“10 Things You Learn When You Tour Japan,” Sonic Bids

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Chicago duo White Mystery has long wanted to take their garage-rock game to Japan, and this past November, they finally did it – and they had a blast. If you’re considering a trip for your own band, you’ll want to check out these tips from vocalist/guitarist Alex White.

All her insight, of course, is based on White Mystery’s particular trip. The experience of other bands may be different, and your own visit will be, too. Still, the suggestions made here are what helped make it possible for Alex and her brother, drummer Francis White, to enjoy a smooth and successful tour. We think there’s plenty in here that could do the same for you.

1. Team up with local bands

“There really isn’t such a thing as booking agents there. There aren’t really promoters. It’s culturally different,” White says. “One of the ways we bypassed that issue is that we hooked up with a very reputable, well-loved Japanese band.”

White Mystery organized their tour in trade: they booked a US tour for Zoobombs, who in turn booked them in Japan. A longtime lover of Japanese rock ‘n’ roll and punk, White has made a point of connecting with lots of visiting bands and musicians throughout her career.

“It’s because we went on tour with a musician called Don Matsuo [of Zoobombs, who] just has such an excellent reputation in Japan that he was able to coordinate seven shows in seven days,” she says.

White also adds that she used flyers and posters to announce the show, but believes the better aid in bringing people out was definitely pairing up with local bands with strong followings. If you’re not chummy with any Japanese groups or people who can help in organizing your tour, consider reaching out to like-minded bands before going at it alone.

2. Take the bullet train

The bullet train is the easiest mode of city-to-city travel in Japan; take it in lieu of a car to save both money and time. White made sure to point out, though, that they don’t run at night. Be sure to plan accordingly.

3. Expect to walk a ton

If you opt for the bullet train, you’ll be on foot a lot, so packing light – and smart – is essential. Each of the White siblings filled a book bag with clothes. (Note: White suggests easy-to-layer items, as the weather changed drastically from cold to hot to mild during their November trip.) Additionally, they brought one rolling suitcase full of merch. The key element to increasing her comfort level, though, was a new guitar bag that’s worn as a book bag but still kept her Rickenbacker secure.

“We did so much walking in Japan. You very rarely, at least in our experience, are in a car at all. Having this guitar on my back instead of the entire weight of my instrument on one handle, it was like a lifesaver for me,” she says. “I have no idea what I would have done without it. It would have killed my hand carrying 60 pounds with that little black plastic handle on my right hand – then having to play? And you’re going upstairs and downstairs, walking miles from subways to venues…’cause people are used to walking there. Compared to the US where we’re driving everywhere, they’re walking. You should be prepared for that.”

Comfortable shoes, then, are probably a good idea.

[10 Essential Items to Pack for Your First International Tour]

4. Book at live houses with solid backlines

White Mystery had the good fortune (likely a result of good planning) of playing live houses – the term for clubs or venues in Japan – with really stellar setups.

“In Japan, it’s like beautiful, pristine [equipment]. And this is, of course, our experience, but lovely amps, cymbals, kick pedal, everything provided. So that is what allowed us to take the bullet train instead of renting a vehicle and paying tolls,” she says.

5. Shows start early – seriously

“It’s not like the US where it’s 24-hour culture…again, this is our personal experience, but our shows started at 6:00 p.m.,” she says. “There were about four or five bands. They were over by 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m.”

The early set times made it possible for some parents, both musicians and show attendees, to bring along their kids, which Alex notes was fun. And it also made it easier to get adequate rest.

“And it was amazing because I feel like I slept more on this tour than I have on any other tour. I got so much sleep, being done by 10:00 p.m., compared to 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m. and staying up until 6:00 a.m. You should be prepared to wake up at a decent hour and travel during the day, should you be doing a small-to-medium club tour and taking the bullet train.”

6. Don’t go looking for drugs, you guys

“There’s no drugs there. It’s zero tolerance – like don’t even mess around or expect anything like that, where in other countries, it’s culturally what goes on. In Japan, it does not. Like, zero,” White says. “You have to be respectful culturally, so just know that…the partying is just like having fun, drinking beer, drinking sake.”

We’re not necessarily saying you were planning to look for drugs, but if that’s really your thing, then maybe touring Japan isn’t.

7. Add “cheers” to your list of key phrases

“You’re saying kanpie all night long,” White says.

The Japanese word for cheers is kanpie, pronounced like you’d expect: can-pie. Remember that in addition to kon’nichiwa (hello), ohayō/konbanwa (good morning/good evening), and dōmo arigatō gozaimasu (thank you very much).

8. Think of bowing like waving hello or goodbye

“You bow, you bow to everybody. Sometimes it’s like a short, quick bow, like if you’re in a train station and someone helps you. You give them a short, quick bow. If you’re meeting someone for the first time, you do a short, quick bow,” White says. “You get so into the rhythm of bowing to everybody, you do it when you get home. You’re bowing to everybody. It’s just this rhythm.”

For a person of respect, she points out, like “someone’s parents or grandparents,” the bow is longer and deeper.

“But that’s not really happening in the rock world,” she says. “Maybe I’m wrong because I’m American, but the way I looked at bowing was almost like waving to someone. Like if I was going to be like, ‘Hi, how are you?’ and wave, I would bow and say, ‘Nice to meet you and hello.’ Instead of waving, I kind of bow. So if you’re leaving, you say goodbye the same way you kind of wave to someone – you bow. Some quick, nice polite bows.”

9. Dont be nervous!

The differences in American and Japanese culture are sometimes immense, yes. But that doesn’t mean you should be overly worried that you’ll offend everyone you meet. As long as you try doing the basics and keep an open mind as new customs are presented, you should be fine.

“You pick up on it,” White assures. “Nobody’s going to criticize you or judge you.”

In general, she says, everyone was incredibly friendly. She and her brother felt very welcomed throughout the trip.

“What you realize is that the language barrier that might exist comes down when you start living the life culturally of these people, which means eating what they eat, drinking with them. You’re able to communicate with them despite speaking different languages. You’re just laughing and just having fun, kinda cracking jokes,” she says.

10. Prepare for post-trip jetlag

“The jetlag hits you when you come home to the US. When you’re going over there, you’re so stoked and so excited that, you know, you’re good to go for those seven days. It’s the coming back – it’s like the hangover from the experience – that really hurts you,” she says. “Honestly, my jetlag was insane. Even as a world traveler, coming home from Japan, it was insomnia. I was a zombie for, like, eight days.”

White found comfort in natural melatonin, though she regrets not having taken it sooner in her stretch of sleeplessness. She also adds that when she’s traveled to England, the jetlag hit her right away. Most bands won’t have the luxury of taking a few days off after a lengthy flight before they start a tour, but you might want to at least try giving yourself some time to readjust after returning before jumping back into your daily grind.


For more tips on touring Japan, check out our essential guide here.


Jhoni Jackson is an Atlanta-bred music journalist currently based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she juggles owning a venue called Club 77, freelance writing and, of course, going to the beach as often as possible.

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