The Yakkai Eventer, or Why It’s Complicated

Here’s my take. It’s probably just tackling a portion of the larger debate about being yakkai, nonetheless we should start somewhere. These are more philosophical and principles about calls and the like, and not so much guidelines or about specific things…

In a nutshell, it’s about cultural differences and personal opinions on unsettled parts of newly developing culture. TL;DR is that do what you want, just don’t make trouble (which usually means do what the locals do).

Wotagei today is a kind of dancing done by idol nerds. You can google up a bunch of videos on Youtube and elsewhere and it’s a bit like cosplay photoshoots where people add in light effects or other things (lighting bolts?), and it’s purely a fan activity in which the dancers (wotas?) move to the music because they like doing it that way.

We’re at this point today, but it is a relatively recent development. I need to validate the claims still but organized cheering at sporting events are the most mainstream version of the call and dance you might know from Japanese idol events and anime/game concerts, associated with wotagei. It started in the postwar period as organized sports became more of a thing in Japan, and nowadays at NPB games you can see some of the most elaborate cheering from any organized bodies not in charge of actually cheering. It’s like going to a Dallas Cowboy game and the people in the stands are doing the same things the cheerleaders do, to use an analogy.

The issue is complicated by the fact that often these kind of things happen at live music events. Live music, by itself, has a history spanning thousands of years, with traditions as old as cultures themselves. You obviously don’t do PPPH at a Noh show, just to show how new all this is. But is it proper to bring a whistle to an idol show? People sure did in the 80s and even into the 90s. I mean, a whistle was what the cheer lead guy would use at some NPB games. (BTW don’t do it!)

I’m just setting the baseline here. If you go to a hole-in-the-wall live show in Manhattan to watch some local indie band you might just lean back with your drink and enjoy the music. You might move your head or dance if you get into it. If the show sold out, you might be a little squeezed but you’d enjoy the music as much as you let yourself to do so. If you want to squeeze up front, you can as much as it’s polite and compelling. It’s not like you had to use the right penlight and wave at the right time. By default, people don’t do any of that stuff, or what we call “calls.” (Maybe the encore call is the only thing that’s universal?)

Oh let’s just clarify one growing misconception: Wotagei and calls ARE TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. They are two different sets of activities. One is a kind of dance you do to the music–you might want to break dance to some Persona 4 music for example, but you wouldn’t do it at a P4 concert–the other is the kind of thing you do to cheer on the performance in a certain context. They both have roots in the things I described earlier but it’s the latter that you have to navigate when you go to one of these events. It’s like going to a sporting event and some stuff they expect the audience to do, like clap or stand up when it’s two strikes or whatever. Nobody is required to do it, but you might want to out of respect of the moment, of the cultural context, or because of what it means in said context. In general calls don’t involve wota stuff, but as you see towards the end of this post there may be some cross over, besides that you might use a penlight.

To me, that’s the base level. However some people are bothered by both people standing in a live house like “stone pillars” in front and middle, as well as people going crazy and yelling and being disruptive. To be fair, there’s a very wide variety of easy things you can do while staying within the lines of acceptability, so that’s all really what’s asked by anyone with some common sense.

And this is true universally. This is why you give a bunch of people a chance to stand and be excited during the Super Bowl half time show and shove them up front at the stage. That kind of music in that kind of setting, performed in that context, needs that kind of a crowd to get things going. This is why it’s bothersome when a Japanese rock band perform at a con and everyone is sitting and there’s no option to go up front and jump around. This is also why when it’s a classical concert you probably won’t be standing the whole time, if at all.

To build on the culturally acceptable practices, as performers and audience, there is ultimately some kind of magic, or a connection, that is fundamental to any public performance of live music. To me this is the ultimate layer of stuff on the very top, and ultimately what and why live music is still a thing people practice today, why people shell out large bucks to go see acts performing in person.

To recap and rephrase all this, on the basic layer, there’s the culturally acceptable things to do. Then there’s the context-sensitive things to do. And ultimately there’s the thing we’re suppose to do in the moment as audience. Ultimately, we don’t want to be bothersome, or yakkai.

Not throwing a thing at a performer is kind of the culturally acceptable thing to do. Let’s get that out of the way. Along with that is generally not being a nuisance to the performer and the staff. There are exceptions (throwing flowers at a skater on a rink after his routine is probably OK, et cetera) but the not-doing of these is always OK.

The next step up is where things get complicated, which is what constitutes a nuisance to your fellow audience. While standing in a pit, for example, I think the understanding is well known as to what’s acceptable bodily contact and the like. It’s why organizers can set up a “yakkai area” for people to go nuts at during festivals or certain lives of certain people, and generally speaking it’ll go well, a bit like how oil doesn’t mix with water. However when we’re talking about a few thousand people in a concert venue, or more, you get quickly to the point where you can’t please everyone. There will be some grey area. To that end I don’t have any guidelines–you’re welcomed to be as polite or as rude as you reasonably can within common sense. Coming from an American set of sensibilities I tend to lean towards “whatever you want as long as nobody gets hurt” but there’s a lot of gnashing of tweets about merely cyclone-ing at a live viewing, let alone jumping at an IM@S event or something else that’s often deemed commonplace at other venues. It’s amusing to read what people have to say but ultimately it comes down to each of us making the call.

The next level up is more about what you would like to be doing rather than what you shouldn’t be doing. This is more like, which sets of calls are appropriate when, what to say, what colors are appropriate, and there’s a bunch of interesting topics about calls we can get into. We won’t here.

However it’s easy to get labeled yakkai when what you’re doing seems okay to you. There are a lot of fun calls or moves you can do at some events, and those things are categorically considered yakkai. But they’re also not at some other events or situations, so it’s complicated if you really want to avoid being one and still want to do anything that’s advanced.

But that’s not a big deal. What people really mean when they say “don’t be yakkai” is just that don’t go crazy and enjoy being annoying, and taking your entertainment at the cost of the enjoyment of others. Like, it’s fun to troll people, but that’s not good if the other party doesn’t enjoy it. It might be fun to go nuts, but don’t do it when it’s inappropriate.

Some of us kind of joke around that just by being a foreigner in Japan, we’re already yakkai on some level. It’s not entirely wrong–we don’t speak or read the language well, it’s difficult to accommodate our larger sized bodies (Americans mostly), we don’t know the culture well. Many of us are eager to put our heads down and learn, but it’s not going to please everyone. I think it’s perfectly OK to take our imported cultural attitudes and apply where it’s appropriate, as long as it’s respectful and in way that communicates our passion. If we’re yakkai, so be it.

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