|Buena Vista Social Club
John McGee takes a stab at 2000
The proliferation of Christmas lights and squashed rice-ball snowmen (kagami-mochi)
indicates that, yes, another year has passed in Tokyo. As the winter wind blasts the haze
from the city, let's gather around the fire, uh, kotatsu, and reflect on some of
the defining moments of this year of the dragon.
First of all, while many countries recognized the end of the millennium last December 31,
Japan held out for this year, leaving a lot of us here wondering if the second millennium
is coming or already going. The only reasonably sure thing is that this was the year 2000.
Except in Japan, where it was Heisei 12.
Either way, despite myriad predictions to the contrary, and in case you hadn't noticed,
the world did not end on January 1. Even the Y2K bug wasn't much more than an annoying
little gnat - no major disasters, no apocalypse.
Love thy neighbors
Early in the year, as if to ameliorate the disappointment of jilted doomsday cults, a
Filipino computer student concocted a "love bug." It was quite a virus,
spreading through email accounts worldwide and demonstrating that, in cyberspace anyway,
love conquers all.
Meanwhile, not a dry-eyed OL was in sight with the news that SMAP member Kimutaku (Takuya
Kimura) conceived a love child with fiancée Shizuka Kudo(in November) and that Brad Pitt
and Jennifer Aniston were more than just "Friends," tying the knot in July.
Earlier in the year, a counterpoint to Brappi and Jennifer's American Dream was
presented by the film American Beauty. And The Matrix confirmed that all
of us, not only Keanu Reeves, are actually soulless, brainwashed androids.
Buena Vista Social Club
showed us that you're never too old to be funky, sparking a keen interest in Latin music
in general and Cuban music specifically. You might have heard Hiromi Go's remake of Ricky
Martin's "La Vida Loca" which swaps the English refrain for the catchy
"ah-chee-chee...ah-chee." This apparently means "ow...so hot!" though
the Japanese-English dictionary translates it as something like, "hey dad, over
Elsewhere in music, Napster scared the bejesus out of the recording industry by
demonstrating the power of free-market anarchy. But after a copyright infringement trial
and, later, acquisition by German publishing giant Bertelsmann AG, the industry had the
last laugh. "MP3" (which last year became the most popular online word
search-overtaking the position long held by "sex"), helped propel Napster and
spelled out the digital future of personal music recording.
In a victory for eye-contact-free train travel, the power of technology to bring us
together led to further alienation, introversion and navel-gazing as the popularity of
DoCoMo's i-mode mobile phones erupted. The wireless umbilicals enable users to hop onto
the Internet with a flick of the magic wand.
In March, thousands lined up to buy PlayStation 2 (PS2). Sony's game technology
incorporates not only arcade-quality graphics and a DVD player, but apparently could be
used to launch ballistic missiles (no joke). This delayed export of the game console,
frustrating overseas shoppers. Does last year's failed North Korean missile shot suggest
they got a bogus advance copy?
Meanwhile, tensions within the Korean Peninsula eased following the June 14 summit between
South Korea's Kim Dae Jung and North Korea's Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang. North and South
even joined forces for a united Korean Olympic squad in Sydney. And, in the run-up to the
2002 World Cup, South Korea and Japan enjoyed warming relations across the usually chilly
Japan Sea. Japanese pop music groups entertained throngs of cheering Korean youths in
Seoul, while Japanese movie theaters screened Shuri, a Korean spy thriller.
Easing different tensions here at home, Mt Usu in Hokkaido and Mt Oyama on the island of
Miyakejima belched to volcanic life in March and August, respectively. While Mt Usu's
activities were relatively short-lived, Mt Oyama rumbled throughout the summer,
interrupting TV programs with news flashes about seismic activity. In light of Tokyo
Governor Ishihara's broadminded, insightful and diplomatic message that, in the event of a
major earthquake, foreigners can be expected to riot, these announcements kept gaikokujin
everywhere on the edge of their collective seat.
