Jul 13, 2021

Introducing the Japanese Ambient Music Artist: Hiroshi Yoshimura

When it comes to ambient music in Japan, there is one artist that cannot be overlooked; Hiroshi Yoshimura, the Japanese environmental music artist.

Japanese ambient music, just like city-pop, is drawing attention from all over the world.

In 2019, a compilation album of Japanese ambient music from 1980 to 1990, “Kanyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient Environmental & New Age Music 1980-90” won The Grammy Award for Best Historical Album. It is a collection of music pieces selected from the western perspective. Alongside this, prices for second-hand vinyl records of pioneers of Japanese environmental music have steadily increased.

In recent years, Green was reissued, a pleasant surprise to fans, as the record had become a rarity since its first release in 1986.

The composer of the music piece is Hiroshi Yoshimura; he is the most iconic figure of Japanese environmental music. Why does Japanese ambient music, in particular, the works of Hiroshi Yoshimura capture so many people today? Let’s find out together the secret behind the popularity of Hiroshi Yoshimura.

What is Japanese ambient music like….

The origin of ambient music is said to be the famous background music “Furniture Music, or in French musique d’ameublement” by Erik Satie. The term “ambient music” was coined by Brian Eno, the British artist who was inspired by the work of Satie. The main compositional idea of ambient music is to design a certain atmosphere or mood through music. In other words, it is the attempt to create a type of music that is to be heard, and not listened to.

In Japan,ambient music known as “kankyo ongaku” (“environmental music”) showed a little momentum in the corner of the music scene in the 1980s. There was a group of young talented artists such as Hiroshi Yohimura, Midori Takada or Satoshi Ashikawa. They were not as well known as Haruomi Hosono or Ryuichi Sakamoto, but well motivated to create minimal, calm, and yet groundbreaking music. They tried to fuse Japanese musical tradition and the modernity of hypercapitalism and gained a small, passionate following.

The ‘80s was the time of Japan's economic boom and commercial metropolitans such as Tokyo and Osaka were drastically swelling. As ambient music is inextricable from the environment where it is played, Japanese ambient music from this time also should reflect the way the music relates to the hectic, fast-paced life of the city.

Calm, clean and spiritually expansive-- these are the terms often used to describe Japanese ambient music. Some experts explain escape from the city was one important motive of the Japanese musical tradition. According to them, modern life needed the comfort of music to escape from the stressful, suffocating, hectic life of the consumerist city of Tokyo. That may explain why Hiroshi Yoshimura’s iconic work Green has such a pure, crystal clear sound and the cover with a beautifully captured picture of a house plant.

Green (Air, AIR-001) issued in 1986.

Who is Hiroshi Yoshimura

Hiroshi Yoshimura is the composer of the famous ambient music titled Green. He was born in Yokohama, and started to play the piano at the age of five.

He graduated from Waseda University in 1964, and started his music career as a member of “Anonyme”, producing computer music at the age of 32.

Yoshimura made himself a versatile artist; producing environmental music containing sound objects, graphic and sound design as well as visual poetry.

He collaborated with Japanese electronics company TOA on sound design.

Moreover, he actively engaged with education, giving lectures at universities, offering his works to galleries and museums.

In 2003, he died of skin cancer.

In 2020, “Kanyo Ongaku: Japanese Ambient Environmental & New Age Music 1980-90” was reissued by Light In The Attic Records. It is a compilation of Japanese ambient works by several artists, including Hiroshi Yoshimura, Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto.

This was during the same period when Green was reissued, as mentioned earlier, a very rare record.

Yoshimura’s Works

Hiroshi Yoshimura is definitely a leading light of Japanese ambient music as he reinterpreted the European term of “ambient music” and developed it in an utterly new context. Whereas many European ambient musicians created music for fictional environments just like Music For Airport by Eno, Yoshimura and his colleagues’s music was for specific, existent spaces. He composed music designed to be played in display houses at the request of a Japanese company Misawa Home corporation (Surround). His first album and several other works were also composed to be played in museums (Music For Nine Post Cards, FOUR POST CARDS).

In these pieces, Yoshimura succeeded to fuse music, environment, time and space.

Music For Nine Post Cards (Sound Process, WN 001)
Issued in 1982.


Air In Resort (Shiseido, SSD-1206)
Record made for promotion by Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido in 1984.

Soundscape 1: Surround (Misawa Home, 25SD-1) Issued in 1986.

Static ( Misawa Home, C32SD-4) Issued in 1988.

Face Music (Shu Uemura Make Up School, KAO-001) Issued in 1994.

Four Post Cards (Crescent, CRESCD-011) Issued in 2004.

Yoshimura’s focus had been also on Japanese traditional sounds resonating with the environment. Japan was a land with ambient sound-design traditions such as tempel bell ringing or “suikinktsu” ( “water piano cave”, a Japanese garden ornament consisting of an upside down buried pot with a hole at the top which functions as a music device with help of dropping water) and Yoshimura insisted in his book O-Edo Toki No Kane Aruki (Edo’s Bells Of Time) that these are prototypical form of public sound art.

Please enjoy the music of this pioneering artist who was far too ahead of his time on Japanese vinyl records.

The sounds of his music meld just perfectly into our lives.

It has been said that “his music is deep; as if you could see the ground of a crystal clear ocean, but never reach it because of its depth”.

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