Music in Japan


I just woke up at 7:40 to the cheery sound of the maid yelling, "Sawatdee Kha!  Sabaidee Mai Kha?"  (Good morning!  Are you sick?)  I think my 9 hours last night will finally bring me back to normal after an exhausting but enjoyable trip.  Eight consecutive nights in clubs with requisite after-hours beer and food, most nights until 3 or 4 AM.  That is the blues life I experience whenever I play music in Japan!  These folks surely know how to party.

 My first night was in a club called Little Village (  it is named after the Ry Cooder/John Hiatt album).  The owner is Koichiro Taniguchi who wrote and sang Country Boy on my Flusteration album.  The place was packed at 22 bucks a head (although it is about the size of most American living rooms).  I suppose 35 people were shoehorned in.  Little Village has a great sound system and I was joined by my host, Hikita on bass.  Koichiro got up and we did duets of Stray Dog Blues and Country Boy.  I came outside at the end of the show to snow falling from the Nagoya sky.  It was very cold and I was happy I had borrowed a coat from a friend on arrival. 

The next night I played an American style sports bar called Shooters.  The clientele was almost all gaijin, mostly English teachers and industrialists, many old friends from the 90s.  I was joined by Ishi-san, guitarist on three of my CDs on hot electric guitar and a few guest numbers by a guy known as BB Kawai.  His expertise is a very good reproduction of the BB King guitar sound, so I added him on a few blues tunes.  He saw Buddy Guy once and so had installed a wireless unit and now walks through the crowd as he plays his solos.

Daytimes I like to jump on the subway and wander around Nagoya.  There is a temple area called Osukannon that also has lots of used goods stores and is a center of Brazilian immigrants.  The largest population of Japanese outside of Japan is Brazil.  Still, things cost so much here!  A bowl of feijoiada was 17 dollars.  Just a bowl of black bean soup!  Costs have really risen since we lived there in the 90s.  Then, a single piece of celery was then an astounding buck fifty.  Now, it is 2 dollars and 50 cents!  A bowl of ramen noodles is 12 bucks. The taxi meter starts at 5 dollars and a short trip downtown is 35 bucks.  70 dollars to the airport.  Draft beer in clubs is 7 dollars and a glass of Guinness 12.  My host, Hikita drinks I.W. Harper whiskey and one night his bill was 85 dollars!  Luckily for me, everything was comped, food and beverage! 

As I was walking around Osukannon, I saw a place selling Turkish food.  The guy inside, obviously not Japanese, said, Hello!  I responded in Turkish and his jaw dropped.  It turned out he had only been in Japan for a month and it was the first Turkish he had heard spoken.  I had a doner sandwich and invited him to come to hear the music.  He showed up that night with his tiny Japanese wife.  He had met her when she was touristing in Istanbul and the ensuing romance ended up with him running a restaurant in Nagoya.

I was scheduled to have a night off on Monday night, but we played a tiny little club called Forest.  I had never been there before, but the proprietor is a friend of a friend and also a sort of guitar player who really just wanted me to play there so he could join in on a few numbers.  It was OK by me and he filled me with Guinness and home-made Italian food afterwards.  Oh, he also slipped me a ten thousand yen note which is worth about 110 bucks these days.  Takobow, who had played on my Bruise album, showed up with a djembe and filled in the rhythm along with the new Foot Stomp Box that I found in a small shop in Osukannon.  It was made of wood and sounds really great.  

Tuesday night I played a joint in downtown Nagoya called Otis.  They had a 60s Rock-Ola jukebox prominently displayed and filled with vintage 45s of R and B stuff, mostly Muscle Shoals albums.  The guy had pictures of Otis Redding all over the place.  I obliged the vibe with renditions of Dock of the Bay and Hard To Handle and he was very pleased.  Oddly, the opening act was a young Japanese woman dressed like an American Indian with braids, buckskin outfit with fringe and cowboy boots.  She played slide guitar on a wooden bodied resonator guitar and sang Bonnie Raitt covers.  She played well, but had a serious pronunciation problem as she sang, "Rove Has No Plide?" 

