Thursday, May 31, 2007

Inokashira Line Blues

Thursday night, at Mona Records cafe in Shimokitazawa.

Several female vocalist bands including Yuyake Lamp finished their sets and I was about to head home, when a pal donated to me her unused drink ticket, and told me there was still one more act to go. The final performer, a Japanese guy in a cheap tux, soon made his way to the stage.

He was named Yuki Ooga, and was a comic folk singer. In a soft, barely audible voice, he said he bought his tuxedo at Yahoo auction and it arrived right before his set was to start; the bow tie and the kerchief in his chest pocket he said he bought at Tokyu Hands. In addition to being a “home-recording folk singer”, Ooga said he's in a country music band.

[Digression: Strange as it may seem, country, as in American country/western, has a devoted following in Japan. I've even run across a country music bar in Ginza, of all places. For the most part, the fans seem to be middle aged or older. Japanese ojisans listening to Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton? Weird, yes, but I can see where they are coming from: after a lifetime of commuting on packed rush-hour trains from a cramped home to a crowded office, maybe the wide-open space and freedom that country music evokes are appealing.]

In any case, tonight Ooga was playing folk and kayoukyoku (traditional Japanese pop) rather than country, and I was soon glad I stuck around with a small number of people for the final act, because I'd never been to a show quite like this: everyone around me giggled throughout the show. Ooga's songs weren't slap-your-knees funny, but seemed to stimulate the giggle nerves of the Japanese audience—I even heard the sound guy behind me snickering.

I liked a song of his called “Inokashira Line Blues”, in which our hero wakes up from a nap while on the Inokashira Line headed to Shibuya, and notices, sitting across from him, a cute girl about 20, who seems to smile a bit when their eyes meet.

He falls in love at first sight, but laments:

When the train arrives in Shibuya
We'll probably be split up
And we won't meet again
Until the day the world ends

But then, alas, when the train stops at Shimokitazawa, a guy comes on board and greets the girl familiarly. A boy friend! “My short-lived love ended after three train stops,” he wails.

Our heart-broken hero then imagines the rest of the couple's day:

The two got off in Shibuya
And disappeared into Center-gai
I followed them to where Disc Union is, and then went my way
While I look for records, they will probably be looking for clothes
Maybe they will buy party goods at Tokyu Hands too
And then have tea
When it gets dark they will have dinner
Probably at a dive like O-toya [a cheap Japanese food chain]
And then they will head to Maruyama-cho [where the love hotels are]

But then on the return trip on the Inogashira-line, he sees another cute gal, and falls in love anew.

I know the lyrics, by the way, because I took one of the free CDRs he handed out after the show.


There's some sort of movie about kayoukyoku playing now in Japan, and to mark that, Mona Records had old kayoukyoku singles (from the 60's and 70's?) displayed on its walls, and I was surprised how stylish their cover art was. Maybe I'll start collecting them.

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