Don’t get caught up in this fear
What has the coronavirus crisis brought to your mind?
“After Donald Trump became President of the United States, we started hearing the words like ‘alternative facts’ and ‘post-truth.’ Until now, we have perceived the atmosphere of spreading fear and anger, caused by disregarding the truth, as something on the other side of the ocean. We knew it as information, but not as experience. Then, it came to Japan in the form of toilet papers disappearing from the store shelves. It was similar to the oil shock in the 70’s; the mood spreading quickly as fire on oil. I felt, ‘yes, this is how people behave.’ When I saw the fear spread like dominos, I felt the mood in the city has changed. That was my first impression.”
Did you also feel fear?
“I guess it wasn’t fear, I wanted to be part of the turmoil, living each day counting my stock of toilet paper (LOL), but at the same time I thought I should not be. It was like overlooking the events thinking, ‘people around me are scared.’ So, I took care, keeping distance from such movements.”
Specifically, how did you keep the distance?
“I avoided ‘noise’ as much as possible…, although this noise is proof that everyone is desperately living, however it spreads inaccurate information, so I completely eliminated them. Regarding the coronavirus, I felt it important to listen to experts as much as possible. So, I was checking them out, all the while thinking what to do, what can we share, if live performances were cancelled.”
When we met at an event in May, your comment on the coronavirus crisis situation – “It might have been like this during the war” was memorable. When did you feel like this?
“Despite the trend around the world to increase PCR testing to get accurate infection status, Japan did not increase the numbers of testing at that time. There were many lies in the announcement from Imperial General Headquarters during the war. I thought it was close to that.”
Meaning, you think this country isn’t trying to get accurate data.
“Even so, I’d like to add a supportive comment (LOL), it is a rare case that this country prevented a panic, and functioned, with an unenforceable, loose ‘self-restraint’ request. However, I had an indescribable feeling watching the shelves on the supermarkets becoming empty, in addition to the unease felt due to lack of information transparency. It made me think, can’t see anything even with the Internet so widespread and that’s why I explained it is ‘similar to wartime.’ At that time, I was affected by many things and was taking thing too seriously, even when I was trying to avoid information.”
Regarding similarity to wartime. Ryohei Shima of ‘the dresscodes’ mentioned in his interview “I wonder how many decades we continue with ‘I won’t wish for anything until we win’ (Japanese wartime slogan). Amid the self-restraint period, I felt that everyone sensed the atmosphere, in a Japanese way, and was each holding back a bit to overcome the coronavirus. On the other hand, Taiwan made full use of technology and contained the virus. I don’t think you can say which one is better, but what do you think?
“Japan containing the virus to some extent with the power to read the atmosphere, was like rolling a dice and getting a good number by chance. This mysterious ‘no defense tactics’ was astonishing in a way. In terms of Taiwan’s measures, government collecting personal information on who contacted who, may have treaded into human rights on the Internet. I’m not sure if it was a good thing or not, but the part where Taiwan was able to prevent the virus from spreading is good. However, we should discuss the guideline on how far we should step into individual’s human rights.
Besides, speed is quite essential in such an emergency, so I feel that it is better for a person who can lead to lead, rather than reading the mood and maneuvering through this crisis. However, if we rely too much on the government, there’s a risk of it leading to dictatorship like Hungary. So, the sense of balance is necessary. I don’t think we should tell the story of Japan as an impressive tale, but we did present a method that’s not Western, and I feel that is the possibility. This country without diversity may be a hint to a breakthrough. Bizarre, but we have this mysterious sixth sense, or something nurtured over a long period of time.”
However, I do hope it doesn’t lead to excluding people with other nationalities as a result of peer pressure to deny diversity.
“Yes, I agree. My friend who is a foreigner living in Japan, needed to return to Europe amid this coronavirus crisis because her grandfather passed away. She is employed in Japan and has a working visa, but since there were no guidelines, she was unsure whether she can return once she left Japan. Her Japanese is not very good, so I made an inquiry on her behalf and as expected, they kept transferring me around to different departments. Afterall, Japan as a country, could not make a clear decision and we only got a reply when Japanese embassy in her home country put pressure. On top of all that, the document asked, ‘Why would you go to that extent to come back to Japan?’, and I thought, ‘how crude’. It seems there is diversity in Tokyo, but there are things we won’t know until it happens. At the end of the day, she was able to return to Japan, but fundamentally they are not priority. I felt this was discrimination.”
Why is this country insensitive to those kind of issues.
“For instance, Japanese don’t react much to BLM. Perhaps because it’s difficult to permeate and feel diversity … Maybe we can’t help it, since we have education system which doesn’t enable us to speak English even after studying all the way through to university. I strongly feel the lack of global awareness.”
Maybe we are able to keep our sixth sense because we are lacking.
“True (LOL). That mismatch is something that became apparent over the last six months.”
We will live to cherish things that is worth remaining for the next 10 years
Any comments on not being able to hold a live performance the traditional way?
“Well, I am bleeding (LOL). However, when I personally broadcasted live on Instagram and YouTube, people around the word…Mongolia, Spain, the United States, and Canada watched it. I strongly felt the advantage of broadcasting internationally, instead of having event where only the people present can watch. Right now, Taiwan is No 1 for Spotify replays, with HK and Singapore ranking in and my music is also listened in LA and London.
Also, after broadcasting live few times, I felt the actual experience and this feeling of hybrid, and with that, I started thinking about creating a new live experience. Honestly speaking, I believe there are people who thought, ‘I don’t want to watch live performance being crowded by people in live music clubs.’ Just like there are many who prefers music as vinyl record, CD or digital streaming; there are people who prefer watching live concerts at home. It would be interesting, if it could be delivered to people based on their respective needs.”
Come to think of it, music had multiple sources: CDs, vinyl records, subscriptions, MV, and radio, but for live concerts, the only option was to go to the venue. Now we have broadcasting as an alternative option.
“I though again, why didn’t live concerts change. When I see videos of past music festivals, in the current situation, it makes me wonder, ‘Why is it so crowded?’ It’s interesting how our values can change so much in just a few months. Even a musician like me, started wanting to watch in comfort (LOL). Of course, it will be great if we can do it live, and nothing surpasses live experiences, but we may never be able to hold a live concert with tens of thousands of people gathered in one place. If that’s the case, we must explore new ways, don’t we? Personally, I don’t want to be too dependent on technology, but at the same time it will be a waste if we ignore new possibilities from the get-go. So, as a person living in this era, and as a musician living amid this coronavirus crisis, I want to continue to explore. Even though I went through many trials and errors as we cannot hold live concerts, I didn’t have time to get depressed, I was too busy to be despondent. I was concentrating on doing things to move forward.”
In many ways, we are at a major turning point of our values.
“I read stories on overseas websites that mentioned ‘coronavirus is a challenge to capitalism’, which made me think anew about it. With self-restraint under coronavirus crisis, I assume everyone has a sense of relief because we don’t have to consume as much as we used to. I think many might be relieved from not having to buy fashionable clothes or drink trendy drinks like bubble tea. Our values have changed drastically, and I am witnessing firsthand the changes to what everyone wants, what music they want to hear, what they want to know and what they want to read, all changing on a global scale. Knowing that we don’t have to ride the big wave of mass-consumption society, part of me is feeling refreshed as though after a typhoon.”
From your point of view, what direction do you feel we are moving to from mass-consumption?
“Until now, it was a world where something on the SNS timeline buzzed, for instance a picture of a cute cat, but no one remembers the next day. But from now on, I feel we will be cherishing things that has a value to remember for the next decade, something that will remain. I think we will focus on things that are truly important, for example, clothes we want to wear for 10 years, or photos we want to see for 10 years. So, how can we create something that will move and be valued by people for a long time? That is what I am very interested in. As the economy continues to stagnate and when individuals can buy less, the eyes to gauge values, the sense of value and the meaning of spiritual happiness will change. To think about this might be a hint to live in the world with coronavirus.”
Humans have managed to overcome without perishing, that is hope
Is there a scenery you saw amid the coronavirus crisis that you cannot forget?
“For a while, I evacuated to Nagano prefecture to write songs, the scenery there. When I went to an area with lush greenery without people, the nature was so vibrant, with lots of deer and pheasants. My perspective changed when I saw this, thinking ‘the animals are normal, Coronavirus crisis is not an emergency to them’. The only ones getting flustered are humans. The virus just wants to survive through humans, but in this world, if humans dislikes it, it will be eradicated. In that sense, I realized I was only looking at the world from the human’s side. It made me wonder if humans are to be the priority in this world. On the other hand, I cannot stop being human. Of course, I affirm humans, but the scenery I saw was so perfect, making me feel that the existence of humans creates errors. Brutally confronted with that idea.”
I suppose the coronavirus pandemic is in a way, also a natural phenomenon.
“We cannot control nature, even the weather tomorrow. We managed to survive, by focusing on what we can control. Some creatures couldn’t overcome the process of evolution, but humans have, that’ why we are still here today. I believe this is because humans have creativity. So, right now, I feel that ideas and creativity, and creativeness to design, is being tested again. It’s almost 10 years since 3.11(Great East Japan Earthquake), we have yet to solve many problems, but we somehow overcame without perishing. That itself brings hope. Nature’s power of creation is amazing, but I feel that we humans aren’t too bad.”
That is a good discovery.
“But now, I think that the world has become very interesting. It might be improper, but it is exciting. I believe those who can be excited even when the world is about to end, can survive. That’s why I want to be excited. Even if it sounds cruel.”
I think creators is that type of people.
“To be honest, I feel shifted into higher gear. It was very meaningful to have more time to face myself and focus on my thoughts. It is said that Isaac Newton discovered gravity when he had time to think, after returning to the countryside when his university closed due to the plague. If I was still living in the busy world, I wouldn’t have had much time. Whether to stay in my room scared or spend time to create. I wanted to use this time wisely.
However, with all these changes, they are many people who have difficulties changing right away. Those who can care for themselves are okay, but we must think of those who can’t. I believe music can do that, so it will be very sad if music stops and the world became silent. Considering this, I realized again that we cannot stop.
Although many things became visible through this coronavirus crisis, our world has always been crazy, and has always been tough.”
Masaya Mifune of ROTH BART BARON
Recorded their first album “ROTH BART BARON’s THE ICE AGE” in Philadelphia in 2014, followed by recording in Montreal, Canada and London, England. “Kemono tachi no Namae （The Name of the Beasts）,” their 4th album released in November 2019, won the 3rd place in the rock music section of “MUSIC MAGAZINE”, as well as many praises from music-related media.On October 28th, his 5th album “GOKUSAISHIKI NO SHUKUSAI (Richly Colored Festival)” will be release.
Interviewed by Joe Yokomizo on 29th July, 2020