You probably don’t think of guns when you think of Japan, but Hokkaido’s hunters do. They say newly proposed gun laws may make their lives more dangerous. Later, we discuss something less dangerous: Taylor Swift’s sold-out Tokyo shows.

Hosted by Shaun McKenna and produced by Dave Cortez.

On this episode:

Justin Randall: Articles | Linktree

Alyssa I. Smith: Articles

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Shaun McKenna 00:09

Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I’m Shaun McKenna.

Last week saw the return of the Sapporo Snow Festival, which took place between Feb. 4 and 11 in the capital of Japan’s northern Hokkaido region.

And it was quite the return, the event drew 2.4 million visitors with organizers just ecstatic that attendance had recovered to pre-pandemic levels. It was the 74th edition of the Snow Festival, so let’s hope next year will be an even bigger success as it will be the 75th edition.

But Hokkaido is more than just the ice sculptures in Sapporo, it’s got tons of animals! Maybe, too many animals. On today’s episode we will talk to Justin Randall, a freelance writer based in eastern Hokkaido, about the hunting culture in that region before going a little more in depth into the people that actually live there.

After that, Alyssa I. Smith will join me to talk about a flurry of music news that happened over the past weekend, including a visit by pop superstar Taylor Swift and the deaths of some truly legendary Japanese musicians, conductor Seiji Ozawa and Can vocalist Damo Suzuki.

Hey Justin, welcome to Deep Dive.

Justin Randall 01:22

Thanks, Shaun.

Shaun McKenna 01:23

So at the start of the month, you wrote a piece for us titled “Hokkaido hunters say more firepower means more humane kills.” What sparked the idea to write that article?

Justin Randall 01:33

Oh, yeah. So I live in Kushiro, which is in the eastern end of Hokkaido. And from my time living here, I know a few different hunters so I started looking into the culture and the rules about it. And I know from this podcast that you have done some episodes with Alex Martin, on the increase in animal population in rural areas.

Shaun McKenna 01:51

Yeah, last year's phenomenon was the urban bear. But a bunch of other animals are finding their way into urban areas, yeah?

Justin Randall 01:58

Yeah. So while Kushiro is a big city, it has around 165,000 people in the last census count, it is isolated from the rest of Hokkaido. It's out in this pocket by itself. And the area is seeing an increase in deer each year. And according to the government statistics from 2022, there was 720,000 deer in Hokkaido. And they caused damage of around ¥4.8 billion that year, which is around US$35 million, according to 2022 rates. So for my piece on hunting, I focused specifically on Ezo deer, which is the largest subspecies of Japanese deer, and they're big and brown, really rugged in the winter, but in the summer, they have these really clear white spots on their backs, and the mature stags can reach around 200 kilograms. They also have straighter antlers than normal deer, and those antlers are really really big, which can reach around 90 centimeters in length.

Shaun McKenna 02:57

Yeah, I've seen a picture of the Ezo deer and the antlers really do stand out. Do the deer have any natural predators?

Justin Randall 03:04

Well, of course, there's the Hokkaido brown bear, which is called Ezo higuma, and bear sightings jumped just over 4,000 last year. So another predator would be humans and whether that's from hunting or really unlucky drivers. In fact, in the subprefecture of Kushiro, we saw over 4,500 deer-related car accidents in 2022. And that's 13% of all Hokkaido. So not quite unusual to see road signs out here that caution drivers to watch out. And lately, there has been some crashes in urban areas. Then around the schools, when the students are going home, we need to alert the kids sometimes that there's like this roaming pack of deer on their route home. There's always that worry that if the student started the deer or if the deer started the students that there'll be a traffic accident, right. OK. Another cool little population statistic is that in 2017, there was 660,000 deer in Hokkaido. Shaun, do you want to guess how many elementary school students there were in Hokkaido?

Shaun McKenna 04:07

I have no clue.

Justin Randall 04:10

So compared to the 666,000 deer, there was 250,000 elementary school students in Hokkaido.

