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Light In The Attic Releases first Anthology for their Japan Archival Series

Posted by Kells, October 27, 2017 11:56pm | Post a Comment

Record shopping in Japan is an incredible and humbling experience and, when in Tokyo, I enjoy exploring as many record stores as possible, regularly testing the limits of my willpower wallet while discovering one long-sought gem after another. What's more, records in Japan are more often than not found in great if not near mint condition and almost always come crisply wrapped in those snazzy resealable outer sleeves. Whether you're digging through one of Japan's many mega music emporiums, curated record boutiques, or any old hideaway/warehouse situation stuffed windows-to-the-walls with miscellaneous wax, the scope of excellently kept, hard-to-find vinyl stocked in record stores here never fails to amaze. That said, scoring coveted original releases by Japanese artists at a "nice price" can be surprisingly tough, which means acquiring the same prized/pricey titles stateside can be doubly difficult and hardly worth it (itinerant flippers be damned). Enter the warm glow of Light In The Attic Records...

Since announcing their Japan Archival Series last April, the Seattle-based label has finally brought their inaugural release for the project to US ears with Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock 1969-1973, the "first-ever fully licensed compilation of this music to be released outside Japan". This collection of nineteen tracks spans an era when Japan's youth culture shifted from championing the Surf instrumental (think The Ventures) Eleki trend and the Beatles-inspired Group Sounds (G.S.) movement that dominated Japanese pop culture in the 1960s to more poignant, living room singer/songwriter sounds reminiscent of Bob Dylan, mellow Laurel Canyon boho vibes, soft psychedelia, and miscellaneous Americana (à la The Band and Neil Young). Fueled by mass student protest demonstrations and an underground ("angura") movement bent on subverting long-standing stuffy traditions, young musicians rejected Beatlemania replications in favor creative authenticity, giving birth to fresh genres like the aptly named New Music and Kissa Rock (literally "Café Rock, so-called due to the venues they frequently played). Some of Japan's most beloved and influential music-makers made a name for themselves during this crucial period, and many of those heavy-hitters whose early works are featured on this comp would go on to further enrich the fabric of music history in Japan and beyond long after the angura movement's hippie heyday. For example, Haruomi Hosono, who lends his distinct James Taylor-esque vocals to two tracks on this compilation (both as a member of influential Folk Rock band Happy End and with a track from his 1973 self-titled solo debut), would later form the innovative electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Yukihiro Takahashi (whose Sadistic Mika Band bandmate Kazuhiko Kato also has a solo track featured on this comp). This example is by no means representative of the extent of Hosono's legacy as one of the most important figures in Japanese music history and his career trajectory is but one slippery slope of many rabbit holes one can fall into exploring via this compilation. Plus, aside from being a lovely aesthetic object featuring original artwork by illustrator Heisuke Kitazawa, the total package includes extensive liner notes and bios (put together by compiler/producers Yosuke Kitazawa and Jake Orrall) that dig deeper into this music that has been, as Light in The Attic puts it, "tantalizingly out of reach for decades" while setting the stage for overlaps and other points of interest that'll surely connect this particular anthology to forthcoming releases and reissues for the Japan Archival Series.

Stay tuned for the next two announced anthologies Pacific Breeze: Japanese City Pop, AOR & Boogie 1975-1985 and Kankyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990 in addition to "dozens" of other as-yet-unspecified "special projects" and more exciting things to come from this LITA label series. No doubt this noble effort won't make shopping original Japanese pressings by artists featured on any of these anthologies and reissues any more affordable, but it will extend the reach of these works to a broader audience at a price point that definitely guarantees more bang for your buck. That is until you realize that each song in the sequence comes from records that are pretty much all killer/no filler and you find yourself in a catnip-like state of obsession hellbent on a quest to acquire them all at any cost because record collecting. But seriously, kudos to Light In The Attic for embarking on this journey to bring some wonderful fully-licensed music from Japan to the US. Keep on keepin' on, I can't wait to get more of it on my turntable!
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A look at Tsukioka Yoshitoshi on his 175th birthday

