Departures: Japan 1991-92: Antiknock

as recollected October 2000, nearly nine years after the fact


I don't think I've ever written about the time I went to see a Japanese punk rock show. Considering how my memories have faded, I should probably write something now. I wish I'd written something earlier, when I remembered more.

Towards the end of my time in Japan, I stayed many days in Tokyo.

It was during this time that I took the Boeing factory tour. I think there may have been more than one factory in this tour. My strongest memory of the tour of sneaking out during lunch to buy comic books at a nearby store, only to return and find out that lunch had taken less time than expected, and I had kept the group waiting. Oh, and walking back to the hotel from the tour's bus station, my paper bag of comics had started to tear, and I spent the next couple of blocks looking out for a place that sold luggage, and sure enough found one, and bought a small blue rolling bag. Of the factories, of the tour itself, nothing remains in my head. Except that I think the tour participants may have sat for a while in a classroom in a factory for a sort of briefing, which I did not appreciate.

It was in this time that I went to visit the Akihabara district. Wandering its streets, I went into many department stores. But though there were many stores, most of them seemed to be selling the same things. I bought my first album by The Blue Hearts that day, based upon the recommendation of the Australian tourist I'd met in Nagasaki. I hadn't been able to figure out the shelving system in the music store. But the store had been empty and I had walked up to the clerk and sung, in a wavering voice, "Rinda rinda..." and he, bless him, did not laugh, but led me to their eponymous album with that hit song. I purchased that album. Would that I had purchased more of their music while I had opportunity, instead of waiting until I was back in the USA, picking at those scraps of their music which made it to these shores. But of course, I wouldn't have an opportunity to hear that first album until I was back home, so I couldn't know how much I'd like it. I'd given up on Akihabara, had walked back towards the station when I saw a little stand selling electronics on the street. I noticed that the stand had electronic English/Japanese dictionaries like mine, and I asked about a plug-in card. The guy running the stand quoted a price, and then checked and realized he was out of stock. Then he pointed out behind his stand, where I could now see there was a sort of flea market of electronics stretching out underneath the tracks. I spent some happy time there, shopping for a plug-in card (which I eventually found) and looking at the gadgetry.

And it was in this time that I went to see a Japanese punk rock show.

This is not to be confused with the time I went to Yoyogi park to see the bands performing under the raised road there. As of my last visit, earlier this year of 2000, these performances have been stopped. Yoyogi Park was fun, and I was glad that I had a chance to see it. Thanks to my observations, I was able to clear something up for the newspaper columnist Dave Barry.

When I talk about the punk rock show, I'm talking about something else entirely. I guess I'd been in Tokyo for a while, and was running low on activity ideas. I didn't want to head out of town--it was probably towards the end of my stay there, and I'd have to be back soon to catch my flight back to San Francisco.

I imagine that I was thinking of San Francisco pretty fondly by then.


I went to the TIC, the Tourist Information Center. I waited my turn as various people asked about various things that I cannot remember. It seemed to me that many of these people weren't tourists at all, that they lived in Tokyo. They were asking more sophisticated questions than I expected. I was expecting hapless folks asking for directions to McDonald's.

If I'd gone in hoping that my question would be more sophisticated than theirs, I was disappointed. I don't really remember my motivation. Anyhow, I waited my turn, then walked up to one of the ladies behind the counter and asked her for help in seeing a punk music show.

She started looking through a big book--I guess it was a book of Tokyo nightclubs. At the time, I didn't know what to think of it. It was a big book, and I didn't understand how many clubs Tokyo had. I might have thought it was a book with all of Tokyo's attractions, but later I came to think it might just be night-life things.

It might have been ordered by ka-sa-ta, which might explain why the first club she found whose description mentioned /panku rokku/ was a club called "Antiknock New York". Its name started with "A".

She gave me directions to a place in Shinjuku. I thanked her. She warned me that, after following the directions, I'd have to look around to actually find the place. I was ready for that. I'd gone looking for some places that sold supplies for Role-playing games while I was there. Their magazine ads had maps, but the map only brought me to the right set of buildings. To find those shops, I'd hunted up and down staircases, looking for obscurely placed signs. And I'd found those shops. So I told the lady not to worry. And I probably thanked her again. I'd probably learned, by then, to thank Japanese people quite a lot.

I'm not sure why I asked for a punk rock show as opposed to something else. I wasn't a punk, though I liked the music. As I write this now, I suppose that's still true. I didn't know about the original Club Antiknock, the one in New York city.

I'm assuming that the Antiknock in New York is the original. Not that I'd know.

I'd seen a Noh play at the Tokyo Kabuki-za. Actually, it had just been an excerpt from a Noh play, yet it had still been more than enough. People moaning in a foreign language, lots of still posing--these things had not pleased me. Maybe I was looking for punk because it seemed entirely non-Noh.


Soon I was in the Shinjuku area, clutching a small piece of paper with some directions on it. It was probably early afternoon. I'd just spotted the symbols for "Nyu-Yooku Anchinokku" on a building sign. The sign told me that the club was in the basement of a building, a building given over to bars and nightclubs. I started walking towards the building entrance just as a group of Japanese youths came out. At least one of them was carrying a guitar case.

[photo: my then semi-significant hair]

My hair looked like this at the time.

They had significant hair going on, but not punk hair. More styled than shaved. Not that I remember that clearly. One of them asked me something. I forget what. I said that I was looking for "Antiknock" and they looked surprised. They said that I was at the right building. One of them pointed at my hair.

At the time, my hair was somewhat significant, hanging over my face on one side. I don't know how to excuse the way that I used to get my hair cut. I think I'd watched a bit too much anime of the period, and had thought of it as normal.

