MARTY FRIEDMAN Reflects On His 15 Years Of Living In Japan: 'I Just Love It So Much'
On October 15, guitarist Marty Friedman (MEGADETH, CACOPHONY) — who moved from America to Tokyo in 2003 — participated in a public question-and-answer session, ”Ask Marty: An Insider’s View Of Japan Through The Eyes Of An American Rockstar”, at the Japan Foundation in Los Angeles. A few excerpts follow (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET).
On whether being a musician helped him learn Japanese:
Marty: ”I didn’t really think about it until a lot of people mentioned it in Japan. They’d say, ’Wow, your Japanese is really good. It must be because you’re a musician.’ At first, I was like, ’No, it’s because I worked my ass off. It has nothing to do with being a musician.’ But then again, it has a lot to do with being a musician, because when you play music, the main thing you use is your ears. It’s not your hands or anything. When you learn a language, you have to use your ears constantly… your ear really becomes really, really attuned with what people are saying. When you’re playing with other musicians, you’re forced to listen to the other musicians to react with what you’re going to play, especially someone like me who likes to ad-lib. I’m listening to the context and I’m putting my thing in, so that’s very [similar to learning] Japanese.”
On whether there were any parallels in how he practiced Japanese and how he practiced guitar:
Marty: ”I never think in terms of exercises [in Japanese or] in music. I think of events. You do an event, that will cause you to have to improve. The major event that I did was when I entered a Japanese speech contest at Arizona State [University]. I didn’t have to do it — I certainly wasn’t a student — but I knew that if I entered this contest, it would force me to, first of all, write this big, long speech… and memorize it and speak it in front of the entire college. To do that, it takes an intense amount of learning and practicing. You have to do all those things that you normally wouldn’t do had that event not existed.”
On being the first foreigner named by the Japanese government as Ambassador To Japan Heritage:
Marty: ”It’s not like the ambassador where I’m going to have to do anything like press nuclear buttons. What Japan Heritage is, I think there’s 39 points of interest, so to speak, in Japan. All the cities lobby to get their points of interest listed as a Japan Heritage point of interest. I’m beyond flattered to be ask to do this. Basically, I think what they appointed me to do is what I’d be doing anyway — going to other countries and talking to people who are interested about Japan. I think the Japanese government got wind of it and they liked what I was doing, or maybe it’s some of the things that I do in Japan. Hopefully, [I’ll reach] people who are slightly curious about Japan. How many American guys are going to believe a Japanese guy talking about his own country, even though he’s going to tell you something that’s more meaningful than what I’d be able to tell you? Somehow, foreigners will relate to a foreigner when they’re explaining something because of the point-of-view.”
On the advice he’d give Americans planning to visit Japan:
Marty: ”They are so curious about foreign people in Japan. I wish Americans were more curious about other countries. We have so many fantastic cultures living together in America, and it just doesn’t seem like they share the interest in other cultures as much as Japanese do… Don’t worry about, ’Oh, I didn’t bow,’ or ’I shook his hand when I shouldn’t have.’ Don’t worry about all this stuff you read about in the tourist books. Just be a nice person, and then you’ll represent your country [well].”
On what he believes to be the biggest difference between Americans and Japanese:
Marty: ”This is a generalization. In Japan, the overall mindset is to not create trouble for other people and keep the peace. Always consider the other person first. In America, it’s [about] me — how do I stand out, and how do I be the best? Neither of these are bad things, and the ’me’ mentality is fantastic for people who rise above a lot of hardships to create fantastic things, so I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that at all. In Japan, it’s sort of frowned upon. The nail that stands up gets hit. In America, we’re brought up [being told], ’You are number one. You can do anything.’ In Japan, it’s a group mentality. Both of these are fantastic. Trying to do the one that you’re not is not so good. What resonates with me about the Japan mentality is, when you are with a group of people who are really good at what you do and you succeed, you’re celebrating with a group of people, and that group celebration is just so much more enjoyable. It’s kind of lonesome when you’re celebrating something you did only by yourself. I find that if there’s someone I can share that success with, that’s a very sort of Japanese team mentality that I really enjoy. But on the other hand, had I not grown up in America and realized that if I’m working with someone who’s holding me back — I don’t want to be in this group; I want to do other things – that would have been frowned upon in Japan, and I wouldn’t have been able to be nurtured. It’s been beneficial to have both parts of those cultures in me.”
On why he’s glad he didn’t grow up in Japan:
Marty: ”I’m lucky, because I moved to Japan as an adult. I think I would have been dead if I was a kid there, because Japanese school is a whole new level of, this is the real thing… The kids in Japan, they really work. I remember school was like a breeze. I barely even worked, and I passed. I skipped most of the time and played my guitar. I think that would be very, very much frowned on in Japan. Another thing I noticed about Japan was in America, it was only loser-type guys who played music — long-haired, kind of outcasts. In Japan, you’ve got guys who are on the sports team, good-looking guys playing music and going to school. In America, it’s kind of like [there’s] the scholastic type, and then there’s the Kurt Cobain type. They don’t cross. If you go to Japan, you meet some of these musicians, and they really went to school and they didn’t have that rock ’n’ roll spirit that we have, cutting out school and throwing paper airplanes and stuff. I think that the stimulus to play music here, at least for me, was completely to get chicks. When I explain that to people in Japan, they don’t get it, because already these guys had chicks. They were already doing good in school, looking good, sporty types. It’s a different climate.”
On whether Japanese parents encourage their children to pursue a career in music:
Marty: ”I don’t know of a lot of people who really hope their kids go into the music business in any country.”
On whether he ever feels ”excluded” because he’s not a native Japanese citizen:
Marty: ”I think a lot of foreigners are concerned about being accepted when they move to another country, or even when they visit another country. They are concerned about belonging within that other country, and what I think I have to say to those people is, belonging and being accepted shouldn’t be all that important. The world is never, ever going to be an equal place where all people are the same and everybody is in harmony. It’s never going to happen, and that’s the way it should be. Vive la difference. All the differences is what’s interesting. If everybody was the same, you wouldn’t have any interest in going to Japan in the first place, or any country for that matter.”
On his favorite non-musical things about living in Tokyo:
Marty: ”The food. The basic day-to-day peacefulness. Even though it’s a city — it’s like New York on steroids — the safety. I have never once [been] concerned about safety. I’ve been everywhere in the world, [and] I think it’s the most safe country — and I live right downtown, practically in Kabukichō, [the] nightlife district. If I wake up at 4 in the morning and I want to get something to eat, I can walk outside and get something to eat, no problem. I’m never concerned about safety or who’s behind me or anything like that. Of course, you can do dangerous things in any country if you don’t have common sense, but basically on the whole, you never have to be concerned about safety. Once you get used to that… I just love it so much.”
Friedman’s 14th solo record, ”One Bad M.F. Live!!”, was released on October 19. The album was recorded in Mexico City on April 14 during the final concert of Friedman’s world tour in support of his 2017 album ”Wall Of Sound”, which debuted on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart at No. 12.
Joining Friedman on ”One Bad M.F. Live!!” are his bandmates Kiyoshi on bass, Jordan Ziff (RATT) on guitar and Chargeeee on drums.