Western Pop Music in the Japanese Market

Not-so-Big in Japan: Western Pop Music in the Japanese Market
Author(s): Guy de Launey
Source: Popular Music , May, 1995, Vol. 14, No. 2 (May, 1995), pp. 203-225
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/853400
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Popular Music (1995) Volume 14/2. Copyright ( 1995 Cambridge University Press Not-so-big in Japan: Western pop music in the Japanese market GUY DE LAUNEY Introduction The phrase ‘big in Japan’ has become a popular cliche, used to describe acts which are meant to be enjoying Japanese success: anyone from Kylie Minogue to Primal Scream; from Dead or Alive to Blur. It seems that even the most unregarded artists can make it in Japan. Even Spinal Tap – the fictional, washed-up heavy metal band from Rob Reiner’s film of the same name – were finally able to find success in Japan. The implication seems to be that the Japanese hunger for Western culture is so strong that even bands who have failed in their own countries can succeed in the Japanese market. Indeed, an expressed belief that Japanese listeners could not get enough of Western music was the usual reaction when I told acquaintances that I was studying the Japanese pop music market. This belief is perpetuated music magazines, which regularly print stories detailing bizarre acts of devotion by Japanese fans. If Western artists actually were predominant in Japan, it would come as great surprise. The music industry is dominated by five multinational corpora- tions – PolyGram, Warner, Sony, EMI and BMG – which thrive on the creation global superstars such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Guns ‘N’ Roses. emphasis on internationally-recognised superstars reflects the trend by other porations towards ‘global branding’, in other words, dispensing with ‘local brands’ and concentrating on names which are recognised in every country and can thus be promoted in the international media. Pop music would appear to be a prime target for this process. The popularity of satellite television and the seemingly inexorable progress of MTV would seem to provide a fertile ground for the success of Anglo-American superstars at the expense of local artists. As the Iron Curtain fell, record companies were not slow to explore the possibilities for exploiting the largely untapped markets of Eastern Europe and swiftly set up subsidiary companies. In the specific case of Japan, it is popular to suggest that this country has ‘magpie culture’, readily absorbing everything Western, from McDonalds to Dis- neyland, and in this analysis it is hard to see that Japanese listeners would anything other than clasp MTV and Western pop music to their collective bosom. Yet even the casual observer can tell that it is not the ‘global brands’ which 203
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204 Guy De Launey dominate the Japanese pop music market. Record shops are full of material by Japanese acts, with separate, smaller sections for Western artists. Japanese artists dominate the charts and feature strongly on television. Perhaps most tellingly of all, ask any high school student who their favourite artist is and the likelihood is that they will give the name of a Japanese artist with whom you are totally unfamiliar. This article is a study of the current position of Western pop music in the Japanese market which aims to explain the historical background to the current situation and address the major problems facing Western pop music in the Japanese market today. Far from discovering an unstoppable process of global branding, I found a situation which has left many record company executives in the West baffled and frustrated.’ The current state of the pop music market in Japan Steve McClure, Billboard’s Tokyo Bureau Chief, claims that there is a widespread belief among those who are connected with Western pop music that it has the right to a hegemony in any market which it chooses to enter. There are also widespread misconceptions about when Japanese listeners started listening to domestic product, rather than Western music. In an article entitled ‘The New People’, British magazine The Face suggested that this was a recent phenomenon, triggered by the so-called shinjinrui, young Japanese people whose attitudes supposedly differ from those of previous genera- tions, claiming that ‘Japanese kids are exploiting alternative lifestyles and new cultural movements with a vigour previously unimagined’ (The Face, April 1993). The article goes on to claim that, ‘in the early Eighties, Japanese acts accounted for only 20% of chart sales, with the remaining 80% going to European and Amer- ican bands. Today that ratio has almost completely reversed, with the nation flock- ing to see home-grown talent’ (ibid.). While the last part of this statement is very close to the truth, the last time that Western pop music had an 80 per cent share of the market was probably sometime immediately after the end of World War II, when the influence of the American occupation was keenly felt. The fact is that Western music’s share of the market has been hovering somewhere below the 30 per cent mark since the early 1980s. Figures issued by the Recording Industry Association of Japan (RIAJ), formerly known as the Japanese Phonograph Record Association (JPRA), show that the value share of music of international origin equated to 26.7 per cent of the market in 1981, climbing to 28.7 per cent in 1986, before falling back to 25.2 per cent in 1991 (RIAJ 1992, p. 5). The latest figures show that Western music has lost even more ground, with sales worth 106.6 billion yen in 1992 (less than 24 per cent of the market), com- pared to domestic music sales worth 371.7 billion yen (RIAJ 1993, p. 5). During this time the size of the overall market has expanded significantly, from being worth 288.7 billion yen in 1981 to 478.2 billion yen in 1992 (ibid.). Thus, while the pie is getting bigger, Western music’s share of it is steadily shrinking. Japan is now the world’s second largest market for music, accounting for 13.3 per cent of world music sales, compared to 30.3 per cent in the USA, 10 per cent in Germany and 9 per cent in the United Kingdom (RIAJ 1993, p. 20). Natur-
