My friend, guitarist Brian Hughes, toured with the Chieftain’s in Japan as an opening act with Loreena McKennitt. He then went on to perform with the Chieftains in North America and Europe when they were promoting their album Santiago. In Japan they played about ten shows between Tokyo and Osaka, mainly at soft seat classical concert halls. The seating ranged from 1500 to 4000 capacity. They were booked through the agent Plankton who specializes in Celtic music. Although the audiences were enthusiastic Brian felt that Celtic music was still a niche market in Japan.
Celtic Music and Traditional Japanese Music: A Comparison
If you listen to many of the traditional Japanese folk melodies they have a bittersweet quality that is similar to traditional Celtic music. The Japanese minor pentatonic scale is different from the western one but some phrases especially when they go into the major could easily be bits of Irish or Scottish folk songs. If you look at the traditional transverse folk flute the shinobue, it is really not that different from the fife, or Irish flute in terms of fingering. The technique of sliding and taping with the whistle or the shinobue are also similar.
Where to Find Celtic Music in Japan
The major labels in Japan all have Celtic music under license and CDs are available as imports. A reputable distributor of Irish music in Japan is a company called Music Plant. I think they probably are affiliated with Plankton. JVC (Japan Victor Corporation) directly signed the group ANAM. They have recorded two albums for JVC and have toured Japan three times. A talented young musician from England, Tim Edey who played button accordion on my latest album Celtic Heartland just joined the group recently. There was a company in Tokyo called Trinity who was specializing in importing traditional Celtic CDs but I am not sure they are still in operation. Brian Cullen an Irishman from Wicklow now living in Nagoya has his own label for marketing his own material called Celtic Otter music and he has published collections of ballads.
There is a Celtic festival held annually in Tokyo at Ryutsu Center. They have music and dance performances, fashion shows, arts and crafts exhibitions and seminars and workshops.
There is an organization called CCE Japan that provides lessons for most Irish instruments as well as Set Dance and Gaelic. CCE Japan is the Japanese branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, an association for promoting
Japanese Musicians Specializing in Irish Instruments
There are some quite accomplished Japanese Celtic musicians. Isao Moriyasu, who began as a classical recorder player, now specializes in Irish flutes. He lectures at Kunitachi Music College and has written a book on Irish music. He often performs with his wife Masako who plays Celtic harp, concertina and bodhran. Mayumi Nagaura who is a member of The Rising Pints, also has her own group called BIRD. She is a really good accordion, tin whistle and bodhran player. She has encouraged many other Japanese to learn Irish instruments.
Western Celtic Musicians in Japan
There are a few musicians who have formed groups with foreign and Japanese members. Examples include the Rising Pints and the now defunct Eye Wish as well as a group in Sendai called Callanish.
The Pub Circuit in Japan
There are many Irish pubs in Japan such as Dubliners, O’Carolan’s, The Pint, The Warrior Celt, Shamrock that regularly have music. Irish pubs all have regular sessions as well. Because rent is at a premium particularly in the major cities like Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Kyoto the venues are smaller than you would expect in America or Europe. Like many jazz clubs in this country the capacity ranges from as little as 50 to 200 comfortably. Brian Cullen reports that the Osaka Dubliners claims to have had 600 customers on a St. Patrick’s day a few years ago. I would say that must be the maximum and that is after a few pints. Westerners are usually surprised by the amount of the cover charges. Generally to see a band a 3000 yen cover charge is pretty typical. CD prices are still about 2500 yen as well.
While Celtic artists are not household names like major rock stars, the interest in Celtic music is likely to continue to grow in Japan for some time to come.
© 2005 Ron Korb – All Rights Reserved
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