As I have previously discussed, I began my interest in Japanese music in the late 70’s, thanks to meeting Mr. Tony Harrington. It was through him that I found Chronicle, Far East Family Band, Kenji Sawada, The Bad Boys etc. I was going to all kinds of record collector swap meets in 1979 / 1980 – and it was at a swap meet that I met Wes Oishi, a Japanese American who sold Japanese-pressed records at the swap meets. Tony Harrington passed away a few years ago, but I still know Wes-san in 2010. He has a mail-order company that specializes in Japanese CD’s and record collector ephemera, Sound Source: http://store.soundsourcecds.com/ This page has the protective sleeves that he sells (which I highly recommend).
The language barrier is what keeps a lot of non-Japanese people from fully investigating Japanese pop music. It’s really true – in fact, most of the Japanese artists that I collect at least have English names / titles on the covers of their vinyl / CD’s!
I think one of the reasons that Y.M.O. got a level of acceptance in the west was because of their use of English in their packaging. Sure, it took some time to actually figure out what Y.M.O. meant, but – it was there, if you looked a little deeper (Yellow Magic Orchestra). In the early 80’s, the Y.M.O. family tree seemed to be totally flourishing! Even before they started their own label (Yen Records), they played on and produced tons of very cool music in Japan.
More than a decade later, Japanese use of English language again triumphed with Pizzicato Five somewhat successfully making a bid for the U.S. market’s fickle pop music attention span. Together with Cornelius (Keigo Oyamada, who had produced Pizzicato Five) – there was at least a recognition that there was something happening in Japan that deserved to be listened to by U.S. music fans – it also helped that both P5 & Cornelius toured the U.S. more than once, and actually had domestic CD / vinyl releases here (via Matador Records, in New York City).
But when Pizzicato Five broke up in 2001 (or so), and Cornelius seemed to get stuck in his sampler – there hasn’t been a new wave of Japanese artists to successfully command the attention of western audiences – that I am aware of, at any rate! And I pay closer attention than some!
At very least, when I see Y.M.O. written about in 2010, Americans and Europeans seem to know that they were part of a global wave of synth music that included Kraftwerk and Devo. It’s OK to listen to Y.M.O. in 2010!
But to really keep on top of things, you simply must travel to Japan to see / hear a good portion of what is going on in Japan. And with the Japanese Yen recently at 82 yen to the dollar…I won’t be going back anytime soon! (Alas!)
Japanese music: OK!