Anyhow, I had a chance at this point to show off my vocabulary, and I took it. I said, "The style is called 'waterfall'. Nihongo de wa, 'taki' desu. I'd learned the Japanese for waterfall. Back in the USA, this made me pretty unusual. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought that this was something to preen over when I was in Japan. Lots of people there knew plenty of Japanese. Lots of gaijin there knew more Japanese than I did.

As I said "taki", I fluttered my fingers down in a sort of sign language for waterfall.

Anyhow, one of the kids said, "We call it--" and then he said a word I didn't catch. No doubt it was in Japanese, because he continued, "Nihongo no 'cunt'," ("Japanese for 'cunt'.") and he made a strange hand gesture towards his crotch. If it hadn't been for the gesture, I would have thought that I'd heard him wrong, that he hadn't just said "cunt".

I didn't know exactly what to say to this. Should I ask him to repeat himself so that I could make sure that I understood? I think I probably said something along the lines of "Uhhhh".

I forget exactly how the encounter was salvaged, but it came about that these people led me down to the entrance of Antiknock. There were a couple of sedate-looking people sitting at a little folding table out front. Mister Vocabulary Lesson said something and gestured towards me as if he were presenting me to the two table-people as a gift. Then he and the other significant-hair people walked upstairs and out of my life.

I talked to the people in front of Antiknock. Though I don't remember anything about the conversation, I remember that they told me that if I came back later in the afternoon, there would be a show.

The Show

I guess I went shopping, because I remember that when I got back to the club, I was carrying a shopping bag. Maybe this is when I went to the Mickey House toy store, where I picked up my Japanese-language version of Alice in Wonderland. Or maybe it was some other trip. I bought a lot of stuff while I was in Tokyo. I did a lot of shopping in Tokyo, though I make fun of tourists who do a lot of shopping on their trips.

One of the normal-looking people was sitting at the folding table out front, selling tickets. Tickets were a bit more complicated than I was used to. Lots of SF club shows had a minimum number of drinks. A two-drink minimum was pretty normal. But this ticket assumed a one-drink minimum, and you had to choose your drink when buying your ticket. The more expensive the drink, the more expensive the ticket. There were three choices: orange sweat drink, some crappy American beer (Miller?), or something else alcoholic and repulsive. I went for the cheapest one, the orange soda. Seeing as how I didn't plan to redeem my ticket at the bar, might as well go for the cheap choice.

I stepped through the door into a small performance space. It was perhaps 50m2. The ceiling was low, as you might expect in a basement, but as you might not expect in a music hall. Right inside the door, someone was checking tickets. I let him check my ticket, and he took it and handed me an orange sweat drink. He was also the bartender, as it happened.

I didn't know what to do with the orange sweat drink. I think the guy opened it to me before handing it to me. (Perhaps so that I wouldn't need to figure out what to do with the pull-tab. I'm not sure how far pull-tab technology had advanced at that point. At one point, pulling the tab actually pulled a piece of the top of a can right off of the can. It wasn't exactly clear what one should do with this piece if one wasn't next to a garbage can right then. I usually dropped the tab into the can, so that its dirt could mingle with my beverage and give me diseases and stuff. But this is all conjecture. Perhaps I am the one who opened that orange sweat drink can, though I can't imagine why I might have done so. Or perhaps it was never opened, and I carried it, closed. I might be mis-remembering when I claim that the can was open.) I didn't want to drink the beverage, I didn't want to put down a full can on the floor. I don't remember what I ended up doing. Probably tossing it out.

I think the bands playing were Aggressive Dog and Bandit. Or perhaps I'm remembering signs for events that were upcoming. I don't remember much about the bands that they played or their music. They must have been ordinary punk bands, ordinary punk music. Fast songs, played loud.

Mostly, I remember the audience. They weren't all punks. I was standing towards the back, and in front of me was some biker/greaser-looking guy. His hair was slicked back like a greasers and he wore motorcycle leathers. He stood very still, watching the band, arms crossed, eyes forward. Most people in the audience were standing very still, watching the band, eyes forward. Some looked like punks. Some didn't.

There were some punks up front, not standing still. I think one had suspenders and hair cropped close to his head. I think another wore jeans and a torn white t-shirt. Mostly I remember the way that they moshed. It wasn't a mess. The thing is, moshing is supposed to be something of a mess. Isn't it?

They'd sort of squirm around each other for a while, slamming as best they could without much space to work with. The thing is, every so often, maybe each chorus, they'd all stop and make hand gestures at the band. Maybe they were making "v"s with their fingers. I don't remember what the gestures were, exactly. That wasn't the point. The point is, they all stopped at the same time, all made the same gestures, in concert as it were. Ware ware nipponjin 10,000 hearts all beating as one, moshing in lockstep, and all that. Well, it wasn't all that. They weren't moshing in lockstep.

I mean, there's nothing in the rules of punk that says that everyone can't all stop moshing at the same time to pay tribute to the band. It's just, it's just... Well, isn't the whole point of D.I.Y. is that you're the only one who really knows how you want things done? Because we all want to do different things?

Maybe that's not the point. Maybe those Japanese punks just point out something about human nature.

When did people start crowd-surfing? Would it have occurred to them to do this if they hadn't seen it on MTV? Would it have been on MTV if it hadn't photographed better than regular slamdancing or pogoing? Punk has fashion. Punk has trends. No-one could claim that each punk is totally independent of everybody.

I don't know why I'm talking about punk. I was never a punk. I was never angry enough. I was too late. And I dislike the smell of hair dye.

The show ended pretty quickly, and I stepped back out into sunlight.


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