Jan 24, 2021

Discover Japanese Vinyl: What Is Japanese Rock Music?

There are many albums of Japanese rock on vinyl records.

Rock music is arguably Japan's most popular music genre on vinyl.

From the Beatles to Queen and Kiss, there is an abundance of wonderful Japanese releases that attract the attention of record collectors from across the globe.

Western rock music was introduced to Japan in the 1950s. Since then Japanese artists have struggled to develop rock music in their own way, creating a very unique music genre in the Japanese music scene. It is now called Japanese Rock or J-Rock in short.

Face Records gives you a brief introduction to look into the shadowy world of J-rock.

A Brief History Of Japanese Rock

Japanese people met “real” western Rock Music when The Ventures arrived in Japan in 1962, which marked the dawn of Japanese band music. Before that, the rock music played in Japan meant the rockabilly songs translated into Japanese. Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel covered by the japanese pop singer Kosaka Kazuya in 1956 was a smash hit: He sang it in Japanese and was followed by many other hits of American rock music translated and covered in Japan.

Things changed when The Ventures came to Japan and made a grand tour literally in every nook and cranny of the land of Japan: the Japanese public started to enjoy rock music in original English. Inspired by their fresh sound of electric guitar, an array of Japanese musicians formed an electric band. There was also a cultural exchange for both sides: The Ventures started to write music in Japanese style and offered them their intimate Japanese musicians which would later create the new genre of music called “Ventures Ballad” (Jap: “Venture-kayou”) in Japanese music history. For Japanese musicians, who until then only had parroted western music, it was the very beginning to find their original way.

In 1966, The Beatles came. Please Please Me was the debut piece of The Beatles, which would be popular in Japan three years after the release in England. Since then they remain the best selling rock band in Japan. After their breakup, a report in 1975 concluded that over 9 million copies of their LP’s and 18 million copies of their singles were sold in the Japanese market.

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The Beatles / Please Please Me (Odeon, OP-7548) Japanese 1st press, issued in 1966.

The 1960s was the era of great chaos for the Japanese music scene. There were folk singers who insisted on leftwing ideology and protested war, free jazz artists trying to cross the established cultural frameworks or rock musicians calling for love and peace. From this chaotic breeding field, a very unique group of people came along who would be neither categorized as folk nor translated rock n' roll nor Jazz. They were bands consisted of fresh, liberated and talented musicians such as Happy End (はっぴいえんど), Murahachibu, Blues Creation, Zunou Keisatsu or Flower Travellin' Band.

Here are some iconic J-rock musicians who contributed to Japanese rock history.

1960s:Introducing Happy End (はっぴいえんど)

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Happy End / Kazemachi Roman (URC, URG-4009) released in 1971.

Happy End is an influential Japanese band only active from 1969-1972. Consisting of Japanese music legends, Haruomi Hosono (細野晴臣), Eiichi Otaki (大滝詠一), Takashi Matsumoto(松本隆), and Shigeru Suzuki (鈴木茂). They are often referred to as the “Japanese Beatles”, shifting Japanese rock history.

Inspired by the likes of Buffalo Springfield, they were the first band in Japan to use Japanese lyrics in rock music. Although they failed to achieve commercial success at the time, their music has gained reappraisal as one of the most important bands in Japanese music history.

Their signature track “Kaze wo Atsumete (風をあつめて)” was used in the 2003 American film “Lost in Translation” directed by Sofia Coppola.

1970s:The Rise of Japanese Rock

In 1972, one of Japan’s most successful bands CAROL marked their debut, further developing Japanese rock music.

CAROL included rock legend Eikichi Yazawa (矢沢永吉) as well as guitarist Johnny Ohkura (ジョニー大倉), both of them being formerly part of Beatles copy band.

The band’s use of leather jackets and pompadour hairstyle had fans singing and screaming.

Yazawa even released a solo album in 1987 on the Warner Brothers label in the USA.

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Eikichi Yazawa / Flash In Japan (Warner Bros., 1-25384) released in 1987.

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Carmen Maki & Oz / S.T. (Polydor, MR 5053) released in 1975.

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Murasaki / Impact (Bourbon Records, BMC-3006) released in 1977.

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Loudness / Devil Soldier (B&M, AF-7123-B) released in 1982.(Apple, AR-2160)

1990s:A New Era in Japanese Rock

Soon after their debut in 1982, X JAPAN, consisting of famous musicians YOSHIKI and TOSHI, dominated the Japanese rock scene during the 90s.

Their debut album Vanishing Vision was released in 1988 from an independent label. The first press sold all 10,000 copies within a week from its release. A record-breaking achievement, the record has now sold over a million copies. The album still remains highly popular today.

With their major label debut, the band changed their name to X JAPAN in 1992, achieving national fame and a cult following. Their records can be fetched at high prices in today’s market.

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X / Vanishing Vision (Extasy Records, EXL-001) released in 1988.

You will also enjoy...

Sugar Babe
Flower Travellin’ Band
Yonin Bayashi (四人囃子)
RC Succesion
Sadistic Mika Band
Tin Pan Alley (ex-Caramel Mama)
Murahachibu (村八分)
Zuno Keisatsu (頭脳警察)

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