Three young women who posed appropriately for us outside of Budokan.
On April 21, 1988, I attended my first concert in Japan at Nippon Budokan hall. This show coincidentally occurred during a planned one-month vacation to “meet” my pen pal boyfriend (and current husband of 23 years) for the first time. I had been a KISS fan since around 1977, but my days as a “true” fan had ended with my graduation from college. I still liked them and remained a collector of interesting items, but the level of adoration and fanaticism I'd had had sharply fallen. Frankly, by this time, I'd become disillusioned and never would have let the concert dictate when I went to Japan. I was much more excited with and thrilled to finally be in person with this guy I'd fallen in love with at a distance than I was to be seeing KISS. To some extent, that is reflected in what you're about to read.
Though I wasn't the fan I once was, I did do some writing and artwork occasionally for a KISS fanzine or two. Yes, I was a "writer" even then. While going through old correspondence, I found a typed account that I wrote shortly after attending the show and I believe it was done for a fanzine (though I can't recall if it was ever published). The review reflects some truths and some ignorance about Japan, as well as my sense that KISS's shtick had grown rather wearisome in places. I'll be adding in notes from the present in parentheses in italics as commentary (like this) and placing certain things in context for those who weren't fans and can't know why something was mentioned. Anything not in italics is from 1988 when I knew about as much, likely far more, as a person would ever need to know about KISS, and very little about Japan. Little did I know what the future would hold for me in terms of Japan and gaining experience with the culture. As far as I knew at the time, this was all for the memory books and I had no plans to ever go back again.
For reference, for those who don't know KISS (and I'm sure there are plenty of them), KISS used to wear kabuki-style/clown-style make-up which they removed in the late 80's. References to “the old days” in any way refer to their days in make-up. There are 4 members in the band, two of whom are original (Gene, singer and bassist, and Paul, singer and guitarist) and two of whom were new (Eric, the drummer, and Bruce, the lead guitarist). The latter two were essentially hired hands and unequal partners in the group and are no longer with the band. Eric died due to complications from cancer and Bruce was dismissed around the time KISS put their make-up back on for “reunion” tours.
When I found this article, I felt as though I found a version of "me" that didn't exist anymore. That is, one that saw Japan completely through the eyes of a tourist and had no access to resources such as blogs or Wikipedia. It is an important reminder of how perspective is often ill-informed, even when you believe you are operating from a place of knowledge. I had been told for 9 months about life in Japan from my boyfriend and he was, in turn, informed by his brother who had lived there for around 5 years and knew even more. I wasn't a neophyte, but there were still things I got "wrong". It's this sort of thing that helps me keep perspective even now. There is always something you don't know or an experience you haven't had. There are always conclusions that you reach that are either wrong or subject to debate. This sort of thing helps keep me humble.
A photocopy of our tickets for the show, printed on an old dot matrix printer, as was the style at the time.
KISS Concert Reflections (Budokan, April, 21, 1988)
I go to a new KISS show each year hoping to see certain things resurface and certain things disappear from the previous year. My opinion of what constitutes a great KISS show is no more golden than anyone's so please don't blast me for being happy about things that didn't show up at the Budokan Hall on April 21, 1988, but did show up in Pittsburgh, PA on January 16, 1988. (I'm comparing two different KISS shows that I had seen in close proximity as well as trying to mitigate the attacks I might get from fans who can't bear any negative talk about KISS.) I can't help but be happy that some of my dreams of what a KISS show might be were realized. It's too bad that I had to go to Tokyo to see it.
The atmosphere and the view outside the arena are rather appropriate places to begin. As fans scaled the hill from the subway (almost nobody drives to concerts in Japan... forget your post-concert traffic jam and replace it with a people jam) (I should have said “in Tokyo”, not “in Japan”) to the scenic gateway of the Budokan., they are greeted by bootleg vendors hawking everything but the much vaunted T-shirt (my guess now is that the bootleggers had “an (unofficial) understanding”, as is so often the case in Japan). Perhaps this is a wise decision on the bootleggers' part since it places them in a non-competitive position with official merchandise. Myriads of mylar photo stickers from 1977 to present, canvas tote bags, engraved necklaces and poor quality plastic key chains were among the items offered. Bootleggers are immediately followed by food vendors selling seafood omelets and corndogs to hungry concertgoers (since food and drink are not sold inside the concert halls in Japan) (little did I know that okonomiyaki stands were the norm nearly everywhere including outside of shrines and I didn't really comprehend that food and drink probably were not permitted to keep the hall clean).
Japanese fans poured out of the subway in excited seas of black hair (save the odd magnificently dyed red and blond long-haired men) with excitement rarely met by the, generally, more laid back U.S. crowds (This is likely because American concert goers span a range of people that include fanatics to those who just go to shows for the sake of drinking and getting high rather than are made up of pure “fans” of a band). However, I'd like to dispel the myth about about the mindset of the Japanese fan. A fellow U.S. fan once told me that fans in Japan “blew away” U.S. Fans in dedication, loyalty, and excitement level. This may be true, but let's not reach any conclusions hastily. To be realistic, you'd be pretty damn excited too if you hadn't seen your favorite band for 10 years and the majority of the material as well as half the band was new to you.
This guy was outside of a show I did not attend at the Tokyo Olympic Pool, not Budokan, but it's a nice picture so I'm using it. Note the 80's faded denim, as was the style at the time.