Posted by Eric Brightwell, April 30, 2014 12:32pm | Post a Comment

Kanaki Toshikage portrait of Yoshitoshi

One of Japan's greatest artists, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, was born on this day in 1839, which I reckon makes it as good a time as any to blog about him. For those unfamiliar, Yoshitoshi is widely regarded as one of ukiyo-e's greatest innovators, as well as its last major practitioner. He produced an enormous body of work (about 10,000 pieces by some estimates) although he's best known for his bloody pieces -- which comprise a large chunk of his oeuvre. After falling out of fashion amongst Japanese art collectors, he was "rediscovered" in the 1970s and is now rightfully placed amongst the ukiyo-e greats.

*****

Yoshitoshi was born Owariya Yonejiro (米次郎), in the Shimbashi district of Edo (now Tokyo), in 1839. His father, Owariya Kinzaburō, was a wealthy merchant and samurai. The identity of his mother is unknown, although Kinzaburō's mistress, apparently not wanting the share their home with the child, sent him off to live with an otherwise childless relative, Kyōya Orizaburō, when Yonejiro was about three. At the age of five, after showing interest in art, the pharmacist uncle (or cousin by other accounts) began offering the young boy art instruction.

When Yonejiro was eleven he was apprenticed to the great Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川 国芳) who gave him the art name, Yoshitoshi (月岡 芳年). Yoshitoshi's first print was completed in 1853. Kuniyoshi died in 1861. Yoshitoshi's father died in 1863. In 1863 Yoshitoshi contributed designs to the 1863 Tokaido series, created by the artists of the Utagawa School and organized by another ukiyo-e great, Utagawa Kunisada (歌川 国貞).

Many of Yoshitoshi's best-known pieces are graphically violent and deeply disturbing -- and then as now, audiences loved that sort of thing. Two of his most celebrated series were published in 1865, A Modern Journey to the West and One Hundred Stories of China and Japan. They were followed by the even more lurid Twenty-eight famous murders with verse, completed in 1868.


  
Three of Yoshitoshi's characteristically bloody pieces

The Edo Period came to an end with the Meiji Restoration, which began on 3 May, 1868. As Japan struggled to put the violence of war behind it and hurriedly catch up technologically with the West, Yoshitoshi's macabre woodblock prints fell out of fashion. After his commissions dried up, he and his mistress, Okoto, descended into a life abject poverty. Their situation was exacerbated when Yoshitoshi suffered from a mental breakdown.

In 1873 Yoshitoshi's outlook improved and he began producing more art, which he began signing his works Taiso (meaning "great resurrection") Yoshitoshi (in place of Ikkaisai Yoshitoshi). As newspaper production increased, Yoshitoshi found himself newly in demand as an illustrator, prized for his grisly illustrations which were published in accompaniment with crime stories. Although his work may have increased, he and Okoto still lived in poverty and in 1876 his mistress joined a brothel.

The following year Yoshitoshi began a relationship with a geisha, Oraku. As with Okoto, Oraku sold off her possessions to support the artist and herself and soon she too joined a brothel.

In 1880, Yoshitoshi began a relationship with a former geisha, Sakamaki Taiko, and the two were married in 1884. She had two children from a previous relationship, one of whom (Tsukioka Kōgyo) Yoshitoshi adopted and trained to be an artist.


  
Three of Yoshitoshi's studies of women 

In 1878, Yoshitoshi created a series of bijin-ga that scandalized members of the Imperial court. In 1885 he produced The Lonely House on Adachi Moor. That year a Japanese art and fashion magazine ranked him as the greatest ukiyo-e artist but the art of making woodblock prints was on a decidedly moribund course. Nonetheless, Yoshitoshi taught the dying art to new pupils, including some who would attain a good measure of fame in the 20th Century, including Toshikata Mizuno (水野年方and Toshihide Migita (右田年英).

