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Saturday, June 9, 2007


The Grand Ole Opry it ain't

Topping the list of things that I came to love about Japan — but which I didn't care for at first — is not tofu, hot baths, nor even noodle sandwiches, all very soul-soothing at present. No, my No. 1 "I learned to love it" item is something much closer to home — country music.

I grew up with my grandparents — one from the Ozarks and one from the Smokys — and our shingles would often rattle to the tunes of Hank Williams Jr., Roy Acuff and Patsy Cline. Enough to keep me out of the house as much as possible.

But a funny thing happened in my first year in Japan. The music I had once loathed now reminded me of home and became easier to stomach — especially after a few drinks. And thus many a night I stretched beers in Good Time Charlie's while I listened to Charlie Nagatani and his crew warble out the best country tunes in Japan. I'd do it still, if only Charlie would move — like I did — from Kumamoto to Tokyo.

One happy bonus of country music are the song titles, which can bring smiles all by themselves, as in almost-hits like, "Get Off the Stove, Grandma, You're Too Old to Ride the Range" by Colin Hartridge or "I Don't Know Whether to Kill Myself or Go Bowling" by Thom Sharpe.

Such subtle way with words has made me wonder how a country lyricist might handle Japan. In fact, I wondered for an entire afternoon. So below are a few Japanified country labels just screaming for the right songwriter to bring them to life, all categorized for your convenience.

* Classic Country — The Earth Shook When First We Kissed, But Then Came the Tsunami; Her Room Was Like A PlayStation Until She Said, "Game Over;" He Was the Ninja of my Heart, But Somehow He Snuck Out If It; Wasn't For Her Cell Phone, She Might Have Seen That Bus; If Her Love'd Been More Like Sake, My Hangover'd Be Over Now; I Gave Her My Heart, But She Just Wanted Rice; I Loved My Karate Cutie Till She Kicked Me in the Heart; I'm Getting Cold Feet For You, Honey, But Maybe the Futon's Too Short; I'm Working Overtime for You. I'm Your Salaryman of Love; Ours Was But a Comic Book in the Convenience Store of Love; She Got Around Like a Dish at a Sushi Bar; When Her English Skills Got Better, Her Personality Skills Got Worse

* You Have To Know Japan — Don't Wait For Me In Toyota, 'Cause I'm Drinking Asahi Dry; The Drama in Our No Drama Came When She Said, "No!" I Can't Get Off the Yamanote Line, My Heart's Doing Circles For You; I Gave Our Love One Stroke Too Many. Now the Kanji's Wrong; I'm So Lonely I Could Pinch Myself, But Someone on the Train Might Help; Hachiko Might Wait Forever But I'm Not That Kind Of Dog; Love, Zen and the Sound of One Hand Slapping; My Daddy Was a Half, That's Why I'm Only Worth Two Bits; She Put A Stop To Our Game of Go, So Now I'm Picking Up the Pieces; She Put Heartache in My Bento, Seaweed in My Smile; She Put Ohio In My Mornings And Missouri In My Nights (Um, say "Missouri" fast); You Could Be an OB too, If Only You'd Drop One Letter

* Bad Rhymes — Guys Told Her Hello Kitty By Committee, So Then I Said Goodbye; He Laughed At My Japanese So Now I'm Laughing with His Broken Knees; Her Body Language Was Suspicious, Hinting, 'Hey Boys, Be Ambitious;' A Hot Property At First, Our Love Bubble Grew and Burst; If You Slurp But One More Noodle, I'm Gonna Stuff You with Your Poodle; I Would've Married Him, You Understand, If He Didn't Look Like Ultraman; Our Lasting Love Has No Price Tag, Unless You Count Her Louis Vuitton Bag; Tatami Soaks Up Toppled Beers, But Will Not Work With Dropping Tears; When I Announced, "Yes, I Do" She Followed with, "Yoroshiku."

* A Bit Risque — All He Could Afford Was A Roach Motel, That's Why He Bugged Me So; He Takes Me Out for Tuna, But Then Slips Me the Eel; She Don't Need No Teapot To Heat Up My Cup Noodle; She Peeled Like a Mikan, But I Couldn't Stop With One; (And with a tip of the hat to Dorothy Parker) If You Laid Tokyo's Bar Girls from End to End, You'd Have a Busy Night

* A Couple of L/R Numbers — Her Fried Rice Was Mighty Fine Till I Learned So Was Her English; He Wanted to Pray with My Maid of Honor. That's Why I Left Him at the Altar.

* And My Favorites — If I'd Left Japan Way Back When, I'd Have Forgotten You Instead Of — Huh? I'm Leaving You Tomorrow, 'Cause I Don't Know the Way Today

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