I have never been a quiet or timid person. “She’s very loud,” my first primary school teacher told my mother, waggling meaningful eyebrows.
I have also never been very good at filtering what comes out of my mouth.
This is why you should on no account give me a microphone and let me loose in front of an audience of 200 people.
I ended up at presentation evening called PechaKucha 20×20 last week. Born in Tokyo, but now organised in over 700 cities worldwide, I was attending its birthplace: SuperDeluxe in Roppongi. The rules of a PechaKucha Night are simple: anyone can present on any topic but they only have 20 slides, each of which will be displayed for only 20 seconds. The maximum length of a talk is therefore only 6 minutes and 40 seconds, preventing anyone for being too boring or using up time allocated for other speakers. ‘Pecha kucha’ means ‘chit-chat’ in Japanese – the event is meant to be informative whilst keeping things light and informative.
Super Deluxe is a multi-event space – from exhibitions to club nights and live music. In fact, as a long underground room with a cautiously shabby aesthetic, it is definitely the perfect hipster hangout. I thought I might quite like it despite its Roppongi location. However, hipsters apparently love to be forced to drink 300 yen bottles of water. I’m clearly not hip enough and told the bar woman that if my 1000 yen entry didn’t include a glass of tap water, I was going to drink from the toilets. Which I duly did… the toilet taps that is.
The variety of topics last week was impressive, with presentations in both Japanese and English, and even both. An architect explained the use of space within his design for a children’s centre in one of the areas affected by the 2011 tsunami. A Tokyo University researcher examined patterns in nature, more specifically spiral patterns in the heart and how this could help us to further understand cardiac arrest. Two gaijin had not only impressively mastered Japanese but also Tsugaru, an obscure northern dialect from Western Aomori, and are now in the process of translating an even more obscure book of folktales from Tsugaru into Japanese and English. This included a fantastic story about an icicle who turns into a wife, but understandable refuses to bathe.
And what was I presenting on? Absolutely nothing. The organisers merely asked for volunteers for a joke round of PechaKucha and I jumped up and down. Apparently people were doing it for a free drink; I just thought it sounded like fun!
The five of us were suddenly at the front of the room with a screen playing images of famous cartoons. The guy before me wove together an excellent Disney story from many non-Disney cartoons, drawing on topical events. Then it came to my turn. I grabbed the microphone and looked at the hundreds of faces staring at me.
My first thought was, “WTF am I doing?”
My second thought was, “Talk, just TALK.”
The image I was presented with was ‘The Painting that Ate Paris.’
“Disney decided to take a darker direction,” I explained. “There needed to be a bit more death and destruction – less happy endings and all that. So they decided to go with the ‘Painting that Ate Paris’. Because everyone hates the French.”
There was an uproar. Smooth, Pheebz, smooth. Nothing like a bit of casual racism to stir up the crowd.
“I’m allowed to say that because I’m British and we make fun of everyone.” Right, Pheebz, tar all the Brits with your politically incorrect brush.
At the end of the presentation, the organiser asked how many French people were in the crowd and, to my dismay, several hands shot up.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not meant to be a diplomat. Also, for the record, I really don’t hate the French (and my French friends found this pretty hilarious). Just… don’t mention the War.
My reward for being incredibly unfunny was a free drink off the menu, so in order to be adventurous in the name of Vital Foodie Research, I tried awamori, an alcohol indigenous to Okinawa. It made from long grain indica rice though a distillation process, unlike sake which is brewed. The rice-alcohol flavour was definitely present though, and it’s a flavour I’m very much coming to like. However, my drink was mixed with grapefruit and soda so I can’t provide further tasting notes. I urge you all to try it with the warning that it is… quite strong. But I’d probably already done maximum damage for the night anyway…