Saturday, October 31, 2009

Legendary Voices: 4) Kiyoshiro Imawano

Imawano’s career spanned nearly four decades, from his debut with legendary rock band RC Succession in 1970, up until his recent death this past spring. After the breakup of RC Succession in the early 1990’s he became a successful solo artist. Imawano was known for his flamboyant looks and stage presence, as well as his innovative use of the Japanese language. He was often known as “Japan’s King of Rock.” (Due to his over-the-top personality, I’ve even heard him referred to as the “Japanese James Brown.”)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Legendary Voices: 3) Utada Hikaru

Utada Hikaru is one of Japan’s highest selling female voices, known for her bold sophisticated sound within a market that is dominated by disposable pop idols. “First Love,” her breakthrough release in 1999, sold 10 million copies, making it the highest selling Japanese album of all time time. Originally from New York City, Utada is one of the rare Japanese artists with a truly international career. She attended Columbia University for a semester and has also released 3 English-language albums, including “Exodus,” in 2004.

Videos on Youtube:
Come Back To Me - Her most recent English-language single
Easy Breezy - 2004 English language breakthrough single

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Legendary Voices: 2) Haruomi Hosono

Hosono, one of the seminal figures in Japanese pop music, first rose to prominence playing in various folk bands in the early 70’s. His first major success was with Happy End, one of Japan’s most influential folk rock bands. Happy End’s brief career only spanned from 1970 to 1973, but the group was notable for its unique and seamless blend of Western folk rock and Japanese lyrics.

Hosono’s greatest success came in the late 70’s with the formation of Yellow Magic Orchestra, arguably Japan’s most influential pop group of all time. Along with Yukihiro Takahashi and highly esteemed composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, YMO single-handedly created the “Technopop” genre, infusing their music with the latest sequencers and synthesizers that were first becoming available at the turn of the decade.

Recently, many in the West first heard Hosono’s voice in the song, “Kaze Wo Atsumete” [Gather the Winds] featured in the soundtrack to the film, Lost In Translation.

Yellow Magic Orchestra's music video for "Kimi ni Mune Kyun" ["mune kyun" is onomatopoeia for the sound your heart makes when you see someone you like...]

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Legendary Voices: 1) Yutaka Ozaki

Yutaka Ozaki was a pop rock sensation in the late 80's in Japan, a songwriter known for his angst-ridden yet introspective lyrics, superb musicianship, incredible stage presence, and undeniably striking looks. He lived the paradigm life of a rock musician, quickly rising to stardom and dying young at the age of 26 in 1992. His life and career were both fast and turbulent. He could fill arenas and sell millions of albums, but he always maintained the status of an outlaw, even being dropped by his record company due to a drug related arrest.

Steve McClure, ex-editor of Billboard Japan writes in his book Nippon Pop, "His rebellion tapped the same wellspring of dissatisfaction beneath the superficial harmony of Japanese society that has inspired more overtly political artists. But no one has said it quite like this handsome, doomed young man whose uncompromising stance gives him a unique place in the history of Japanese pop music." Ozaki's continued presence in the Japanese musical consciousness can most closely be likened to that of Kurt Cobain in the West.

Legendary Voices

In honor of NPR's upcoming series, 50 Great Voices, over the next few weeks, Werewolf will be posting articles about 10 legendary vocalists from Japan. Artists of all genres and eras from the 1950's up until the present will be covered.

Iden & Tity

This is the trailer for the Japanese rock n' roll film, Iden & Tity, directed by Tomorowo Taguchi.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

A Sign

I dreamed the other night that I had a meeting with Prince at his apartment. He was showing me a DVD of one of his arena performances off of a laptop screen. I asked him if he had read the Werewolf blog. He said that he had and that he liked it very much.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Today marks the one year anniversary of the Tokyo Werewolf. I touched down in Tokyo on October 14th of 2008.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hakodate: Beyond Nostalgia

...The place is even more beautiful than in my memories. The way the city wraps around the narrow peninsula, the wide open bays surrounded by dramatic mountains, the Meiji-era buildings of Motomachi, the greenry and stone architecture of Goryokaku, the blinding lights of the squid fisherman off on the horizon past dusk; the city is absolutely stunning in ways that I never even noticed before...

View from Mt. Hakodate

Overlooking the bay from Motomachi

Restored warehouses on the wharf
Reconstruction of the Headquarters in Goryokaku
Goryokaku from above, the first Western style military fort in Japan. Site of the final stand of the real last samurai at the end of the Japanese Civil War
Huts on the coast
The 150 year old foreigner's cemetery, resting place of sailors and officials since Matthew Perry's time

Hakodate Station at night
Squid fisheries at night luring their catch with blinding lights
Reuniting with old friends. Children grow quite a bit in four years

Friday, October 2, 2009

Canned Beef

60 years before I made my first sojourn to Japan, my grandfather was but a few miles down the road from me now, stationed in Yokohama as a G.I.. While he was en route to the Pacific Theater by boat, the bomb was dropped and the War finished. He spent about a half year serving in the occupation forces.

Over the years, I've only gradually gathered bits of information about his experiences here. According to the family rumors, he managed to bring back kimonos and swords, but I've never managed to see these items. When I asked him about it a while back, he said the Japanese were forced to disarm and that there were piles of weapons in the streets. It might not be the most PC by today's standards, but he always said that the Japanese were very docile and friendly, that since the emperor had decreed the surrender, everyone obeyed and were welcoming to the American soldiers.

I spent a day strolling around Yokohama earlier this summer and couldn't help but think of my grandfather. Amidst the high rises, flashing neon, and bustle of the modern city, there are still many architectural artifacts from his time, classic government buildings, giant warehouses, preserved shipyards. I knew that he had walked these streets and gazed on many of the same scenes.

The other day, I talked with my grandfather over the phone and learned of a new story that I hadn't heard before. I asked him what Yokohama was like back then.

"Food was the most important thing to them. I used to sneak some food to a few people that I liked."

Who were these people, I wondered. I probed him further but he didn't seem to understand my question.

He told me about how he was friends with the Mess Sergeant, who was of the same rank. He used pick up a few extra cans of beef and smuggle them out in the pockets of his trench coat. "Strictly illegal," he said, "but in war time you do what you've got to do."

Last year, before coming to Japan, my grandfather gave me an old box of keepsakes from his time as a soldier. The box was mostly filled with old money from the imperial government and old photos.

Wartime destruction in Yokohama:Sakuragicho back then:
The Yokohama Club:
A souvenir postcard:
Skeletons of burned out buildings, indistinguishable from similar photos of Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
View down a ghostly rural street: