It’s Saturday night, and I’ve arranged to meet a friend from language school in a bar in Ebisu for a drink.
Happy Hour at the Hub ends at 7pm, and he texts to say he’ll be late – there’s a body on the line. Trains are so rarely late here. They are sleek, elegant, clean, fast, and punctual. But certain lines and stations have sadly become hot spots for those wishing to depart early. It feels impossible to imagine the darkness someone is immersed in that would drive them to do this. But the suicide rate in Japan is 17.5 (in the UK it’s 10.7) per 100,000 people.
We spent the evening at an Izakaya located in a basement called Tatemichiya. With walls decorated with old punk rock gig posters and graffiti it reminded me of the venues on the infamous toilet circuit back home. For the uninitiated, an Izakaya is like a cross between a restaurant and a pub: shared plates, fast table service, affordable prices, and a happy hubbub of chatter amongst the mouth watering delights. Wikipedia will tell you they serve ‘snacks’ but trust me, for this Black Country boy this is proper gourmet grub! We began with a plate of sliced fresh tomato, served with mayo and salt dressing – a surprisingly good accompaniment to the cold beer. Avocado steaks in a sesame sauce followed; a green salad so fresh it felt like a vitamin shot; extremely hot double-fried Karage chicken; tofu steaks served with flavoursome coils of spring onion and plenty more bits I can’t remember. All washed down with these incredible cool creamy beers that I didn’t get the name of, and what felt like a trip back in time as two of party took full advantage of enjoying their cigarettes indoors too.
Worth noting the magazine left out on the counter for customers to browse was called ‘Bollocks’ – see pic for proof!
As we left the bar around 10:30pm and walked back towards the train station I noticed folks sat in cafe windows, in isolation with their laptops open, working. Fair play to them, this post is not a judgement – I keep strange hours myself – it just occurred to me that you’d so rarely see this in the UK. And it reminded me of the group of suited and booted business men I saw talking shop on the platform last Sunday morning – as I took Taiga to football practice. How often would you see people in business suits on a Sunday morning in the UK? I swear the only people in suits at that time would be church goers…..which made me think actually…
I guess it must be our Christian heritage that makes Sundays so different to the other days of the week in the UK?
Whatever brought them to this point, Japanese people work a lot and study a lot. It feels relentless. I imagine there are lots of benefits to this, both personal and communal. The satisfaction of meeting your goals, mastering tasks, developing personal skills, and the wider impact of a community all striving, pushing for greatness.
But what about those yet to find their calling? the young and vulnerable members of the community.
Might it all start to feel like a great burden of responsibility? Alarming new statistics show the number of suicides among youths in Japan has reached its highest level on record, with 514 students aged 18 or under taking their own lives in 2022. How can we support them better? What do these kids need?
Growing up in Wolverhampton in the 90s we had the ‘Flair Foundation’ run by the incredible Mr Steve Taplin. Flair Foundation was a community music group that actively encouraged and supported young people to join a band, or form a band, write, rehearse, record and play live. We organised our own gigs at a sports hall within the local football club Wolves and even recorded an album at the other worldly ‘Magic Garden’ recording studio with award winning producer and all round sonic wizard Gavin Monaghan. Our guiding light, Steve Taplin facilitated fortnightly meetings where all the bands would meet and voice our ideas for future gigs. We learnt how to make music, make friends, and make plans. Collaboration was rife, we learnt how to speak up whilst listening to others, and Our Flair Foundation experience placed our future firmly in our own hands.
Looking back, one of the key elements was freedom. Steve invited us aboard the ship but he didn’t steer it. We were explorers, each and every one of us, stumbling in the dark and loving every second of it.
Whether musical or personal, our progression wasn’t monitored or assessed. We did not have a Flair Foundation award ceremony or end of term exams. It didn’t occur to us to compare ourselves to one another – we accepted one another.
I don’t know whether it was the expressive faces of the punk rockers posing for their press shots on band posters that adorned the walls of the Izakaya, or maybe it was simply the smoking indoors…ether way the night got thinking back to those gigs at the Molineux Youth and Sports Centre in the 1990s, and our eclectic bills of bands: High on Jesus, Face Pollution, Swaktang, and Stanley Bagshaw amongst others.
I will forever be grateful to Steve Taplin and all of my fellow musicians in the Flair Foundation.
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