10 Years Later: Phish in Japan Pt. 4

The second set was excellent – Highlights included a terrific Gotta Jibboo, a funky rocker of a Wolfman’s and a blistering but unfinished Antelope that went directly from the jam immediately into Contact, foregoing the end section (Phish had replaced instructions about setting your gearshift into the high gear of your soul with helpful observations about how your car connects to the road, which, incidentally, reminded me quite a bit of the level of the English lessons I taught). Nagoya was the last show for me, though the band still had three more to go – including the next night’s bombshell at Fukuoka’s Drug Logos that many are familiar with from LivePhish (which included a 2nd set GBOTT opener, a nod to two friends who had stepped off a bullet train from Nagoya to Fukuoka to buy smokes, without wallets or train passes, and had the doors close behind them, stranding them hundreds of miles from their destination. They sweet-talked their way onto a faster train, actually beating their traveling companions to Fukuoka, and the band acknowledged their adventure).

Early the next morning, before the caravan would travel west from Nagoya to Fukuoka for the Drum Logos show, I awoke and returned to Tokyo to teach an early afternoon English class. As I arrived to my local train station to find my bike stolen for the fourth time in five months, I sprinted two miles in the boiling sun to my apartment and quickly changed before frantically rushing two miles back in a wool suit to teach my class (being late was akin to begging to be fired). And I smiled the whole way.

Perspectives on Phish in Japan

While this run was unique in many ways, the exchanges and new bonds formed between the American and Japanese fans were a highlight totally unlike other tours. In a strange way, we were hosting each other. The Americans on that tour were eager to teach the Japanese about Phish, and they offered at each step to help educate the new fans. In turn, the Americans experienced the full force of Japanese hospitality. Our Japanese hosts were warm, accommodating and generous. The American guests also witnessed firsthand the overwhelming emotions that experiencing Phish’s music set free. At these shows, each about 90% Japanese, whole crowds of people were experiencing Phish for the first time. We have all watched friends have their face melted at their first show – but being in a room where everybody was having their faces melted for the first time, all at the same time, was pretty freaking wild.

For the entire time I had been in Japan, I was an outsider in every way, and my life was very predictable, slow and a bit lonely. When Phish and about ten friends descended into my world, on a dime everything changed for a few nights. I suddenly was an insider, finally navigating a world I knew and, for the first time in a long time, surrounded by people and ways that I understood. As I could passably speak and read basic Japanese, knew my way around Tokyo and could navigate Japanese culture, I was occasionally called upon to help dazed Americans make their way through the most improbable of Phish’s tours. Similarly, as a fan able to explain the Phish culture to eager Japanese fans dipping their toes into its world for the first time, I often had the amazing experience of having these new fans articulate what seeing this band meant to them in their own language. Viewing the run from these two perches gave me a lifetime of unforgettable cultural experiences in the span of just a few days.

It’s hard to believe it has been 10 years since Phish played its memorable seven-night tour through Japan. If you are lucky enough to find somebody who actually went to these shows, they will tell you it was a once-in-a-lifetime musical, cultural and fan-geek Phish experience. But for me, it was even more – As an American who had been living in Japan for close to a year when Phish roared into Tokyo in June 2000, it was a defining experience of a year that was among the most remarkable of my life.

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3 Responses

  1. I too was at the Osaka x2 and the Nagoya gigs. Lizards blew me away!

    Here I am thirteen years later, still in Japan, listening to their 2013 summer tour… still can’t get enough : )

    Thanks for the awesome article. It brought back a lot of memories.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences seeing Phish, as an obvious vet, while in Japan after living there for a year. You definitely had a very unique experience in which you could bridge the two worlds, and you articulated it all very well for readers like me who weren’t there but wish we could have been.

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