Japan surprises me from time to time.
Sometimes it's because of some stupid invention, sometimes because of a great invention.
Sometimes because it seems so far ahead of the world in its technology development and other times because, well... how far behind its general population is in being allowed access to the new technologies.
Back in the early 1990s I was afforded the luxury of a computer at the Ohtawara Board of Education (OBOE) office that I would spend my Friday's in—as I would only team-teach junior high schools in the city four days a week.
The computer was one in which I could create typed letters and short stories, and I am eternally grateful for the use of the machine - my own private machine that I used once a week. No one else used it when I wasn't there. It was respect for me, and I respected (still do) them right back for that honor.
Now... here's the thing... this was 1990-1993. It was a monochrome computer screen... black background with that god awful orange type... not a color monitor like we all have, well, everywhere.
In fact... Back in the 1980s, I had a color monitor back home... and through the whole of the 1980s at various summer jobs for the Ontario provincial government, I was afforded the use of a color screen monitor.
It was just something I took for granted.
And then... when I arrived in Japan... at the OBOE... there was this relic of a computer system.
How was it that a simple guy like me had a color computer system, but not only did my Japanese work place not have one with color (something I had been enjoying for five years at home and work), but neither did anyone in Japan appear to have a computer at home for personal use.
Of course, it is possible that I may have been ahead of the curve on the whole computer thing - perhaps...
I was surfing the 'net or rather the message boards back in the late 1970s and early 1980s while still a kid... chatting with professors at various universities about quantum physics - because I was a strange kid who could calculate the height of mountains on the moon via a photograph, but couldn't pass high school math.
In fact, I still have that original computer - and Atari 400, with a tablet, a modem where you had to place the wired telephone receiver onto it and no, no one could use the telephone while I was uploading or my connection would fail... big floppy 5-1/4" diskettes and even cassette tapes in a special tape reader for various computer programs.
So why didn't anyone I know in Japan have a computer at home or anyone use a color monitor at work?
Why ask why?
Well, it also seems that now... in 2014... the Japanese still hold out a fondness for the CD - the compact disc - something I haven't personally touched in... oh... six years or more?
Is it because the Japanese are hip and old-school, or are they just break your hip old-fashioned?
According to a recent news story - September 16 in the NY Times - a record shop... one of those archaic discs only +20-year-olds and dance club DJs know about nowadays - the nine-story Tower Records in Tokyo... on a rainy, Sunday afternoon... was packed with customers.
Not because of some promotion... some free tickets to a concert or live autographing of body parts by AKB48 chickies, but rather just music lovers who preferred to purchase a CD to listen to, rather than the - so I hear - easy-to-download digital songs.
Me? I've never downloaded music, but my wife has. I only listen to music when I'm in the car, though recently I stopped doing that and switch back and forth between an all-stand-up comedy station and a all-sports-talk radio station. Because I take both rather seriously. Sports and laughing.
Anyhow - the place was packed with CD-buying customers!!! WTF Japan?!
It wasn't just old school dudes like me, but rather the place was filled with young, hipster douchebags who wear those stupid hats upon their head like they are cool, but really, they just look like douchebags to every non-hat wearing person... see... here's a photo of just such a guy in a photo that appeared with the original NY Times article.
By the way... hats look great - but a nice hat for nice clothes... this guy above is wearing a standard white rock and roll t-shirt that isn't tucked in, though it does appear as though his mother ironed it for him.
Where was I?
(Being old, grandpa!)
Sure... and kids of my generation were afraid of the parents because not only could your parents spank you, but so could anyone if they thought you were acting all hipster douchebag-like.
I digress... then again, this is about Japan not actually progressing.
And yet... the rest of the world has embraced digital downloading of music - mostly illegally, by the way. I don't know anyone other than my wife who has actually paid for a music download (I'm sure many of you do - I just don't hear you bragging about it as much as the pirate downloaders - by the way... September 19 was Talk Like a Pirate Day... which is when I am writing this here pile of bilge water.
(That legal music download, by the way, was charged to my credit card.)
... Japan sticks to what it likes... and it likes CDs.
Now... CD sales are falling worldwide, including in Japan, but... in Japan, when it comes to music, CDs account for about 85 percent of the sales, with the remaining attributed to digital down-streaming (paid for, that is). Who knows how much illegal free-loading ye pirates be doing. Arrrrrr. Ye scurvy dogs.
The Swedes from Sweden, who are keen downloaders, has only about 20 per cent of the music album sales via CD. Of course Sweden also brought the world Abba, so you can take a chance on their buying habits if you want.
Japan is apparently #2 in the world when it comes to the music market, according to the NY Times article... the US is #1... and I think I know what that means... then again...
Do they mean #2 in music purchasing? Number #2 in making music? Number #2 - does that include album sales PLUS concerts? Number #2 in boybands, which I detest, but would have liked to have been in one when I was younger and had the bod and the hair and the voice.
Yes... I once didn't have to go falsetto to hit the soprano notes... then puberty kicked in at 12 and again at 17 when the voice changed twice.
So... why hasn't Japan embraced the digital downloading age?
That's what streaming music services such as Spotify and want to know...
Spotify, for example has been trying to negotiate licensing agreements with Japanese music companies for the past two years... and still... downloading.
Is that weird? No. The NY Times says that Spotify also spent two years negotiating with the U.S. music companies for these rights... it's just that Japan's music companies don't see the urgency or the demand from music lovers to go whole hog digital.
Now, to go back to pirate talk - if we was to click on the Googly, ye might find sources that be saying Japan is ready to walk the plank into digital downloading.
Still, others say "Never! And a yo-ho-ho, because dead men tell no tales!"
