Monday, August 14, 2006

Play the Game!

After arriving in Nagoya, I told my friends I would be on radio or TV within the year. I did this partly to spur myself on to do something about it.

I worked for Nunoike English School and St. Mary`s College in Nagoya. As well I registered with the best talent agency there. I called them everyday, and was told there was no work; everyday. But one day they called me at the college, and said to come to the agency on Friday morning, there was a modelling job that would pay me \15,000. This was a lot of money in 1989!
The work took only one hour and then we got paid. It was an ad for a pharmaceuticals company and the work consisted of standing there and smiling. The ad appeared in some magazines in Japan.

In Vancouver, I was laughed at when I suggested that I could be a model. I have a big honkin` nose and at the time, had a baby face that my mother loved! Thanks Mom! I love you! Tissue please!

In Japan though, your big honkin` nose is an asset man! Big Nosers Unite! You are admired in
the Land of the Rising Nostrils! My Japanese friends often tell me, "my husband admires your huge nose." They talk about your huge probuscus over dinner! Don`t be ashamed, flaunt that Snoz! Flaunt it!

About a month later I saw an ad for a radio commercial. I went to another talent agency, and auditioned by singing into a tape recorder along with some canned music. I got the job! I showed up at the studio at the appointed time and met my duet partner, a beautiful African lady from South Africa. She had a great voice to complement my hoarse one! I have occasionally been told I am a good singer. My brother who is honest to a fault, has told me I have a pleasant voice.
This woman though, was a singer!

In the studio, they can make even Avril Lavigne sound great. I sounded great too once they flipped
a few switches and turned a few dials. "FMA Morning Energy Traffic," came my baritone. (I`m actually more of a tenor type dude.) "FMA Morning Energy Weather," wow I sounded great.

Then came the singing. Angels came out of the speakers! I was singing with this great lady, but angels were filling the studio. Anyone who is not tone deaf, can sound like a major star with what they can do! Just ask Avril! (Whom I happen to like, but recognize that she is not the singer live, that she is in the studio. It`s like listening to two different people!)

The agent for this job left early and paid us early, but it wasn`t enough. I had to go to their office and demand the correct payment. This was a hassle, but I got paid the full amount in the end. Some of the agencies are pretty bad. If you plan to get into this kind of work, ask around to find out which agencies pay, and which don`t.

After I had moved to Kanagawa, I decided that I wanted to be on the radio some more. I sent off a demo tape to a radio station (don`t laugh!) called FM Banana. They were on the USEN 440 radio network. This is the cable radio network in Japan, and they have 440 stations! It`s actually very good if you can afford to subscribe.

I didn`t hear anything from the Banana folks so I contacted them to ask why I wasn`t hired and if I could improve somehow. Tomitasan pealed off his best English: "You need more energy."
So I made another demo tape, just on a regular tape recorder in my Atsugi apartment and sent that off. It had lots of energy. I was a Kevin version of Wolfman Jack. I was hired the next week!

This caused me joy and extreme terror! I had lied about being a DJ at UBC! I had never Dee Jayed in my life except for having a canned music business where I played songs at weddings, parties, and wakes! I never spoke on my mike though. I just played songs. I wasn`t the greatest DJ but I would learn I told myself. I would learn in front of 800,000 listeners nationwide. Oh God, I gotta go to the toilet again man!!!! OUtta the way!!!!!!!

I called the Mitsubishi Car Plaza FM Banana office and asked if I could be in the studio with some of the other DJs, just to brush up on my skills, as it had been a while since I had Dee Jayed, I lied yet again. They said, "no problem." I trained with a pleasant American woman who was a very good DJ for two days. I asked a lot of questions, while trying not to appear like a total dork. Just a slight dork!

I started work that Monday and I was to be on three days a week from 9-12 noon Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The pay was only 1,000 Yen per hour, and Mitsubishi used the station to advertise their cars. We were played in homes that had cable radio, in stores throughout Japan, and at all the Mitsubishi Car Plazas
from Kushiro to Kagoshima. My husky voice blared out throughout Nippon, extolling the virtues of Eric Clapton and George Harrison. I learned how to be a DJ, hopefully not annoying too many Japanese mimi (ears) in the process!

I think it was Woody Allen who once said that "80% of success was just showing up." That is definitely true in Japan.

When I performed standup comedy in Tokyo and was active in improv comedy workshops, I met a man who
proved the above statement. Not only did he show up, he would give whomever it was, what they wanted. He played the game, whichever game it happened to be at that particular moment.

He told me about an audition for a TV commercial where they wanted a guitarist. He had never played guitar in his life. Yet he auditioned! All of the other musicians were very good guitar players. They played very nice melodies on the guitar to polite approval from the panel of interviewers sitting behind a table. My friend though, he came into the room and went crazy on the guitar. He imagined himself to be a Jimi Hendrix. It sounded terrible but it looked great. He got the job. The producer was going to dub in the music anyway, so what was important was the look. Boy were the other true musicians upset with him! But he laughed all the way to the bank.

There`s another lesson there. The look you give is extremely important here. If you are going to teach English, you must look like an English teacher, and the same goes for every other job, be it guitarist on TV or computer programmer for Sony. If you look suspicious to Japanese eyes, you will be stopped by the police and interrogated. So it swings both ways.

I think it is important to be yourself, but it is important to play the game too. You live in Japan now, so the game has changed. You are now playing Parker Brother`s "Gaijin in Japan Game!" Roll the dice and move around the board. Pay \20,000 to get out of the cockroach infested gaijin house you are living in! Take a Chance Card! Congratulations! You have become a radio DJ in Tokyo! Congratulations! A beautiful girlfriend!

You can harp all you want about how unfair it is to be called a gaijin. You can complain that you got stopped by the police on your bike. You can also say it is unfair that some schmuck from Canada who had never been a DJ, gets to be a DJ just because he can speak English and put together a silly demo tape.

In the end though, maybe it is better to ask yourself, if I get a hair cut, would my life be easier in Japan? If I play the game, would my life be smoother? Sure protest when you need to. Speak up about discrimination in Japan, but play the game too. The dice often roll your way as well. That`s what I`ve found.

by Kevin Burns

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