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 205 ally, in an industry which thrives on the success of internationally-known ‘super- stars’, the enormous popularity of ‘local artists’ in Japan is an unsettling phenomenon. The gulf between sales of domestic and international product is well illus- trated by examining figures from the Japanese operations of two of the world’s major record companies. Sony Music Entertainment Japan (SMEJ) has by far the largest market share of any of the record companies operating in Japan. In 1992, Sony Records held 16.5 per cent of the market, Epic/Sony 8.2 per cent and Ki/oon/ Sony 0.8 per cent, giving SMEJ a total of 25.5 per cent (Oricon Chart Data 1992, p. 38). However, although it is an international company, Sony’s own figures note that ‘within Sony Music Entertainment, the international repertoire represents 13% of the total [for 1990 sales]’ (Epic/Sony Records 1992, p. 2). Another example is that of MCA Victor, a venture founded in 1991. Despite being the outlet for artists such as Guns ‘N’ Roses, Nirvana and Bobby Brown, sales of Western artists’ product is eclipsed by that of MCA Victor’s domestic roster. One of MCA Victor’s biggest sellers is Mari Hamada, transferred from the VMI label (which is owned by Matsushita, MCA’s parent company). Hamada’s first MCA Victor album, Tomorrow, sold 750,000 copies, worth 1.3 billion yen – a large slice of the firm’s first-year turnover of 5.8 billion yen (Billboard, 20 March 1993). Billboard goes on to note that ‘the firm’s 10 domestic acts currently account for 25% of MCA Victor’s sales, while its 800 or so international titles make up the remainder’ (ibid.). The example of MCA Victor perfectly makes the point that it is not for lack of availability that Western pop music registers such low sales. Indeed, in 1992 there were 5,585 releases of Western pop music on 5-inch CD, the most popular format for albums, compared to 3,297 Japanese pop releases (RIAJ 1993, p. 9). While Western artists are more likely to have singles released on 5-inch CD than Japanese artists (who are virtually all released on the 3-inch format), these figures show that Western music is reaching the market place. Taking all formats into consideration, including 3-inch CD and cassette, Western releases numbered 6,256, compared to 7,182 Japanese releases (ibid.). These figures do not include classical or karaoke releases, and multi-format releases of the same title have been counted separately. Unfortunately, the RIAJ does not give any sales figures for music on video cassettes and discs based on repertoire origin, but the pattern of new releases again shows the number of Western releases being far greater than releases of Japanese videos, 1992 figures showing that new Western music releases numbered 1,090, with Japanese releases numbering 645. Far more Western releases are avail- able on video disc than Japanese (ibid., p. 12). Video is perhaps one area in which Western music is stronger, with MTV and its ilk requiring a large quantity of high quality video clips, while there are few such programmes in Japan. The area in which Western pop music is being very visibly mauled is that of CD singles. While many in the Western pop music industry have been trying to bury the single for the past decade or so, in Japan the singles market has under- gone a resurgence which has lifted the pop music market as a whole. The 3-inch CD is now accepted as the standard format for singles, sales of which rose from 25,557,000 units in 1988 to 88,776,000 units in 1991 and hit a new high of 110,559,000 units in 1992 (ibid., p. 7). While there was only one million-selling
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206 Guy De Launey single in 1990, there were seven in 1991 and ten in 1992 (Billboard, 12 June 1993). Conventional wisdom holds that a hit single acts as an advertisement for the artist’s album, and Billboard notes that ‘3-inch CD’s not only saved the singles market, they also gave a tremendous boost to album sales, which had stagnated before the singles explosion’ (Billboard, 6 June 1992). Yet Western singles are clearly not doing the same for Western artists’ albums. In 1992, the best-selling single was ‘Kimi ga iru dake de’ by Kome Kome Club, with sales of 2.7 million units, while the best-selling Western single was ‘I Will Always Love You’ by Whitney Houston, with 118,345 units (RIAJ 1993, p. 29). This situation has been continuing for a number of years: Chage and Aska’s ‘Say Yes’ outsold Billy Hughes’s ‘Wel- come to the Edge’ by 2.7 million units to 490,750 in 1991 (RIAJ 1992, p. 13), and BB Queen’s ‘Odoru Ponpokorin’ registered 1.7 million sales compared to Diana Ross’s 456,699 for ‘If We Hold On Together’ in 1990 (JPRA 1991, p. 13). Indicative of the lack of faith that Japanese record companies now have in singles by Western artists is that the October 1993 single releases by both Mariah Carey and Billy Joel – artists with extremely high profiles in Japan (Tokyu 1993, p. 15) – were both scheduled to have initial shipments of just 4,000 copies. The gulf in album sales is similar. Dreams Come True sold just over 3 million copies of The Swinging Star in 1992, compared to The Bodyguard soundtrack’s 638,595 (RIAJ 1993, p. 29). In 1991, Chage and Aska’s Tree sold 2.2 million units, while Michael Jackson’s Dangerous sold only 347,499 (RIAJ 1992, p. 13). Another international superstar, Madonna, sold only 329,382 copies of I’m Breathless in 1990, compared to Yumi Matsutoya’s 2 million copies of The Gates of Heaven. The situation is such that The Beatles actually won the 1988 International Grand Prix Award for best-selling international artist of 1987 (following the CD reissue of their albums). Even then, they were easily outsold by Japanese artist of the year Rebecca (JPRA 1988, p. 11). It is clear that Western pop music is being easily outsold by Japanese product, at least as far as Japanese releases are concerned.2 Even superstars who can sell out the 50,000 capacity Tokyo Dome are unable to translate this into sales of albums or singles to match the Japanese artists. The question which must be answered is how did Western pop music come to find itself in this situation? Some factors which have caused a change in the market It was in 1967 that the popularity of Japanese pop music finally exceeded that of Western pop, Japanese product holding 53.8 per cent of the market and Western music 46.2 per cent (Kawabata 1991, p. 335). While some observers might see this as a strange state of affairs, with artists such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix at the height of their powers, Kawabata believes that ‘the fact that yo-ban [the category of Western records] was predominant for twenty years seems abnormal’ (ibid.). Since that time, there has been a steady slide in Western pop music’s share of the market. The Japanese have been absorbing Western pop music for over 100 years, and according to Hiroshi Inagaki, Deputy President of SMEJ (Domestic Music), it is now as natural a commodity to the Japanese as hamburgers or jeans. SMEJ Deputy President Shigeo Maruyama and Kazuo Hirai of SMEJ’s International Busi- ness Affairs Section both note that in the post-war era the Japanese looked up to the West, particularly the USA, as a role model in affluence and prosperity, and
