Because what else would you be doing on a Saturday morning?
It’s 11:30am in Kawasaki. Two old guys beside me are pounding cans of 9% Strong Zero, while a neighbouring stall outside a restaurant is cooking up a huge vat of motsunabe – a stew made from cow innards. As the smell of animal guts fills the air, my friends and I take our seats on a string of metal fold-out chairs that have been set up in front of a makeshift stage. A few pensioners behind us are reading newspapers. One is asleep. Another (wearing a Ringo Starr hoody) is fiddling with a camcorder on a tripod, waiting patiently for the action to begin.
We’re here in Kawasaki to watch ABBAN – a Japanese ABBA tribute band perform to about 30 people on the street on a Saturday morning. Why? Why the hell not. After years of living in Tokyo, these are the moments that stand out. The obscure, random, surreal events that take place in the backstreets of the cities.
To many people who have never visited Japan before, there is still the stereotypical belief that it’s a wacky love child between Disneyland and Blade Runner: a magical land where you can buy used panties in vending machines, and everyone is dressed like Pikachu. The truth is that Japan is actually pretty normal – but now and again you do encounter some examples of daily life that are slightly odd. Like this.
The time had come for ABBAN to appear from their makeshift dressing room which was a tent at the side of the stage. To be honest, I don’t know the names of the real people in ABBA. There’s a blonde chick, another girl with curly brown hair, some guy with a beard and some guy without a beard. I guess that’s all ABBAN needed to know as well. The guy with the beard stole the show – the elastic band from his moustache clearly visible. He also looked particularly miserable, or extremely hungover. I’m not sure which.
I should say at this point that the girls can sing. No, really. They must have belted these songs out about 1,000 times in karaoke when they were younger. The semi-drunk and ageing crowd was treated to classics such as Waterloo, Chiquitita and Dancing Queen. Best of all, however, was the two guys’ Oscar-losing performance pretending to play their instruments to the backing track.
When the show was over, ABBAN posed for photographs and of course we got in on the action. It’s not every day a guy from Northern Ireland, a guy from England and a guy from Germany get to have their photo taken with four Japanese people dressed up as Swedes. ABBAN: bringing the world together. Thank you for the music – and the laughs.