Shaun McKenna 04:17

So every kid in Hokkaido basically gets two deer each, right?

Justin Randall 04:27

Yeah, that's how it looks.

Shaun McKenna 04:17

So you also mentioned hunting in there. Where are you from, originally?

Justin Randall 04:27

I'm originally from Tennessee, but I've actually never hunted there.

Shaun McKenna 04:30

OK, but you went out hunting with two Kushiro residents for your piece? Why don't you tell us what that was like?

Justin Randall 04:36

Yeah, so it kind of starts a little bit before that. My first encounter with hunting in Japan was when we helped my friend move from the city of Kushiro to this small town out just north of our city. And when we arrived we're walking around the City Hall and all these like older guys were sitting there chain smoking and holding guns. They just come back from a hunt. I was like a really shocked Considering, like Japanese gun laws, it's a real like surreal experience to see it's kind of open carry like that. And so for the article, I had a chance to go hunting with this guy named Eric Rose. And he later introduced me to a woman named Naoko Motooka. Naoko lives and actually works in Kushiro. And she started hunting about 10 years ago. And that was after another hunter gave her some deer meat and she was like, “Wow, this is really delicious. I'd like to be able to try to get my own.” But Eric grew up hunting in America and when he moved out here, he sought how to get a license. So the way that they hunt is really interesting. Naoko actually uses skis in the winter. So the snow is so deep that the snowshoes are kind of ineffective, and they’ll alert the deer to you know how loud your footsteps are. So she has these really cool traditional skis with like seal skin on the bottom of them, and she kind of zips in and out in between trees, real silent, very ninja-like, and she carries bear spray along with her. The day that we went out, we saw a bunch of other hunters out on the roads, which if you ever see like working-man trucks in the forest out in the middle of Hokkaido at six o'clock in the morning, that's probably what they're up to. So Eric Rose teaches in Kushiro and this is actually my fourth time going hunting with him when we actually finally caught a deer. Really interesting experience because we're on the top of this mountain, but, you know, some kilometers away, we could hear the boom of artillery from the JSDF proving grounds that are up here in Hokkaido.

Shaun McKenna 06:31

Right. That's the Japanese Self-Defense Forces, yeah?

Justin Randall 06:35

Yeah, yeah. So we hear the artillery going out as we're walking around in the woods, which for me, I grew up in Tennessee near a military base. That was kind of a weird nostalgia. And when we got out of the car, which is this big, kind of 4x4, because at that point, the snow was so deep, we look up and we see this tree next to us that's just been carved by these big brown bears. We make it down into this valley, and we end up crossing this frozen creek. There wasn't really a lot of deer out and the snow was just a little bit hard. You can really hear that crunch of your feet as you walk through it. So we crossed this creek and it helps kind of silence our footsteps a little bit more, it’s a little bit softer snow, and right as we get over the creek bank. Shaun, do you know what a sound a deer makes?

Shaun McKenna 07:19

I mean, I've only seen “Bambi,” so I guess, “Mom? Mom?”

Justin Randall 07:24

It’s not anything like that. It's really interesting. If you weren't thinking about it, it actually sounds like a whistle, or like a bird almost like this chirp, real loud, right? So as we cross this creek bank, we hear this chirp and we think, “Oh man, like the deer has seen us, it's now going to be running off into the woods, we're not gonna be able to get a deer.” So what actually happened was, is that this deer did see us and it started running away. But there was two other deer that didn't see us and they stood up, and they're looking around because they've been alerted by their friend. And Eric spotted them before they did us. And he signaled me to kind of stand back, I got down on my knees and waited, and it was real quiet. And then bang, we got the deer. And after that, we prepared it. And we buried the carcass of took about 9 kilograms of meat back out with us.

Shaun McKenna 08:14

Why did you bury the carcass?

