Friday 18 March 2011

Radio Activity

(Also posted on my other blog)

I'm in a small club in the Tokyo suburb of Koenji, drinking beer with a group of twenty or so young Japanese people. A man in a hard hat and face mask is conducting a mini orchestra of vintage 1980s synthesisers in a goofy cover version of the Korean pop group Girls Generation's recent hit "Gee". The audience rewards their set with a cascade of applause and whoops.

Beneath the cheer and good humour, however, these are people only too aware of the unsettling new situation that Japan finds itself in. The man’s getup is just one of the eerie reminders around the room of the tragedy that had struck northeastern Japan less than a week previously. His father was from Fukushima, close to the nuclear power plant that was dominating news headlines that day, and the band’s drummer also hails from the same area. There are smiles and laughs around the room when Kraftwerk’s 1975 song “Radioactivity” comes on in the background, but it’s a dark, ironic sort of humour on display – one that you would never normally expect from the kind of cheerful slapstick that dominates Japanese TV comedy.

A small TV in the corner remains tuned to NHK, Japan’s national broadcaster and most reliable source of news, and all eyes turn to the screen. An aftershock has been recorded near Tokyo. Here in our Koenji basement, no one felt a thing, but as numbers recording the strength of the tremor start appear on the onscreen map, a cheer goes up among some of the people present; the Koenji area scored 4, putting it in the level of most extreme shaking. There’s a sense of victory: we took the worst of that tremor and didn’t even feel it. The party goes on.

At the end of the evening, the audience and band members drift out, leaving money for the relief fund in a small tin in front of the DJ booth. People talk of music as an agent of healing, but for people in Tokyo, it’s also a weapon of defiance.

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