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 207 claim that the initial success of Western music had much to do with this admira- tion. However, a whole generation has now grown up in an affluent Japan, these young people do not idolise the West in the same way. Consequently, Maru- yama and Hirai claim, Western music’s popularity in Japan has suffered. Japanese pop music is no longer dominated by cover versions or slavish imitations, and to accuse Japanese artists of only possessing the ability to others is to ignore the fact that all pop music is the product of the assimilation and adaptation of other forms of music. Mitsui concurs with this view, asking: ‘couldn’t it be argued that enough years have now passed for the Japanese fashion unintentionally . .. a tradition of their own?’ (Mitsui 1993, p. 27). Though writing about Japanese country music, Mitsui’s question is equally pertinent Japanese pop music. The success of Japanese artists even extends into the live concert scene, with domestic artists now playing the 10,000 capacity Budokan (the setting for many 1970s live albums by Western artists). Western music concert promoters Udo note that ‘Japanese artists have learned so much from the foreign artists they once their hard-earned yen to see’ (Billboard, 12 June 1993). The decline and fall of Western pop music The arrival of The Ventures in Japan in 1965 has been credited with starting ‘eleki guitar boom’ which saw young Japanese people forming groups for the time (The Ventures receive the credit, since The Beatles did not visit Japan until 1966). Prior to this time, most instrumentalists were women, mainly playing piano. While it might seem bizarre to attribute the growth of domestic pop music to a forgotten surf combo, one should not underestimate the impact of The Ven- tures, who have toured Japan almost every year since their initial visit, playing up to 100 dates on each tour, with sell-outs being the norm. Corky Hikota of promoters M & I Company claims that, while other foreign artists’ concerts may not be popular, with The Ventures ‘we can guarantee a sell-out’ (Billboard, 12 June 1993). However, enthusiasm generated by foreign bands’ visits alone would not have been enough to spark the domestic band scene into life. It was equally import- ant that Japan was enjoying a new affluence. Not only were Japanese instrument manufacturers producing large numbers of quality instruments, but young people had the money to buy them. Furthermore, to ensure an adequate supply of cus- tomers for their instruments, manufacturers such as Kawai and Yamaha formed nation-wide networks of music classes. As further bait, the Yamaha Popular Music Contest was established, which proved to be the first step to fame for Top Ten dwellers such as Off Course and Miyuki Nakajima. Current figures suggest that 45.5 per cent of Japanese girls own a piano or electone, whilst around 30 per cent of boys can play guitar to some degree (Mitsui 1991, p. 310). The combination of the Western groups’ visits and the new affluence in Japanese society led to a phenomenon known as ‘Group Sounds’, which basically boiled down to pretty boys with long hair playing in British-style ‘beat combos’ with names such as The Tigers, The Tempters, The Blue Comets and The Spiders. The music was not ground breaking, but had the advantage of being performed by Japanese musicians who could be relied upon to be in the country.
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208 Guy De Launey From then on, Japanese pop music gained momentum and has not lost it since. Following on from the ‘Group Sounds’ era came a flirtation with folk-rock. One notable band to emerge from this period was Happy End, featuring Haruomi Hosono, later one-third of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Happy End’s music still stands up well today, sounding uncannily like an extremely depressed Buffalo Springfield or Neil Young. More significantly, the lyrics were in Japanese, unlike those of Hosono’s previous band, The April Fool. This period also saw million-selling Japanese singles such as the bizarre ‘Kaette kita yopparai’ by the Folk Crusaders, while the popularity of folk music further encouraged young people to pick up guitars and make their own music (JASPM 1991, p. 16). The affluence which enabled young Japanese people to buy instruments and form groups also made records affordable to a much larger number of people. Initially record buying was limited to a relatively small number of people with above-average incomes. This was good for Western pop music since these people ‘were also educated enough to have a liking for foreign musical culture in the first place, and to get interested in something that requires a somewhat advanced knowledge of the language used’ (Mitsui 1993, p. 8). However, it may be that not all the newly-affluent Japanese were so receptive to Western pop, preferring instead to spend their money on domestic product. Certainly, the overall market expanded rapidly: from 50 billion yen in 1968 to 100 billion yen in 1971, 150 billion yen in 1973 and 200 billion yen in 1976 (Kawabata 1991, p. 338). Western pop music was not yet plumbing the depths, however. All of the eight number-one albums in 1971 were by Western artists (although four were by Simon and Garfunkel, perhaps reflecting the popularity of folk-rock) (Oricon 1990, p. 8). There are factors other than those already discussed which can help explain the current position of Western pop music in the Japanese market. The mysterious death of idol pop/the band boom When people think about Japanese pop music, ‘idol pop’ inevitably comes to mind. ‘Idol pop’ was all about young girls (and sometimes boys) who were extremely ‘cute’, but somewhat lacking in musical talent. SMEJ Deputy President (Ki/oon/ Sony), Shigeo Maruyama, attributes the appearance of idol pop to the rise in popularity of colour television, and the broadcast of programmes such as Star Tanjo (A Star is Born), which started in 1971. Idol singers came and went at bewil- dering speed. One possible explanation for their popularity is that the purity of youth has traditionally been highly valued by the Japanese, as exemplified by the continued popularity of the Takarazuka Revue, modern home of the cult of the bishonen (‘beautiful youth’). The ‘extreme in idol-singer production’ was the Onyanko Club, which had fifty-two members, all girls who had won a contest/audition on the Yuyake Nyan Nyan programme which ran from 1985 to 1987. The Club’s performances were truly a weird spectacle, the girls looking as if they had just been plucked out of a third-grade junior high school class, which of course was not so far from the truth. As Ogawa notes, the result was ‘to lessen the psychological distance between the idols and the fans, and that’s why its performances were arranged in a very similar way to after-school club activities’ (Pacific Friend, May 1990).
