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

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.


Furusato – Traditional Japanese Children’s Song

Some of my friends gave us a gift to congratulate us on our new baby!

It plays music! Watch the video below to hear the song. It actually plays much longer but I just gave it a little tug to make the video.

This is a traditional Japanese song for 6th grade elementary school kids that was first released in 1914. The title is Furusato, which basically means “hometown.”

My friend Yuko was among the group of friends who gave me this gift, and she also gave me some interesting background and cultural insights to the song. I’ve mentioned Yuko a lot on this blog. You can find her on the interwebs in the following places: @guideyu and @guideyu_ and She knows a lot about Japan!

This song is about someone who is already an adult and living far away from his hometown missing his family and friends. However, this song is often sung by elementary school kids who would have no concept of what this feeling would be like.

Yuko’s mother, who is 70+ years old now, remembers not understanding the line that goes 志を果たして (I achieve my aim) when she was a child singing this song in school. Also, Yuko (who is my age, 30 something) says that her generation thought (or perhaps joked) that the line that goes うさぎ追いし (usagi oishi, chasing rabbits) was actually うさぎ美味しい (usagi oishii, delicious rabbits). The expresson うさぎ追いし is rather old-school, so modern-day Japanese kids are often not familiar with its meaning. Moreover, Yuko grew up in Tokyo, and kids in Tokyo never chase rabbits anyway! Yuko also points out that, even though they didn’t find this song to be especially moving when they were children, today most Japanese get very sentimental when they hear this song because of the beautiful nostalgic melody and lyrics.

After the 3/11 disaster this song was used a lot in Japan, so if you were in Japan at the time you may recognize the tune. The destruction and radiation from the disaster has created thousands of people who were forced to leave their hometowns and don’t know when they will be able to return, so the lyrics of this song are very appropriate.

Here is a JapanesePod 101 video that has the song and a decent translation.

Here is an audio file of an apparently normal Japanese person singing Furusato.

And, here is yet another video fo the same sung by a professional!

Here are the lyrics and meaning (in Japanese) yanked from Wikipedia.


兎追いし 彼の山
小鮒釣りし 彼の川
夢は今も 巡りて
如何にいます 父母
恙無しや 友がき
雨に風に つけても
思ひ出づる 故郷
志を 果たして
いつの日にか 帰らん
山は靑き 故郷
水は淸き 故郷

うさぎおいし かのやま
こぶなつりし かのかわ
ゆめはいまも めぐりて
わすれがたき ふるさと
いかにいます ちちはは
つつがなしや ともがき
あめにかぜに つけても
おもいいづる ふるさと
こころざしを はたして
いつのひにか かえらん
やまはあおき ふるさと
みずはきよき ふるさと



Scars Borough

This music recommendation must be the most personal one I have ever done… Here’s the story.

So a long time ago in Japan I met a French dude. We became friends, time passed, I moved to Osaka and he was still in Tokyo, and we didn’t see each other so often anymore. Then a few years ago I was randomly back in Tokyo and we ended up seeing each other again at a big dinner party. He had a new girlfriend named Kyoko. She was this really tough looking Japanese girl. I remember she looked sort of metal and punk. Pretty hardcore. Anyway, apparently she was in a band.

Years passed…

Just about a week ago I had some friends in from Tokyo visiting and we got to talking about all of our peeps who were still in Japan. It turns out that my French friend and Kyoko are still together, and her band is doing live shows in Japan quite frequently and they have a few CDs out! My friends brought me their newest album as a gift. I’m liking it!

The band is called Scars Borough and they’re pretty awesome. Check out some of their videos:

Band Talk.

More Japanese music! And yeah so, I uh, had dinner once with the lead singer of Scars Borough. Yeah, I’m awesome. (hehe.)

Related Links:

Scars Borough Official Website

Bright Siren by androp

If you’re into Japanese rock and… camera flashes… you’ll probably find this to be pretty interesting. This is the video for the song Bright Siren by a Japanese band called androp.

They used 250 cameras to set this up. Pretty impressive in terms of scale!

Fun stuff. If you check their official website you can even add your own light message to the end of the video! Yippie!

Official website for androp Bright Siren.

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