Man it's hard to do this pirate talk for long john silver.
Y'see... since people in Japan still like the CD as a musical option... perhaps because it is the country that brought the world the Sony Discman. No... that's not the reason... anyhow, Japanese music companies are utilizing the power of the CD packaging to help it perform promotional duties.
Avast! I's a b'y that builds da boat and I's a b'y that sails her for I's da b'y dat works in the packaging industry...
Thanks to the size of the standard CD square package, companies like the one who publish sexy kitty girl popaglitzy group AKB48 - well... they actually placed a ticket in the CD case that could be redeemed for access to a live event!
Spiffy! That's pirate talk, right?
By doing that, some fans went out and bought multiple copies of the CD because it was a helluva lot easier and cheaper to buy another CD or four than to purchase actual concert tickets to see the hugely popular bodacious (underage sometimes) music group.
I've been to a "record" store here in Toronto - just last week. No one was looking at the CDs or DVDs of music.
Some were flitting through the comic books and T-shirt section.
More people were drifting through the DVD movie/TV show section. More still were looking at the Minecraft video game merchandise tie-ins. Really.
No one was buying music. I know they still do, but it just didn't seem as big a deal as it once was.
While video may have once foretold of killing the radio star, digital - especially illegal digital downloading - is killing the music industry.
Case in point: Tower Records shuttered its 89 American outlets in 2006.
But... in Japan, Tower Records, as controlled by NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s largest phone carrier, it still has 85 outlets, doing a combined $500-million (that's half-a-billion doll hairs - Arrr) in business a year.
What is Japan doing differently? Marketing baby! Just like the comic book industry has tried to rape the comic book buying public of all their parent's hard-earned cash by making comic books sold with low-print variation covers, so too are music shops in Japan offering different collectible copies of the same album, or are providing one-of-a-kind store promotional items that starstruck fans just gotta have.
I have, as an example, the original Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band record album by the Beatles, plus I bought a picture disc version of it that I found in a place called the Vinyl Museum that used to sell used records in downtown Toronto... an awesome place... it was... it allowed me to visually see cool record album art for groups like Mahogany Rush, 13th Floor Elevators, The Mothers of Invention, Strawberry Alarm Clock, Amboy Dukes - anyhow, as a Beatles fan I bought whatever I could get my hands on - including bootleg albums and official Fan Club Christmas albums - so I understand why Japanese music fans would buy multiple copies of an album or shop at various stores to get everything they can get their greedy little hands on.
But is it sustainable?
By 1980 I stopped buying new and used record albums and started purchasing CDs... and continued to do so until maybe 2000.
At that time I started buying DVDs of TV shows and my CD consumption went down. Now I don't even buy DVDs, because there's the legal Netflix and not-so-legal-but-I'm-not-judging-The PirateBay for those who want to download videos and music.
As you can see... technology keeps evolving.
Before I collected records, I purchased cassette tapes... and just before I got into music, others purchased 8-Track tapes and 45-RPM singles (I actually still have about 70 45s). Before that, many people either had a small hi-fi at home or went to a soda shop to drop nickels into a jukebox or listened for free at a record store... or just heard it over the radio... or before that you had to hear music played on a gramophone... or before that you could only hear it performed live. That was true digital music, where people moved their fingers to the beat.
By the way... I'm listening to Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention - the Freak Out! album as I write this - I wonder when I got old? It's not as good as I remember it.
So... eventually technology evolves and people evolve with it.
While I was at the forefront of home computers, I was never into digital downloading. While I may have been early onto the forerunner of the Internet, I still don't own a cellphone or a tablet or a laptop. I will eventually, I suppose.
I have had my eye on a nice tablet so I can park myself in front of the TV and write these blogs... and if I actually had someone who wanted to hear my grumbly smooth voice on the telephone I might consider getting at least a burner phone... so I'm NOT against modern technology, it's just that I don't have a need for it at this point and cost-effective time.
In Japan... no music album was a million-seller in 2013.
2014 has one from AKB48 and the other being a Japanese version of the Disney soundtrack to "Frozen"... which I saw at a movie night at my son's school the first night that the DVD was released for sale... and every single little girl cutely but annoyingly sang every single word of every single song in the movie implying that parents paid umpteen dollars to see it again and again or, more likely, either illegally downloaded the movie so the kid could watch it ad nauseum enough to memorize each song.... kids by the way, who still haven't learned how to form a sentence properly or the even the 5x multiplication table! Seriously!!!
Despite the overblown sales success of these two albums in Japan, overall the initial six month's sales figures for 2014 were still BELOW the 2013 figures for the same period by three percent!!!
So yeah... even with the great store promotions and CD marketing, the writing appears to be on the wall for CD sales in Japan... or maybe Japan's music industry could help itself by promoting better music... then again, my choice in music has always been a little odd.
Regular reader Alice and I were apparently at the same music concert some 24 years earlier in Toronto seeing Marillion (cover at the top of this blog)- which despite the very cool kismet of it all - damn, I can't stomach that music right now... even though I like Prog Rock like Yes, Hawkwind and others.
So... shiver me timbers - yes... right now Japan still loves to buy music CD's - maybe not as much as it used to - but it still does... to me, it's like Japan is about 15 years behind the global times... which only seems odd to people not Japanese.
Keep on rocking - rather than pop-ing and git yerself three sheets to the wind,
PS: Six years ago I sold about 600 of my CDs, keeping a few, like the music of Carl Stalling (guy wrote the music for the Bugs Bunny cartoons in the 40s and 50s); albums by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and one I bought in Japan containing folks songs related to sumo - which I play very loudly into the backyard to ensure the people two doors down realize that no one wants to hear emo-pop music from the 1980s. Really.