Tag Archives: Tokyo

Heavens! It’s the 86-year-old stripping granny in her blue chemise in Japan!

American comedian and burlesque performer Lynn Ruth Miller, based in London, has been on her travels again…

Here she tells all…


I finally got to Japan after two days worth of flights.

It was HOT: about 30 C and humid.

“This was a girly-girly revue with a difference”

My first gig was burlesque in an after-hours club. This was a girly-girly revue with a difference; there were four acts altogether and the finale was a trio of contortionist dancers that were absolutely amazing, synchronized and graceful. After each performance, the performer greeted each member of the tiny audience personally (I would guess there were 15 people there, mostly men) and each person tucked money in their clothing. Since the women were not wearing much, it was easy to tuck in a 10,000 bill and get a little extra.

The audience tucked nine of those bills in my little chemise and told me I was amazing. I said no, I was not – I was just old.

A city filled with flashing lights…

On the way home, I was struck with how bright the streets are in Tokyo no matter how late the hour. The city is filled with flashing lights and tall buildings that create the same aura as Times Square in New York without the noise, the honking horns, the crowded streets or the smoke. No-one is allowed to smoke on the street in Japan.

The Japanese are very security-conscious and I needed a code to get into the building itself and another to get into the room. When you are my age with no memory whatsoever there is a real danger of spending the night on the streets. The consolation is that the streets are very safe.

The next night was the reason I took the trip to Japan: Alex Camp had booked me to headline at his venue The Good Heavens Comedy Club. The event is held in an English Bar and the menu is very British featuring fish and chips, pork pies and a lovely chicken curry. The audience is just about all English-speaking.

The first half of the show was a standard comedy line-up with four comedians doing five to ten minute sets. There was an interval and then I took the stage to do my hour-long comedy show, I Never Said I Was Nice. I got a standing ovation (actually, it was one person… but still) and, to my surprise, the following was posted on Facebook the next day:


“What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens…?”

What happened today on the stage of Good Heavens? The world’s oldest comedian, 86 years old Jewish lady, flew over to Tokyo, wore her blue chiffon dress, silver bracelet, stepped on the stage, held that microphone and broke our chests – first with that laughter we couldn’t resist and then with those tears we had to breathe really deep to hold down.

Her story took one hour to tell and the whole life to build.

We sat there, sat still, all equally amazed – learning each his own lesson, smiling each at his own angle.

But then she sang. A 86 years old Jewish lady, in her blue chiffon dress and silver bracelet who crossed the ocean to tell us her story, was choking with happiness on that stage singing to us and to the Universe.

“I don’t know if I make it to the end of the year,” she sang… “I don’t know if I make to the end of the show,” she ended. “But all I need is time. Please give me time, as I’ve got plans.”

What I was lucky to witness today is a great storytelling talent. Great comedy talent. But, most importantly, a talent of praising the gift of life.

When I grow up, I want to be like her.

ELENA DAVYDOVA FROM THE UKRAINE


I almost literally floated home to my hotel I was so happy.

“In 1945 over 42% of it was reduced to rubble”

The next day, Alex Camp and I were both in a show in Yokohama. It was run by a young Southern American named Taylor at a place called Antenna America.

The audience was mostly American, many from the military bases there. The show felt more like the ones I did in San Francisco, probably because almost all of the comics had American accents. After the show, we walked the streets of Yokohama to find a restaurant and I was struck with how modern Yokohama was.

Alex explained that was because it had to be totally rebuilt after World War II.

In 1945, over 42% of it was reduced to rubble in a little over an hour after one disastrous bombing. Now it is clean and modern with wide streets and pedestrian walkways.

“My standard Stripping Granny routine – everyone went wild”

On the Friday, Taylor Wanstall created a show just for me, called the Tokyo Closet Ball. This was burlesque variety and it reminded me very much of the old fashioned British Music Hall shows. Casual, outlandish and camp, it was another highlight of this trip. I finished the show with my standard Stripping Granny routine and everyone went wild.  Taylor bought drinks for the cast afterwards and promised to have me back in April.

The next morning, Alex took me to the train station to go to Fukuoka for my final show. This was to be my big finale since Fukuoka Comedy is very well known and features major English speaking comedians. The train was immaculate and very spacious. Everyone is very quiet on the trains in Japan: no music; no conversation. Fukuoka was also torn apart during World War II and had been rebuilt extensively. It is a beautiful, clean port city and, in 2006, it was voted one of Newsweek’s 10 most dynamic cities.

