THE SMUGGLERS JAPANESE TOUR DIARY
December 1996

The cast:
Smugglers - Grant Lawrence (me, voice), David Carswell (guitar), Bryce Dunn (drums), Nick Thomas (guitar), Beez (bass).
Queers - Joe Queer (voice, guitar), B-Face (bass), Hugh O'Neil (drums).
Supersnazz - Tomoko (bass), Kanako (guitar), Spike (voice), Esayo (drums).
Label representative - Chris Appelgren, Lookout Records spin doctor.
Tour manager/driver - Wes Smith.
Driver #2 - Andy.

JAPAN STUFF I LEARNED

Yes folks, those ne'er do well Smugglers actually managed to somehow snuggle into the middle of what had to be the premium international rock'n'roll tour of 1996: The Queers from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA in the top slot, us Smugglers from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in the centre position and Tokyo, Japan's Supersnazz rounding out the bill of bills on the tour of tours for a ten day trek to the enchanting and mysterious land of Japan.

Here's what happened from the perspective and opinion of me, Grant Lawrence, current member of said Smugglers....

Tues Dec 10/96: leaving Vancouver
Dave's dad picked us all up and away we went to the Vancouver international airport. We were all bristling with excitement at our first trip west to the far east. Weird eh? My only problem on this thrilling day was that I had a dirty, festering, scaley black scab the size of a wooden nickel bubbling up right on my upper lip!!! DAMMIT!!! Yeah, some lowly mama decided to ram the mic into my teeth at our Japanese Sayonara party two nights earlier at the Mighty Niagara pub here in Vancouver. Alas, the wound was far from healed, and by the time we had purchased two bottles of Silent Sammy in the Duty Free shop for the flight, I was picking at it, and dabbing the blood with my coat sleeve. Would they let me into a straight-up place like Japan sporting such a disgusting welt?

So at about 9:00AM we get onto the plane, a big ol' jet on JAL airlines. Our flight attendant was a Japanese goddess who served us funny cakes and sweets that made me spit them down the crack between the seat and the window once she moved to the next row. The movie was the terrible "Dragonslayer" starring, um, Dennis Quaid with a bizarre, slurred cockney accent who befriends a troubled dragon with the voice of Sean Connery. It was awful, and we watched every second intently. "Karate Kid" would have been much more appreciated.

Weds Dec 11: arriving in Tokyo
When we finally landed, get this... it was WEDNESDAY. Yep, Wednesday December 11, 2:00PM!!! POOF! Just like that, we had lost an entire day somewhere in a nine hour flight... confused but happy to be on Japanese soil, we cruised through customs with the skill of professional Smugglers and there we were. Japanese people were everywhere! We were met by a huge throng of screaming teenage girls that were waving albums... "Thriller," "Bad" and "Billy Jean." Yes folks, as the mob parted like the Red Sea for our passing, we heard the news: Michael Jackson had just arrived in Tokyo from his Malayasian ranch to visit Disneyland Japan... we didn't stick around to greet him.

Soon we found the Queers who had, get this, flown from Amsterdam after their European tour to Thailand for the weekend, then up to Japan. They looked beat to say the least. Drummer Hugh was so tired he kind of resembled a punk rock Ronald Reagan at first glance - all pink and deflated, with his black spikey hair hardened over with a two-day crust. Luckily for us and them, we didn't have to play that night and climbed into our two vans after meeting Wes, a fellow Canuck, the tour manager and Andy, a yank, another driver. Two nice enough guys, we thought. So off we went for the six hour drive to Nagoya for the first show the next night.

When we finally arrived at the shoebox Nagoya hotel, so began the culture shock. The couple who owned the place spoke no English so they did a lot of wild, violent gesturing. First, we were forced to take off our shoes and boots and leave them at the door. Then we had to slip on these tiny, disgusting, dirty slippers and were led up to the room (the old man actually led Dave by the hand up the stairs - sweet), a bamboo thatched box with six futons stetched out onto the floor. We each got one quilt and a beanbag to use as a pillow which actually hurt to use. Soon grampa was yapping at us because, as he karate-chopped, we weren't to wear the slippers on the "bedroom" floor. Annoying, but it made sense. Then the ancient one showed us the communal bathroom at the end of the hall which was the introduction to the Japanese "toilet"... a sink-looking thing sunk into the floor. Yes, readers, we were actually expected to squat over this contraption to, uh, grow a stinky tail, if you know what I mean. I personally refused and told the hotel couple so immediately. They were too busy screaming at me for wearing the hall slippers into the bathroom - they even shit in a special pair of plastic red slippers!!!

