reading nichijou volume 10 in the dead of night while sipping orangeade and playing ohashi trio’s cover of dancing in the moonlight at full blast from my surround sound speaker system setup in someone elses garden
In the internet age, we have all become crate diggers and plunderers of the abstract. One of the great things about the vast information we have at our disposal is not just its spread through communities, but how it takes on a life of its own. Online movements like net art or vaporwave may not have always conduced extraordinary work, yet it has brought about knowledge to pieces and genres many had not known before. By extension of the hypnagogic craze that Tumblr, 4chan, and Reddit have all spurred on, city pop has re-surged in popularity and rightfully so.
But let’s not give curation all the credit for city pop’s acclaim. To be frank, the genre has been ripe for a reawakening and the sequence of sampling connections linking Tatsuro Yamashita to today’s youth was an easy outlet. Despite anime’s huge presence here in the West, we collectively haven’t given Japanese music a chance, yet culturally there is a wide attraction to their media and style of creation. Hence, city pop enters as a perfect conduit. The rateyourmusic generation synthesizes as whole with this avenue, a type of music so focused on hybridizing jazz, funk, and pop that it’s easy to love whether or not you ever found smooth jazz far too kitschy.
Take Toshiki Kadomatsu for example. This is a composer that not only writes virtuosic melodies, but links the rhythm with a pictorial quality on the level of a Steely Dan or Bob Dylan. However, in his case, city pop was intrinsically linked with the prosperity of 80s japan. When one sees the neon lights and tropical locales everpresent on album covers, it belies the prospect of a serene, capitalist utopia that Japan modeled itself as. He makes you believe you’re on a beautiful Okinawa beach and not Ohio in February. It’s euphoria only an excessively funky Japanese man can provide, and doubly impressive being an all-instrumental album too.
City pop is also a genre that can pride itself on having a strong sense of gender equality. Some of the best artists who crafted this style were female, including Junko Ohashi, Momoko Kikuchi, and Noriko Miyamoto. One could argue that female singers were merely used as an object to draw in the male idol audience, but this reductive idea doesn’t acknowledge the presence these women commanded as Japan’s top artists of the 80s. Check out this clip of Momoko Kikuchi and watch how she only needs her ethereal voice in order to put on a classic performance, neglecting to move around as if showmanship can hold her back. It’s a moment of the sublime, city pop as true transcendence, and it beats through a shy girl’s heart.
We’re always wishing for a better place or a better time. To share experiences with ones we hold dear, and make meaningful memories. City pop makes these dreams a reality, at least insofar as providing a musical gateway to personal satisfaction.
Tadashi Ohashi, matchbox labels for Kikkoman Shoyu Co., Japan. From Graphis, 1970.
The series is entitled “Folk Dishes of Japan” and various local dishes from Japan’s 47 prefectures are illustrated on the two sides of the 24 boxes. The same illustrations were used for a series of advertisements.