I have mixed feeling about NHK, Japan’s public television station.
On the one hand, it does great documentaries, history programs, and the like. Only on NHK can one find former sumo great Konishiki dressed up as a red ogre, singing and playing the ukulele for kids.
And its fang-baring monster mascot, Domo-kun, is the definition of cool.
But there are also reasons to dislike NHK. For example, it dispatches a gang of semi-thugs to collect your NHK bills, which you are required by Japanese law to pay, though there’s no penalty for not doing so, other than having to put up with the NHK collectors (if you lie and tell them you won’t pay because you don’t own a TV, they’ll ask to see your living room). NHK then uses your money to build lavish recreation facilities for its staffers.
Last night, though, my scale of feelings about NHK tipped to one side, the ‘NHK is cool’ side, because of one thing: their FM station was going to feature a live performance of great garage rockers Supersnazz and VooDoo Hawaiians, and invited fans to watch the gigs for free. Of course I headed to Shibuya to watch the radio recording—Supersnazz is one of my current favorite bands, and I’d also heard about and have wanted to see the VooDoo Hawaiians.
The NHK headquarters in Shibuya is a gray, government-ministry-like building complex, but the security was surprisingly lax—despite my being a sketchy gaijin, when I told the guard I was headed for ‘Studio 505’, he let me through with no questions asked and no IDs shown. The studio was a professional one with uneven, puzzle-like walls for acoustics, and was designed to hold many more than the several dozen people that showed up for Supersnazz and the VooDoo Hawaiians.
Before the first show, a staffer in a purple T-shirt got on the stage and said: “Can we practice applauding? There are a bit fewer audience members than usual tonight, so could each of you clap about two persons’ worth?” We proceeded to practice clapping for a minute or so.
When Supersnazz started, though, the clapping and cheering were entirely spontaneous. The band told jokes between songs.
“Since I’m going to be on NHK, I decided to wear a morning suit today,” the guitarist told a radio audience, who wouldn’t see he actually had on a shapeless gray long-sleeved shirt.
“Oh, well, we’re wearing yukata,” the two girls in the band said, and proceeded to compliment each other’s imaginary summer kimono (singer Spike was in reality wearing a navy blue summer dress with a plum blossom design, and bassist Tomoko had on a black X T-shirt).
They also did a new song about Ichiro, and when Tomoko was introducing the number by talking about the Seattle Mariners, she called someone involved with the team a ‘kichigai’, meaning a nutter, and definitely not a word that could be broadcast on public radio. So she started over with the introduction, but then one of the fans yelled out “Kichigai!”, and she ended up doing the intro for a third time.
VooDoo Hawaiians, in contrast to Supersnazz, hardly said anything between songs, and focused on their music, which was hard rock with long jams at the end of each song. The female vocalist looked like a classic Japanese doll, only with red-violet hair and wearing a bright red dress that said Pepsi-Cola. The other members, all guys, were hollow-cheeked, cigarette-stained rocker types, and the lead guitarist clearly had a Keith Richards thing going.
Mysteriously, the fans that showed up to see VooDoo Hawaiians were almost all un-flashy ladies in their twenties—I couldn’t work out why their music appealed to this demographic group in particular. The band rocked enough that I thought they should be embraced by a much wider audience.
All in all, it was a fun change of pace to see bands in a radio studio, but there wasn’t the booze and atmosphere of a live house, and I also sensed that going to see a band play at a radio event is more of a thing for hardcore fans to do (partly because you have to go through hoops to make it to the event, including sending a letter to NHK to get on the guest list), and though I’ve fallen hard for Supersnazz, maybe I’m not quite that hardcore yet, so I sorta stood out. Still, it was worth it—for one thing, because of the awesome acoustics, I was able to hear all of Supersnazz’s instruments crystal-clear and was able to appreciate more fully what great musicians they are. And I got to see VooDoo Hawaiians, who I’ll be checking out more in the future.