Justin Randall 08:16

So as I mentioned earlier, the bear is the other big predator. And when we were preparing the meat, I asked Eric, I was like, “Hey, that was a loud gunshot. Does that scare away the bear?” And he's like, “No, actually, the bears have gotten kind of wise to it. So if they hear a gunshot in the woods, oh, well, there's going to be a dead deer there.” So the bears are kind of attracted to that sound now. So we buried the carcass in order to prevent birds or other predators from kind of congregating around that spot. And that's kind of required by the Hunters’ Association.

Shaun McKenna 08:48

OK, so did Eric say whether it was easy for him to get a gun license?

Justin Randall 08:53

So, as you may know, Japan has really, really strict gun laws. And because of that it doesn't have the same gun culture that America does. Japan does have one of the lowest rates of gun ownership throughout the world. But as of 2021, the Japan National Police Agency counted 177,000 firearms licensed in the country, and 87,000 people, mostly hunters, were permitted to carry them. So Japan basically banned citizens from having guns and specifically possessing, carrying, buying, selling or importing firearms. All of that's illegal — unless they have a gun license. So getting licensed is not particularly easy. You have to be over 20, pass a written test, and complete a certain amount of practice shooting sessions before taking the final shooting test. Then you go on to the last boss, and that's a lengthy screening process with your prefectural police. The whole process costs roughly ¥60,000. And then that screening process is a deep background check. They review your criminal record, personal relationships, involvement in organized crime, and they give you a psychiatric test and a drug test. And for foreigners, specifically, since they don't have those records for your whole life, they're going to reach out to your home country and do a background check through there. And if you make it through all of that, you're awarded with a license, but you have to renew every three years and the police inspect your gun ammunition and where you store it at once a year.

Shaun McKenna 10:22

Huh, OK. I don't know much about guns myself. When you get your gun license in Japan, what kinds of guns does that cover?

Justin Randall 10:28

So there's shotguns and there's rifles in Japan. Shotguns come in two categories: They're either smoothbore or they're rifled. Smoothbore shotguns don't have these grooves that cause the bullet to spin, but rifled shotguns have these grooves. Rifled shotguns are shotguns — they're not rifles. Rifles are a separate category, and this is where it gets kind of difficult. In Japan, you have to have a 10-year waiting period from the time you get your license to when you're able to use a rifle. But most hunters here in Hokkaido start off using these rifled shotguns, which in Japanese is called “hafu raifuru.”

Shaun McKenna 11:07

Right, so the terminology is kind of tricky but you basically are dividing them into two categories. There's the first category, which is things you can get after you get your license. So that would be the shotguns and the shotguns that are rifled. And then you also have a category of rifles, which you can only get 10 years later, is that correct?

Justin Randall 11:29

Correct, and the reason for that is rifles are much more accurate at distance and the bullets travel a lot faster.

Shaun McKenna 11:36

Right. So also potentially more dangerous, I guess. So last month, the National Police Agency also announced that it was looking at changing requirements for gun ownership. Can you explain a little bit what's going on with that?

Justin Randall 11:49

Yeah, it's really difficult right now, we mentioned previously the 10-year waiting period, and in that 10-year waiting period, you have to have a spotless record. So there's all these little hoops or hurdles that you have to go through. You have to have all of your ammunition counted properly, you have to have all of your shots reported. And if you have any infractions on your license, you can’t upgrade to a rifle after 10 years. So in response to the Nagano shooting, where two police officers were killed, and potentially a half rifle, one of those rifled shotguns, was used in that, the National Police Agency is wanting to put the rifled shotguns on the same level as a rifle. So that impacts the hunters in many ways. So these rifled shotguns, while they don't have 100% of the barrel rifle, they have about 50% of a barrel rifle, which is unique to Japan. Most of these rifled shotguns are used in Hokkaido specifically because of the distance and the type of game that they're hunting. So these new barriers to entry can prove to be an issue, as most of the hunters are, are aging out. And not a lot of new hunters are coming in. So it becomes a conservation issue for deer.

Shaun McKenna 12:59

Gotcha. So these newer hunters don't have access to the most accurate guns, the rifles. And they rely on the shotguns that are rifled for better firepower. But if that's something that's taken away, they'll be left with the less-accurate style of shotgun that is less likely to score a clean hit when it comes to hunting.

Justin Randall 13:18

Yeah, so the way that Eric described it was like shooting a knuckleball. If you're shooting a shotgun that's unrifled, that’s smoothbore, at distance, those bullets — the shot, not bullets, the shot — is going to drop a lot quicker, over a shorter distance and it becomes a lot harder to hit a vital shot on these deer and that leads to animal suffering.

Shaun McKenna 13:38

I think you mentioned in the article that there could be a possible exemption for Hokkaido.

Justin Randall 13:44

Yeah, so like I said, the game that is being hunted out here is a lot different than what's being hunted in Honshu. And in Honshu it's a lot of boar hunting, and a lot of bird hunting. But in Hokkaido, it's deer and bear hunting. Shaun, do you know the bear rhyme?

Shaun McKenna 13:58

I don't know, sorry.

Justin Randall 14:00

So if you see a bear, there's obviously three types of bears: If it's black, you fight back. If it's brown, lay down. If it's white, say good night. Polar bears are the most dangerous.

Shaun McKenna 14:10

Really, polar bears are the most dangerous? I don't know, maybe it's because of climate change that they're so angry?

Justin Randall 14:17

Yeah, so they're the only bears, the polar bears, that see humans as food. And brown bears are really territorial, whereas black bears are mostly scavengers. So black bears are scared of humans, but the brown bears if they feel threatened, they're going to attack and if you see a polar bear ... it was nice knowing you. So Hokkaido has brown bears, whereas Honshu has black bears, that provides a challenge. So hunters have to get closer to the bears if they don't have these half-rifled shotguns, which might lead to more bad interactions where hunters are either getting injured or getting killed. So hunters in Hokkaido are really hoping that the status quo maintains itself where these rifled shotguns are able to be used at the start of their hunting license, rather than after that 10-year waiting period, and with more firepower, that means that the hunters are gonna be able to defend themselves against bear attacks. And, whenever they hit a deer, there's gonna be less of a chance of deer just being wounded and the deer running off and it's hurting for the rest of its remaining life. But with deer having these vital shots, they're gonna die a lot quicker, and that's gonna be a lot less pain and suffering for that animal.

Shaun McKenna 15:35

Justin, how long have you been living in Kushiro?

Justin Randall 15:38

I've been living in Kushiro since August 2019.

Shaun McKenna 15:42

Most people who come here wind up in bigger cities like Tokyo or Kyoto. And it's also where all the tourists seem to be going even though the travel agencies in the rest of the country are trying to get tourists cash as well. Give us a pitch as to why it's worth visiting or even living in the far flung reaches of Japan.

Justin Randall 15:59

So Kushiro is home to some of the most incredible nature that I've ever seen, and when you get outside of the city, there's this expansive marshland. It's one of the largest wetlands in all of Japan. And there's a bunch of different volcanic national parks nearby, and we're in close proximity to the famous Shiretoko Peninsula. When you get outside of the city, and you get up into the mountains, you can have these really expensive road trips, and it kind of reminds me of living back in America. And Kushiro is kind of an interesting place, remarkably young city. And it was only gaining city status in 1922, which, compared to Hokkaido itself, which is also young, which was colonized in the 1860s to like the 1880s Kushiro kind of seems like a world apart from the rest of Japan.

Shaun McKenna 16:48

A big theme that continues to pop up on our podcast is depopulation. And I happen to know from your writing that this is affecting Kushida as well, right?

