Joe Henley On March - 14 - 2011

Revilement got into Nagoya, Japan on Thursday night and were met at the airport by Jun, guitar player of the local thrash metal band Deaflock. Jun didn’t speak much English but with sign language and slow, deliberate speech we were able to get by. He took us directly to Club Quattro where Unearthly Trance, High on Fire, and The Melvins were playing. Our flight landed at about 6:15, and with the seven o’clock start time, we missed Unearthly Trance, but caught the last two bands. High on Fire ripped through their set with the oft shirtless Matt Pike unleashing sludgy, sonic hellfire through his 12-string guitar. Being used to seeing him sans upper body coverings and resting his ax on his paunch it was almost odd seeing him move about the club after the show wearing a tank top.

The Melvins were headlining and it was unreal how tight they were with their two-drummer set up and varying vocal combinations featuring all four members at times. Being the consummate eclectic eccentrics that they are, the band closed the show with a four-part harmonized version of Merle Haggard’s “Okie from Muskogee”, during which bassist Jared Warren doffed his instrument and waded out into the crowd to both wrap his arms around, and in the case of at least one unsuspecting attendee, pick them up and flip them into a standing 69 position, all while belting out his end of the harmony. After the show we headed to Jun’s place out in the industrial suburbs of the city, and then to a restaurant for multiple mugs of soju. After the meal we picked up another bottle of rice wine and sat around at Jun’s place listening to his vinyl collection, downing more soju, and talking about our respective metal scenes the best we could despite the language barrier.

Friday was Revilement’s first show in Japan at a small club called Daytrive, which was not only an all-you-can-drink establishment, but was also self-serve. This meant that for 2,000 Yen you got a cup and free reign over the bar’s alcohol supply. But before the show we had some time to kill, so we all headed over to No Remorse Records, run by Miffy, guitarist and vocalist for Nagoya doom metal act Amber Vial. Miffy bought three of our EPs to sell at his shop, and it was just as I was handing him the CDs that that the earthquake struck. At first I thought I was just dizzy from the previous night’s consumption and lack of sleep due to our bass player Vic’s intense snoring during the night. Then Allen, Revilement’s guitarist, said it was a quake. At first I was in disbelief, having never experienced a geological event that was strong enough to knock me off balance, but Miffy quickly ushered us out of the building. On the sidewalk outside, we could still feel the ground moving beneath our feet, and all traffic was at a standstill. Some musicians who had been doing a sound check in Zion Live House below the record store and ourselves exchanged nervous laughter and bewildered expressions. It seemed to last about a minute, and we had no idea how serious the situation was at this point. Once it had apparently died down, we got in a taxi, and the TV in the cab had one of the local news channels on. All we could understand amidst the Japanese characters on the screen was the number 8.8.

We got to Daytrive and began going through sound check, and it was via the club’s wi-fi connection that we were able to get our first glimpse of how serious the quake was. On my phone we watched the BBC’s video of the devastating tsunami tearing across the landscape in Sendai, where the quake struck, hundreds of kilometers away from us. It was surreal and shocking. Defiled, the Tokyo death metal band that had put together the tour, had left their hometown before the quake struck, and arrived safely and on time, save for guitarist and founding member Yusuke, who had been traveling separately by train, while the rest took a bus. They too had a look of bewilderment and confusion on their faces as they struggled to come to grips with the horrific situation. I meekly asked their bass player, Haruhisa, if he was OK. “No,” he said, as his eyes seemed to well up with emotion, “tsunami.”

Yusuke’s train stopped somewhere between Tokyo and Nagoya when the quake hit, and he was forced to take a taxi the rest of the way, arriving at the venue around 11 o’clock and jumping on stage, where for the previous twenty minutes Defiled’s guitarist and bassist had been performing an impromptu set comprised of tracks from their new album, and fan favorites such as Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”. Defiled then proceeded to finish the show, playing their headlining set in its entirety.

We had wondered if the show would still happen, given the magnitude of then national tragedy that had just befallen Japan. We would have completely understood had they wanted to call off the show, but the Japanese bands seemed adamant that the show must go on, and go on it did. About twenty people showed up to watch, and we played on as we normally would have. After our set we sold some merchandise, handed out a few free EPs, and sold one to a woman who carried around a small pink suitcase with a wind-up plastic crocodile inside. The quake and its aftermath weighed on my mind, knowing that the country was likely facing a terrible death toll in the ensuing days, but admittedly it did drift in and out of my thoughts. It just seemed too big to comprehend. But we helped ourselves to the keg of beer, and went out with all the bands on the bill, Hydrophobia from Fukuoka, Defiled, and Deaflock, after the show to a restaurant where we ate and drank until about 3 a.m. Everyone seemed to put the events of the day out of their mind for the time being. We laughed and talked loudly, doing the stupid things bands do on tour. Defiled’s drummer served up sushi rolls atop his shaved head which were dutifully swallowed up by Deflock’s vocalist, Koichiro.

The next morning, Defiled’s drummer, whom we took to calling Mr. Honda as we had a hard time pronouncing his first name, woke us up by hiking his underwear halfway up his small intestine, marching into our room, and singing something in a high, piercing falsetto. We turned on the TV at our hotel to see more scenes of devastation replaying over and over again on local news channels that were dominated by coverage of the quake, for obvious reasons.