Thurs Dec. 12: Diamond Hall, Nagoya
Bryce,Chris,Grant.gif (10288 bytes)Jetlag managed to spare most of us except for Dave and Chris Appelgren who got up at the ripe old hour of 7:00AM and left, hand in hand, saying they were "going around the corner for a cup of coffee." Little did we know that was the last we would see of those guys for a long, long, scary-long time.

The rest of us got up a while later and went for our breakfast meeting with Wes to discuss the tour. The dining of choice? Um, Denny's. We weren't quite ready to dive in just yet... let's just say the non-toilet thing shook our confidence a bit. But wait! Gone were the grilled cheese and 'Moon Over My Hammies' to be replaced with wonton, udon, and ramen. Tasty! The meeting came and went and still no Dave or Chris.

We spent the day wandering around Nagoya going into arcades and porn shops (one had a section of video tapes specific to those of the 'diarrhea fetish'... like pictures of women spraying diarrhea from their respective cornholes into guy's faces that sported goofy 'shit-eating' grins... I'M NOT KIDDING!). Still no sign of Dave and Chris. It was getting on into the afternoon and we were starting to get quite concerned.

Soon it was time to meet up at the hotel and head to the club. When we made it back, Supersnazz were waiting at the hotel and it was great to see them again. It had been about two years since we last played with them in Seattle and Vancouver. We loaded up the vans and away we went to the Diamond Hall - without Dave or Chris.

The place was an enormous venue, one that at the outset all three bands were worried about filling. In Japanese standards, Nagoya is a small town and an apparently small scene, and this venue held 2,500 people!!

I had decided that at 7:30PM, if Dave and Chris didn't show, I would call the cops. Finally, at 7:00PM, a full 12 hours since we last saw them and only one hour before the Smugglers showtime, an exhausted and thoroughly freaked-out Dave and Chris stumbled in the doorway. Seems that when they left the hotel, they decide to go right around the block, but never came back to the hotel. They walked and walked, always thinking they were getting closer, but they never found it. They didn't know the name of the hotel or the name of the club. Nagoya being a small town, English was even less understood than in Tokyo or Osaka, so the cab drivers, pedestrians, bus drivers and cops couldn't help them. All the signs were in Japanese characters. After nearly 10 hours of walking aimlessly, they stumbled across Nagoya station where they found an international phone with little American and Canadian flags beside the buttons. They called both Lookout and Mint Records and eventually, somehow found the cel phone number to Wes, and Wes led them back on the subway to the club, 12 hours and, as we figured out later on a map, 20 miles later. Geezloufuckinweez! First crisis over.

The show that night was fun but weird, being the first show over there and all. The audience seemed slightly timid and withdrawn. As we feared, we didn't fill the hall, nowhere near in fact, which was not the best way to kick things off, but we were optimistic.

Fri Dec 13: night off - Tokyo
Yep, second night of the tour, first night off, Friday night. Go figure. Oh well, we made the best of it. We did the drive up the Topeii freeway from Nagoya in about five hours and pulled into downtown Tokyo to find our hotel. Tokyo seems to be endless sprawling arteries of tiny, narrow, weaving side streets with large viens of main thoroughfares cutting through them, all stemming out of large squares and centres every so often. No grid system exists here, hence how easy it is to get lost, let alone the language barrier. We drove in on one of these main viens and soon turned off into a lane onto one of the most incredible scenes we had ever witnessed, straight out of an Indiana Jones movie. Our van crawled down a thin alley that was packed with people, lined with miniature bars, restaurants, clubs, sushi and noodle counters, the street made even narrower by piles of crates and barrels stacked up between doorways. Glowing red lanterns with Japanese characters hung from each bar or restaurant, brushing against the van as we passed. Soon we were stuck on a sharp corner trying to get to the hotel. There were pedestrians, bikes, scooters and mini-cars surrounding us all trying to get by every which way but loose. The van crunched up along side of one of the ever-present vending machines, we hit an old man on a bike, a pile of wooden boxes came crashing down onto the side of the van, people tried to help wedge us out, and we waved. They waved back. Communication!