Justin Randall 16:58

Yeah, so Kushiro only becoming a city in 1922 became a really powerful city, one of the largest ports in Japan following the World War II, as well as a coal mining and paper producing town. But all of that kind of turned out to be really unsustainable. So when you come to Kushiro, you're going to see a really unfortunate scene, there's kind of this hollowed-out central business district. And a lot of these buildings that popped up during the bubble economy became untenable and are now kind of just fading away in plain sight. So Kushiro tried to pivot to tourism, but with like Corona, it's kind of this one two punch that's really set things behind. I once saw a Reddit comment that compared downtown Kushiro to “The Walking Dead,” which is really unfortunate, because it's a really special place to be. Yeah, and a special place to a lot of people. And it has a lot of really great summer tourism. It's one of the coldest cities year round, and it gets about 150 days of fog per year. And then when you get outside of the city, there's all these different four season adventure tourism activities that you can do.

Shaun McKenna 18:08

This weekend, you will be coming out with a story about the people of Kushiro. And you've spoken to many people for our 20 Questions section, too. But for this weekend's article, you chose five people in particular to kind of symbolize the issues that Kushiro is facing. Can you give us a preview of what those are?

Justin Randall 18:27

Yeah, so I talked with five different people. The first being a rock and roll like punk rock, live-house bar owner; as well as a tattoo artist; a hairstylist; a Shinto priest and a gentleman who makes tonkori, which are guitars that the Ainu used long ago. So one thing I did notice with the story that I'm writing is this common theme of younger people who have left Kushiro and decided to come back and in hopes of kind of saving the little area within this town. And specifically, one person I spoke to was Yoshifumi Kikuchi, and he's a 37-year-old Shinto priest. He's one of the priests at Itsukushima Shrine, which is in this area of Kushiro called Motomachi. And he founded this youth association called the Motomachi Youth Association in 2015. And the event that we highlighted specifically was this race called Moko Race.

Shaun McKenna 19:20

OK, what's the Moko Race?

Justin Randall 19:22

So much like with all Shinto shrines in Japan, a lot of them are on these hills, a little bit elevated from the street level that you might find them on. And the participants go there to the main building, they're divided into teams and then they head to the bottom of the hill where there's this really large torii gate. On their backs, they're carrying these wooden backpacks filled with weights and seaweed.

Shaun McKenna 19:20

Are the weights just to make it harder?

Justin Randall 19:22

Yeah, exactly.

Shaun McKenna 19:20

What about the seaweed?

Justin Randall 19:22

So that's an offering for God when you get back up the hill. So on the sound of a starter pistol, everyone sprints back up from the torii gate to the main building. And, some people, they take it really seriously, and some people kind of just laugh. And there's a few that even fell along the way. It's kind of like this physical fitness challenge you'd have to do in high school gym class or something. But the first person who would get to the top had to sound this drum, and in the first part of the race, they would advance to the next stage. But then there's this final race where whoever wins for that category is going to get blessed with good luck for the rest of the year. Right.

Shaun McKenna 20:26

Right, did you try the Moko Race?

Justin Randall 20:28

I didn't, I do plan on joining next year so ...wish me luck.

Shaun McKenna 20:32

OK, good luck.

Justin Randall 20:34

So, the reason I bring it up is that while some traditions are dying, there are people who are ready to start new ones and maybe wind up being more relevant to younger people today. This shrine Itsukushima Shrine is surrounded by all these abandoned homes. And because of that Kikuchi wants to kind of bring back this vibrant community and have a lot of young people say, “Oh, like I want to live in this part of Kushiro,” so he's kind of seeing it in a different way than normal. He's younger, really focused on using like YouTube and social media and creating these, like, really cool advertisements for the city. And the group's effort, which they kind of dubbed the Motomachi Model, focuses on this advertisement of this area as a nice, easy, safe place to live. And then from there, they want to revitalize the existing community. So that comes in a few different ways. There's history lessons for people to kind of gather around that they can learn more about this area of town. And that even extends to some of the schools where they have these quizzes for students in their social studies class, where they can learn more about these places that they're walking by whenever they're going home from school. And in the evening. They have these nomikais but they also have these, like evening runs, and they have these events where everyone can hang out with, with the larger ones being these like community luncheons, where everyone gets together and has a big meal together.

Shaun McKenna 22:01

So I think like a lot of people are trying to do that within their communities across Japan?

