The music of Japan includes a wide array of performers in distinct styles both traditional and modern. The word for music in Japanese is 音楽 (ongaku), combining the kanji 音 ‘on’ (sound) with the kanji 楽 ‘gaku’ (enjoy). Many instruments, as the koto, were introduced in the 9th and 10th centuries, the accompanied recitative of the Noh drama dates from the 14th century and the popular folk music, with the guitar-like shamisen, from the 16th century. Western classical music, introduced in the late 19th century, now forms an integral part of Japanese culture. The imperial court ensemble Gagaku has influenced the work of many modern Western composers.
Notable classical composers from Japan include Toru Takemitsu and Rentarō Taki.
Popular music in post-war Japan has been heavily influenced by American and European trends, which has led to the evolution of J-pop (popular music). Japan is the second-largest music market in the world, with a total retail value of over 3 billion dollars in 2013, dominated by Japanese artists. Karaoke is also the most widely practiced cultural activity, ahead of flower arranging (ikebana) or tea ceremonies. Traditional Japanese music is quite different from Western music as it’s based on the intervals of human breathing rather than mathematical timing. (!)
Let’s go to our artist:
Osamu Kitajima (February 3, 1949) was born and raised in the beach town of Chigasaki (Kanagawa Prefecture), as a young man he studied classical guitar and piano; his first band the Launchers, was led by pop idol and actor Yuzo Kayama, the group disbanded in the late ’60s, after Kitajima began to work on his own.
After graduating from Keio University, and already a successful composer of TV and advertising jingles, he moved for one year to the UK in 1971, which brought him in to contact with British folk and psychedelia. Inspired by The Beatles, T. Rex, and Syd Barrett, he dubbed himself Justin Heathcliff and issued a lone eponymous album.
His first solo album in 1974, Benzaiten, was a mix of modern pop and traditional Japanese music, and was well received in Japan and later released abroad (Antilles label in U.S.) where it received some underground radio airplay and sold moderately. Also in 1974 Kitajima relocated to the Los Angeles area and later opened East Quest Studios; the late ’70s and ’80s saw the establishment of its career, with more than a dozen Lp’s, he has become one of Japan’s biggest selling artist internationally!
During the decades, Osamu Kitajima expanded his work to include commercial and soundtrack work, he provided part of the music to the blockbuster mini-series Shogun and contributed to the soundtrack of Sharkey’s Machine. He also arranged the scores for PBS documentaries on Japan, Chinese/Japanese film Mandala and produced a number of artists. Nowadays, inside East Quest Records, he continues to release his own albums (new and re-issues), as well as works by countless artists.
Let’s go to our album:
This is truly a melting pot of Western rock and Japanese traditional music, very few have pulled it off so well as Kitajima does here. Either they usually fall prey to new age sappiness or move towards amateurish exploitation, fortunately, it does not happen here, a real serious work, the type of rock-influenced world music that still hasn’t been much explored at all. The album also featured Haruomi Hosono and it utilized various electronics: synthesizer, rhythm machine, and electronic drums.
A bit different from our previous entry Buddha Meet Rock, this is a more elaborate record, with brilliant musicians and cinematic feelings, being a cornerstone of Japanese folklore, be enlightened by Kitajima’s masterful work and Bono Trinus!
The ‘IM’ highlights are Taiyo (The Sun) and Benzaiten (Reprise).
A1 Benzaiten (The God of Music and Water)
A2 Taiyo (The Sun)
A3 Tengu (A Long-Nosed Goblin)
B1 Benzaiten (Reprise)
B2 Whoma (Immortality)
- Acoustic Guitar, Synthesizer, Percussion, Electric Guitar, Koto, Biwa, Drums (African, Mexican), Electronic Drums (Rhythm Machine): Osamu Kitajima
- Bass: Dennis Belfield, John Harris
- Biwa: Masako Hirayama
- Drums (African): Kinji Yoshino
- Drums (Tsuzumi), Percussion (Narimono): Kisaku Katada
- Electric Bass: Haruomi Hosono
- Electric Guitar: George Marinelli
- Flute (Hayashi-bue): Haruyoshi Hosei
- Keyboards: Brian Whitcomb
- Shakuhachi: Tatsuya Sano
- Sho: Yosei Sato
- Engineer: Kinji Yoshino
- Engineer (Assistant): Yutaka Matsumoto
- Producer: Kinji Yoshino, Osamu Kitajima
- Distributed and Manufactured: Island Records Inc.
- Antilles U.S. release of the album first released by Island Records (Japan) in 1974.
Recorded through Jan/Aug 1974 at Hit Studio of Jean Jean Theater, Tokyo
Whoma recorded live at Nikkei Hall.
Antilles – AN 7016