Monday, February 27, 2006

Eleanor Put Your Boots On (We're Going To Tokyo)

The day had finally come. I'd spent all morning impatiently twiddling my thumbs, waiting for school to end, but now I was on the train, and it was finally coming true. After months of waiting, the dream was about to be realised: I was going to see Franz Ferdinand live at the Tokyo Budokan.
Get in.
Back in November Flick and I celebrated our one year anniversary, and to mark the occasion my lovely, wonderful girlfriend presented me with a ticket to see the one and only Franz Ferdinand - causing no end of elation on my part. They were standing tickets too - we were going to be right at the front! As if things couldn't get any better, it turned out they were being supported by no less than The Magic Numbers: two of the hottest British acts around, together, on one night in Tokyo! Unbelievable! And at the Budokan too - bloody hell, The Beatles played there man, The Beatles!!! That magic date in February couldn't come quick enough as far as I was concerned.
But now it was finally happening, and everything was going surprisingly smoothly: I'd managed to catch the shinkansen with Flick without any trouble at all, and we'd found the hotel we were staying at remarkably easily. As a bonus, it turned out to be closer to the Budokan than we realised, and after a ten minute walk we'd already found ourselves standing outside those famous doors. Surely it couldn't be this easy? Normally when me and Flick go anywhere together our well-laid plans rapidly descend into chaos, and 9 times out of 10 we find ourselves waiting for non-existent buses, or making desperate sprints for the last train, not to mention the infamous Okinawa "alarm clock-mishap". Yet here we were with an hour to spare before the ludicrously early starting time of 6.45pm (for some reason all gigs in Japan start incredibly early, and I have no idea why).
Since we were so early, Flick suggested getting a beer before we went in. I warily agreed, quickly running through all the possible scenarios that would lead to us not seeing Franz Ferdinand in my head.
  1. We get hideously pissed and end up missing the gig. This seemed unlikely - I mean, how much alcohol can you drink in an hour? Don't answer that.
  2. We come out of the pub and realise we're hideously lost, then end up missing the gig. This too seemed unlikely, since the Budokan is pretty hard to miss, being a massive building stood alone in the middle of a park and all.
  3. It turns out to be an alcohol-free gig, and policeman breathalyse us on the way in. They discover that we're over the limit and send us home. We miss the gig. No, that's just silly. Or is it? Or IS it? OR IS IT??? Yes, it is, I'm making it up.
Anyway, back to the plot. We decided to grab a beer from a convenience store and drink it outside the venue, thus quashing all possibility of missing the gig, and therefore putting my jittery imagination to rest. There was some guy selling cans from a cart by the tube station, but he was asking 500 yen a pop for a tiny 330ml can, so we thought we'd nip across the road to buy cheap beer from Family Mart instead. There was one problem: it didn't sell alcohol. Whoever heard of a convenience store that doesn't sell alcohol?
Well, no problem, "We'll just go to the next one down the street", we thought. I mean, if there's one thing Japan isn't short of, it's convenience stores. We tried the nearby SunKus. Was there any beer? Was there bollocks. That's two convenience stores in a row without alcohol. Something weird's going on here...
We tried the Lawsons down the street.
You guessed it, no alcohol.
In total we went to five convenience stores, and not one of them sold a drop of alcohol; beer, spirits or otherwise. And why? I'll tell you why: there's a little known law in Japan that says a convenience store cannot sell alcohol if there's already another alcohol vendor (not including bars) within a 100 metre radius of that store. Which means that if there are a lot of convenience stores together in the same place only one will be able to sell beer - you just have to find it. The simple exercise of buying beer from a shop had suddenly turned into the Quest for the One True Conbini: after all, we knew that somewhere in that warren of backstreets there was at least one shop that sold alcohol, we just couldn't find the buggering thing.
As time drew on the Quest had to be abandoned - suddenly we realised the gig was starting in 15 minutes, and we were now officially In A Rush (I knew being early for once was too good to be true). As we hurried back to the Budokan we saw that most people had already gone inside, but there was still one more obstacle we had to overcome before we could pass through the doors: negotiating the cloakroom.
The sign for the cloakroom was pointing into the car park, where a woman was stood behind a desk. "Great, she must be selling tickets for the cloakroom", we thought, and proceeded to hand her our money. But, bizarrely, instead of having our coats placed on a hangar we were given a see-through bin bag and instructed to go around the corner. "That's a bit strange..." we thought.