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 209 The popularity of idol singers cannot be denied: Seiko Matsuda held the title of best-selling albums artist of the period 1970-89, with thirty chart entries and eighteen number-one albums (Oricon 1990, p. 356). However, neither the image nor the musical output of the idol singers was to everyone’s taste. Kazuo Hirai of SMEJ’s international business affairs section believes that this was a factor which enabled Western pop music to keep hold of a larger slice of the market than it might otherwise have done. With few credible Japanese alternatives, many young Japanese turned to Western pop music: in 1975, Western pop music still held 36 per cent of the Japanese market (JPRA 1985, p. 7). However, when credible Japanese artists started to appear, Western music’s share of the market began to slip. 1978 saw some significant events: the formation of Epic/Sony Records, and the debuts of the Yellow Magic Orchestra and The Southern All Stars. The head of Epic/Sony’s domestic music section when the label started was Shigeo Maruyama, who claims that one of his goals when he started the label was to develop Japanese rock music, reasoning that if other industrialised countries could do it, why not Japan? At that time there were very few outlets for Japanese rock music on the radio. AM stations tended to concentrate on talk and more traditional music (whose artists were better talkers than rock musicians), FM stations were few and far between. Therefore, Maruyama set out promoting his roster through live concerts, and was rewarded by the success of artists as TM Network and Motoharu Sano. Now that Japanese music fans finally had a domestic alternative to idol Western music’s share of the market began to fall. In 1980 its share was down 26 per cent (ibid.). Western pop music might have been able to make a comeback in the 1980s had it not been for the combination of two important factors: of the idol era and the start of the ‘band boom’. According to Ken Sugaya, now a producer with For Life Records, the end of the idol era was triggered by the suicide of the idol singer Yukiko Okada, who jumped from the top of the building housing Sun Management in Tokyo in 1985. Okada’s death might not have provoked much reaction had it not been for the gruesome coverage the incident received on television and in the press, which featured pictures of Okada’s body and a great deal of her blood (indeed Kazuo Hirai recalled that the pictures showed ‘brains splattered all over the sidewalk’). Okada was perceived as being a victim of the pressures of the ‘idol system’, which had thrived on promoting images of the purity of youth. Sugaya claims that when those images were shattered, young Japanese people went in search of artists who were more connected with reality, namely domestic rock acts such as Boowy, Laughin’ Nose and The Blue Hearts – all bands who had come to prominence through playing at ‘live houses’ (basically pubs with bands playing in them), and who in some cases had released records on independent labels, which are gener- ally much less influential than their UK equivalents. While Hirai does not go as far as Sugaya in claiming that Okada’s death actually caused the end of the idol era, he agrees that it was probably instrumental in accelerating the demise of a genre which had pretty much run its course. Indeed, the Onyanko Club probably simultaneously represented idol pop’s finest hour and rang its death knell: Japanese record buyers, tired of production-line idols, were now looking for more than just a cute image.
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210 Guy De Launey The band boom was greatly helped by the exposure it received on various tele- vision programmes. NHK television (the equivalent of the BBC) broadcast a pro- gramme entitled Indies in 1985, highlighting the independent/live house scene. In 1989, the band boom really took off when Ika-Ten (Heisei Meibutsu Ikasu Bando Tengoku) began broadcasting. Airing at midnight every Saturday between 1989 and 1991, Ika-Ten featured ten new bands every week, some of whom were able to launch successful professional careers due to their appearances on the programme. The most notable example is the group Tama, which won the 1989 Ika-Ten Grand Prix Prize. Tama’s sound is different from mainstream pop, with extremely odd vocals, and instrumentally relying heavily on accordion and other acoustic instruments. While they are definitely not everybody’s cup of tea, they went on to win the JPRA’s 1991 Grand Prix New Artist of the Year award, out-selling MC Hammer by a factor of two-to-one, with sales worth 1.75 billion yen, not far off international best-seller Madonna’s 1.8 billion yen total sales (JPRA 1991). The band boom stepped in to fill the vacuum left by the death of idol pop which Western music might otherwise have been able to exploit. However, the band boom itself now appears to have run out of steam. The current big sellers are practitioners of more mature sounds, sometimes known as ‘new music’, and well-established artists. These include Yumi Matsutoya (at the top for over twenty years), Chage and Aska (also veterans, both as artists and composers), Shogo Hamada (who had his first number one album in 1986), Kome Kome Club (comparative youngsters with their first number one album in 1988) (Oricon 1990, p. 45) and the seemingly unstoppable Dreams Come True. These are artists who can appeal to a broader range of listeners. Keisuke Tsukimitsu of production company Public Image claims that ‘the bands only really appealed to younger, female fans in their early teens. Acts such as Dreams Come True or B’z appeal not only to their target audience of those in their 20s, but also to the younger audience, creating a bigger market’ (Billboard, 12 June 1993). Dreams Come True’s The Swinging Star was last seen easing past the 3.1 million sales mark, making it easily the biggest selling album in Japanese music history (Weekly Confidence, 27 September 1993). The sound of mainstream Japanese pop certainly has little connection with that produced by a traditional band line-up. To the casual listener, there are many similarities with 1980s ‘Eurobeat’ records, such as those by Spagna and Sabina. This is especially true of the likes of B’z and Dreams Come True (who also have a nice line in Earth Wind and Fire pastiches). Technology is often well to the fore, and in the case of Shogo Hamada’s 1993 album, The Moment of the Moment, the hugely impressive sonic architecture produced at Sony’s state-of-the-art Shinano- machi studio serves as an effective diversion from the uninspired nature of the majority of Hamada’s material. However, on closer listening there seem to be some fundamental differences in the way Japanese and Western pop music are constructed. The emphasis is put firmly on the chorus, which regularly comes at the start of the song and is then repeated at frequent intervals. The verses often appear to be no more than after- thoughts, nowhere near as melodic or memorable as the chorus. Indeed, some songs, for instance Kan’s 1991 hit ‘Ai wa Katsu’ are really nothing more than one long chorus. Whether this is a consequence of the ‘tie-up’ system, whereby singles are largely promoted through use in commercials and television dramas, is a factor to be considered.
