2017. Wow. Who would have thought at our first ever show in Matsuyama, back in 2005, that twelve years later, The Watanabes would still be going strong? Not us, that’s for sure. It’s certainly been a great year for the band: We played lots of interesting shows, received lots of radio play, and most importantly, made lots of new friends. We finally released Spoiled & Nostalgic in November, and were over the moon when Tom Robinson including ‘Tonight‘ on his BBC Mixtape for Radio 6 in December, providing the perfect climax to the year. We’d like to thank everyone who came to watch us, listened to our music, invited us to perform or helped to spread the word.
Of course, New Year is also a time to make some fresh changes, and we’d like to announce a new policy for the band. We’ve decided that we won’t be playing at any venues or events this year, unless they are non-smoking. Sadly, Japan is still very much lagging behind most developed countries when it comes to passive smoking, which is ironic really, when you consider how health-conscious and considerate the Japanese are in other aspects of daily life. Judging by the lack of progress on this front, the tobacco industry must surely have a lot of power in Japan, and smoking is still a very popular way to relieve stress for a lot of people. Fair enough. At the moment however, I’d say that at the majority of music venues, social restaurants, bars and pubs, non-smokers are forced to make a sacrifice for the convenience of those who smoke, going home with a sore throat, clothes that wreak of other people’s unhealthy addictions, and a negative feeling in the pit of your stomach. For the last ten years, we’ve been prepared to make that sacrifice on occasions – but as you get older, your body tends to take longer to recover from knocks, and we no longer feel happy damaging our health and ruining our mood just so a few people can smoke inside rather than step outside for minute or two.
I think there tends to be a rather preconceived image of musicians in Japan. There still seems to be this very dated notion of drugs, sex and rock&roll that many live houses, venues and young Japanese bands follow as gospel. Sound engineers often do soundcheck with a cigarette in their mouth, and there is never any doubt that backstage will be covered by a dark blanket of smoke. Yet the truth is, if you watch any genuinely successful live music act these days, it will always be in a clean, non-smoking venue. In my mind, for that reason, smoking venues seem old fashioned and out of date, and by association, perhaps the acts that play them seem – for want of a better word – amateurish. I suspect that some live house venues are trying to embrace the spirit of rock & roll, but in reality, it feels like they’re stuck in the 1960s. However wonderful the sixties may have been, the world has moved on a bit since then.
We were really pleased when one venue recently made an event non-smoking, but slightly mystified when the backstage area for the performers was deemed a smoking area. That pretty much summed it up. As musicians, are we expected to put our art before our health? Does freely damaging your health make you more worthy of respect? A few years ago we played with Rock&Roll Hall of Famer, Matt Sorum; the legendary rock drummer of Guns N Roses and Velvet Revolver. Perhaps you’d expect him to be downing whiskeys and puffing on joints back stage – living young and dying fast – but Matt was completely teetotal, a non-smoker, very health-conscious and the fittest guy in the room. It certainly raised our eyebrows, but perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised – the man drums like a professional athlete!
It goes without saying that some venues must be worried about losing custom if they prohibit smoking on their premises, and of course we understand this predicament. Nevertheless, by choosing to avoid smoking venues, we hope to demonstrate that they also lose out on potential custom by making life uncomfortable for non-smokers. We can guarantee that we would perform more regularly and hit the town more frequently, if we didn’t have to get “smoked up”. Of course, in light of our decision, we feel sad to think that we won’t be able to play at some of our favourite local venues for the time being, but with the Tokyo Olympics on its way and more progressive attitudes developing in Japan, we hope that it won’t be too long before some of these venues entertain the idea of a non-smoking event here or there. Let’s face it, The Watanabes have always been a 5-fruit-and-veg-a-day-kinda band, so hopefully most of our followers will neither be surprised nor disappointed to hear this, and to any of our many friends who enjoy a cigarette or two, we hope you understand. No hard feelings. To be honest, it feels good to finally be ourselves – after all, that’s what rock music is all about.
From now on, we intend to support non-smoking venues and events as much as we can. In January we’ll be kicking things off at Chesmeh in Sasazuka; a very interesting, traditional Japanese venue with a “positively no smoking” policy. We like the positivity! 😉 A few weeks later, on February 22nd, we’ll be making our debut at another new venue for us, Barrack Block Cafe in Tokyo’s thriving hub of indie music, Shimokitazawa. Hope you can join us for some acoustic tunes, and a chilled atmosphere.
Best wishes for 2017 everyone. We hope it’s a happy and healthy year for you. Let’s make it a good one!