giving every explicit detail of all parts of the music making and listening process. This also exists in the U.S., but to a much lesser extent. In Japan, when a song is sung on TV, the lyrics always come on the screen, so folks at home can sing along properly. People are not shy to sing in front of friends or family in private ?Karaoke Boxes?. If you buy a CD single in Japan, it automatically comes with an instrumental version so one can sing along. People buy a lot of music. Record sales in the millions are amazing when you consider how small Japan is and yet these kinds of numbers are common with the top artists. There seem to be many music based ?sub-cultures? in Japan generated by fanaticism or mania toward certain kinds of music. I am a musician, a great fan and even a collector of music, so I always look forward to the widespread availability of all things musical in Japan.


Japanese TV seems to be a fierce competition for the attention of people who have seen everything before and will only watch TV if something is totally outrageous, deeply entertaining or informative about some unusual phenomenon from the farthest corners of the earth. The antithesis to the image of the quiet politeness with which Japanese interact with each other in person, TV is most often filled with frantic screaming, extravagant swirling colors, bizarre stories and some truly clever and sometimes hilariously funny games.

Now that my Japanese is good enough that I can somewhat understand the programs, I can enjoy the shows for more than just a blur of colors. Some dramas are poignant, emotional, and touch on the sadness and joy of the human condition. I really enjoyed the program, ?Coming Home? (although I was envious of the foreigners? command of the Japanese language!) and one called ?Christmas 2040?. The games and ?world discovery? shows are often educational as well as entertaining. The problem is that you can?t turn on the television without seeing the members of SMAP...

American TV has its pluses and minuses. We have awesome sports coverage. We also have many, many channels-most people get at least 50. Unfortunately, quite a few of them are filled with dull chat shows, religious panhandlers and ?info-mercials? (hour-long commercials which sell a product or service). Years ago, before the widespread of cable TV, the quality of American TV programming and script writing was excellent. Many classic programs like ?The Honeymooners?, ?All in the Family?, and ?Get Smart? will be shown for generations to come because they stand the test of time.


Japanese food is so weird! Eating octopus, squid, eel or raw fish in general would be completely out of the question for the majority of America. Only in the last 20 years or so sushi restaurants have become trendy in America?s larger cities. As you all surely know, sushi is just one small facet of Japanese cuisine. There are endless varieties of exotic foods that are eaten in different areas and on different occasions.

The first time I came to Japan in 1989, I wasn?t adventurous at all. My bandmates and I ate nothing but McDonald?s and Denny?s. We went to a different izakaya every night but didn?t eat anything there usually, even after drinking all the beers and sours, it was all still too odd looking to try to eat. I freaked out when I saw an entire fish with it?s mouth wide open fried and on a stick! I didn?t want to even know about Japanese food.

The change for me came near the end of that first trip to Japan. The promoters took us to eat ?monjayaki? in a small, very typical local restaurant. This was not a Tokyo place that was made for foreigners? tastes, but an old, kind of dirty looking place in the do-inaka. I think we were the first Americans to ever go there, judging by the stares that we got from the people there. At this point, especially since this was the end of the tour and the promoters had worked so hard to make everything good for us, I didn?t want to be a ?wagamama? and say, ?I can?t eat this weird stuff! Take me somewhere else!?. There was nothing ?normal? to eat there, so I had to just have whatever everyone else was having. I was quite nervous, because I was never a good eater. Anyway, I ate this monjayaki and it was absolutely delicious. It was by far the best meal of the 2 weeks that I was in Japan. It was also a good chance for the Japanese staff to relax and I felt a real connection to these people with a culture so different from mine. I felt stupid for being so stubborn before and I was now anxious to sample all the other strange looking, exotic foods that I missed while I was eating pizza. By the way, I have yet to find a good pizza in Japan. Now, my favorite stuff is namauni, tai ikizukuri, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, Kankoku no yakiniku, and all kinds of namasakana. I even recently tried fugu for the first time. Sometimes you can really get something great when you give into your fears and just go for it...

Taken From: Burrn Magazine (Mar 97) #2