A fan in a plastic Gene Halloween mask met fans inside the entrance way to the Budokan on the first night at that venue and 3 girls showed up in make-up the second night, but there were otherwise no “throw-backs” to KISS's previous era. Girls in blue “Udo Enterprises” (the concert promoter) aprons beckoned to passing fans to purchase tour programs (devoid of photos of femme fatales) (the U.S. Tour programs included a lot of pictures of scantily clad women draped all over the band members but this tasteless display was omitted from the Japaense programs) and T-shirts. Oddly, fans could purchase such merchandise without even buying a ticket to the show since the booths were outside the arena. (In the U.S., we could only buy such merchandise inside of the concert venue at that time, I can't speak to how it is these days as I haven't gone to a concert in the U.S. for a long time.) Gene and Paul shirts featured excellent graphics and a lack of female companionship for the shirt's title characters (again, American shirts from this tour showed barely clothed women on them). Other shirts listed tour dates and headlined this leg of the tour. Prices were amazingly comparable to those in the U.S. (considering the cost of living there is one and a half times that here). Albums and compact discs were sold inside the arena with an accompanying promo poster and a display for the release of Chikara was set up to tease fans. (“Chikara” was the name of a Japan-only “greatest hits” compilation CD that KISS released. It was an awesome collectible and those who were able to buy one upon release got a cloth patch with the Japanese symbol for “power”, chikara, from some shops which is very hard to find nowadays.)
A concert hall is a concert hall, correct? Well... pretty much so. However, how many U.S. Concert halls have the American flag hanging in the center of them? I don't believe that too many do since concerts are festivals of rebellion rather than paeans of dedication to country. The Budokan Hall has the flag of Japan proudly and patronizingly hung high in the center just in case the fans forget where they are and decide to stand on their seats, grapple for stage souvenirs, or step into the aisles for any reason other than a momentary misstep. (This was an amazingly ethnocentric and ill-informed comment from me at that time. I did not know Nippon Budokan was no mere concert hall, but a national hall in which sporting events for traditional martial arts were often held. I operated based largely on the notion that rock bands performed there. My comment is a good illustration of how you can get things wrong from too little information/experience with a culture. I figured the end and beginning of understanding what Budokan was all about came from "Cheap Trick's at Budokan" album.) Don't get me wrong. The fans had tremendous fun. I had great fun. You just have to make sure that you have it in the floor space of your arranged seating. Floor seats are watched by a myriad of militant ushers while those with seats in the balcony couldn't locate a helpful usher to save their soul. Someone should have warned us that all of the seating instructions were in Japanese. (This is one of those “ugly American” things that we say because we feel entitled to have things served up to us in the manner that is convenient for us. It was absurd to expect it in English and I certainly shouldn't have expected to be accommodated just because it was an American band. Now, I know better and am more humble about such things, but then, well, that's where I was mentally.) The ever helpful fans eventually obliged us in finding our seats shortly before announcements (in Japanese) were made to the effect that the show would be canceled if even light-weight mayhem ensued. The lights went out and the high-pitched screams went on.
We now get to the parts I was happy to see absent. First, there was no opening act which I've generally regarded as a nuisance prior to the main event. What was obviously absent, however, was the presence of stories about trips to the doctor, Levi's 501 jeans, and how you never “lick it down.” (Those all refer to tedious sexual patter that were common in KISS shows throughout their career.) Pauls' dialogue was refreshingly clean and Gene left the “World's Greatest F**k” jacket somewhere else that evening. (I censored that, but the real jacket, which he wore in America, was not censored.) After years of this type of tour fare, I was pleased to see the repetitive banter absent. Not so happily missed was the pyrotechnics which were surely prohibited at the Budokan. (It was no shock that there were no indoor fireworks. I don't believe they would have been tolerated in an enclosed hall like Budokan.)
Gene and Paul tried a little Japanese language on their largely uncomprehending audience. It's not that they were speaking improperly so much as the Japanese people often fail to understand the most flawless enunciation of their words. (Some things don't change with perspective. This is still a “truth” about life in Japan for foreigners.) Nonetheless, their efforts were met with hearty applause and screams. Pauls' usual “how do you feel” query went largely ignored but the fans happily parroted him and sang along to all songs. (I'm surprised he bothered to ask or expect they'd understand.) When Paul hinted that “I Was Made for Lovin' You” (which they seemed too embarrassed to play there) would be the next song, everyone in the hall figured out what was to be played before me. Eric shined for his first performance to a Japanese audience and obligingly sang “Black Diamond” so they might sample his vocal abilities as U.S. Audiences once (happily) did. His name was chanted by the audience after his solo, illustrating that he'd won this new crowd over heart and soul.
KISS themselves seemed to make few concessions to the Japanese strictness except for when it came to guitar bashing at the end of the show. (There was a prolonged smashing of a pre-broken guitar in U.S. shows). Paul broke the guitar and threw the pieces into the barrier between the band and the audience for the ushers to safely carry away. This was apparently an effort to avoid fights in the audience over the concert keepsakes. Random guitar picks were also quickly scooped up lest an overzealous fan decide to scale the barricade and snatch one up. (This is such a Japanese thing – no mess and no chaos. Order at all costs. I wonder if all rock concerts are like this or they were just more cautious for KISS and in Budokan because they can have raucous shows and it's a culturally important place.)
The show was frustratingly short (about an hour and a half) for what was approximately a $40.00 ticket. (At the time, that was a lot of money.) Regardless, it was still incredible fun with near perfect official merchandise. A KISS is still a KISS whatever the country... this time, they just decided to keep their tongues in their mouths. (This was my way of saying that the band had to behave themselves in Japan, which they did.)