According to one or two Japanese scientists, the Japanese brain acts differently from a Western brain. The theory goes that the Western brain is split between the emotional right and the rational left. The Japanese brain mixes rational and emotional responses in the left side. Therefore Japanese are more sensitive to the sounds of nature and also sensitive to someone coughing and spluttering during a musical recital. This is because all the sounds are heard on the left side of the brain.
This theory is meant to help give some explanation as to why Japanese audiences will sit quietly throughout a concert, as well as explaining why Westerners are logical and in confrontation with nature, whereas Japanese seek harmony and tend to be more emotional.
Whether you believe this theory or not, it is most certainly true that a Japanese audience at a concert will as a rule, sit through it without making a sound. This tends to annoy and frustrate many Western artists who come to Japan to give a concert.

Traditional Musical Instruments:

The shakuhachi is so named because it is one shaku and eight (hachi) sun (about 55cm) long. It is  a bamboo flute, originally played by roaming Buddhist monks. The shakuhachi music has been mastered by one or two Westerners and they have made this traditional style of music popular around the world.

The koto is a 12 stringed zither. 

The other major Japanese instrument is the shamisen. It is made from cat or dog skin and has 3 strings.
These three instruments  produce the traditional forms of music, that are known throughout the world. Some traditional songs, sung in the kabuki theater for example, sound to many foreigners as though cats were fighting or were in heat. I like other foreigners do not have a Japanese brain, but I also suspect that many Japanese may feel the same way too, about the traditional music, but cannot usually express themselves honestly.

Enka (sake bar music)                 

Enka music has been popular for a good many years. The songs tend to highlight the hardships in life, lost love, end of a dream, etc. I think they have a little in common with
American country and western music, not the melody but the theme for the lyrics. These songs are popular in karaoke bars, usually middle aged salary men love to sing them.
They are very emotional songs, sung professionally by both men and women. The singers carry a lot of respect in Japan, I was honored to be introduced to a fairly famous female enka singer some years ago, and I can attest that she liked her sake (and whiskey).
If, as many foreigners believe that the Japanese are "cold hearted", then listen to an enka song. You may not understand the words, but the raw emotion as evinced from the music can be recognized throughout the world.

Classical Music:

Classical music is popular in Japan, although not all of the major composers are especially liked by the people. Mozart, Debussy, Handel, Bach and of course Beethoven are the most popular to differing degrees. Operas and arias have little popularity. A few years back I asked one of the directors of a very famous record company that produces classical music, why the Japanese don't like certain kinds of classical music. He wasn't completely sure, but he did say that it is very difficult to introduce music that is not popular or accepted by the general population. People in Japan do not experiment too much with music, on the whole preferring to buy CD's that have a wide popularity. Basically the CD's will not sell if they are not the usual familiar classical music. The cost of producing them for the Japanese market is very high ( translation, and so on) to warrant the risk involved.
Classical concerts are prohibitively expensive, especially if their is a foreign conductor or orchestra appearing. seats sell from around 20.000 Yen, upwards in Tokyo. If you read my introduction then you will understand that you shouldn't hear any coughs or snores, as happens sometimes in London.

J - Pop:

Japanese pop, what can I say, you either like it or you despise it. I am no expert on this subject. It is a major domestic industry though, and even has a following in some Asian countries. I have heard some pop music from these countries and understand why Japanese pop must have some popularity, as the home grown variety is generally pretty bad.
My wife has far more expertise about J - Pop than I ever will have. I hope that she will write something for this page in the future.
What I can say here is that the artists come and go pretty quickly. I have just started to remember their names or name and then they are never heard of again. Boys bands of five or so members, dressed to kill, with simpering good looks aged around 18 or 19 are the standard fare for young girls (10 or so years old). They all perform in the same manner, doing a little dance routine, hopefully in time with each other and the music that they perhaps, are miming. Unfortunately "we" foreigners also produce such "music groups", I am ashamed to say. The Japanese music industry churns them out like clockwork, one group loses popularity because its fans have at last grown up enough to realize what garbage they have been listening to for the last year or two. The next generation group will appear, cloned from a similar source it would appear. Singing the same types of asinine songs, and presumably with the same "for sale by date". The music is catchy though and has a certain uplifting quality, like the Spice Girls on a really bad day.
My favorite Japanese music must be the "pretty girl singers", they make the Spice Girls voices sound as though they were all diva's. They must come from the same factory that produce the "pretty boy singers". They all do an inept little dance, often around the microphone stand, and mime (usually) to the song. The reason I like this type of pop is that all the girls (usually) are amazingly pretty, dressed and made up to look cute. The Japanese music
industry has cuteness down to a fine art form. To be fair, there are one or two artists or bands that do have real talent. Amuro Namie is one recent example, she started singing at a young age and at the height of her popularity she was only 19 years old. She left her career behind, for a short time to have a baby. She has made a comeback at the beginning of 1999.  She looks a little more mature now, but her voice remains strong and clear, full of feeling and tenderness. During her heyday there were many Amuro clones parading around the trendy areas of Tokyo, Shibuya and Harajuku were two such areas. High school girls with long brown dyed hair, sun lamp tanned skin and short miniskirts,  was the image of a perfect Amuro clone. For some time Amuro set the fashion trends for teenagers and older girls.
Imai Miki was another talented singer popular during the late eighties, with a strong sweet and melodious voice. Her songs were often about love or lost love. She still remains popular among certain people.

