<%@ Language=VBScript %> <%response.buffer = TRUE%> Drinking and Stinking: My Night of Music in Tokyo
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Drinking and Stinking: My Night of Music in Tokyo

After failing to heed the warnings of assuredly well-meaning and educated persons, our author takes a trip to Tokyo to try his luck with the local authorities, his guitar, and the ladies.

by Josh Medsker


I had been warned about playing guitar in public in Japan. After mentioning that I was thinking about busking, in an article I'd done for a San Francisco newspaper, I got numerous emails, from people warning me about mean cops in the downtown Tokyo area hassling gaijin (foreigners) for their passports and papers, and even yakuza "encouraging" non-Japanese not to play in the parks and street corners.

My roommate, and fellow Alaskan, Eric and I came to Japan a little over four months ago, to teach English, and play a little guitar -- in our matching black cowboy suits. After hearing these pearls of wisdom, I got a little worried, but I wasn't about to back out. Hell, if anything, it made me more curious to try it! However, I did opt to wait until the beginning of April, until after my visa went through. I didn't want to risk getting kicked out of the country, on the off chance something really bad should happen.

So, last weekend, Eric and I decided to meet in Tokyo. I was surprised when Eric showed up with his guitar. He had brought it to play for his girlfriend the next day, but we quickly decided to work some guitar action into our night out on the town. I wished I'd had my guitar, though. And the suits! But we made do.

The first go around was pretty embarrassing. Sitting down on a bench on a crowed street corner, I sang along as Eric ran through "Pancho and Lefty." There were about 25 people milling around when we started, and when we were done, there were about 5 or 6, besides us and a drunken old man -- who may have been bobbing his head to the music, or nodding out, I couldn't tell. After making a serious dent in the whiskey we'd bought an hour or so earlier, and me stumbling through singing and playing "Ring of Fire," we headed for a more populous corner.

We got about half a block, when these drunken Japanese college kids saw Eric's guitar, and crowded around, yelling for him to play something. So, he busted into "Ring of Fire," and we all gathered in a sort-of football huddle, swaying back and forth, yelling the words. Soon, two gaijin, including an American GI, came over, and joined the drunken sing-a-long. Everyone was so wound up, they started throwing the giant Styrofoam blocks, and industrial-size bags of garbage that had been collected on the side of the road. The GI finally fell down, and crashed into the garbage pile, with everyone piling the trash on top of him. We left the mini-riot soon after, and found our golden corner.

After taking some hallucinogenic drugs we had just purchased (legally) from a vendor on the side of the road, we met these two British guys, Richard and Simon. Richard was a short, stocky guy in his late-20s, teaching English. Simon was tall and skinny, in his mid-20s, and was an English teacher as well as a music writer, in Tokyo. We all sat down on the corner, and Eric and I did a rocked-up version of the Bob Dylan (via Flatt and Scruggs) tune, "Down In The Flood," with me singing and playing and Eric singing along. No one left. It was a good omen. Eric did some fingerpicking, then gave the guitar to Richard, who blew everyone away with "Let It Be." He said he couldn't play, but he was just being modest. He had something special, definitely.

It must have stirred something in the Japanese, because people came running, and soon a crowd of about 15 people gathered around, yelling out requests. Richard, being a Beatles fan, played "Hey Jude," which no one, including Richard, knew all the words to. But by the end, everyone was chanting along. After that, he ran through "Yesterday," which was so amazing that no one spoke afterward, then "Stand By Me," which got all of us clapping, stamping our feet, and singing soulfully along. I pulled out my best Mick Jagger impersonation, while Richard played (per my request), "Honky Tonk Women." He then relinquished the guitar, and Eric and I did Doc Watson's "Way Downtown," which was sufficiently rockin' enough to keep everyone's toes tappin' and heads bobbin'. Meanwhile, Richard had gone off on a quest to score with the never-ending parade of Japanese girls passing by. We could hear him, bellowing at them from across the street, "HELLOOO! Pretty Girls! Let's make BABIES!" all to no avail.

Eric had gotten too drunk to play, and I had gotten too drunk to sit up straight. And the drugs were kicking in. So, after a few aborted attempts at playing Buddy Holly and Elvis, our British friends bid us farewell, and we packed up and got started with the rest of our evening. And through all of the screaming, guitar mangling, trash bag throwing, and general mayhem, we didn't get stopped by the police (or the yakuza) once. I guess there's always next time.

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