Yes, I’m very bitter about Japan in general, but….I still love this country. Especially its culture. Speaking of Japanese music I love Enka music. (My song “Sad Sake” is a melancholic tune inspired by a similarly-named song made famous by the Japanese Enka singer Hibari Misora.) This was the first kind of music I listened to when I moved to Osaka from my hometown Hamburg a long, long time ago. Especially after my Judo and Kendo practices I went with friends to a bar where in the background Enka was played. This is a video, shot in Osaka’s Shinsekai, of a street musician who performs well known Harumi Miyako‘s Enka song “Suki ni nata hito”.
As you might know before moving to New York in 2008 I had lived for about two years in Tokyo’s old city called Asakusa. Once a while I would go for a beer to a bar called Ginmaku Rock in Asakusa, which is owned by the vocalist. bassist and leader of the band ASAKUSA JINTA, and became friends with him and the bar’s customers. In the past Asakusa was the entertainment district of Tokyo where jintas (roving Japanese street bands) once filled the streets.
Today I would like to introduce you to one of my Tokyo favorite bands which is located in Asakusa: ASAKUSA JINTA, the six-piece band and calling themselves the “Asianican Hard Marching Band”. Their music style is a mixture of rockabilly, up tempo country, ska, punk, polka and Japanese Enka and Kayokyoku from the 1930′s.
The band was formed in 1999. Eventually the band became very popular in Asakusa playing in the streets and shopping malls of Asakusa. Their music is about joy, sorrow, love, friendship in evryday life and about “giri –ninjo”.
During my last one year and half I lived in Asakusa which is is the center of Tokyo’s “shitamachi” (literally “low city”), one of Tokyo’s districts, where the spirit of Edo (prior to 1868, Tokyo was known as Edo) still exists. For many centuries, Asakusa used to be Tokyo’s leading entertainment district. During Edo times (1603-1867), when the district was still located outside the city limits, Asakusa was the site of kabuki and rakugo theaters. And was famous for its large red light district. Modern types of entertainment, including movie and comedy theaters, started in Asakusa in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Even today many Japanese movie, theater and comedy stars started their career in Asakusa.
Today when I passed the Sumida River Boat Terminal at the Asakusa Bashi (Asakusa bridge), I heard some music playing. My ears pulled me to the side of the boat terminal building, and I found a band playing Japanese popular music of the 30s and 40s. The band members were dressed in the fashion of that time. Especially the singer represented perfectly that time. The songs are about sake (Japanese rice wine) and about men coming together and sharing a bottle of sake. I don’t know how you want me to describe the music but how about Edo polka and country music?
Every morning around 6am I take a walk with my wife to the near by Sozen-Ji temple, Tokyo’s oldest temple located in Tokyo’s old city Asakusa, to attend theBoghisattvaKannon worshipping ceremony. For about 15 minutes the main priest and three of his assistants of the temple pray and chant to the Boghisattva Kannon which has been worshipped by Japanese since early times. The prayer and chant is accompanied and supported by a Japanese drum played by another priest. The popularity of the Bodhisattva Kannon comes from its unparalleled source of benefits and miracles over the centuries. Since its appearance in this world it apparently has saved and protected many people.
One of the main functions of Kannon is to open people’s hearts and show mercy to others in daily life. And this is exactly how I feel when I’m standing in front of the altar. I bow to the hidden Kannon, which is in a sanctum at the extreme rear of the temple, and let my thoughts come out which are mostly about my wife and her passed away mother. I just wish them both peace and send them my prayer with the drum drone around me. With the help of the sound I hope that my message will reach this deity and then through her to my wife and my mother-in-law. I can feel that the drum sound and its rhythm connect me with them and the Kannon.