Lawrence English on Japan
A few weeks ago now, we had a crazy live schedule here in Tokyo with the likes of Lawrence English, Machinefabriek, Will Long, Jan and Romke Kleefstra, Danny Saul, Anne Chris Bakker and Greg Haines, among others. One day Lawrence and I met up with Rutger (Machinefabriek) and the boys as Lawrence has been to Japan many times before but this was their first time. Lawrence decided that Akihabara ('Electric Town') would be a good spot to go with the lights, crazy Gatcha-Gatcha comics, maid cafes, geeky electronics shops, gadgets and machines. I must admit that I have hardly ever been there before - apart from needing wires and such things, I've never had a good look around for all my years in Tokyo.
It got me thinking about how different people see Japan as its a fascinating country and even with over 6 years (on and off) under my belt, I only just feel like I am scratching under the surface a little bit even now. With that in mind I decided to speak to friends and acquaintances about all things Japan, to discover how it has influenced them and what they feel about this amazing country I am so privileged to live in.
The first time I came to Japan was 2001 I think...
Did you have any preconceptions before first coming? How were these similar or different to what you actually experienced in Japan?
Well to be honest, having grown up on a steady diet of Astroboy, Macross, Akira and a string of Leiji Matsumoto cartoons, I think some of my visions of Japan were like warped imagined retro-futurist visions with a whole lot of angular haircuts and impossible technological advancements. I of course knew nothing like that would be the case, but at the same time the social geography and architectural form of a place like Tokyo is still quite alien.
Have you been back since then?
Yes about 10 times for concerts and recording projects, it's always a pleasure.
Which places have you visited in Japan? Do you have a favourite?
I've visited a good deal of Honshu and Kyushu - yet to get to Shikoku or Hokkaido, but I am hoping to visit both sometime in the not too distant future. In terms of favourite places, there's a good deal of them. I love the coast along Hashima. I love Okinawa, if anyone ever needs a reason to go there beyond it's amazing landscape, I completely recommend the milk in Nago - god's personal stash I am sure...There's also a few spots of forest in the North of Kyushu I love in summer - incredible cascades of semi and other animals.
When you last came to Japan we met up in Akihabara, which is not a place I have ever spent a huge amount of time in I must admit. It has always seemed a place to just run in to pick up electronics for me, yet it is also a major hang-out for the "otaku' (loosely translated as 'geek' or 'nerd') sub-culture. Is this relevant to you and what is so interesting for you about the area?
I think Akihabara is the representation of a curious juxtaposition for Japan. It typifies the technological successes of the country that brought up such prosperity in the 1980s, but at the same time is overtly showcases the more (at least from a western view point) unusual aspects of Japanese culture - Hentai, Cosplay Cafes and whatnot. My friend Takashi described Akihabara is Tokyo's great shame, which I can completely understand from an internal viewpoint - it collects together more extreme aspects of contemporary life in Japan and houses them neatly one on top of the other.
I think as a shock and awe experience for first time visitors Akihabara is very much worth a visit. But on a more practical note it's still an incredible place for selecting all manner of things from super 8 film through to contact mic parts....
Would you say Japan has influenced you in anyway? If so, how?
Probably, as much as any place impacts on my work. I've certainly made a lot of field recordings there over the years and a great many of those have either been featured or influenced some of my recordings.
What are some of your favourite things in Japan?
Fresh Doriyaki at the Shibuya Food Court
Katsu Don in Uguisudani
Mr Donut anywhere
Milk from Nago
Onsen Tamago in Beppu
Fukuoka Street Ramen (whilst it still survives...)
Seemingly seasonal Gatcha Gatcha
Tireless consumption on a scale that eclipses the rest of the world
Watching shop assistants selling items at the end of escalators - elegant human robots.
Catching up with friends and family there...
Do you have have personal recommendations for people who are visiting Japan?
Well some of the above. Mostly just get lost...best discoveries are not often to be had in guide books, much like anywhere else in the world. And be open.
What do you think of Japan's music scene? How does it compare to other places in your opinion?
I think certain cities, like Tokyo and Osaka for example have had particular explosions of activity over the years - early in the 2000s for example the experimental scenes around Offsite were amazing. Osaka in the 1980s had such a great noise scene. Recently tokyo has produced some amazing avant pop artists. I think Japan, having such a dense population, produces fairly strong musical statements that can grow, mature and fade quite quickly. There's a number of Japanese musicians I feel are very unique and versatile - take Otomo Yoshihide for example - he's a real powerhouse of activity.
Could you imagine living in Japan? Where would you like to live if you could?
Probably not living there permanently. But visiting for a few months at a time I could certainly imagine.
Please tell me 5 words you associate with Japan.
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