Justin Randall 22:05

Yeah, it seems to be a common theme seems to be different from place to place. But I think is interesting, because these people see that this area, their slice of the world, is worth saving, and they want to preserve that tradition. But maybe the next step is probably looking at more practical things that a town might need in order to entice people to come back. And what you need to see is a change of mindset. And I'm not quite sure that every community in Japan is ready for that yet.

Shaun McKenna 22:33

Well on that, actually, something I tend to read about is these small Japanese towns, they are kind of picky about the people that they want to move into their community. We recently carried a story about a survey by a research institute at Taisho University taking of 59 cities and towns that host a larger than 5% population of foreign nationals. And that particular survey didn't include Tokyo or any of the country's 20 big major cities. So 83.8% of respondents said they don't have regular exchanges with the foreign nationals who live alongside them. And out of 16.2% that said they do, 39.7% of those said that they are colleagues with non-Japanese people, followed by 32.5% who said that they're neighbors with them, and 21.6% who said that they have foreign friends. But here's the kicker, so one thing I think is, you know, you don't have to be friends with non Japanese people in your community. And you know, I don't know your situation. So I'm not going to judge, but 54.5% of those surveyed cited concerns about non-Japanese people moving into their community, and causing increased friction or the deterioration of social order. And, like, I would think that more interaction would lead to less deterioration of social order myself, but you are just one person, but you live in a town that is experiencing depopulation. So is there an effort to bring maybe more non-Japanese people like you into the town? Justin Randall 24:12

Yeah it’s kind of a mixed bag. But the piece that I mentioned coochie, he doesn't have a problem with it. He's younger, he's traveled abroad, he has a lot of foreign friends. And I think he can imagine a different future for Japan. But again, there's that obvious anxiety between some of the older generation or maybe some people who haven't really had the internationalization. Personally, and I think this is for anyone listening who is thinking to come and live in Japan or perhaps even join the JET Programme. My experience has been wonderful. Even through COVID I got here and then right away it started. Of course, it's not without his ups and downs, and you know, you're gonna bump into people and have that friction. But if we remember that we're in control of ourselves and be kind to all the people that we meet around us, we're gonna have those authentic experiences that are gonna have benefits both ways.

Shaun McKenna 25:06

All right, well, Justin, thank you for coming on Deep Dive. Thanks, Shaun.

[music playing]

She came, she saw she slayed. I'm back with Japan Times culture editor Alyssa I. Smith, and of course I'm referring to Taylor Swift, who played a string of four nights at Tokyo Dome last week. Alyssa, it was quite a hurricane of coverage.

Alyssa Smith 25:31

Yes it was. And we still have some more coming out.

Shaun McKenna 25:34

Well, what were some of the pieces that we carried in Japan Times then?

Alyssa Smith 25:39

Well, we had a pretty large review by Alan Richarz that outlined some highlights from the opening show, including Taylor speaking a little bit of Japanese here and there. All of her fans are probably going to know what went down, but the review mentioned her playing the song “Dear Reader” for the first time live. Now this is The Eras Tour, so the show itself goes through stages, or eras, of Taylor's career according to the album she released. The debut song popped up in a section of the show called “Surprise Songs,” which frankly, I think more artists should be doing, especially bigger names, just to switch up the setlist on your world tour, you know?

Shaun McKenna 26:18

Sure, I know. What were some of the other big stories that accompanied Taylor's visit?

Alyssa Smith 26:24

Of course, there were plenty of stories based on “Swiftonomics.” This is the economic impact of having Taylor play in your city. We had Yukana Inoue write about it, and she reported that the economic impact research laboratory was estimating that the impact on Tokyo was going to be around ¥34.1 billion. So that's $230 million dollars, U.S.

Shaun McKenna 26:48

Wow, that includes merch as well as tickets, yeah?

