Last Target: Traveling with a Japanese Punk Band.

Posted: May 15, 2022 in Memoirs/A Teacher's Life
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This piece is adapted from a manuscript I wrote about my teaching career and travels around the world. ‘A Teacher’s Life’ is the working title (Feel free to offer title suggestions). On this blog I will add a few other excerpts about different topics. In time I hope to find an agent and get this properly published as a book. Feedback, suggestions, assistance are all welcome. Enjoy.

One of the benefits of teaching English in Korea was the opportunity to travel. From Korea it was easy to reach other destinations in Asia. During the winter and summer months I would have a short holiday, during which I took advantage of the opportunity to explore the eastern hemisphere. During my years in Korea, I got to travel to Australia, India, China, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania, I never imagined I would get to see places like the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, or Uluru in Australia’s outback. As great as these places were, these sites were, they didn’t compare to the coolest thing I got to experience.

I flew to Tokyo in August of 2007 without much of a plan. I stayed in a neighborhood called Shinjuku where they had what are called capsule hotels, cheap places where you sleep in a small coffin-like chamber. Outside the sleeping area are saunas and showers and places to get a haircut. Japan is also home of the high-tech toilet, with a heated seat for the winter, various buttons that play music and other unknown features.

That first night I settled in at a decent hour and took a walk around the neighborhood. There were a bunch of arcades, including these games where you would buy trading cards and scan the cards into the arcade, and whatever was on the card was in the game. Those seemed pretty cool as I watched people play them. They had games of this kind for baseball, football, and other genres like fantasy and mech combat.

While walking around I noticed many kids dressed like punks, lots of outfits of leather and spikes. I wondered if there was a punk club in the neighborhood. Eventually I saw a bunch of punks gathered around this one particular spot, including a girl who spoke some English named Ryoko. She told me there was a club right there that was having a show in a few hours, and her band, Last Target, was playing. Later that night I went back to this place which was called ACB Hall. A few different bands played. They were all decent, but finally Ryoko’s band got up. The instant they took the stage this incredible rush of energy burst from both them and the audience as the sounds of their guitars and drums pierced the air. This band was fantastic, and Ryoko has to be the greatest front person I’ve ever seen. She’s like a pinball onstage, flying all over the place, and the crowd was just so into them. 

After the show we all hung out, and the band told the audience that two nights later at this same club they were recording their next album. They needed backup vocalists, and we were all invited to come back and sing in their chorus. So, I had another night to hang with them as they recorded. They had us all together to sing lyrics a few times over, some lines were in Japanese, others in English. They also separated us into a men’s and women’s chorus to do the same. 

The rest of the trip wasn’t nearly as cool. I tried to see Mount Fuji but got bad directions on what bus I was supposed to take and only saw it from a distance. I saw a Meiji-Era garden, and Japanese art that resembled comic book art, which inspired people like Frank Miller in the 1980’s comic book scene. The Bandai Museum was a bit out of the way but once I got there I saw exhibits about anime and manga and old video games, like the Famicom, what the Nintendo Entertainment System was called in Japan.

Ryoko and I kept in touch, and the next summer, when I had vacation again, they were playing three nights in a row in three different cities. Almost exactly a year after we met, I went off to Japan again. This time I took the Beetle, the ferry from Busan South Korea to Fukuoka Japan, which only takes about two and a half hours. From there I took the speed train to Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped in World War II. They had a museum about that, as well as a memorial to Koreans who died in the blast that day. Hiroshima also has a Manga library; it was fun to see a whole library of comic books. Most of them were Japanese of course, but they did have an English section. 

After spending a night in Hiroshima, I got on the train again and spent a few hours in Nagasaki, where I saw the peace statue and their own museum about the atomic bomb. At this particular museum they had videos about nuclear testing in the United States, including how it affected Native Americans who lived in the Southwest. 

I also got to check out some arcades, including a Golgo 13 sniper game. Golgo 13 is like a Japanese James Bond who was featured in two Nintendo games when I was a kid. Both titles blew the minds of 80’s children as it’s implied you have sex during them. Gamers may not believe this, but I also saw an arcade game for Half Life. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m sure there had to have been some way for you to save your game. 

