Blond and blue-eyed in Japan

Interview with Elin; a Swedish girl who moved to Japan and explored the jrock-scene!

Many people dream of visiting or moving to Japan. For Elin, this dream came true and she spent a year in Japan to study the language. But she alternated studies with fun and went to a whole lot of jrock and visual kei concerts.

I got curious of what Elin experienced over there and decided to make an interview with her. Thank you Elin for your time!

Elin Ekdahl
What made you interested of Japan in the first place?
Elin: My very first interest in Japan started with, like so many others, anime. My sister found this magnificent world in early 2006. It soon developed into a love for manga and drama both. However, I got quite bored with it easily and I loved (and still love) to click around on videos on YouTube. That’s where my love to Visual Kei was developed. To me, who loved alternative music, it was a heaven of experimental genres and different voices. I fell in love with bands like Nightmare, Alice Nine, The GazettE, MUCC and D’espairsRay. It was when I started reading the blogs of the Alice Nine members at Ameba around 2008 when my interest in indie bands sky-rocketed, because they were simply more reachable than the bigger more anonymous bands. I have a great passion for music, and finding this small, undiscovered niche was so much fun!

What made you move to Japan?
Elin: It had been a dream to go visit Japan since my first few sniffs of the culture through the music. I took evening courses in Japanese at Medborgarskolan between 2009 and 2010, which is where my knowledge about the culture deepened thanks to my amazing teacher, who tirelessly answered to our endless questions about Japan, the culture and customs. In 2010 I went to visit Tokyo the first time and the same day we landed I went to a concert with Depain, Megaromania, D’eiz, lam., FULL EFFECT, 7191 and UnsraW. It was nothing at all like I had expected; I had expected to feel like it was unreal, that I would feel like I was in heaven. Sure, it was pure bliss, but not at all unreal. It felt normal, like I was supposed to be there. Like everything in had been leading up to that moment, that there was where I belonged all this time. It might sound quite cheesy, but that is how I felt. That feeling continued throughout the vacation and when I came back to Sweden I immediately started looking for schools in Tokyo, and how I would be able to get back there. In 2011 I worked to save up some money and had a whole mountain of paperwork go through me during the year to make all the arrangements. In January 2012 I was finally back on an airplane to Tokyo, but this time to stay for a year. Now, that actually felt unreal.

There must have been some cultural clashes you didn’t expect. Do you want to tell us about a couple of things that chocked or surprised you?
Elin: What shocked me by first glance was how clean and well-kept everything is in the streets. It’s almost completely trash free and whenever and wherever I was walking I got the feeling how different it can be when everyone treats public property with respect. It’s amazing to see that all flowers and decorations were well kept and taken care of. The next thing was how polite everyone is towards each other. Again, whenever and wherever I went I always felt warmly welcomed. The thing I miss the most in Sweden is also one of the things that surprised me the most: the awesome service you get everywhere. It’s amazing, and sometimes I felt as a royalty. Something that surprised me in the more negative way was the crowded trains in the morning and evening, and also how ridiculous everything that has to do with paperwork is, just posting a letter can be a project itself. I was also chocked how they can have so much tasty food. I knew about sushi and ramen before going there but it’s just endless since there are so many family restaurants with their own food and recipes.

Japanese food

Did you know any Japanese when you moved there?
Elin: I knew word and phrases, but no grammar what so ever. I knew hiragana and katakana.

Do you speak fluent Japanese today?
Elin: I do speak kind of fluid, if it’s just casual conversation. I can’t speak any specified Japanese though, like business Japanese or complicated medical, science or stuff like that.

If so, how long did it take before you mastered the language?
Elin: I doubt you can “master” Japanese actually. It’s such a complex language and I think no matter how much you learn, you always have something new to learn, or repeat what you forget meanwhile learning the new things. To be able to get around, order food and do the day to day life in Japan I would say it took around one year before I was confident.

This picture has nothing to do with Elin. ^^

This picture has nothing to do with Elin. ^^

Was it hard to meet new friends in Japan? Did any cultural differences stand in your way?
Elin: Since I lived in a guest house with over 80 other people from all over the world, also Japanese, so it wasn’t hard for me. I have both guy and girl friends, but in my experience the girls tend to be a little bit shyer. As long as you are open and friendly, most people are open and friendly though.

Did people treat you differently as a foreigner? Good things or bad things?
Elin: People in general, yes. Because I’m blond with blue eyes I do stand out a lot in a non-tourist part of Tokyo like Saitama, where I lived. I’m not a person that feels bad if someone is looking at me curiously though. That is basically the different thing about being a foreigner that I noticed. I never thought about it much. In some stores I walked into for the first time they were a bit freaked out (you can see it in their eyes) when I walked in, but the same second I start speaking Japanese they completely relax again. It’s not that they don’t like foreigners, it’s the fact that they won’t be able to give me good service because they are not confident in their English abilities, and I did cover how important it is for them to give good service.

Is there anything about Japan that you like even more after your experiences?
Elin: How friendly everyone is. How they are, in their own way, taking care of each other. I also love that there’s probably 200 more days of the year with sunshine than where I live in Sweden.

Sunset view of Torii gate, Miyajima, Japan

Is there anything about Japan that you dislike after your experiences?
Elin: The difficulties with the work situation, how the workers are treated in the companies is so different from what I’m used to.

Have your life in Sweden changed anything after your visit in Japan? Have you brought any Japanese customs with you?
Elin: I found myself in Tokyo, and I have tried to bring that person back with me to Sweden. It’s been a slow process and I’m still working on it, but for the first time I feel comfortable in my own skin even in Sweden. I never found my place here in Sweden; I’ve been a lost soul until I visited Japan that first time in 2010 and found my home. I have tried to catch that feeling and bring it with me, and I have kind of succeeded.

