Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Baseball, BBQ and LM.C

Well, first of all, I should talk about the baseball game I went to on Friday (4/30). This game/experience was quite a bit different than the last, plush game that I went to at the Tokyo Dome. This baseball game was between my host father’s beloved Yakult Swallows (Tokyo) and the Yokohama Bay Stars. The venue was an open air stadium somewhere in Aoyama called Jingu Stadium, and markedly smaller than Tokyo Dome, by comparison. This time, we didn’t sit on the balcony with the box seats (in fact, the stadium was so small, it had no box seats), but rather in the cheapest of cheap, the stands. The stands are mere benches, not even seats with backs or arms, just plastic stool tops lined in a row. The plus to these, however, is that there is no need for assigned seating, so you can pick wherever you like and just sprawl out there. The stands were anything but full, with lots of leg and arm room to spare, despite the fair weather.

We came in during the bottom half of the first inning, toting with us the yakisoba and gyudon we had bought from street vendors on the walk to the stadium (or rather, street-side restaurants who were selling their wares out their front windows while continuing regular business inside. My host mom had brought chips and other snacks, but as is traditional (or so it would seem), my host dad was sent off with some money to go buy a huge tray of sausages smothered with ketchup and mustard (stacked to resemble a burial mound no doubt, large wooden skewers sticking out from the topmost sausages), and a small bucket of French fries. Meanwhile, my host mom flagged down a handsome young boy of seventeen to buy three cups of chuhai (sparkling, flavored sochu/sake) for a reasonable price. As I saw at the previous game, youngsters selling their wares (mostly drinks) out of trays and neon packs on their backs were prowling throughout the stadium in droves, though in contrast to before, there were an equal number of boys and girls working, whereas before it had only been girls.

When my host dad got back with our sausage mountain and fries, we opened up our yakisoba and chips and started feasting. You might ask why the sausages, but you see, in Japan it appears they do not sell hotdogs, and in contrast to our peanuts, they sell edamame beans, a tasty, healthier finger food that I now affectionately call “Japan’s Peanuts.” So we ate and watched the game. It was Lady’s Day at this game too, strangely enough, which really bears no mention only that I found it peculiar. As opposed to before, I hardly watched the game, spending my time equally between watching the crowd and chit-chatting to my host mother about any old thing. This time, my host dad had his clackers and, sitting in the row in front of my host mom and I, he spent his time clacking along with the music of the crowd. She only saw fit to join in when the Swallows won a run, at which point she would get out her mini-umbrella, bearing the team’s logo (like everyone else in the crowd), and start waving it around in formation to a special chant which ended in “Banzai! Banzai!” It was around either the fourth or seventh inning, I’d had a few more Chuhai and wasn’t really watching the game anyway, that it got a little chilly and we left. And that was that.

In other new, my host family had a BBQ yesterday. The day before, my host mom, host dad and I drove out to a huge department store (the kind you read about in your ‘Let’s Learn Japanese!’ books) that was towering and massive and thoroughly enthralling, though I hardly got a chance to look around. On the top floor, from what I could tell (we didn’t stay there long), was the food court, the kids section, some electronics and a few other knicknacks. Then there was a floor with a bookstore (sigh), and men’s and children’s clothing; we only took the escalator through this floor. Then there was a women’s clothing store, then a bathroom/outdoor/cooking needs floor, which we stopped on in search of the little tool you use to grease a takoyaki pan. Next I was whisked off, past the cosmetics floor, past the 2nd food floor, and onto the first floor where the deli/meat counter, the frozen foods and the fresh foods were kept. I instructed my host mother, to the best of my ability, what vegetables were fit to grill (agreeing to celery, though I’d never known it to be grilled), and assuring her, despite suspicious looks, that pineapple was very good on the grill. We bought American beef, chicken, shrimp and octopus (for the takoyaki), celery, green bell peppers, pineapple, onions, asparagus, cucumber and I’m sure something else I’ve forgotten. Lastly we went in search of beer, which happened to be on the 2nd floor we’d passed, so we went up again to the boxed foods/kept foods/sauces and alcohol floor where she loaded in the 12 packs and where I convinced her to buy some Worchestershire sauce which I was astonished to find. After that, we packed it all in the car and zipped home to start chopping and marinading.

Come the next day, I was put to work assembling the shish-kabobs and my youngest host brother begrudgingly took up the grill. Finally, after about an hour of cooking, things were done and my host dad came up from the shrine’s office to eat. In addition to our BBQ, there was potato salad, two bamboo baskets of rice (one with carrots and lotus, another with red beans and chestnuts), and foi gras from Europe. We all tucked in royally. The cooking, of course, was far from done as we had four plates of shish-kabobs, and when my host dad went back to work, so did we. When everything was finally cooked and eaten, we all sat back to watch a baseball game, or rather, I was taken off to play with the kids before their bath, until finally they went off and I was left to help with the last of the takoyaki and the baseball game progressed. We had tea and dessert and when the party started to wind down, I excused myself to my room where I made an effort to busy myself with nothing in particular until my concert.
The doors to the C.C. Lemon opened at 4:30, and though I was a little late, it didn’t seem that they were letting anyone in just yet. I made my way for the merchandise table and spent too much money on stuff I probably (or certainly) didn’t need. Usually, concerts open an hour before they actually start, so after I got my goods, I found a spot to sit down, watching as hordes of people filtered through the front doors, herded by a man with a megaphone, the likes of whom I couldn’t understand in the least. It was after I was done fooling idly with my cell phone, that I noticed a poster saying the concert started at 5, not 5:30, so I beat my way to the back of the line with 7 minutes until the concert ‘started.’ Unfortunately, the seats were far from perfect. They were, naturally, on the second floor, and sort of up toward the top, but as the C.C. Lemon isn’t all that massive, I could see the stage well and could see LM.C’s faces too (if not the sweat beading on their foreheads). Despite being scheduled to start at 5, per the usual, the concert started late, about 20 minutes late, in fact. One quick note was that this concert, in contrast to others I’ve gone to, had a large number of male attendants. In fact, I’d say about a third of the audience was guys, which shocked me. Especially for it being LM.C. And another thing, the concert experience itself (that is, the overall feeling and the hand motions, etc.) were completely and utterly different. It was slightly unsettling at first, and certainly a learning experience for a girl who thought to call herself a seasoned expert at these sorts of things by now. But, on to the concert…