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 211 Some traditional influences can still be heard in contemporary Japanese pop. Singers such as Mari Hamada and Yimi Matsutoya, for all their high-tech backing, still adopt vocal styles reminiscent of enka singing. Moreover, there have recently been a number of artists who have appropriated elements of traditional Okinawan music. This approach has resulted in a number of successes, notably The Boom’s anthemic 1993 hit ‘Shima Uta’. There seems to be a certain amount of disillusionment with the whole band scene. ‘Ika-Ten’ has disappeared, and nothing has materialised to take its Many of those connected with the band boom complain that the quality of many of the bands was just not up to scratch. Kiyoji Yamamoto, formerly of Vow Wow, who appeared on British television a number of times in the late 1980s, claims ‘the fans were very young and didn’t know which bands were good or bad. Now people realise most of the bands were crap. What the band boom did achieve was to get those fans used to band sounds’ (Billboard, 12 June 1993). A spokesman the production company Amuse adds that ‘the second rock boom will not tolerate bands who come out and just try to make a lot of noise’ (ibid.). Therefore, it would seem that now might be the perfect time for Western acts to re-establish themselves in the Japanese market, a view with which Sugaya (who formerly worked with Boowy’s management company IRC2) curs. However, a number of obstacles still stand between Western artists and success in Japan. Problems facing Western artists in Japan There are two kinds of problem which are currently hindering efforts by Western pop music to re-establish itself in Japan. One kind is practical, relating to such factors as the channels through which Western pop music can gain exposure Japan. The other relates to the attitudes, preconceptions and habits of Japanese music listeners. According to a report prepared for SMEJ by Tokyu Agency International, the situation for Western music in Japan has now reached a point where it is no longer a topic of general conversation and there is a lack of artists who are guaranteed hit. One major problem, according to the report, is that for most people contact with Western music has sharply decreased. There is a lack of readily available information about Western pop music, and there has been a resulting drift away from it, leaving it in danger of becoming a ‘specialist’ music, listened to only by certain section of the population (Tokyu 1993, p. 1). Television Television music programmes featuring Western music have all but disappeared from Japanese schedules. Epic/Sony’s own report notes that ‘music programming has now diminished to a few very late night programmes that rarely run for more than 30 minutes and that feature only domestic artists live in the studio’ (Epic/ Sony 1992, p. 7). One programme, Fuji Television’s Music Journal, occasionally features one video clip by a Western artist right at the end of the programme, but competition for that slot is fierce. I accompanied an Epic/Sony staff member to Fuji’s studios, armed with a bag full of video clips. It seemed that it was only by good fortune
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212 Guy De Launey that the producer of Music Journal happened to be in the office, was available and was in a good mood. After some consideration, he agreed to show the latest Daryl Hall video clip, but the Epic/Sony staff member later confirmed my suspicions that such successes are the exception rather than the norm. The importance of television in the Japanese music market should not be underestimated. For its report, Tokyu conducted a survey among senior high school and university students (an age range of fifteen to twenty-two). Of the sample, 47.7 per cent obtained music information through television music pro- grammes, higher than any method other than record shops’ in-store displays (48 per cent) (Tokyu 1993, p. 15). As one observer puts it, ‘Japanese people like TV so much that it has a strong influence on taste’ (JASPM 1991, p. 24), so it is clear that the lack of an outlet for Western pop music on terrestrial television severely damages its chances in the Japanese market. Satellite television One would have thought that satellite broadcasters would be able to take advant- age of the gap in the market. There are two specialist satellite music channels currently broadcasting in Japan. One is Music Channel, which is the Japanese licensee for MTV and is backed by Pioneer Electronics Corporation, TDK Corpora- tion and Tokyu Agency, and the other is called Space Shower. Both share common problems. One problem is technical. Satellite broadcasting has yet to catch on in a big way in Japan, but many televisions are now supplied with a built in broadcast satellite (BS) tuner. At present, three channels can be received on BS: two NHK channels and WowWow, which broadcasts a variety of general entertainment pro- grammes, including concert films and occasional music programmes. While NHK’s signals are not scrambled, WowWow’s are, necessitating more hardware and cap- ital outlay, including subscription fees. So far, about 1 million households have subscribed (Billboard, 30 January 1993). The big problem is that neither MTV nor Space Shower are broadcast using the BS satellite; rather, they use two other communication satellites (CS). Thus, three separate satellite dishes and decoders/tuners are required, meaning that ‘anyone who wants to receive all three stations would have to pay about 400,000 yen, plus monthly subscription fees, for the privilege’ (ibid.). The cost of the hardware has evidently deterred many people, since as of January 1993 only 3,700 households had signed up with Space Shower, though it is available on cable to a further 620,000 households (ibid.). In MTV’s case, as of March 1993, there were 7,400 households signed up for the satellite service, with a further 630,000 on cable (Billboard, 6 March 1993). When I interviewed him in August 1993, MTV’s Director of Talent and Artist Relations, Jeff Murray, claimed a total of 810,000 households were currently signed up. MTV are hoping that gaining new viewers will become easier with the intro- duction by Sony of a television that comes complete with both BS and CS tuners. A further source of optimism is the introduction in autumn 1993 of new Japanese language channels to be broadcast alongside MTV and CNN. Murray claims that these new ‘neighbour’ channels will make MTV’s CS satellite service look a lot more attractive. Space Shower, however, uses a different satellite, and will not benefit from these developments. It is crucial for MTV to pick up more viewers,