Then there it was. The "Bin Bag Cloakroom". A sea of transparent plastic bags containing coats, scarves and bags, staffed by a team of young ladies and only partially covered by a tent. It suddenly dawned on us that we were being asked to leave our valuables in a see-through plastic bag in a car park. Can you imagine doing that in London? The whole lot would be gone in about ten minutes. Instead of presenting your cloakroom stub after the gig you'd have to go down to a pub in Hackney and buy back your coat from a guy sporting facial knife scars.
Anyway, we had no time to think about the safety of our things - time was a-ticking. We stuffed our things into the bag and dashed for the standing ticket entrance. Five minutes till The Magic Numbers came on. We were going to make it.
We headed towards the stairs going down to the main arena. Flick was ahead of me and I watched as she showed her ticket to the security guard and move down the stairs. I followed, but as I showed my ticket to the guard an arm was thrust out in front of me.
"No. Not here," he said, "Minami. South."
The Budokan is a big circle which is divided into North, South, East and West sections, and apparently our tickets were for the South entrance. I called Flick back and we both headed for the door the security guard had indicated to us. As we walked through we realised that something was wrong - this was the first floor balcony, not the standing area. We walked over to another security guard and showed him our tickets, pointing out that they clearly said "Sutando" ("Stand" written in Japanese).
He shook his head and said "No, not here".
Well we'd worked that out for ourselves.
"Ni-kai", he said, pointing upwards.
Second floor? What was he on about? "No, no... standing", I said, "Standing, look, 'Sutando'."
I showed him my ticket again, and pointed to "Sutando", but he shook his head and pointed to something written in tiny letters at the bottom. It quite clearly said second floor in Japanese. Something was wrong here...
I tried again. "Sutando", I said, pointing to where everyone was standing down by the stage.
"No, Ariina desu," he replied. Suddenly it clicked. The ticket meant "stand" as in a "stand" at a football ground. The standing area was called the Arena. Our tickets were for the top floor, right at the back. How could this have happened?
"I don't understand!" said Flick, "I told the guy in Lawsons that I wanted standing tickets! These tickets were the most expensive ones!"
Something had gone terribly, terribly wrong. The words, "lost in translation" spring immediately to mind. Then, as if to add insult to injury, just as we dejectedly shuffled out the door to find the stairs to the second floor, The Magic Numbers started playing. We were missing the gig.
On the plus side, when we eventually found our seats they were right in the centre, so were were facing the stage head on. Unfortunately though, we were about a kilometre away. I could barely see the figures on the stage. Flick was nearly in tears. The dream was fading.
It seems that in Japan the standing tickets right next to the stage are actually the cheapest. Taking a look over the edge of the balcony I could sort of see why - the floor was divided into six metal-fenced "cattle pens" which people had been herded into. As the gig started, the crowd surged forward, and those at the front of the pens were crushed into the corners - it was a bit like having six mosh pits, but with no escape. It didn't look particularly pleasant, but I still wished I could be down there with them...
On the plus side though, we snuck down to the front of the balcony and stood on the landing, which meant we had plenty of room to do some serious dancing/flailing, much to the amusement of the politely applauding Japanese people next to us. And what a gig. Despite being tiny, The Magic Numbers managed to somehow recreate those perfect album harmonies right there on stage, and I fell in love with them all over again. They were good, but then Franz Ferdinand came on, the whole place erupted like Vesuvius, and lo, they were awesome - and that's a word I use very sparingly indeed. In fact, they were so awesome that when the gig finished (at the absurdly early time of 10.15pm) the first thing we did was race straight for the nearest karaoke parlour in order to belt out "Matinee" at ear-splitting volume. And it sounded awful, but it didn't matter - we'd just seen the gig of the year.
(From a very long way away.)


Blogger lemaiz said...

Aww. But think of the plus sides!

a) Hygiene. You didn't have to be crammed in with hundreds of sweaty kids.
b) Community. If you had been in the crowd no one behind you would have been able to see!

10:13 pm  
Blogger the englishman said...

A great account. Enjoyed the read. At a concert I saw in Osaka, people were sitting in the stand where there were no seats, and standing on the seats not in the stand. Terribly confusing.

2:40 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...



FAITHLESS who will co-headline with Morrissey • BECK

Can I go?
Can I buggery.

There is no justice.
There is just us.

6:28 pm  

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