Our next show was to be in Osaka, farther away from Tokyo, and again there was no talk of a cancellation, so we hopped on the bus and made the three hour trip south. After arriving in the city we walked a short distance with our gear to the basement club Hokage, another intimate venue with a capacity of maybe 70 or 80 people. This time there were seven bands on the bill, ourselves, Defiled, Hydrophobia, The Rabies, Raging Fury, Bloodball, and Redrum, ranging in style from hardcore punk to death and thrash metal. All of the bands were amazing in their own right, but I found Raging Fury particularly impressive given that the band had been in existence for nearly thirty years, its members close to fifty years of age, and still dominated the stage like spry twenty-somethings.

During the afternoon, only three bands got a sound check, so we just hung out at the club for a while, went out for something to eat, and watched the first two bands’ sets before it was our turn to play. We received word that the Tokyo show was canceled, as the city was on orders to conserve electricity. We understood entirely. Now was not the time for something as trivial in the grand scheme of things as a metal show.

Once again, after the show, all of the bands retired to a restaurant, this one on one of the upper floors of the same building that houses Hokage. Everyone seemed happy, as though either everything was alright, or that everything was in such chaotic disarray that there was nothing we could do about it anyway and we might as well carry on as best we could. All of the bands had received word by this point that their families were safe for the time being, so we drank again into the small hours. The plan had been to take the eight hour bus trip to Tokyo directly after the show, but with no show happening in Tokyo we spent the night in Osaka in a capsule hotel. This particular establishment did not allow people with tattoos on the premises, so a few of us had to cover up in the reception area. There was even a sign in the lobby showing a stuffy tuxedoed concierge pushing a heavily tattooed yakuza type out the door. But with our body art undiscovered, we found our way to our respective coffins doubling as hotel rooms. In my own three by six foot container I once again turned on the news to try and glean more about what was happening in the country, watching more footage of the tsunami tossing vehicles, homes, and lives about like children’s toys.

The next day was Sunday, and it was then that we learned of the potential nuclear crisis that was looming due to the quake. Three reactors in the north of Honshu island were in danger of melting down. Yusuke, who was also acting as the tour manager, advised us to get out of the country as soon as we could. Jack, our drummer, was allowed to change his departure point from Tokyo to Osaka, so he would stay there until Monday morning and then fly back to Taipei. Vic, Allen and I, who had booked flights with a different company, had no luck in persuading airline officials to do likewise, and were informed that we would have to fly out of Tokyo. By this time, many roads had been rendered impassable, and so taking the bus was not an option, but the shinkansen, or bullet train, was still running, so we caught the train to Tokyo.

On arriving in Tokyo, things seemed bafflingly normal. People milled about at the train station as though nothing was amiss. Yuske’s parents met us there to pick up his gear so he wouldn’t have to lug it around while he made certain that we would be able to get out of the country. Yusuke’s father laughed and apologized for what he called a “special event.” We then caught the subway to the airport, and passed by parks where children played, one little boy running around with a traffic cone atop his head. It seemed like any other day; business as usual.

We were scheduled to fly out of Tokyo’s Haneda Airport on Monday at 12:40 p.m., but upon talking to a representative at the airline’s desk there, and after much negotiation between Yusuke, who was with us every step of the way, and the airline representative, we were told that we could fly out of Narita that night at seven p.m. It was nearing five in the afternoon, so we had precious little time to get to Narita. The only viable option was to take a 20,000 Yen, one hour taxi ride from one airport to the other. Our gear filled the taxi, and so Yusuke, showing grave concern for our safety despite having his own family to worry about, bid us a hasty farewell and we tried to adequately express our sincere gratitude to him for all he had done for us that day in the short space of time we had.

We got to Narita by six, and ran to our airline’s desk at the terminal, only to be told that our tickets had in fact not been changed by the person we talked to previously. The first woman we talked to then astoundingly asked us what our reason was for wanting to change our flight. I stared in abject stupefaction for a moment before explaining that, in case she hadn’t heard, Japan was staring down the barrel of a catastrophic nuclear event, and that we would prefer not to be around should fallout start wafting on the breeze. We were then directed to another desk, where we were once again asked the same maddening question, and told that we could not change our tickets. After taking a moment to collect myself, I explained as calmly as I could that we had just traveled over 50 kilometers at great expense based on the word of one of their employees that our flight had indeed been changed. If there was only a chance that our tickets could be changed, we would have stayed at Haneda and waited it out.

After many phone calls and flipping through various company handbooks, our tickets were successfully changed to get us out of Tokyo at seven o’clock. It was 6:35 and the flight was already boarding. We raced through security and were then held up by a security official who insisted that Allen take the liquid products he had just purchased minutes before while we waited for our airline to change our flight and put them into a clear zip lock bag, which apparently doubles as an impenetrable protection against incendiary devices and biochemical weapons. We ran through the terminal, carrying our shoes with us as we had no time to stop and put them on, and arrived at our gate just minutes before seven. We were the last people on the plane, but we would safely get out of Japan and get back to our loved ones in Taiwan.

Meanwhile, Yusuke and his parents, who are originally from Hiroshima and both survived the nuclear attack of WWII, fled to their hometown, some 500 kilometers from Tokyo, to try and get as far away from the fallout as they possibly could. This morning, as I write this, news reports say another quake has triggered a second tsunami that will hit Sendai, and that three nuclear reactors are presently melting down. I’m not the praying kind, but I still send my thoughts out to the wonderful people I met during my brief stay in Japan, and hope that they, and everyone there, will not have to endure more overwhelming hardship than they already have. But realistically, I know that this is just the beginning of what will be a very long and arduous recovery process for all Japanese. May we all do what we can for them in this, their dire time of need.

 

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