Making Japanese Music

Music varies across cultures. I have been taking classical guitar lessons in Japan, and as I learn the basics of music my guitar teacher has been sharing some tidbits about what makes traditional Japanese music special. I don’t know anything about music so this is all news to me.

There are particular Japanese scales that do not include the same notes as the traditional western scale. There are techncial terms for all of this, but I am a total music newbie and do not know them.

The scale used in traditional Okinawan music uses Do Re Mi So Ra Do (Fa and Shi are removed). This scale is also called ヨナ抜き(四七抜き)音階 because Fa and Shi are the 4th and 7th note respectively and they have been removed.

Here is a YouTube video showing the western do to do scale, and then showing the Okinawa-style scale removing Fa and Shi.

This video includes a variety of Japanese scales.


Meiko Kaji – Urami Bushi

I recently re-watched Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2, and noticed the old-school Japanese song that plays during the credits.

Did some Googling and learned that it is “Urami Bushi” by Meiko Kaji. (Life is almost too easy with Google…) Meiko Kaji was a singer and actress and appeared in more than 100 films.

Here is a clip of Kaji Meiko (梶芽衣子) singing Urami Bushi (怨み節) after apparently not singing on TV for more than 20 years. This song, Urami Bushi, was the theme song for the Female Convict Scorpion movie, known as さそり (sasori) in Japanese.

Here is a relatively tame clip from the TV show… It was hard to find. Most are not so tame.

Here is a pretty sweet Meiko Kaji fan Tumblr.

Earth Celebration on Sado Island 2013

This summer I went to the Earth Celebration on Sado Island, a three-day festival centered around the amazing taiko-drumming of Kodo.

Sado Island (佐渡島 sadogashima) is the home of Kodo (鼓童), the most well-known taiko drumming group in Japan, and probably in the world. I had seen Kodo perform indoor concerts, once in Kobe and once somewhere else, but this was my first time going to Sado for the festival.

The festival was excellent. Foreigners frequently attend this festival so it’s easy to gather information and figure out how to get there. The English festival website is well done, check it out.

Before I get into babbling about the festival, let me introduce you to Kodo.


You can see many more Kodo videos on this YouTube channel here.

Imagine what these drums sound like live. It’s like precise and rhythmic thunder. Truly amazing and totally mesmerizing. Also notable are the physiques of the players themselves. Those guys are ripped. Anyway…

The festival itself is an extremely family friendly environment. Many people brought their children and even babies to the event. Our group included my family, which included a 1-year old and my wife, another couple and their 3-year old and 1-year old, another adult, and mother with a 5-month old and a 3-year old. I also saw a dude walking around with a ferret, and regular teenagers and seniors as well.

There are also classes and workshops available each day where you can learn to dance or to beat a taiko drum. Most of the workshops require reservations and fill up months in advance of the festival, so if you want to participate in one be sure to plan ahead. We did not take part in any of the workshops this time.

There was a main stage on the festival grounds that had schedules performances throughout the day. There wer also countless food stalls and shops selling the usual “hippie” fare. If you’ve been to a flea market or outdoor crafts festival in Japan you will be familiar with the bags, hats, drums, and other trinkets that are for sale.

The Kodo performance, which is the main event each day, starts at around 6:30 PM and ends at about 9:00 PM. Most participants purchase their dinner on the festival grounds and bring them to the concert area to eat while waiting for the show to start. No photography is allowed during the Kodo performance, so I don’t have any to show. The other photographs and videos here are from the other not Kodo performances during the festival. There are plenty of Kodo photos and videos around the web if you want to see the performers in action!

And now, the moment you have all been waiting for… I shall share tips for concert survival!