When you go to an Alice Nine concert, you’re there to hear the music, to move along with it, and to ultimately watch. And the things you watch are five guys, dressed up nice, playing instruments. While somewhat different than an American concert, it’s not too far off as to seem entirely different. LM.C is entirely different. You go to an LM.C concert, and it’s like stepping into an alternate world, a fantastical realm you’ve never seen the likes of before. The best way I can think to liken it, is to say it’s a mixture of a cartoony Alice in Wonderland meets the circus. I mean really, all they’re lacking is an elephant and a trapeze artist, and only that because the stage couldn’t support such hijinks, no doubt.

Rather than the lights quickly dimming, all of a sudden someone throws the switch and you’re plunged into darkness. Then red light is thrown up from behind the red curtain shrouding the stage to illuminate shapes from within of curving, winding, impossible staircases. The lights swirl and twirl and then the curtain is pulled back to reveal the stage. The winding staircase shapes remain, flanked by large curves with comically large spikes on them which rise out of the floor on either side, and behind, at different levels, are metal and glass shelves, five in number. Upon the left one is LM.C’s signature silver skull/Mohawk figure which I can’t describe any better than that. To the right is the keyboardist, and on the middle, highest platform is the drummer. Off somewhere to the left on the stage, dressed in an unassuming black shirt, is the bassist, to the right, under a yellow light stands Aiji, the guitarist, in his LM.C jumpsuit, his hair a mix of bleach blond and black, holding his sleek guitar, decaled by flames. And in the middle, under the brightest spotlight, looking down to throw his tall figure and blond hair in relief, is Maya, the singer. Wasting no time, Aiji starts on the guitar, Maya looks up, lifting the microphone, and the concert stars with a bang.

They played a long first set, several of their best songs, including ‘Oh My Juliet,’ which has an amazing guitar part that I love to watch. Maya, as befits his youthful image, was a ball of energy, jumping around the stage, waving his arms, and pouring his heart into his singing. Aiji, quite the opposite, spent almost all of his time, throughout the entire concert, planted in the same spot, feet slightly apart, bobbing his head to the beat and playing expertly on his guitar. Because LM.C has only one guitarist, he has to provide all the sound himself, and oh how he does. This was certainly the loudest concert I’v ever been do (30 square speakers and 4 standing speakers). I was leaning up against a wall, and it was shaking the whole time; twice, when the drum beat and Aiji’s loudest chords fell in time with each other, it shook such that you might have mistaken it for an earthquake.

So they played for a while, adding the effects of dancing polka dot lights that twirl on the ceiling, a huge globe of a mirror ball, and two VERY large illuminated bunny ears (as see on their logo) which hang over the front center of the stage. During ‘Ghost Heart,’ the bunny logo was lifted by phantom strings up to over at the back of the stage, covering over a backdrop of black and white polka dots; this, no doubt, achieved at 3D effect for people in the audience sitting dead center, what with the bunny logo at the back falling in line with the massive rabbit ears hovering over the stage. It was somewhere around here that they took time out to MC. They seemed to do a lot of talking over the concert, stopping probably 4 times to do so, so that a good ¼ of the concert was talking (which you might like or not).

When the talking was done, they started again, playing '88' my very favorite, then another I don't know so well. You should know that yesterday was Kodomo no Hi, aka, Children’s Day which is ironic and a perfect day for LM.C, in accordance with their image, so, during one of the songs, one I'm not too familiar with, a carnival tent wall and a line streaming with traditional red and white hanging lanterns was lifted at the back of the stage as yet another platform was raised and people dressed as LM.C’s skull/Mohawk figure poured out, crossing the stage and waving flags with the bands logo, whilst still more took up a V formation behind Maya and started doing an intricate, synchronized group dance that lasted the entirety of the song, and which the entire audience (excepting myself), seemed to know (even the keyboardist was doing it in between notes). After that funfest, the lanterns were lowered and most of the skull people when off, the resident one taking up his proper place again. There was more MCing, during which the skull guy actually spoke (quite possibly for the first time), but he spoke through a voice distorter in his mask and did it to comic effect. Then there were a few more songs. Much to my surprise, they didn’t end with ‘Rock the LM.C’ but with some other song I can’t remember, after which, the house lights went up, Aiji threw his picks into the audience and Maya threw the lollipops off his Chupa-Chups tree into the audience and they finally departed the stage. Strangely enough, there was no call for an encore. Perhaps typical of their concerts?

So, that's what I've done so far. I have another concert tomorrow, and then Mother's Day is on Sunday and I'm taking my host mom out to eat, then cooking dinner. We'll see how that goes. Here in Japan, it is customary to give a red carnation to mothers on Mother's Day. Interesting, huh?

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