Blues in Japan?


Why are the blues (the music genre) so popular in Japan?

I’m taking an anthro class on Chicago Blues and my professor mentioned this, and then my blues harp teacher confirmed it. He’s got a bunch of CDs of studio outtakes of major blues musicians that were only released in Japan. Who in Japan listens to this music, and why is so popular?

japan’s a big market for music, period. searching ebay for japanese pressed vinyl gives you a lot of results and a lot of these records are sought after for having different songs/track lists/cuts. in my searching i’ve found a lot of early rock and roll and punk rock. blues fits nicely into this. 

i remember stumbling upon a page a few years ago that had picture after picture of japanese teens, especially boys, dressed up like elvis presley/james dean extras – slicked hair, tight jeans, iconic leather jackets – straight up greasers.
posted by nadawi at 12:22 PM on May 29, 2011

also: my husband points out that bonus songs were added to japanese releases to encourage the population to buy domestic. the records came out way later there then they did in the US and so extra tracks were slapped on to give the japanese people a reason to wait for the local release.
posted by nadawi at 12:29 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I couldn’t tell you why, but Tokyo is a great place for Jazz fans. If anyone happens across this post through a lucky search, let me point you towards this outdated and link-dead (but still helpful) map. Waseda students, you probably live right near two great basement venues (Intro and Hot House) so you’ve got no excuse not to go. The Intro’s all night jam sessions on Saturdays are one of the best bargains around.
posted by Winnemac at 1:45 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

the concept of “Big in Japan” is a fairly well-known meme.
posted by modernserf at 4:27 PM on May 29, 2011

Who in Japan listens to this music

My husband. Heh.

I wouldn’t say that that the blues is “popular” here. There’s only a niche market for it and only “deep” music lovers (I lovingly call my husband an “ongaku otaku” = music geek) listen to the genre or even know about it. So the premise of your question is sort of flawed in my opinion, but it’s true that obscure recordings have been released here. According to my husband, who not only is a music geek but also works in the music industry here in Tokyo, this is thanks mainly to a record label called P-Vine. It’s been consistently releasing music by blues artists since the early 1970s even though there’s never really been a huge market for the genre here, just because the founders had (have) a great love for the music. This company eventually went on to release other types of music as well to stay afloat, but there has always been a section that specializes in the blues.

tl;dr: My 2 cents is that the blues isn’t popular here per se, but there were a few influential people who had a deep love for the music and strove to introduce the genre here.
posted by misozaki at 4:54 PM on May 29, 2011 [4 favorites]

The book Babylon East: Performing Roots Reggae, Dancehall and Rastafari in Japan by Marvin Sterling has some interesting arguments that might be useful for the question, even though it is focusing on a different part of African diaspora.

Sterling argues that some who are active in the Japanese reggae subculture use the music to indirectly criticize aspects of mainstream Japanese “salaryman” culture. 

At the same time, it’s just a place with fans of all sorts of niche musics, and Japanese bands have been playing rock and blues since it broke everywhere (and jazz, etc.)…

Really, answering this question is a job for Flapjax at Midnite. Flapjax? Are you out there?
posted by umbú at 7:26 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Piggybacking on misozaki’s comment, P-Vine records reissues not just blues, but rare and out-of-print, soul, funk, and jazz too. I’m not so much into blues, but as a soul/funk fan I often find myself hunting around for old rare stuff only to find P-Vine has already reissued it.

And my observations from living in Japan: A typical Japanese person listens to pop, much like the US. But there are niche markets for every genre, and enthusiasts are usually very serious about pouring money into their hobbies and building up music collections (not to mention internet piracy is a bit more taboo here, so fans still rely more on CDs/vinyl than blogs/torrents).
posted by p3t3 at 9:04 PM on May 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think one aspect of the collector thing in Japan is that a lot of people here, when they get into something, really, really get into it. The otaku concept, the unhealthy obsession with whatever the person focuses on, is meant to be used mostly with single Japanese males who obsess over things that are not usually mainstream acceptable (computers, trains, manga) and lack social skills.

The thing is, among people I know here who have a hobby, they are usually very, very into the hobby, with magazines, books, and, if applicable, only the best of equipment for pursuing said hobby. Lots of collecting mentality, of the completist mindset. 

Add to that there is a different focus on living conditions here. A lot of people are perfectly willing to live in small, cheap apartments, and spend the bulk of their disposable income on their hobby, rather than finding a bigger or nicer place. And it’s not uncommon for the smaller space to be well filled with the thing being collected. 

When it comes to the blues, I wouldn’t say that the market is large in terms of numbers of people, but the people who are fans probably spend a hell of a lot more on the blues than fans would back in the States.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:03 PM on May 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, as usual, Misozaki has given an insightful answer before I even see the thread. Her perspective is right on: a subculture of deeply-devoted aficionados is what keeps the scene alive, and they happily lose money by bringing blues legends and obscure artists alike to play in Japan. In my single days I used to regularly close a long-gone bar in Osaka (SouthSide Blues) with these guys who went to every show and bought every CD issued by P-Vine. Their knowledge was crazy encyclopedic, and the Japanese artists who plied the trade were devoted as well. Don’t go looking up the chromatic harp genius Yagi Nobuo on YouTube unless you have a few hours to kill.

There is a Hit Parade-type TV show on Friday nights in Japan for at least as long as I’ve lived here and the people no this show are the most farcical collection of oven-fresh cookie-cutter pop idols you can imagine. It’s worse than you can imagine, really. EVERY song in the top 10 last year was by one of two singing idol groups: AKB48 (stupid-cute teen girls) or Arashi (stupid-cute teen boys). Good music is hidden, for the most part. Real passion is hidden, for the most part. But there are music venues in every city where you can find the kind of music you are looking for. A guy I know who is fanatical about New Orleans music and funk opened a bar where he could play it all night every night. He asked me, in all seriousness: “Who filled in on bass in Earth, Wind and Fire from 1977-78 when so-and-so was sick and they recorded such-and-such album?” as if everyone walks around with that level of detailed knowledge.

Whoa, whoa, getting off-track, here, I see. Basically, what Misozaki said. it’s the depth of devotion that makes the size of the scene look bigger than it is. Of course, when I went to shows in Osaka by BB King, Dr. John, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, etc., they got big crowds, tho.
posted by planetkyoto at 5:44 PM on May 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

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