Ongoing eruptions eventually forced the complete evacuation of Miyakejima's inhabitants,
most of whom have settled in refugee camps here in Tokyo. Lucky for them, the
"Happiest Place on Earth" will be opening its newest attraction,
"DisneySea," next year with a huge fuming volcano as its centerpiece.
Miyakejimans everywhere will no doubt sigh a collective "natsukashii!"
Kenshiro Matsunami demonstrated that even conservative politicians can erupt, though his
flying glass of water did little to cool off the Diet.
Leisure time and hobbies
Further on the subject of displaced individuals, the International Space Station finally
got its first inhabitants in October - two Russians and an American. They are scheduled to
live there for 117 Earth days. Hope they've got PS2 (but not the missile-launching
In a low-budget, land-based parallel to the cramped quarters, poor food, and hostile
surroundings of space flight, Tokyo taxi driver Takemasa Irie and his son took actor Shin
Takuma to London the long way, across Asia and Europe. The 12-week trip covered ten
countries and 30,000 miles. Miraculously their cab didn't break down once. Rumor has it
that it didn't stop at any red lights either.
|US President Bill Clinton and
Japanese PM Yoshiro Mori
Anyway, back to disasters.
In Okinawa, Japanese Prime Minister Mori hosted a US$1 billion G-8 summit. The much
ballyhooed meeting of the leaders of the industrialized world was hardly noteworthy save
for the introduction of the new 2000 yen bill and the opportunity for PM Mori, a mediocre
student of English at best, to make up for his rather embarassing exchange with President
Bill Clinton earlier in the year. In the weeks leading up to his first official visit to
the US, Mori aides carefully drilled him in the subtle nuances of polite English social
chit-chat-"How are you?" "I'm fine, and you?" "Me too."
Nonetheless, in a globally publicized dialogue with President Clinton (which the PM's
office denies took place) he spouted, "Who are you?" To which Clinton, in one of
his finer moments of statesmanship, quipped, "I'm Hillary's husband..." Mori, of
course, replied, "Me too."
February's leap day gave everyone an extra 24 hours to take care of business this year,
but some people already seem to have too much time on their hands. In Niigata, the
Prefectural Police Chief was playing mahjongg with a Kanto police chief when a girl who
had been missing for nine years suddenly turned up.
It's a woman's world...
Elsewhere in the schoolgirl department, everyone was as sad to see the ganguro
look fade as they were to see the rise of para-para. For an all too brief moment, the two
overlapped, giving us those wonderful black-faced teenagers performing airliner guidance
ground crew/football referee signal Bon-odori on TV commercials nationwide.
|Naoko Takahashi, winner of a gold
medal in the Olympic women's marathon
Giving stiff competition to
the hyper Eurobeat fueled para-para explosion, hip hop & R&B swept the airwaves
and open spaces of Tokyo with more head spinning than Linda Blair in The Exorcist,
more moonwalking than Neil Armstrong and more big hair than a Texas debutante ball.
Separately, Ayumi Hamasaki (Ayu-chan) eyed us from the 109 building, the TV and every
Tu-ka corner in the city. And that screeching pack of feral 14-year-old girls known as
Morning Musume (or Moaning Misery) released a number of songs, all of which seemed loosely
based on air-raid sirens.
This year, a surprising number of non-idol Japanese women made headlines. In February,
Japan's first female shinkansen driver took to the tracks. Sexually harassing a
21-year-old campaign volunteer Knock-ed the Osaka governor out of office, making way for
Fusae Ota, the prefecture's (and the country's) first female governor. In the August Diet
elections, women captured a record 35 seats, the most ever under the post-war
Constitution. And at the Sydney Olympics, Japanese female athletes made significant
strides as Ryoko Tamura took the gold in judo and Naoko Takahashi became the first
Japanese women's marathon gold medalist, setting an Olympic record in the process.
Additionally, the Japanese softball and synchronized swimming teams both took silvers.
After watching the Japanese TV coverage of the events Down Under, you may be surprised to
learn that the Olympics were, in fact, an international competition, involving athletes
from all over the world, not only Japan. Biased coverage aside, there were some exciting,
even educational moments. If you never understood the full meaning of "kuyashii"
(mortifying) before, Japanese soccer star Nakata gave us a choice illustration by missing
his goal in the shoot-out against the US soccer team in the men's soccer quarterfinals. In
October, however, the Japanese team regained their composure by defeating Saudi Arabia to
win their second Asia Cup.