Alyssa Smith 26:51

Yes, it does. And since Taylor's only Asia dates are in Tokyo, and then six dates in Singapore at the start of March, it meant people flew in from all over the world to see the Japan shows. Patrick St. Michel wrote about the influx of foreign tourists. You could even spot them around Tokyo last weekend. So, “Swifties,” which is the name of her fans, wear these homemade friendship bracelets that they swap at the shows, so that was one way to spot them in the wild.

Shaun McKenna 27:21

I guess. The low yen also made things really easy to kind of combine the show with a visit to Japan right now?

Alyssa Smith 27:26


Shaun McKenna 27:28

I also noticed that Motoko Rich from the New York Times reported on some discontent among Japanese fans at the Swift shows. What was that about?

Alyssa Smith 27:36

So, Motoko Rich and Kiuko Notoya wrote a piece titled “Welcome to Japan, Taylor Swift Fans. Please remain seated as you cheer.” It was a good piece, but I think the headline may have been slightly off, which isn't Motoko’s fault. In the piece, she reported that some fans rushed forward from their seats when Taylor appeared on stage. So, Japanese fans largely had to follow rules. And they were a bit upset about what they perceived as unruly behavior by the non Japanese fans.

Shaun McKenna 28:07

Right. So I guess the headline should have been, maybe please remain at your seats as you cheer.

Alyssa Smith 28:13

Right. I noticed some backlash on Twitter ... I mean, X. Sorry.

Shaun McKenna 28:17

I'm still doing it too.

Alyssa Smith 28:21

...and a lot of it had to do with people only reading the headline and relaying their own experiences at Japanese concerts.

Shaun McKenna 28:28

Yeah, I kind of saw this so-called backlash too. So actually, we went to cover Rock in Japan Festival, this was before the pandemic, it's a huge outdoor festival in the summer, and when you arrived at the front gate, you would see a list of rules that the organizers want you to follow. And one of those rules was you get this assigned spot in the crowd and you're asked to stay there. This kind of thing happens at Japanese shows. It doesn't happen at every Japanese show. So you know, for example, Fuji Rock, which we've both been to, and is more popular with non Japanese fans, you can kind of like rush the stage if you want to. Or you can just approach the stage basically, right, you don't have an assigned spot. And I know that with some of these kinds of outdoor festivals that have these rules, some Japanese bands have actually complained about the policy from the stage while they're playing. I think it was like One OK Rock or Hi-Standard that did that at Rock in Japan. But yeah, it's kind of more imposed by venues just because they don't want anyone to get injured.

Alyssa Smith 29:34

Yeah and there are shows where Japanese fans wave and cheer. At idle shows, though sometimes there is etiquette that crowds in Japan follow. No pictures is another one. The rules say no pictures and if you're in the crowd and try to sneak one these loyal fans will call you out and tell you to erase it.

Shaun McKenna 29:51

You know, I remember that happening to me. The person in the crowd told me that the artist makes their money from selling pictures to fame. So, like taking a picture would be in effect stealing. And it was a blurry picture on an iPhone but I'm not going to argue.

Alyssa Smith 30:12

Right so this seating kerfuffle happened at Taylor Swift. I can't say if it happened at Ed Sheeran or Queen who also came to Tokyo Dome recently. But it's an interesting little insight into some fan culture here. You know, even at some rock shows Japanese fans don't make much noise at all because they're listening so closely to the music, which can be unnerving sometimes for some international acts. In almost every interview we've done with a foreign band, they'll tell us how polite everyone is in Japan. They're just listening very intently. You know, we've got a lot of sound buffs here.

Shaun McKenna 30:50

While you're here. Just also want to note that we lost to Japanese music greats this weekend. Seiji Ozawa and Damo Suzuki.

Alyssa Smith 30:59

Yeah, we are currently working on a piece about Damo Suzuki, who was a member of the influential group Can. People can check out their track “Vitamin C,” and trust me, you've heard it before. The Ozawa news came Friday night and The Japan Times, you included Shaun, has done a number of pieces on him throughout his career.

Shaun McKenna 31:20

I was able to see him do a practice session for kids in Matsumoto for his festival there, actually.