Sadly for me and happily for the country, Japan had won the rugby games the night before. So my audience was six people, two of whom were the comedians in the show.

I did the same performance I did for Alex at the Good Heavens Comedy Club and, small though the audience was, it was very appreciative. After the show, we all went out for dinner at a place that served every part of the chicken on skewers. Yes, even the part that goes over the fence last (my favorite part…which says something very negative about my personality). It was a delicious meal and a memorable evening.

Whenever I do these long jaunts across a couple of oceans and several time zones I am so jet lagged when I get back to London that it takes me days to figure out where I am and what time to eat dinner. This time, however, I did not have the luxury of lolling around trying to figure out when it was night and when it was day.

I had a rehearsal for two shows coming up and a dinner date.

Thank goodness for Melatonin.

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North Korea – the Leaders’ spectacles

A woman walks in front of the Great Statues

Did I mention the loudspeakers on the street lamp posts and the small speaker vans roaming the streets?

At 7.15am, sweet and sickly music drifts through Pyongyang, like unavoidable muzak. Freedom means your own choice of music. There is no choice of music in the morning streets of North Korea.

Last night in my hotel… rock hard bed; no mattress; cold water; no hot water. Our young female guide slept in the lobby because there were no spare rooms.

In the morning, we are taken to see the giant statue of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung on Mansudae Hill, which I first saw when I was here before in 1986. And, in fact, as of today, there are now two statues – of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung and of his recently-deceased son the Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il.

What surprises me is that, in both statues, the Leaders are wearing spectacles.

Kim Il-sung’s statue was not wearing spectacles in 1986.

Our North Korean guide, a little surprised that I had remembered the statue so well, explains that the original Kim Il-sung statue was replaced at some unknown time by a new one in which he wore spectacles and was smiling.

“The Great Leader felt he looked too stern in the first statue,” the guide explains “He wanted to smile at his people.”

So now both statues smile.

Then we are whisked off to a gigantic flower exhibition packed like sardines in a thimble. And to the Great Leader’s birthplace.

We are also taken to the American spy ship USS Pueblo, captured in 1968 and now moored on the river bank in Pyongyang. It is guarded by armed sailors. Do the North Koreans really dream the Americans will try to snatch it back? We are shown round the ship and treated to a film on the perfidy of the American Imperialists, but we are not allowed to enter the ship’s code room, the entrance to which is blocked by a uniformed, unsmiling North Korean sailor.

Why? I wonder.

Do they think there are still secret messages lurking there, un-decoded since 1968, which we could use to undermine the people’s paradise of North Korea?

As we leave the Pueblo, there is an American standing on the bow, like Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic. On the river bank, a cameraman is profusely thanking a North Korean minder. We are told the man on the bow is a reporter for the (right wing) Fox News TV channel in the US and he is recording a report.

Have the North Koreans totally lost the plot?

Yes, of course they have.

We are taken for a ride in the metro. Only a few stops because, as I understand it, only a few stops are decked-out in the Stalinesque marble-and-chandelier manner.

Our first train is relatively empty. Our second is packed tight, not dissimilar to the London Underground in the high tourist season but even more like the Tokyo Metro with people pushing and elbowing to get on. I stand by the door, my back protected, slightly separated from our guides/guards by the shoulder-to-shoulder throng.

A small, wiry man perhaps in his mid-thirties pushes onto the train and sees my white Western face.

“Where you from?” he asks.

We have been told (true or false) that English is now taught in all North Korean schools.

“England,” I reply. “UK… London.”

“I love your country,” the man says, pushing past, looking into my face. “I love your Par-lee-ment. Our country is…”

His last word is, annoyingly, inaudible. It sounds like “putrid” but cannot be: it is too sophisticated a word for his limited English vocabulary.

I hold my finger up to my lips, as if to say, “Quiet!” and glance sideways towards our guides to warn him they are there. Then he is lost in the stuffed carriage.

I do not know what he said, but it was not complimentary.

Short and slippery slope, I think to myself.

Later, I ask one of our guides where Kim Il-sung used to live. I am told he used to live in what is now his mausoleum: the very grand Kumsusan Memorial Palace (currently closed for unknown reasons)

“Where did Kim Jong-il live?” I ask.

“I do not know,” I am told. “It is not known.”