In a much anticipated rivalry between managers Nagashima and Oh, the Yomiuri Giants
defeated the Daiei Hawks 4-2 to claim the Japan Series title for the first time in six
years. Recent talent recruitment, including former Hawks' pitching star Kudo (who helped
carry Daiei to last year's title) no doubt helped tip the balance in the Giants' favor.
Some had speculated that a Giants win would boost the stagnant economy as gleeful fans
rushed out on post-victory spending sprees. With the economy still wallowing in the
doldrums (despite the win), count your blessings the Giants didn't lose.
Yokozuna Wakanohana retired from sumo this year and followed fellow heavyweight Konishiki
into the television arena, signing on as spokesmodel for Malt's beer.
Science and commerce
Back on the subject of embarrassing failures, the US and Japanese stock markets, after
posting unbelievable gains early in the year, emulated the famously despondent euro by
dropping double digits in percentage value.
In June, department store chain Sogo filed for bankruptcy. In September, Mitsubishi Motors
revealed it had systematically covered up consumer complaints. And the American branch of
Bridgestone/Firestone admitted they had known about certain tire safety problems yet
failed to notify consumers.
In another great and thoroughly predictable cover-up, a full lunar eclipse occurred on
July 16. The eclipse may have appeared brighter than usual owing to the largest-ever hole
in the ozone layer, discovered this year over Antarctica.
On an ecological note, recycling caught a wave of popularity following the PET bottle
phenomenon that invaded the country last year. Like Mt Fuji, growing mountains of empty
PET bottles in Kawasaki recycling centers may even be visible on a clear day from central
Unfortunately, Snow Brand followed this recycling trend in the production of their milk
products, with predictably lackluster results. Bacteria sickened thousands in Kansai when
past-due milk was re-processed with new milk.
In yet another example of dubious recycling, Shinichi Fujimura, the deputy director of the
Tohoku Paleolithic Cultural Research Institute, nicknamed "God's hand" and
"divine digger" for his unusual archeological success, admitted to planting
artifacts, later "discovering" them, and then making remarkable claims regarding
their age and provenance. Secret video footage taken by the Mainichi Shimbun
caught him reburying artifacts found on previous digs.
And fetishists were saddened to see the dismantling of the foot cult (in which one's
future is divined by reading the soles of one's feet) amid allegations of fraud.
Elsewhere in science, Japanese chemist, Dr Hideki Shirakawa won the Nobel Prize in October
for the discovery and development of conductive polymers, and was awarded the Order of
Culture by the Japanese Government in November.
Art and fashion
In art, Tokyo area museums held joint exhibitions of "the world's four great
civilizations"-Chinese, Egyptian, Indus, and Mesopotamian. If Fujimura had been
involved, there no doubt would have been five.
At the National Museum in Ueno, the National Treasures show packed in lots of Japanese
cultural history and visitors. Issey Miyake's innovative clothes bounced around the Museum
of Contemporary Art this summer. And the Philip Morris Art Award exhibition in Ebisu
highlighted upcoming talent.
Japanese cinema got lucky again with another prize from Cannes for Eureka. Actor
Koji Yakusho really should let someone else get an award sometime.
In fashion, one word: "pashmina."
What does it all add up to? Let's look to the US state of Florida for the two valuable
events it hosted this year. First, the battle over Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez demonstrated
again that both love and justice are blind. The other contentious Florida affair, that
chaotic civics lesson known as the US presidential elections, offered an analog version of
the Y2K-borne digital mayhem predicted (coincidentally?) by Al Gore himself, showing us
that even careful preparation can't prevent the inevitable.
One final thought-given that Japan has adopted this year to celebrate the millennium
changeover, better back up those files, store some supplies, turn off the gas and hide
under your futon (or pashmina) again, just in case 2001 turns out to be the real bug.
Things always arrive a little later here, right?