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 213 since at the moment, according to Tower Records’ Far East General Manager, Keith Cahoon, ‘many people don’t even know it exists’. However, Cahoon, whose stores sell 80 per cent Western product, recognises the potential benefits of a popular MTV, adding ‘it would be good for us if MTV did hook up’. Murray believes that MTV will succeed, because ‘MTV is nothing but image, and the Japanese are so image conscious’. However, the Japanese image of MTV leaves Murray and his colleagues in a catch-22 situation. Currently, all the video clips shown on MTV are by Western artists, and this fits in with MTV’s own research which shows that most Japanese people see MTV as a Western product. If MTV were to introduce Japanese video clips, there is a possibility that it would increase the channel’s popularity. However, there would also be a reasonable chance that by doing so, MTV would alienate its core audience. Tokyu’s survey shows that many fans of Western music have no interest in Japanese pop (Tokyu 1993, passim). Certainly, some of MTV’s own staff feel that introducing Japanese clips would ‘dilute the concept’. Another problem for MTV has been in dealing with the Japanese record companies. Murray claims that the record companies do not yet understand that MTV is a marketing partner for their product, and are instead concentrating on making cash from video clips in which they themselves have not invested any money. Currently the record companies are charging MTV a standard fee for each video clip shown, regardless of the status of the artist (unlike the USA, where deals are struck on a label-by-label basis). Therefore MTV is not willing to play as many new artists as it might otherwise do. Murray claims that in making money on video clips, Japanese record companies are not using them for the purpose for which they were made – namely, promotion – adding that ‘we’re the best agents the record companies could possibly think of’. However, relationships between some of the record companies and MTV seem somewhat strained. Indeed, when I brought up the subject with a senior Epic/Sony staff member, I was given the impression that he did not take MTV very seriously, while Stuart Watson, Senior Vice President of MCA International, was extremely pessimistic about MTV Japan’s future. Nevertheless, MTV could potentially be of great help to Western artists in Japan, just as the nascent American MTV was to British acts in the early 1980s. Video clips are certainly one area in which Western artists have the upper hand, and MTV, with its bi-lingual presenters and locally-chosen programming, could prove to be an influential ally if it gained the necessary viewers. Radio While AM radio in Japan is almost exclusively the domain of speech-based and traditional music programming, tuning into a random selection of FM stations will reveal that not only is there Western pop music to be heard, but the DJs speak English as well. These are not syndicated programmes from other countries, but locally-sourced programmes which use English because it ‘creates a good mood, a good feeling for the entire programme – a nice flow’ (Billboard, 25 January 1992). The most popular FM station in Tokyo is J-Wave, which broadcasts 95 per cent foreign music (ibid.). Evidence of the extent to which Western music domin- ates J-Wave’s programmes can be drawn from its ‘Pioneer Tokio Hot 100’ chart for 15 August 1993, which featured only three songs by Japanese artists, the highest of
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214 Guy De Launey which was at number 40. In comparison, the industry-standard, sales-based ‘Oricon’ chart for 27 September 1993 featured only four Western artists in the top 100, Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle at number 39 being the highest (Weekly Confid- ence, 27 September 1993). Naturally, there is a catch. As Billboard notes, ‘FM plays a key role in introdu- cing foreign music to Japan, but the emphasis is on the mainstream . . . Typical artists favoured by J-Wave’s programme directors include Enya, Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Jackson’ (Billboard, 25 January 1992), which is hardly surprising considering Connick has a publishing deal with J-Wave’s publishing arm. There are other FM stations in the Tokyo area, such as FM Saitama and Bay FM, as well as FM Yokohama. Tokyo FM has a nation-wide network of twenty-two stations. Outside Tokyo, there are KISS-FM in Kobe, FM 802 (a.k.a. ‘Funky 802’) in Osaka and FM Kyoto. However, outside the major conurbations, there are very few stations to be found on the FM dial apart from NHK. In the whole country, there are only thirty-six FM stations, with seven of those in Tokyo (ibid.). There is no one national pop music station along the lines of the UK’s Radio One, and none of the FM stations uses a rotation system to determine which records to play, such as the one MTV operates, and which (Jeff Murray is keen to point out) is one of the major factors in making hit records in other countries. Another factor to take into consideration is that radio in Japan is not the significant medium that it is in other countries. As noted earlier, television has the greatest influence over people’s musical tastes. The Tokyu survey found that relatively few young people listen to the radio, preferring to listen to music on CD or on their personal stereos. The most popular time to listen to the radio was before going to bed (19.7 per cent), although at this time 65.3 per cent of the sample said they preferred to listen to CDs. When commuting to school or university, 52.7 per cent listened to cassettes while a mere 0.3 per cent said they listened to the radio (Tokyu 1993, p. 14). This last figure reflects the lack of ‘drive time’ in Japan: commuting by bus or train is much more common than by car, and so car radios play a much smaller part in the spread of pop music than they do in other coun- tries. Keith Cahoon goes as far as to say that ‘radio here means virtually nothing’. While radio in Japan may not be as vital to a record’s success as it is in other countries, it can only be a good thing for Western pop music that it gains so much airtime. If nothing else, as SMEJ’s Kazuo Hirai points out, radio may have served to slow down the deterioration of Western music’s market share in Japan. Magazines Magazines play an important role in the promotion of pop music in Japan. Tower Records’ Keith Cahoon believes that magazines have the ‘biggest influence’ over the Japanese market, noting that a survey of Tower Records’ staff showed that 60 per cent never listened to the radio. However, the magazines with the most influ- ence are probably not the specialist music magazines. While there is a magazine which features British ‘indie-alternative’ pop, the monthly Rockin’ On, its circula- tion is around the 100,000 mark. In comparison, general interest magazines such as Pia have circulations of 400,000 and upwards (Epic/Sony 1992, p. 10). Only 6.3 per cent of Tokyu’s sample said they read Rockin’ On, whilst 44.7 per cent claimed to read Pia (Tokyu 1993).
