POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME

I haven’t been asked by many people why I’m going to move to Japan. The vast majority have been interested in the how/when/what, without any trace of incredulousness, which is a good thing – in general, people’s reactions have been the opposite of “Why the fuck would you want to move there?”, i.e. supportive and interested. But I’ll tell you anyway.

My best friend through high school was a Japanese guy, and we remain very good friends. I never thought of him as being notably Japanese, like he was a representative of his culture or something, but the fact that he is Japanese and that I have gotten along well with him could only have positively affected my impression of the people. Here I’ll also briefly point out that for a year I was obsessed with Lost In Translation, which no doubt spurred on some Japanophilia. (It remains one of my favourites.)

After working as a gaspumper for BP for a couple of summers, I found a job working for a souvenir chain. When I applied for the job, the image I had in my head was of a small, sole-charge booth hocking cheap pens and magnets and flags and such, and the idea of it being Japanese-centred didn’t even occur to me. Not so. It was like a department store, with clearly defined sections from expensive jewellery to exclusive knitwear. Most importantly, the staff and clientele were about 60% Japanese. Somehow I got the job, and found myself working in an approximation of Japanese society – somewhat distorted, perhaps, but close enough to give me a better idea of the culture. And everyone seemed to respond well to me, and I to them, so that was all fine. In fact, I still work for this company, and will do for the remainder of my three weeks in New Zealand.

In the middle of all this, in about the middle of 2005, I decided I wanted to move over there. I was studying psychology (and am now a proud holder of a B.A. diploma in the subject), and the thing about psychology is that you can’t really get a decent job in the field without completing a Masters at least. Psychology really wasn’t all I’d hoped it would be, and where once I figured I’d do a Masters, I now was repulsed by the idea. What’s the point of spending another two or three years studying something you don’t believe in?

Still, I would finish my degree, then I would have to put it to use in some way. I didn’t want to have spent all that money only to get a job I could’ve got without the magic piece of paper. Fortunately, there are a great many companies in Japan that will hire you if you meet two requirements: 1) be a native English speaker; 2) hold a university degree. It made sense to go for it. Several experiences in my life seemed to me leading me down that path, so it was an easy decision to make. And lo, once I completed the university bollocks, I pursued opportunities to teach English in Japan until I found a company that would have me.

The final push, and the reason for the post title, came in about July of last year. Nic showed me a few of Ayaka’s Surprise English Lessons, and pretty soon I was hooked. Before you stop reading and write me off as another wota, the obsession isn’t really that strong. Honest, it isn’t. But I am fascinated by the way Japanese music and TV culture works, so I’ve studied it for rather more time than I should have. From the Surprise English Lessons I moved on to Morning Musume‘s TV appearances, such as the field trip special on Mechaike (tagline “What A Cool We Are!”) and various appearances on Hey!Hey!Hey!, the music show of comedy duo Downtown.

Finally, as if to push the interest from spirited to unhealthy, I started listening to Morning Musume’s music. It is the purest form of ridiculously sweet, catchy, overproduced pop music that I would probably hate if it was by an English-speaking group. The whole project is lorded over by a machine of a man known as Tsunku, who writes and produces a good 50 to 100 songs a year and collects massive amounts of cash as his stable of pretty young girls churns out the hits. Truly, you cannot beat the Japanese for taking a concept and pushing it to the absolute brink of its potential. (Japanese comedy shows (such as those mentioned above) are similar in the way they ruthlessly refine themselves until everything is pure hilarity.) Part of me is appalled by such an artificial, even cynical industry, but as much as anything I admire him for finding the gap in the market and filling it.

And, as chance would have it, I am (in some small measure) a part of that market. It doesn’t make any sense that Morning Musume should rub shoulders with The Alan Parsons Project, Peeping Tom and The Crystal Method in my music collection, yet there it is. I say again, this was not a crucial factor in my decision to move… but it certainly didn’t hurt.

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