Alyssa Smith 31:25

That's nice. I grew up playing in ensembles and orchestras, so he was definitely a figure I've been very aware of my whole life. So in addition to working with orchestras around the world, Ozawa was the music director at the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 29 years. He was one of the most celebrated conductors worldwide in recent times. So we had our classical music writer, Chiho Iuchi write about her experiences interviewing him. We also have a really good piece by Dan Szpara, who snapped a wonderful picture of Ozawa sticking out his tongue.

Shaun McKenna 32:02

Yeah, that was actually a shot that I commissioned him to do. And when we saw it, it was just like, “Oh, this is such a good shot.” And then his PR team thought it didn't make him look dignified, and so they were really worried about it. But just to describe it for people, he's wearing red, it's kind of like he's sitting in front of a very old piano. There's a story behind the piano. It looks a little bit like that famous photo of Albert Einstein sticking his tongue out. But it was like, kind of characterizes his kind of sense of humor, in a way that he kind of ... you didn't get to see it, I guess fairly often, but yeah.

Alyssa Smith 32:37

Yeah. It's all there in that photo.

Shaun McKenna 32:41

Well, both Ozawa and Suzuki left impressive legacies, and I'll put links to any of the stories that we have in the show notes, Alyssa, thanks very much for coming on the pod.

Alyssa Smith 32:51

Thank you, Shaun.

Shaun McKenna 32:51

My thanks again to Alyssa and Justin for joining me on Deep Dive. We'll put links to the stories in the show notes.

Deep Dive producer Dave Cortez.

Dave Cortez 33:03

Hey, Shaun.

Shaun McKenna 32:05

My condolences on the Super Bowl.

Dave Cortez 33:07

You know, I am a 49ers fan and I can't even think about it right now, to be honest with you.

Shaun McKenna 33:11

Well, you know who did win, aside from the Kansas City Chiefs — the National Football League. So, Super Bowl LVIII was the most-watched TV program in U.S. history, and the game, on was it Sunday, Feb. 11? Averaged 123.4 million viewers across television and streaming platforms. Some of that had to be Taylor Swift's involvement, right?

Dave Cortez 33:31

You know, at the sports bar I was at it was really funny to see every time she was put on the screen, the entire room just cheered like mad men. These are diehard football fans, so she definitely had an impact.

Shaun McKenna 33:43

Yeah, that's awesome. But it's incredible that her involvement in something just kind of ups the attention that much. Before coming to Japan, she was one of the main draws at this year's Grammy Awards, which also saw over 17 million viewers tune in. And if you compare that to other award ceremonies, like the Emmys, the Emmys saw, like a record low of 4.3 million viewers. But yeah, she's kind of like bringing crowds with her.

Dave Cortez 34:08

Well that can only mean one thing, Shaun. The Oscars on March 11 are probably already emailing Taylor Swift’s people right now to get her to the show.

Shaun McKenna 34:16

Yeah, I'm sure everyone in Hollywood is thinking that now. Some of the other stories we have on the Japan Times website just now: Japan’s latest growth figures confirm that its economy has dropped from the third-largest to the fourth-largest in the world, officially being overtaken by Germany. Reporting from Erica Yokoyama of Bloomberg notes that Japan’s economy unexpectedly contracted for a second quarter at the end of 2023, dipping into a recession and clouding the Bank of Japan’s interest rate policy going forward.

Part of that is down to a weak yen, which went past the ¥150 per dollar mark on Wednesday — that was the first time since November, glad I took my holiday in December. The 1% plunge was part of a broader slide in the Group of 10 currencies against the dollar and prompted warnings from currency officials in Japan, check out Bloomberg’s Yumi Teso and George Lei’s story on that at our website, too.

Deep Dive from the Japan Times is produced by Dave Cortez. Our outgoing music is by Oscar Boyd, and the theme tune is by Japanese musician LLLL. I’m Shaun McKenna, thanks and podtsukaresama.