"Fujiwara no Yasumasa Playing the Flute by Moonlight" from One Hundred Aspects of the Moon

Yoshitoshi's troubles again deepened after his home was burgled. Soon after he was admitted (and discharged) from a mental hospital. Even as he declined physically and mentally, he continued to be prolific and in his last six months of life he completed both One Hundred Aspects of the Moon and New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts. On 9 June, 1892, he died at the age of 53 from a cerebral hemorrhage.

  
Three pieces from New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts 

In 1898, a stone memorial monument to Yoshitoshi was installed in Higashi-okubo, Tokyo. The influence of his style can be felt in the works of writers like Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎and artists including Tadanori Yokoo (横尾 忠則), Masami Teraoka, and Koren Shadmi as well as a great deal of manga. Numerous books have been published both about Yoshitoshi and collecting examples of his works. Check the Amoeba bookshelves to see what's in stock as well as Yoshitoshi.net.

誕生日おめでとう and follow Eric's Blog

Psych Folk legend Eiichi Ohtaki dies at 65

Posted by Kells, January 10, 2014 04:01pm | Post a Comment


Japanese singer-songwriter and producer Eiichi Ohtaki passed away at a hospital on Monday, December 30, 2013 after having collapsed at his Tokyo home while eating an apple, a piece which had apparently stuck in his throat causing him to choke. He was 65.
Ohtaki's influential contributions to Japanese pop and folk rock music worldwide could not be more legendary. Born on July 28, 1948, he was perhaps most famous for being the singer/guitarist and founding member of Happy End (pictured left above),  a band he formed with fellow Japanese rock heavy hitters Takashi Matsumoto (Apryl Fool), Shigeru Suzuki and Haruomi Hosono (Apryl Fool/Yellow Magic Orchestra). From 1969 to 1972 the ensemble produced three studio albums that pioneered a highly revered heavy acid folk sound that made them Japan's most beloved and critically acclaimed classic rock bands of all time. More recently the ensemble won notoriety stateside when their song "Kaze wo Atusmete" was featured in the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's 2003 film Lost In Translation.

Happy End disbanded in 1973, but Ohtaki enjoyed a very successful solo career as a musician, singer-songwriter and record producer working with mid-'70s rockers Sugar Babe as well as prominent artists like Tatsuro Yamashita (pictured below to Ohtaki's left) and Onuki Taeko. His 1981 album A Long Vacation was named "Best Album" of the year at the Japan Record Awards and went on to receive both 20th anniversary and 30th anniversary reissues. [A mildly interesting fun fact:  A Long Vacation was also the first Japanese album to be released on CD.]

Higashi Honganji Obon Festival 2012

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 7, 2012 10:44am | Post a Comment


Obon
(お盆) is a Japanese holiday on which observers honor the spirits of their ancestors. Within Japan as well as the Japanese diaspora, Obon has been observed on different dates since Japan’s adoption of the Gregorian Calender in 1872.


Pendersleigh & Sons Cartography's map of Little Tokyo

In LA and Orange County there were also Obon festivities on different dates that took place not only in several Little Tokyo venues but also in Anaheim, Gardena, Little Osaka, Venice, and West Covina. I attended the Obon Festival at Little Tokyo’s Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple (ロサンゼルス東本願寺別院).



Higashi Hongan-ji (or, 'the eastern temple of the original vow') is one of two dominant sub-sects of Shin Buddhism. LA’s congregation is the oldest Buddhist congregation in the city, founded as Rafu Bukkyokai in 1904 by Reverend Junjyo Izumida at 229 1/2 East Fourth Street.

