Junko’s Birthday Bash   1 comment

All is dark, and people sit on the floor with legs crossed and eyes focused. Booming dancehall music erupts from a stack of speakers. An array of lights flash then we see her. She steps out regaled in a policeman outfit made of a dark, shiny material. Wearing dark glasses with a sneer on her face, she begins the routine. The Jacket flies off with a sweep of her hand, revealing a hard stomach and tanned skin. Then after a few seductive moves, she pulls the pants away, effortlessly tossing them to the side and continuing her routine. The music is pounding, and now the dancer, wearing a glittery top and boy shorts, starts moving her hips and body in ways that tease the imagination. A few feet away onstage, I’m watching this performance. The dancer is Junko, the first Japanese woman to win the Jamaican Dancehall queen competition.

I’m at a Reggae party called “Goodaz Fridays”, which is held monthly at the Hunters club in Hamamatsu. The crowd is thick, filled with cute Japanese reggae girls and gung ho guys who could rival many Jamaicans on the dance floor. A guy wearing a full white outfit moves with the cultural precision of a full-blooded Jamaican. Beside him a set of girls with platinum blonde hair and non-existent shorts go through routine after routine of practiced dancehall moves. I, the Jamaican stand there for a while, spellbound at the display. A few familiar faces are around; girls I’ve met through the Hamamatsu reggae scene. I see a girl in an off-white leopard print dress standing in the corner, she’s a local dancer. I see Ribbon girl as well, who greeted me with a weak smile. A few other dancers were there, all exhibiting a slightly different body language tonight, and they were all in close proximity to Junko.

Junko in person is reasonably tall. She’s thicker than the average Japanese girl, and thus has more presence. Years of doing headstands, dutty wining and complex routines has given her a very sexy musculature. She stands by the bar with a few local DJs, who are shamelessly soaking up the limelight with her. She laughs while downing drink after drink, casually exuding star power. I find her attractive but not beautiful, sexy but not skanky. In 2002, she came to Jamaica and stunned the audiences with her acrobatic display of dancehall finesse. From jumping splits to handstands and the occasional death-defying move, the other participants were powerless to innovate in her presence. I remember seeing her on TV, barely able to speak any English, happy to stand on her head upon request. “I love Jamaica.” She had said back then.

That was seven years ago, and seeing her in person is interesting. For the local reggae groupies in town, Junko must be the epitome of their world; that place which is a hybridization of Jamaica and Japan. She is their queen, the pinnacle of what they want to be. In their desires to learn dances, songs and Jamaican culture, maybe they all want to be little dancehall queens themselves, rising up into the limelight in shiny outfits with sweat-laced foreheads.

“Happy birthday.” I said to Junko in Japanese.

This was one of a few sprinkled moments of conversation I would have with her during the night. The first time I spoke to her, she replied in English.
“Why do you speak like a Japanese?” she said.
I laughed.
“I like Japan.” I replied in Japanese.

The party started to pick up at about three a.m. The music, fast and powerful was a blur of modern tunes interlaced with the screeching voices of amped-up selectors. River, a local reggae artiste was walking around with a camera, snapping the action. I was dancing too, and possibly making my Japanese media debut on a “Goodaz Friday” bashment DVD. Hilarious.

I ran into a friend at the party, and we mingled with the girls for little while in between dancing. One girl, tall and attractive with brown hair was enamored with my friend, who was a dancer. They disappeared to a dark section of the club for a few minutes while her friend ignored me.

I was on the prowl tonight, and as I would learn, things weren’t so easy. Every girl I’d met on the reggae circuit was in attendance, and they were all unusually frigid. Dancing robotically to the music and chatting amongst themselves, the party at times felt strange. Even when what we Jamaicans call “Gyal tunes” started playing, the crowd wasn’t intermingling that much.

See, in Jamaica, a party escalates gradually to levels that force people to dance. At the crescendo of a good party, many people dance together. So far, at the bigger events I’d been to in Japan, it seemed a lot of people were content to just dance by themselves all night. I saw Ribbon girl walking around alone. As usual she had a drink in her hand. She seemed lost; standing by a speaker at one moment, and in the middle of the dance floor the next. She wasn’t dancing with anyone, just drinking. Later I would see her on a couch, her legs oddly crossed as she stared forward blankly in a drunken daze. Maybe she had problems, I thought. Family, childhood, who knows. Like my life is any different.

At around seven I left the club, giving a chilly goodbye to a few girls I see all the time who decided to ignore me around Junko. I told (the now drunk) Junko all the best. She gave me a half-goodbye, half hand-squeeze and sipped more of her drink. Later, a friend would show me scandalous pictures of Junko dancing with some of the sound guys. I laughed when I saw these pictures, because one thing with a dancehall queen, is that she won’t just dance with anyone.

Morning sun hit me with a slap as I rode home, tired and stained with sweat. I vaguely remembered there was some number I had to call, or some e-mail to send. I forgot about it and fell asleep.

One response to “Junko’s Birthday Bash

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  1. Pingback: Nihon Terebi TV Shoot 日本テレビエベント! «

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