The Tokyo Metpod is the late podcast of Metropolis Magazine. Hosted and produced by Kamasami Kong and members of the magazine’s staff in a style reminiscent of morning drive time FM radio, The Metpod was a weekly English-language digest of upcoming events in and around Tokyo. Guests of the show included pop stars, comedians, club owners, business professionals, and restaurateurs, etc. In the latter years of the podcast, Kong become sole host and it was renamed “The Kong Show” though the format remained much the same. The Tokyo Metpod feed dried up in September 2013 without notice, and Kong reemerged a short time later as host of the Japan Today podcast, which also later became “The Kong Show” (how does one say “narcissist” in Japanese?).
In spite of living in Kentucky and only getting to Tokyo three times in as many years, I listened to every episode of the original Metpod feed and in the process discovered three intriguing people, resulting in three good stories and leading to a number of creative endeavors. This is the first of the three stories comprising my “Metpod Trilogy,” which I promise will not later be re-named “The Kong Trilogy.”
My first contact with Japan was a connection at Narita International Airport en route to Thailand in February 2009. I knew I had to return to Japan as soon as possible and by whatever means necessary. I began learning Japanese and upped my daily intake of green tea. I remember clearly that August afternoon when the search led me to Metropolis Magazine and this article:
The lady described might very well have been the coolest human being possible: a female Japanese DJ of jazz, funk, and rare grooves. I had to hear what this sounded like.
Hoping for more, I clicked the “podcast” link and discovered The Tokyo Metpod. The episode I loaded onto my iPhone 3G that day featured a sample from A New Peace 3. The track was transcendental and mesmerizing, tribal and mischievous. (It was “Melt!” by Flying Lotus.) DJ Otsuka had opened my ears to sounds I’d never heard before.
I emailed the address on djotsuka.com for information on how to order her mix CDs and, thinking her a sort of celebrity, assumed I was contacting an assistant or webmaster. But assumptions make asses of us. DJ Otsuka herself replied in sparse but polite English what vendor would ship internationally.すばらしい!
A few weeks later at the FedEx office, I collected my copies of A New Peace 1 and A New Peace 3. (A New Peace 2 was out of stock.) The next several days were spent ingesting the music and marveling at her powers of musical association, uniting artists from Herbie Hancock to King Curtis to Jamie Cullum to that mystifying Flying Lotus track. I desired to open up some sort of dialogue, but my insufficient Japanese, her rudimentary English, and no option for subtitles made for quite the intercontinental conundrum.
An avid music collector since there were cassettes, I still purchase CDs. I likely have about 500 CDs, judging from the weight and quantity of boxes labeled “CDs” every time I move. It was from this collection that my epiphany came: my own DJ mix CD! A language we both knew. I was then operating my video production company as SobaiFilm, thus DJ Sobai came to be.
Edited in Final Cut Pro 6 and culled from my collection of rock, electronic, hip-hop, and everything else, this is the mix that I shipped off to DJ Otsuka mere weeks before my first trip to Japan:
One of the tracks sampled is “Armistice” by MuteMath, who were also performing in Shibuya during my week in Tokyo. So when I finally arrived in Tokyo, I made tentative plans to attend. I also received an email from DJ Otsuka…
DJ OTSUKA (11/16/09): I’ve received your package, and I listened to your CD several days ago. It was very very fresh, and interesting! I want to meet you directly and to talk about it.
ME (11/16/09): Great! Glad you liked it. I’m planning to attend the MuteMath show at Shibuya O-East. I could meet you in Shibuya.
The next day…
DJ OTSUKA (11/17/09): Today, you will go to MUTEMATH concert at Shibuya. Though I am not in time, can I meet you in front of the concert venue Shibuya O-East when the concert will end?
ME (11/17/09): The MuteMath concert is sold out, so I will not be going. I can still meet you in Shibuya if you like. Whatever time and place is best for you, even if only for a short time.
This last email went unanswered for some time, and the following evening I ventured out for the Wednesday night service of Lifehouse Tokyo in Ochanomizu. Having never traveled to that part of Tokyo, I got turned around on the Yamanote Line and ended up literally crammed into the train with the rush hour crowd heading the opposite direction. By the time I got back on my way to Ochanomizu, I was hopelessly late and had yet to navigate the neighborhood to find the right building. I took some photos off a lovely bridge overlooking the train station and went back to Shinjuku feeling defeated.
Back at the Best Western Shinjuku, I logged into my email.
DJ OTSUKA (11/18/09): Can you go to the O-East? How about there at 21:30?
It was 20:46. If I left right that second, I would make it.
ME (11/18/09): On my way.
I gave her my cell number, pressed send, and bolted for Shinjuku Station.
That journey between Tokyo boroughs was surreal. Murakami surreal. Months before, I had seen this woman in an article in Metropolis magazine and had somehow managed to cross the ocean and a language divide with a mix CD that she found fresh and interesting enough to warrant meeting me. And now I was on the train to see her in person!
As I got off the train, my phone rang. It was DJ Otsuka.
I’m not certain exactly how we coordinated, but I caught the word “Hachiko” and that was the train station exit leading to the busiest and most crowded intersection in the world. You know the one Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson skirt across in Lost in Translation? That one. How would I locate her in a bustling neon-lit sea of homogeny? I supposed that being the conspicuous and confused white man, I’d stand out, and she’d find me.
She emerged from the crowd and into the light of the Hachiko Exit sign, wearing a beret and scarf, a shoulder bag full of vinyl over one shoulder. She was slightly shorter than me, and her eyes were friendly.
After a number of smiles and bows, she opened her bag of records and gave me a CD copy of A New Peace 2.
“Aw, domou. Domou arigatou.”
I removed the plastic wrapping, clumsily losing it in the wind, embarrassed at littering such a clean city. I rummaged through my bag for a Sharpie, produced one, and she signed my CD. Then she proceeded to buy both our train tickets to Shinjuku, as she was on her way to work there.
I’d learned enough Japanese to glean context, but not nearly enough for a conversation. Our fragmented exchanges on the train to Shinjuku included that I liked Tokyo, her job was a radio DJ, I was leaving for Thailand in three days, she’d been to Spain once, and that we both love that Flying Lotus track.
We exited the train. I had arrived, but she had one more train to catch.
“Very nice meeting you.”
I got back to my hotel and wrote her a proper thank-you email, loaded A New Peace 2 into my MacBook Pro, and enjoyed.
Were this a work of fiction, this is about where the credits would roll. But life happened a little more cinematically…
Before I left Tokyo, my friend Justin, who’d been living in Japan for some time, came to visit me and we went out sightseeing. I brought my Panasonic AG-DVX100B along and shot some video. When I finally got back to my office two and a half weeks later (I had also been to Thailand and Vietnam), I made this montage. Music from A New Peace 2, mixed by Hiroko Otsuka.
Update (2/17/17): I just clicked the above link to the Metpod and discovered a new podcast, Metropolis: On Air, which went off the air in early 2016.