 

The congregation moved around Little Tokyo and the Eastside several times over the decades that followed. In 1907 they relocated to a nearby location on San Julian Street. In 1911, the temple moved to a building on Savannah Street in Boyle Heights, which historically had a large Japanese-American population. In 1921, it became a Higashi Honganji branch temple. In 1926, staying within Boyle Heights, it relocated to 118 North Mott.


The temple with Little Tokyo Towers in the background


It remained there until 1976, when it moved back to Little Toyko in the shadow of newly-built Little Tokyo Towers, erected in 1975.


all-day bingo


somen-eating contest


taiko drummers


more taiko drumming


happyfunsmile


Local Mojo

The 2012 Obon Festival included all-day bingo, dance, drink, food, games, music, performances, a somen-eating contest, Obon Hatsubon services and a tea ceremony, among other activities. Performers and performances included Bodhi Tree Band, Bombu Taiko & Kitsune Taiko, Fujima Kansei Odori Kai, Garvey Ranch Park Dojo, Halau Hula ‘a’ ala Anuhea, happyfunsmile, hereandnow, Kinnara Taiko, Live 4 Today, Local Mojo, TAIKOPROJECT, and the Lumbini Kids (the children that attend the temple's daycare). It was free and open to the public.


Bon Odori

I missed the Manto-e lantern lighting ceremony, a tradition begun about 1,200 years ago. I also missed teamaster Matsumura Shachu’s Ogasawara-ryu Sencha-do Tea Ceremony demonstration. However, I did catch the Bon Odori (盆踊り) – literally “Bon dance” – a dance meant to welcome the arrival of spirits.

I also watched a performance by Higashi Zumba Class, which fuses Latin music (including Cumbia Trival!) with dance and exercise.


bake sale


plant sale

the farmers market

The temple also hosts (and hosted on that day) bake sales, plant sales, farmers market, bingo, and child care. Additionally there's a choir and a golf club, although I didn't see any sign of them on that particular day.

 
          Rodney Kageyama and Rex                                           Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple

The festivities were MCed by well-known Nissei actor/director/costume designer/community activist Rodney Kageyama, veteran of San Francisco’s Asian American Theater Company and LA’s East West Players who is probably most recognized for his appearances in The Karate Kid Part II, The Next Karate Kid, Gung Ho (the film and TV series) and numerous guest appearances on TV.

Later in the day a group of friends showed up. As the Obon festivities wound down, we headed to Little Tokyo Shopping Center where, after killing a bit of time at Japan Arcade, we dined at Izakaya Honda Ya. As always, happy holidays… and 乾杯!

*****



Stereopony Saddles Up for Amoeba Instore and U.S. Tour

Posted by Kells, April 6, 2012 02:23pm | Post a Comment
They may not be the first all-girl band of hard-rockin' babes from Okinawa Japan to grace the stage at Amoeba Music in San Francisco but hear me now, believe me later when I say that the Stereopony live instore performance going down at 6pm next Monday night, April 9th, is going to be an affair to remember!

Having made their major debut in 2008, Stereopony has gained a great deal of notoriety by having their songs featured as themes for various commercials, television shows and anime series, most notably their fifth single "Tsukiakari no Michishirube" doing double time as the opener for Darker Than Black: Ryuusei no Gemini. Employing catchy melodic rock hooks reminiscent of the whole high school à la Brat Pack zeitgeist met with more than a dash of mid-to-late 1990's pop-punk angst (i.e. their live sets sometimes reveal a Green Day cover) it's impossible to imagine a

Check out the video below for "Hanbunko" to see what all the fuss is about and don't forget to grab a copy of Stereopony's latest release, More! More!! More!!!, when you drop by for the live Stereopony in-store performance at Amoeba Music's SF location on Monday, April 9th. That's right folks, Amoeba Music is the place to see live music, why? Because it's always fab and always free of charge, no tickets required; did it on'em.

And if you can't make it out to Amoeba Music SF for the show check the concerts dates and deets below the video for more info on their More! More!! More!!! 2012 U.S. Tour. See you there!





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