Thursday, September 10, 2009


9-10-09 Japan

I have been visiting Japan since 1994. I first went there seemingly a lifetime ago, at the suggestion of my good friend Ken Heaton. Ken had gone to Japan via his job in the US Coast Guard, and just loved it. He wasn’t wrong.

Fortunately, there is video footage of my first glimpse of Shibuya, thanks to Ken. This was in 1994. My story with Japan starts much earlier than that, however. In the late 70’s, I met Tony Harrington, a British entrepreneur who was trying to sell Japanese music in the U.S. – with acts Chronicle and Far East Family Band. It was Tony H. who suggested Kenji Sawada and Y.M.O. to me. It was also around this time I met Wes Oishi, who was importing records directly from Japan, and flogging them at the Country Club swap meet – it was from Wes that I first heard P-Model and The Plastics.

At one of my early 80’s record distributor jobs, I was told that we could import stuff from Japan, if desired. Once that connection was made, the promo LP’s started flowing in my direction, with the first few releases on the Yen Records label (Hajime Tachibana “H” and Yukihiro Takahashi “What? Me Worry?”). I went to work for Tony Harrington in a tiny office in Studio City, California – we were importing LP’s from Japan, mostly jazz re-issues. The promo LP’s continued to arrive – Melon / Watermelon, TRA Project cassettes, just amazing stuff. It seemed like there was a Y.M.O. release every few months. And “music video” was on the horizon! Everybody buy a Beta! Uh, and a Beta Hi-Fi. And a SuperBeta. And MTV. And, and, and.

I remember when I saw the first compact discs from Japan – ’83? ’84? Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Toto, Paul Mauriat, Richard Clayderman…obscenely expensive. What do you play these things on?

My job with Tony ended in 1987, but my interest in Japanese music did not. At one of the larger Tower Records stores (Bascom Ave. in San Jose) I could find CD’s by Mute Beat, the Japanese dub reggae band – and sometimes the occasional Y.M.O. solo album on CD. ‘Spensive!

The Japanese music magazines always looked good to me – Viva Rock, Ongaku Senka and Music Life (the magazine after which this blog is named). After Ken got so excited about visiting Japan in ’93 and ’94, I started to take a look at Japanese music magazines again. This is where I first saw Pizzicato Five. Shortly thereafter, I met David Ponak – he wanted to know if I knew where to get Pizzicato Five CD’s. I knew what he was talking about – Ken had sent me cassettes of Pizzicato Five, and a CD single I had ordered (from Wes) had already arrived. We got to meet Pizzicato Five, when they first came to Los Angeles – and again, when I first visited Tokyo…in 1994.

Pizzicato Five and their managers (Terry & Tom) told me about Cornelius. I began writing for Giant Robot magazine. I’ve been to Japan 9 or 10 times now. I love the food, the people, the city of Tokyo and it’s suburbs. Can’t wait to go back, but – the U.S. dollar really sucks right now. Must be patient!

pictured: Ryuichi Sakamoto "Futurista" CD, currently being auctioned on eBay

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