In fact, anyone outside North Korea can see inside what used to be Kim Jong-Il’s compound on Google Earth. You can see the swimming pool, the water slide, the personal train station which linked into the metro system and, one presumes, into the above-ground rail system.

That is what is so mystifying about the North Korean paranoia about GPS positioning. You can bring a computer into the country; you can bring a WiFi-enabled Kindle into the country; but you cannot bring in mobile phones or tablets, because they have GPS positioning. They have not yet twigged that the more modern digital cameras have GPS. They are obsessed with the danger of people with GPS-enabled devices.

But anyone with a GPS iPhone or iPad is not actually a security risk who is going to help the Americans target their cruise missiles. Because the GPS positioning we use comes from the American spy satellites anyway. Anything I can do on an iPhone or iPad is something I do courtesy of the CIA and the NSA.

The North Koreans are obsessed by people seeing into secret above-ground areas, but seem to ignore the fact that the satellites can see everything anyway and, going to any computer in my home, I can see Pyongyang in detail on Google Earth.

In the evening, from my hotel window, I see another big fireworks display taking place near the river, by the Tower of the Juche Idea.

… CONTINUED HERE …

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Beijing – Waltzing in the headlights of a fast-coming future in the new Tokyo

The future is bright and dazzling in Beijing - the new Tokyo.

I am sitting in my hotel room on the 13th (top) floor of a 4-star hotel in Beijing.

I was in Beijing in 1984, 1985 and 1986.

My memory of Beijing in 1984 is of almost everyone wearing green or blue Mao suits – a uniformity of dull colours. The next year, some lighter pastel colours were creeping in and I stumbled on a fashion shoot by the lake in Beihai Park where the glamorous model was wearing a mini skirt.

Back then, I remember a rather dusty, occasionally misty city with Dickensian factory chimneys, streets swamped with tsunamis of bicycles and building sites each with hundreds of workers instead of machines. This was not – and is not – a country with a labour shortage.

Today, on the 45-60 minute drive to the city centre from the giant fuck-off-and-die airport (built for the 2008 Olympics), we passed through a new city with giant, often very well-designed buildings and loads of cars on busy four and five lane carriageways.

Then we hit Tiananmen Square with its new monument to distract and disguise where the demonstrators were in 1989. It now also has an apparently permanent visible police presence plus parked police cars and vans.

Once past Tiananmen Square, we hit the more crowded, narrow streets with jumbled shops and narrow, greyish, busy alleyways I remembered.

The TV in my hotel seems to cater mostly for Chinese, not English-speaking, businessmen – a not insignificant point. And the BBC World news channel is reporting that Sony has announced a whacking $6 billion loss.

The Japanese are on their way out.

The Chinese are on their way up.

More surprisingly, the BBC still has a TV reporter inside North Korea. Why has this man not been thrown out of the country? He is still telling and showing the truth about what life is like there. He was invited in to show the glorious start to the celebrations of the 100th birthday of the Great Leader Kim Il-sung – and to report on the ‘fact’ that the North Koreans’ upcoming rocket launch is to put a satellite into space, not to test an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Fat chance. He is making it clear North Korea is a fantasy land of literally incredible facades.

The North Koreans have said their rocket will be launched “by 16th April”. As the late Kim Il-sung’s 100th birthday is on the 15th April, guessing which day it will actually be launched does not seem like, err, rocket science.

Back on the TV in Beijing, BBC World is reporting that someone called (as far as I can figure phonetically) Nee-lu-yang, disabled and on crutches after being beaten up by the police, has been sentenced to three years imprisonment – and her husband to two years – for “provoking trouble” by campaigning against the eviction of people from their homes to make way for new building developments by the Chinese authorities.

In China, rapid modernisation comes at a price which would be unacceptably high in the UK.

I took a walk out tonight and, over the course of an hour, I passed nine people walking their pet dogs. In the mid 1980s, a friend of mine went into Canton free market a meat-eater and came out a vegetarian: “It was the live dogs and cats and owls that did it,” she told me. “All in small cages, ready for eating. It was the owls that really got to me, with their big eyes staring out at me.”

Now dogs are kept by some as pets. The sign of an increasingly moneyed society and probably the sign of an increasingly something else society which I can’t put my finger on.

People were still doing that deep, throaty Chinese spitting in the street back in 1984.

Things have advanced at an amazing rate.

And yet… And yet…

There is still that protester disabled and on crutches after being beaten up by the police, sentenced to three years imprisonment for “provoking trouble”.

