Hello Japan! is starting the new year with some music lessons. January’s topic is ‘Music to my ears’.

Music is pretty big business in Japan. There’s J-pop, J-rock, J-rap, R&B, anime music, enka, folk music, music from Kabuki, or Noh, taiko drums, shamisen, and a whole host of other traditional Japanese music and instruments. This month’s task is to listen to Japanese music. What kind, and how much is completely up to you.

And since I find it so hard to choose… I’ve decided to use this mini-challenge for a short series! Each Friday of the month of January will feature a Hello Japan! Music ‘Lesson’. Well, I’ll try to live up to that promise anyway ;) A good way to start the weekend, isn’t it? And yes, I’ve backdated this first post to January 1st because I had meant to write a New Year’s post anyway — but didn’t get to it ;)

Listen to the traditional New Year’s song 1 Janvier (一月一日), by Pizzicato Five.

Pizzicato Five (also known as P5) consisted mainly of Maki Nomiya and Yasuharu Konishi. It was the most famous pop group of the Shibuya-kei movement of the nineties: music made by artists associated with the Shibuya district in Tokyo. Typical for Shibuya-kei is that there’s a great interconnection between artists. Also, it’s not just one genre like J-Pop but can be any type of music: bossa nova, chanson, dance, ska, 80’s & 90’s etc. Actually, it’s even not just music: design is a very important aspect of Shibuya-kei as well! You’ve got to be stylish, don’t you ;)

I’ve been interested in Japan for a long time, but it took a huge flight once Mr Gnoe stumbled upon Pizzicato Five by accident and our home became a real life Shibuya-kei reservoir. One thing led to another: Japanese lessons for Mr Gnoe (so he could understand some of the lyrics), getting into vegetarian Japanese cooking, watching more Japanese movies, picking up Haruki Murakami’s Wind-Up Bird Chronicle etc. Oh, and did I mention my big discovery of bento lunch boxes? ;)

The song 1 Janvier comes from P5’s last cd which came out in 2000: Çà et là du Japon. It’s overflowing with things Japanese: the songs all refer to Japan and Japanese culture. There’s one about Pokémon, one of the titles is the same as the Japanese anthem, they’re singing the Japanese alphabet and so on. The cover refers to the poster of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, showing the Japanese flag with the kanji for ‘Tokyo’ on its rising sun. And there’s a LOT more in the booklet, like a picture of Maki in traditional New Year’s kimono, koi in a pond, the Shinkansen and Fuji mountain. You should check it out someday!

In the new millennium Shibuya-kei had passed. Çà et là du Japon was meant as a round-up record and it contained a lot of artists with whom Pizzicato Five had previously worked together. And now, the first decade of this millennium has already passed as well! Time flies.

On December 31st I’ve been practicing all day to wish people a happy new year in Japanese on Maki’s lead. I’m afraid I’m still not very good at it so I’ll leave it to her to wish all of you Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu!

BTW as a tribute to Pizzicato Five we’ve sent a geocaching trackable on the way to Tokyo!