Wednesday night was a return to the first place I played in Nagoya, sort of a home away from home.  It is called Country Joe and has been open since 1974.  It has a mix of blues and country music playing 4 nights a week.  I had a great crowd and Tangiku, a percussionist from Tokyo was down to play the rest of my nights on the mini-tour.  He has an unusual kit. He sits on a cajon, one of those Mexican rhythm boxes and plays snare drum, high hat, loads of tiny little cymbals and bells and noisemakers of all types.  A tasty player with a jazz sensibility.  I let him take a lot of solos to the crowd's delight.  Ishi-san was also there on guitar with Hikita on bass.  It was Country Joe’s birthday.  He is the same age as me. 

Thursday night I played another new club called Misfits.  It is run by an American guy with a Brit/Japanese guy who cooked and also sang original songs.  Part of that deal was sharing the stage with this guy.  Also, a young Canadian woman sang some Bonnie Raitt covers with her Japanese guitar player boyfriend.  The club was so small, and the vibe so much like a living room, that all this seemed to work.  I think it only held 20 people.  They served macaroni and cheese to the clientele along with copious amounts of Sapporo beer.

Friday, I split the bill at Armadillo with a local country music band calling themselves Austin City Limits.  It was humorous to see these tiny little Japanese guys and the female singer all gussied up in full regalia.  Cowboy boots, big hats, belt buckles the size of hubcaps and fringe everywhere. Buck Owens songs on a vintage '54 Telecaster.  The female singer came off the stage in the middle of numbers and, in a small area in front, did some line dance moves.  My trio opened and then we joined the band for a few songs.  I sang a verse and harmonized on Country Roads.  It all sounded pretty good with that Tele guy doing some amazing trebley chicken-pickin'!  A very happy vibe and I have gotten 2 emails from the players already telling me how much they enjoyed the exchange.

Saturday, I was back to Little Village which I had played one week earlier.  Koichiro and his girl friend run it as a two person operation with both of them cooking, waiting tables and tending bar.  If it is possible we even had more people in on the final night.  Several people attended at least 4 of the 8 evenings in town so I tried to vary the material as much as possible. One guy, a wine salesman originally from New York and a graduate of the CIA, the culinary arts institute, brought in a couple of bottles of really good red wine to share with me.  That raised a few eyebrows, but he didn't seem to care.  He promised on the next trip to have a paired wine dinner for me.  I could dig that!  He had bought both of the albums I had with me the first night and enjoyed calling requests from them. 

My flight was at 11 Sunday and Japanese security is very tight, so I decided I had to leave for the airport by 7:30.  We ended up watching The Godfather on Hikita's big screen TV while drinking beer and eating sashimi chicken, and squid poached in various Japanese liquids, mirin, sake, soy sauce, squid ink etc. Big bowls of rice. No sense going to bed at 5:30!   

Hikita's driver picked me up promptly at 7:30 and I slept on the drive to the airport. Hikita has an architectural business and is very rich.  He has lost his license for DUI, so he has a daytime and a nighttime chauffeur.  I stayed in his million dollar condo.   I had my own room rather than some futon on the floor in the corner and a Tempurpedic bed and pillows. His 26 year old Indonesian wife waited on me hand and foot and cooked some of the best food I have eaten in my life.  I got up one morning to halibut cheeks broiled with soy sauce and butter, marinated mackerel, baby squid sauteed (it must be in season), steamed broccolli with mayonnaisse, miso soup (from scratch) and the wonderful Japanese rice.  She is learning how to speak Japanese and how to cook Japanese as well.  I usually watched her prepare meals and picked up some tips about Indonesian food.  Just another perk of the trip.  

So, in spite of the 700 dollar plane ticket and the high costs of everything in Japan, I brought home some money and had a wonderful time.  It has taken me three days to get back to normal.  Thursday night I play at the local bar, Friday I am going golfing with the boys, Saturday playing music again.  Next week is the Blues festival.  I am tired, but life is good and I am back with Margery again.  Now I am off to the gym to try to get my aerobic health back (every Japanese male smokes and the air is rough in the bars) and I have a bit of a beach ball underneath my tee shirt from too much rice!  It is 93 degrees outside in lovely Bangkok!    

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