From Nagasaki I went south to a town called Oita Ken, where Last Target was playing at a place called Tops. I got to the venue early and saw the band as they were setting up. They were all happy to see me again, and this time their new album, Tokyo Shakedown, was newly released. Even cooler, inside the album booklet were pictures from that night we recorded the chorus in ACB Hall. Our names were listed as well. After the show we all went out to eat and had time to catch up. The drummer’s father lived in Oita Ken; he joined us and even bought me dinner. 

The next day I traveled to Okayama and met them at a club called Crazy Mama. This was a small venue, but at some point in the past legendary rock band KISS played there. In the club they had pictures of KISS on their stage and had KISS merchandise on display, in the men’s bathroom of all places. Of course, I don’t know if it was in the female bathroom as well. Someone should check for me. 

The final night of this mini tour was in Osaka. The band knew I was coming to see them in Oita Ken, but I think they didn’t understand that I intended to see all three of their shows. When they realized I was also going to Osaka, they agreed to pick me up in their van the next morning and I got to spend that last day with them. We stopped in some other city on the way because Ryoko wanted to go to an art museum. After checking out some paintings we arrived in Osaka. It was early yet, so I got myself a room and checked out the neighborhood while the band prepped. I killed time in this huge store filled with models of Godzilla and other movie/comic characters, along with video games, expensive original still in the box Transformers, comic books, and costumes for cosplay. It was a four-story department store for nerds. 

King Cobra was the venue on this last night of Japanese punk. After the show we hung out a bit, but they couldn’t stay long. As best as I remember, the guys in the band had regular jobs to get back to, so after not too long they hopped in their van and headed back to Tokyo. I wasn’t sure if I’d see them again.

The next day I took a long train ride back to Fukuoka, where the following morning I would take the Beetle back to Busan, South Korea. For my last evening in Japan, I decided to see a baseball game at the Yahoo Dome. At first, I was really excited, as it brought me back to this brief time in my childhood. I was around nine or ten, and I was almost a normal kid. Back then I read comic books but wasn’t a total nerd about it. I spent summers climbing the hill down the street from my house, went camping, ate smores, and was a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies. Their star player, Mike Schmidt, perhaps the best third basemen to ever play the game, was the only sports hero of my childhood. For the life of me I couldn’t tell you what happened, but one day I forgot all about him. Now, for the first time, I was attending a professional baseball game, and it was in another country. These romantic reminiscences ended once the game began and I remembered why I stopped watching this sport 20 years ago. It was a bad game, with the home team losing by a lot, and me leaving before the ninth inning.

Another time with Last Target came sooner than I thought. That October they came to Korea for a weekend, having gigs on a Saturday and Sunday in Hongdae, a big party place and University area in Seoul. After the show Sunday we all gathered in the park in Hongdae where people often socialize and play music. Sitting around the park, we enjoyed the still warm October air while a few band members jammed on their guitars. Eventually they went back to their room to sleep, and I headed back to my home of Suwon via subway early that morning to go to work.

This was the last time I ever saw them. Korea, October 2008

I’d never see them again. Six months later I went back to the club they played that last night in Hongdae. The bartender noticed I was wearing one of my Last Target shirts and started chatting with me. He tried to book them to come back, but apparently, they’d broken up. Royko is still doing music. She will probably do music until the day she dies; she just loves it that much. Last I heard she had her own band, simply called Ryoko. 

Looking back on it, every time I saw them in Japan there were opening bands preceding them. Those other bands were decent, but I don’t remember them now. I got really lucky, I think I really did see one of the best acts that’s ever been as far as Japanese punk goes. It would be great to see Ryoko perform again someday, but if I don’t, I’ll always have these memories. Getting to see them and being lucky enough to be part of their story with their album Tokyo Shakedown, this was absolutely the coolest thing that’s ever happened to me. 

Thanks for reading. Hope you have enjoyed all these stories. Hopefully I can get them published in  a book someday. Wish me luck. I’m gonna need it!


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