As far as I understand, your impression of the visual kei scene in Japan has changed after your visit. Do you want to explain how and why?
Elin: First of all the scene is much smaller than I had imagined. When I was there in 2010 I also saw Alice Nine who was one of the more famous VK bands. I went to their live in Shibuya AX, which is one of the biggest live houses VK artists perform in Tokyo. I had expected it to be huge because it looked so at the lives I’d seen there on DVD’s. But, no. It was so small! Since we bought tickets on the spot we had low numbers and were called in among the last ones, so we stood in the back but were still close enough that we could see the band fine. I had not expected that. What I want to say by this is that Visual Kei is not as big of a thing as I had thought. I think out of the people I met during the year 95% of them didn’t even know what Visual Kei was. Of those who did know some asked me why on earth I liked it; soon enough became apparent to me that the genre doesn’t have the best reputation.

Koichi, Mejibray

Koichi, Mejibray

I think depending on which bands you follow, you meet different types of fans and there are a million unwritten rules you have to follow. I would say a band with new members have a tough road to success. Since they start out with playing on events with many bands to gain fans they stand as in a light of a jury: the fans in the audience and trust me, they are hard to please. I’ve been through some pretty awful times with bands that had only four half enthusiastic followers in the saizen (the first row of fans, who rotates depending on the band) and it wasn’t a fun experience to see them struggle to get attention from the people, just to get a cold shoulder in return. However, I’ve seen bands like BFN for example; grow from that into having at least 90% of the audience with them at the end of the show, and that is an amazing experience. It all comes down to how the members act on stage, and how skilled they are at making the audience fall for them.

Now, what really confused me with the scene of the indie bands was how some bands could have so many fans, even though they could neither sing nor play their instrument that good at all, while bands like Mejibray (sure, you can argue that Tsuzuku doesn’t have the best trained voice – but they have serious skills) had to struggle for months to gain enthusiasm amongst the fans. If I had to go into the details it would take me another ten pages to explain but to keep it short – bands offering benefits creates competitive behavior and through that popularity – musically skilled or not. Of course you can refuse to believe me, but if you have been as deep into the scene as I was in the end, I would be blind if I didn’t see what was really going on. Five years ago, before I went to Japan the first time, I would have laughed at such a statement, because I was convinced that the VK bands where better than that – but why would they really? They are still human beings, and I don’t see now why they would behave differently than other people striving for fame. Don’t get me wrong though, I know that this doesn’t apply all bands and absolutely not every member of the band known for it either.

Ruki, The GazettE

Ruki, The GazettE

To sum it up – Visual Kei is a complex scene and the fans won’t let just anyone in, to me for a good reason. Sure, the Japanese fans aren’t perfect either, I’ve seen and heard about rude stuff between them too, but I felt a great respect for their system still. I observed and adapted, and after six months and a few concert of the bands I followed their fans started to recognize me and realize I was not going to ruin anything like cutting in place or be rude in general. I’ve seen too many foreigners do at concerts, therefore I do understand them.

Are there any differences between Japanese jrock concerts and European ones?
Elin: Well, I have only been to one mans in Europe and they are pretty much the same, if you don’t count the polite and in orderly fashion a concert in Japan is held. Ticket numbers to have an order, no pushing or shoving amongst the fans either in line or at the concert and the joined movements during the songs called furi connecting the fans in a much more special way than in European concerts. Events on the other hand are a whole different story. It’s my favorite type of concert because many bands play and you can see true union amongst the fans. Merchandise like towels, wristbands and shirts connect you in a special way with the fans of the same bands and more often than never small groups of fans take over the front of the stage and just rock out with the band, flooring if anyone stubbornly stood in the way. Since the fans also speak the same language fluently they talk a lot more in the concerts in Japan, both playfully and serious topics. I grew so fond of the bands I followed in a whole different way I’ve ever felt before, simply because they are so approachable in their home field so to speak. To sum it up it felt to me as I enjoyed the music together with both the band and the fans equally – because everyone is having one hell of a good time. Like I said, no pushing makes it easy to enjoy and focus on the music instead of fighting for staying conscious like I’ve done at all VK concerts outside Japan.

Visual Kei cosplayers

Visual Kei cosplayers

Which band made the best concerts?
Elin: At first I went to both bigger bands and small bands, but I fell in love with the small indie scene and how close you get to the band. The best concerts I’ve been to are with my three D’s; Depain, Dezert, D.I.D and then Mejibray, who in the end where the only three bands I followed. But I have loved almost every single concert I’ve been to during that year, which is over 40 with a total of about 60 bands. Other favorites are Nega, OZ, Black Gene for the Next Scene, Signal, Born, Screw, Scapegoat, Velbet, Lycaon, Vistlip, Fest Vaniqueur, SCAPEGOAT, And –eccentic agent-.

Which band do you still wish to see live?
Elin: All mentioned above that are still active really. Savage (ex Depain) has a very big place in my heart. Also Dezert and D.I.D, since that was the three bands I followed the last six months.

A lot of people dream about visiting or moving to Japan. Do you have any tips about how they can make it happen?
Elin: Make plans and goals! Everything is possible if you put enough effort into it, trust me! Try and write down everything you would have to do to be able to go, and then make it to as small parts as possible and start doing it little by little. Have patience and endure the hard parts where everything seems impossible, because nothing is. It sounds like a cliché I know, but the clichés was made into just that because of a good reason; it actually works!

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

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February 2014

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