  • Bring a towel, it’s hot during the summer and you’re going to sweat.
  • Bring a large towel or something to claim your space and sit on during the main event — everyone does.
  • If you’re trying to save money, bring your own water. Water is for sale at about 100 yen a bottle at the festival site, but you know, every yen counts.
  • Bring a hat. It’s hot.
  • Sandals are nice to have, but if it rains the grounds get very soggy so prepare to have muddy feet.
  • Plan EARLY! Lodging options and event reservations fill up months before the festival, so plan ahead.

If you’re already convinced, in 2014, Earth Celebration will be held August 22 (Fri) through 24 (Sun). Start making plans! Many people who attend this festival go year after year, so go as soon as possible so that you can go again if you want!

Here are some photos that I took during Earth Celebration 2013. Enjoy! Hope you get a chance to attend the festival!

Full gallery here.

Related Links:
Earth Celebration 2013 English Link

Japanese Olympic Vocabulary


Now that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been announced it’s time to beef up your Olympic vocabulary!

Kanji Hiragana Romaji English
国際オリンピック委員会 こくさいオリンピックいいんかい kokusai orinpikku iinkai Tokyo Olympic Committee
開催地 かいさいち kaisaichi place where an event will be held
五輪 ごりん gorin Olympics (lit. 5 rings)
夏季五輪 かきごりん kaki gorin summer olympics
安定した財政 あんていしたざいせい anteishita zaisei stable financial affairs
開催能力 かいさいのうりょく kaisai nouryoku the ability to conduct the event
招致委員会 しょうちいいんかい shouchiiinkai bid committee
立候補 りっこうほ rikkouho announced as candidate
招致演説 しょうちせんぜつ shouchiennzetsu bid speech
電子投票 でんしとうひょう dennshitouhyou electronic voting
汚染水 おせんすい osennsui polluted water

The Olympic Moment

It should also be noted that in the hit Anime flick AKIRA, the Olympics were set to be held in 2020 Neo Tokyo. Coincidence? I think not.


Sale on Japanese Films at

Hey Everyone,

Public Service Announcement.

Best Buy is having a sale on some of the Criterion Collection movies, which includes some Japanese classics by Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.

For example, I see Floating Weeds (浮草 Ukigusa) by Yasujiro Ozu, and Ikiru (Live) by Kurosawa, on DVD for just $9.99. That’s a steal! I also see some Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Kagemusha, Crazed Fruit, and the like for $19.99.

Going to use this opportunity to stock up on some quality films that I have yet to see.

Evangellion makes Suizenji Kiyoko popular to a new audience

Thanks to geeking out on Evangellion I recently stumbled upon this classic Japanese song called 365-step March.

This song is appears in EVANGELION:2.0 YOU CAN (NOT) ADVANCE when the new character Mari is fighting an Angel near the beginning of the movie. Being the crazy character that she is, Mari sings this song as she rides into battle.

三百六十五歩のマーチ by 水前寺清子
365-step March by Suizenji Kiyoko 水前寺清子 (すいぜんじ きよこ)

You can sing along by watching this video some people decided to take in a Karaoke bar.

Here is another clip from 2005.

This is one of those songs that literally everyone who grew up in Japan knows, so it’s a good chunk of knowledge to add to your Japanese culture database.


Shingo Nishinari – Osaka Local Rap

Looking for some fun Japanese music to listen to?


The video features all the famous places in Osaka. Dotonbori Bridge, Tsutenkaku, Taiyou no Tou, and the entire video is in Kansai dialect. What more could you ask for?

It also includes funny commentary on Osaka life, like Grandma’s who talk super fast and non-stop, and

Chorus so you can sing along:

誰が何と言おうと 大阪UP! (dare ga nanto iouto Osaka Up!)
地元LOVEやろ? 大阪UP! (jimoto Love uaro? Osaka Up!)

Osaka Up! x2
Whatever anyone says, OSAKA UP!
Osaka Up! x2
Hometown love right!? Osaka Up!

That was fun.

Catch the lyrics to Osaka Up! here – unofficial but they seem to be correct.

You can follow Shingo Nishinari on Twitter.

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