Keeping It Real!
From traditional jazz in Shinjuku to hard rock and pop in Shibuya, the street entertainment scene in Tokyo is one of the most exciting and diverse in the world. Some of these are garage bands with dreams of stardom and others are students just taking their practice to the streets, and yet others have working gigs and just play the streets to advirtise. The quality of the performances range from top notch musicians to cacophonous howlers, but most listeners aren't interested in a professional performance; they come because it's real.
In Shibuya the performances are concentrated around the station and Seibu department store. In Shinjuku they are scattered all over, just follow your ears, but are usually found between the station and Omekaido. As there are no specified venues for these performances there are sometimes troubles with police and security guards, but for the most part people are supportive (or at least tolerant) of this relatively new social institution. I've never seen anybody have to pack up and leave because of where they were playing, though sometimes they are told to move some of their things.
I think I should emphasize that these are not always small productions. These musicians often bring several instruments and a full set of PA equipment. This requires a gas-powered generator to supply electricity and all the expenses and hassles that go along with it. Of course there are purely acoustic groups out there, but they have to scream so loud to be heard over Tokyo's rustling bustle that they usually don't last too long in these major playing areas. Solo guitar-playing singers, both male and female, can be seen all over the city at any time, but it is the performing groups that draw the crowds.
Naturally the performing groups are not limited to rock, pop, and jazz. I have seen tap dancing performances, Australian traditional music, a balloon animal maker, comedy groups, and there is always a constant pounding of drums in front of Shibuya station. The comedy group 'Gappori Kensetsu' is always hilarious and performs every Sunday in front of Shibuya station (unless it is raining). I make it a point to buy a CD, T-shirt, or whatever else from any performers selling them. You never know what you're going to get with a CD, and what I do get I usually only listen to once. So why do I continue to buy the CDs? Because I feel it is important to support the institution of street performing. If these people are going to go through all the trouble of making a CD, it is the least I can do to help them out and buy it. I seriously doubt that they are making any real profit from the album, and sometimes I am surprised by the content. The band Rebel Blue's CD called 'Pop Agitation' was surprisingly impressive despite low recording quality and I can honestly recommend the CD to anybody.
So what gets these people out there doing this? Why do so many young people give up so much of their free time to work hard and perform out on the streets for little or no material reward? Perhaps it is the chance of being discovered, or maybe it is to impress their friends and potential spouses. But I think the reason is that in a society where so much is artificial and showy; a society that has abandoned its own culture; and a society where hard work is rarely rewarded fairly, it gives these people a genuine sense of accomplishment and achievement. Despite all of the pomp that these people are surrounded by, they are keeping it real.