Some might argue that 2012 in China is more like Nineteen Eighty-Four than it was in 1984. But with a glittering veneer.

On my walk tonight, in a darkened open space about 20 feet from one of Beijing’s busy ring roads, I heard the faint sound of traditional Chinese music and saw about thirty people of various ages dancing in slow motion. Some were waltzing; some appeared to be practising slow-motion line-dancing.

Perhaps this is a new 2012 version of tai-chi.

In 1968, Country Joe and The Fish recorded a song called Waltzing in the Moonlight. In Beijing, they are waltzing in the headlights of a fast-coming future.

China is the new Japan… with Japan, like Atlantis, cut down to size by the Gods with a national catastrophe.

It only took water to overwhelm Atlantis.

Japan, a more advanced civilisation, had visited on it by the Gods the triple disaster of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. Japan has stumbled if not yet been humbled..

The road signs in Beijing – and many local shop signs – are in both Chinese and English. The government is preparing for and has already entered an international future.

And yet… And yet…

The girl in this 4-star hotel’s Business Centre not only does not speak English, she does not know how to print off text from the computer she supervises onto the printer sitting beside it.

And the BBC World channel reports that the wife of prominent Chinese politician Bo Xilai has been arrested on suspicion of killing a British businessman last year. No motive is given; the businessman seems to have been a friend of the anti-corruption Mr Bo and his wife; and the Chinese leadership is changing this year.

Now, presumably, Mr Bo has been knocked out of the running.

Don’t mess with the Chinese.

*****

Here is the sound of Country Joe and The Fish Waltzing in the Moonlight

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Why it’s no surprise Japan is in a mess – and why their politicians wear blue boiler suits at press conferences

A friend of mine went to Japan last October.

When she came back, she sold all her shares in Japanese businesses.

Lucky her, as it turns out – after their earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns in the last five days.

But, of course, that is not why she took all her investments out of all Japan.

She wisely sold her shares last October because, having been there, she had lost all confidence in the country.

She had expected a vibrant, go-getting, futuristic country. But, when she travelled round the Far East, she found Japan was not that country. All her pre-conceptions of Japan she found fulfilled in South Korea.

Japan was a comparatively old-fashioned country with no noticeable efficiency in the workplace or in the infrastructure.

“They say the tower blocks are built to withstand earthquakes,” she told me last year. “But I wouldn’t trust them.”

She was shocked when she got on trains in the rush hour.

“All I saw,” she told me yesterday, “was a sea of ‘salarymen’ and they were all wearing cheap suits.”

“Where were all the secretaries?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But the country is still sexist. It’s like some throwback to an earlier era. And I couldn’t get over the shabby suits.”

She went to Tokyo, Osaka and other Japanese cities and found the same everywhere: oceans of salarymen in cheap suits and people using old-fashioned brick-like mobile phones. No new technology visibly in use on the streets.

“I never saw an iPad the whole time I was in Japan,” she told me yesterday. “And the young people were not dressed smartly, they weren’t trendy and, it seemed to me, they weren’t very lively.”

It was, she said, a country that has lost its way, possibly through complacency.

The older generation seems mystified as to why the younger generation does not want to go abroad to see other cultures. And, apparently, the younger generation is not spending money the way, in all other industrial cultures, young people do.

It gave the impression of a country that did not look to the future and did not even particularly look to the distant past.

It was a country stuck in the closing years of the 20th century.

“I’m not surprised the nuclear reactors don’t seem to have been built particularly well,” my friend said to me yesterday.

What mystified me, though, was…

Why is it that, when Japanese politicians – the Prime Minister downwards – appear at press conferences on TV they are all wearing the same uniform light blue boiler suits? Very well-designed boiler suits, I admit. But they all look like they are going to service Toyota cars.

I like Toyota cars. I have one myself. They are very well serviced. But why are the politicians not wearing snazzy, expensive black business suits?

It’s like they are wearing Chinese Mao suits re-designed for the Japanese by someone in Milan.

Why?

So, before writing this blog, I asked another friend – she worked for a Japanese multinational in Tokyo and speaks fluent Japanese.

“Apparently,” she tells me, “the blue suits they are wearing are search and rescue overalls and are to bring the high and mighty down to the level of those on the ground and give the impression they, too, are part of the relief effort.”

Ye Gods! If David Cameron wore a search and rescue suit at a press conference after some major disaster, he would get crucified in the press for bullshit and spin.

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