After two hours of crawling through a two to three block space, we finally made it to the tiny hotel. More of the same slipper schtick here, except in Tokyo the hotels have beer and whiskey machines in the lobby and coin-operated non-stop Japanese porn on the TV in the rooms. Dave's only question to the non-English speaking owner was, "Is there a change machine in the lobby?"

That night Nick and I pub-crawled the neighborhood, ending up in a miniscule five-stool bar where the owner broke out the Canadian whiskey once he figured out where we were from. Nick got so tanked he joined a 60-something old bitty in a karaoke version of "Tennessee Waltz," both parties singing in broken English. Nick hit it off so well with this ol' gal that by the end of the night the two of them were basically necking. Nick later passed out in the hallway of the hotel, half-undressed, a mixture of lipstick and toothpaste smeared all over his smiling face.

Sat Dec 14: Club Milk, Tokyo
We spent the day exploring the fascinating miniature neighbourhood our hotel was in and then loaded up the vans and headed to Club Milk, known as the "hottest night club in all Tokyo." Whoo! We were told by Wes that Milk's theme was "sex and rock'n'roll" and since we're a rock'n'roll band that base was covered, and we all read quite a bit about having sex, so it was aces high tonight!
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Wes also told us that Milk has a very famous three-story neon sign that can been seen for blocks and to get our cameras ready. Upon arrival, we discovered a huge tarpaulin and scaffolding covering this 'great' sign. A staff member who helped us load in explained... remember that goofy cult that blew up the Japanese subway last year? Well, apparently these dudes used to have an office or clubhouse or something right above Milk, so the cult's arch rivals FIREBOMBED the building not two days EARLIER and Milk NEVER closed!!! A week earlier someone walked into the club and poured gasoline out their pantlegs all over the packed club and when they found an exit, turned around and threw a match. That didn't close the club either, and here we were, shaking with fear of, well, dying.

To relax, a Japanese friend took us to the shopping square of Shibuya. Okay, Shibuya makes Times Square in New York City look like Tombstone Arizona on Sunday morning. I mean this place was PACKED!!! Twenty-story high TV screens, huge neon signs of every Japanese mega-corp imaginable, massive 3-D images projected onto buildings, and huges hordes of people moving in every direction at once. It was nerve-racking to say the least, so after a few arcades, some porn shops and a bite to eat, we headed back to the terrorist-target to relax before showtime.

Once the show finally got underway it was insane and way-made up for Nagoya's underachievement. Six hundred people showed up, packing all three bizarre levels of this crazy nightspot. When we played it was mayhem, with kids shocking us by singing along to songs on "Selling The Sizzle." When the Queers eventually got on it made our rabid crowd look like a church social. Holy shit, did those kids freak!!! And is "Queers songs" a course in the local education system? These little shits knew EVERY WORD! Freaky. 10.gif (10470 bytes)

The club itself had all sorts of weird rooms, nooks and crannies where people could hang out, pair off and you know, bang-bang lulu, if you know what I mean, which was totally encouraged by the club... one was called the "Pink Room" where the walls, floor and ceiling were covered in pink shag fun-fur, except where pictures hung depicting transexuals with their dicks in vices and their tits getting sliced off. Yummy. There were people fooling around and going at it in here throughout the night. There was a huge display of dildos in a fish tank that was a popular Smugglers hang-out, as well as a vibrating socket that men can insert their dicks into and jizz in. There was the kitchen-bar, an old restaurant kitchen where Milk converted the dishpit into a spanish fly-hiball bar. Everywhere you looked there were fishtanks with sex toys as ornaments and TVs either showing hardcore porn or kid's movies... as the hours rolled on (the club closed at 7:00AM and the Queers were done by 2:00AM) the crowd got drunker, a few select SLEEPING QUARTERS.GIF (8639 bytes)Smugglers paired off with local sex freaks and those who struck out had to watch out for the ridiculously numerous amount of people bent over in the halls, stairs and booths puking their guts out in the wee hours. I guess cocaine and Spanish Fly is a nasty mix!

When the Tokyo dawn broke and we finally headed back to our new hotel, we were in for culture shock #467. Our hotel room resembled a cross between a laundromat's wall of clothes dryers, a dog kennel, and a morgue. Both the Queers and Smugglers were placed in a long corridor of beds in cubicles built perpendicularly into the wall in tiny compartments. Shocked and drunk as we were, we all scrambled into these fucking tubular coffins and crashed for the night.

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