Princess Princess was an all-female band, who could beat out a rhythm with the best of them. Their lead singer had a powerful energetic and also harmonious voice. They were also popular during the late eighties and early nineties. Their song Diamonds is very memorable for its uplifting rhythm and the pure energy it invoked to its audience.
Echoes are one of the classier rock bands to emerge from the scene in Japan and one of my wifefs favorites. Some British bands must have influenced them, The lead singer has a voice and inflection that reminds me of the Punk era in England. A good band, as are the other bands and singers mentioned above. Well worth a listen, if you ever have the chance. If you want to know more about Echoes, check out my wife's page.
It would be very unfair for me to say that all the other artists and bands are untalented, this I know is not the case. The really talented musicians do not often get the record contracts that they deserve, because image, image and image are everything to the said companies. 
The record business and the CD buying public only seen to want to see a pretty face or a gimmick, be it a boy or girl. The really talented singers or groups are not always pretty, so they tend to have  little chance of "making It".
The more outrageous the image the better, for some of the "rock bands". Thick heavy multi colored make up is used by one or two men's bands. They are never seen without make-up. Perhaps they are really ugly and would loose their teeny bopper audience if they ever reveal their true mugs. There is another band whereby the lead "singer" dresses, looks and behaves like a woman. That is ok. after all Lou Reed was doing that very many years ago. The difference is that Lou Reed has talent, real talent, even today, and this band as far as I'm concerned has zero.
I mentioned earlier about the Amuro clones. Well, they are not the only ones. Most popular singers or bands have a fan club. It appears to be de rigueur to dress like their current idols.
Harajuku (central Tokyo) on a Sunday used to be a melting pot for such clones. Each would form their own little or large groups in the streets. At that time the main streets were closed to traffic during the day time every Sunday. Bands used to play in the streets and dance groups used to perform as well. On a sunny day I used to enjoy walking and listening to the bands play with my wife. Alas, the police in their usual wisdom, decided to end the traffic ban. They also ended many people's enjoyment on a Sunday, which could have been their main reason for doing it. Tokyo would have been a much healthier place if more streets were closed on Sunday, not less, but that is a different topic, for another time.

Foreign Singers In Japan:


Foreign singers and groups are popular in Japan. The "big names" usually come here, because of the large amounts of money to be made, and if their music is well received large record sales, enmasse. Going to a concert in Tokyo, is far too expensive and the atmosphere cannot be as you would expect in a Western country. In the Intro I mentioned that the audience sits quietly. When I used to go to concerts in London and elsewhere the audience never sat down, but danced and sang along to the music. This is what going to a concert is all about to me and I think, most other Western people. Western music has some influence on fashion in Japan. Take for example, the Punk revival in the early nineties, many young people dressed for the part. Indistinguishable from the original punks of the  70's in London, whose music, by the way, I still enjoy listening to, for old time's sake. Rap music is responsible for cladding out young Japanese in the worst street fashion ever thrown together (in my opinion). Especially as many Japanese have rather short legs. Wearing baggy over sized trousers made them look totally uncool  (ridiculous), not at all like the tall Americans, with whom they vainly tried to copy. With the exception of the snow boarders, this fashion is at last, coming to an end. 



There are various Venues for concerts all around Japan, not just the Budokan in Tokyo. Live houses, which are small clubs that host up and coming bands and bands that will never be able to play in any larger venue, exist all over Japan. In the summer there are various outdoor concerts. For example, Reggae Sunsplash is held just outside of Tokyo. Many Internationally famous bands attend this extravaganza. Jazz festivals are also prolific with foreign stars playing with many talented Japanese musicians.

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A Karaoke Bar



Karaoke invented in Japan, must be one of its finest contributions to music. Karaoke boxes, private rooms with full karaoke equipment, including tables and couches are to be found in every town and city. They also serve food and drink. Karaoke bars are also found everywhere, although they are a little more expensive. Both types are extremely popular, with a vast variety of songs to choose from. Foreign music is also available, sometimes there is also a big selection. If you have never tried karaoke then I would recommend it, even if, like me, you are self conscious about your bad singing voice. Karaoke boxes are the answer, then only your family or friends sitting in the room can hear your terrible out of tune voice. The Japanese are too polite to laugh outright, sometimes it is hard for me to keep a straight face, until it is my turn to sing.
I used to go to a karaoke box with my family, my daughters enjoy singing children's songs. My oldest doesn't usually want to relinquish the microphone. My wife loves singing songs by Celine Dion, pretending to be a pop star for a short time. As for me, well, I become the lead singer of the Sex Pistols, for two or three songs anyway.
Karaoke music can be found from the Internet these days. All you need is a microphone and maybe, depending on your computer, software. I know karaoke bars can be found in the USA and England. I understand that the English variety can become a little dangerous, in any case not somewhere to go with your family. If you have never tried karaoke and you have a computer hooked up to the Internet than you too can enjoy singing in the privacy of your own home. I'm sure you will enjoy the experience.

And Finally.....

Music is an integral part of life in Japan. The Japanese love music, whether they are young or old. From the very traditional forms to rap music.
Dancing is not so popular, although ballroom dancing has become a lot more popular since a Japanese movie about social dancing was released a few years back (Shall We Dance?).
Disco dancing is like everywhere else, popular. During my younger days in Tokyo, Techno was all the rage, with young girls in "T" backs and using hand fans to dance with. Now I can listen to Techno music with a sense of nostalgia with my wife, as we both enjoyed clubbing together, before we were married and danced to the beat of Techno. 

Music is, to use an old cliché, the universal language of love. Listen to some Japanese music, and maybe, you will have a better sense of who the Japanese people really are. I will update this page from time to time, when I hear a good Japanese singer or band from Japan.


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