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 215 Sony’s promotion staff are therefore particularly keen to place articles about Western artists in these general interest magazines. However, according to Akiko Ozawa, a member of Sony’s promotion staff, unless the artist concerned is a super- star, it is very difficult to get anything other than a brief synopsis of the artist’s record published. If the artist is in Japan, or there is another angle, such as fashion, which can be exploited, this increases the chances of an article appearing. The fashion angle has been used with Pearl Jam and was to be used with Kris Kross, until the release schedule was thrown awry when it was finally noticed that a record entitled ‘Da Bomb’, with a picture of a mushroom cloud on the front cover and the lyric ‘I drop bombs like Hiroshima’ could possibly cause offence in the Japanese market. This episode also serves to illustrate that communications between Sony in Japan and its international affiliates are not always as smooth as an outsider might imagine.3 Rental shops Rental shops have represented nemesis to the record companies since the first one opened in Tokyo in 1980, and even some foreign observers believe that rental shops may have some effect on the per-capita spending of Japanese record buyers, which in 1990 was lower than that of consumers in the other big markets of the USA, Germany and the UK (Billboard, 12 June 1993). Successive JPRA/RIAJ year- books have highlighted the ‘threat’ of rental shops in the ‘problems facing the record industry’ section (JPRA/RIAJ 1985-1993). Rental shops eventually became another political football between the USA and Japan, the American side claiming that ‘rental shops are closely allied to the political lobby of Japanese consumer-electronics and blank-tape manufacturers’ (Billboard, 7 December 1991). There was even the possibility of rental shops becom- ing an issue at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks (Billboard, 16 November 1991). Finally, an agreement was reached whereby rental shops would not be allowed to rent foreign product until one year after its release date. While home taping has long been a knee-jerk issue in the record industry, the pressure brought to bear by foreign record companies might actually have served to damage the cause of Western pop music in Japan. Although Sony now releases most Western product at a price of 2,300 yen, other record companies’ prices, notably those of Toshiba EMI, are often higher. Some Western product is still released at the 3,000 yen level, which was the standard price when the rental shops issue was at its height. Common sense dictates that while a music listener might not risk 3,000 yen on a relatively unknown artist, 300-350 yen for a ‘test listening’ might seem like a reasonable deal. This may result in increased sales, since 40 per cent of those who rent music claim to sometimes purchase albums which they have first rented (Billboard, 12 June 1993). SMEJ Deputy President Shigeo Maruyama, agrees that the rental sector is very useful for disseminating information about Western music, and maintains Western artists’ visibility. Even if a listener tapes a rented album, there is still the possibility that, now acquainted with the artist’s work, they will buy the artist’s next release. It is interesting to note that the Japanese record industry has now chosen to work with the rental shops. In December 1992, the Japan Record Rental Commerce Trade Association (JRRCTA) started a nation-wide campaign to promote two new domestic singles every month. The campaign has ‘the blessing of the Recording
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216 Guy De Launey Industry Association of Japan’ and aims to show that ‘rental can help promote product and expand the music industry by introducing customers to music and increase sales at retail shops’, according to a JRRCTA spokesperson (Billboard, 13 February 1993). The JRRCTA perceive long-term benefits, noting that ‘maybe the campaign will have no influence on sales of the record itself but will help boost the sales of the artist’s next record by increasing the act’s public profile’ (ibid.). However, this opportunity is no longer open to Western artists, ironically due to pressure from Western record companies. Availability of Western artists Western artists rarely visit to undertake promotional tasks. Even when they do come to Japan, they are limited in what promotional activities they can perform, due to the language barrier, which effectively excludes any spontaneous promo- tional opportunities, whilst radio interviews moderated by an interpreter do not make for gripping listening. Western artists’ tour schedules are not exactly gruel- ling, either. Most artists play concerts in only the city centres of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, which leaves most of the country without any exposure to live West- ern pop music. In comparison, some Japanese artists undertake tours which would put The Ventures to shame. The distance factor is felt keenly by the staff of Japanese record companies. One Sony staff member told me that it was difficult for Japanese staff to feel any empathy with artists who are 6,000 miles away, with the vague possibility that they might visit Japan for three or four days if they can fit it in. No British band attempting to ‘break America’ would consider playing dates in only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago before flying home. In that market, marathon tours and ‘meet and greet’ sessions (opportunities for record company staff and sundry ‘VIPs’ to meet the artist) are the norm. Japan is the world’s second-largest market with a population of 123 million people, so a more extensive touring and promo- tional schedule for visiting Western acts could pay dividends. However, Japanese record companies currently provide no ‘tour support’ money, a factor which may discourage artists from undertaking more extensive tours.4 Direct deals Evidence that greater success can be achieved if Western artists are prepared to forge closer relationships with their Japanese record companies can be seen in the achievements of artists who have signed deals directly with Japanese record companies. There are many advantages to signing a direct deal. One of the most import- ant factors is that a directly-signed artist stands out from the deluge of product flowing in from a Japanese label’s international affiliates. In the case of Sony Records, the Western Music Department deals with all the product from the Amer- ican Columbia, Ruffhouse, Def Jam, Epic Associated, RAL and Chaos labels, and all other Sony imprints apart from the Epic and Epic Soundtrax labels, which are released through Epic/Sony (all British product also goes through Epic/Sony). In addition, Sony is the Japanese licensee for labels such as Relativity, Tommy Boy and Sub Pop. With a relatively small staff, unless a product manager takes a personal interest, or the product is an international priority (such as Mariah Carey,
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 217 Billy Joel or Michael Bolton), a release is likely to slip out relatively unnoticed, with initial pressings of around 3,000 units. However, according to the staff I spoke to, there is greater interest in artists directly signed to Sony in Japan. A prime case is that of Janet Kay, best known in the UK for the 1980 hit ‘Silly Games’. Following the success of a compilation licensed from UK independent label Body Music, which sold over 100,000 copies in 1991 (Billboard, 5 October 1991), Kay signed a direct deal with Sony Japan. As a result, Love You Always was released in summer 1993, and has officially sold 137,770 copies, a mere handful less than U2’s Zooropa (Weekly Confidence, 27 Sep- tember 1993). A Sony staff member claims that the true figure is actually much higher, and that sales will soon reach the 200,000 mark. This is good news for Sony Japan, which holds the master rights to the recording, and so is free of any requirement to pay a label royalty to the American side of operations. Janet Kay also stands to benefit, since she signed a Western-style contract with Sony, mean- ing that while she has to pay back the recording costs out of her royalties, she is on a much higher royalty rate than Japanese artists (who have their recording costs paid directly by Sony). Apart from the obvious financial incentives, the artist is in closer contact with the Japanese staff, serving to generate enthusiasm. In the case of another directly-signed artist, France’s Clementine, copies of ‘Clementine News’ were pro- duced for ten consecutive weeks following the release of her album Long Courier in July 1993 and sent to radio stations, magazines and the like. Clementine recorded her album and made a video clip in Japan, meaning she was available to appear on television and in magazines. The Sony press pack on Clementine is stuffed with clippings from Clementine’s many magazine appearances. This is an impressive achievement, since it is notoriously difficult for Western artists to achieve publicity in magazines, according to Sony’s promotion staff. While Clementine has achieved respectable sales of around 60,000 units, Sony’s work on Janet Kay has really paid off. Tokyu’s survey shows that more young people are familiar with Janet Kay (36.3 per cent) than Nirvana (29.7 per cent) or Sade (27.7 per cent) (Tokyu 1993, p. 15). Sony attribute the success to a number of factors. Firstly, the album received large amounts of FM radio airplay, especially on the Tokyo FM network, which meant that listeners all over Japan were exposed to Kay. This is a very good example of how radio can be utilised to Western artists’ advantage. Secondly, the summer release of the record was perfect timing. ‘Reggae bars’ are very popular in Japan, and Kay’s album was able to tap into this market, further consolidating her position by performing at ‘Reggae Sunsplash ’93’ – a large, extremely popular outdoor event – in Tokyo and Osaka, playing second-to-top of the bill. The trend for direct deals has been around for some time; as Mitsui noted in 1983 in an article about the British group Japan’s Japanese success, ‘one can per- ceive a new and interesting tendency to promote and succeed with artists who are or were less successful in their own country’ (Mitsui 1983, p. 107). In more recent times, direct deals have led to Japanese success for artists such as Holly Cole, ASAP (an American female vocal trio specialising in English versions of Yumi Matsutoya songs, signed to Nippon Columbia), Bobby Caldwell and Billy Hughes – not names likely to set cash registers ringing in the West. Recently, more established artists have realised the benefits of direct deals. Paul Weller signed a deal with Pony Canyon Records (part of the Fuji Sankei media
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218 Guy De Launey conglomerate) in Japan before he signed his British deal with PolyGram-affiliated Go! Discs (Billboard, 6 June 1992). The closer ties between artist and Japanese label bring benefits to both par- ties. The artist is better promoted and thus achieves higher sales figures; the record company avoids costly label royalties, and very often competition from imports, and thus achieves higher profits. Currently, direct deals are increasing, and are likely to continue to do so as more artists become dissatisfied with what Jeff Murray calls the ‘under-marketing and under-promotion’ of Western pop music in Japan. Tie-ups Currently, the Japanese singles market is dominated by what are known as ‘tie-up’ records, songs which are used in commercials, television dramas and films, or as television theme tunes. Of the top thirty singles for 27 September 1993, twenty-six were tie-ups (Weekly Confidence, 27 September 1993). Only four Western artists featured in the top 100: all were tie-ups (including two versions of the theme from Disney cartoon feature Aladdin). The question which arises at this point is why, if tie-ups are so influential, do more Western artists not obtain them? There are a number of factors which prevent them from doing so. Since tie-ups are now seen as being almost indispensable to a record’s cess, Katsumi Nishimura of J-Wave Music claiming that ‘without a tie-up, virtually impossible to release a single’ (Billboard, 12 June 1993), competition the best tie-ups is fierce, especially in the continued absence of prime-time televi- sion music programmes. It has become a buyer’s market, and the buyers demanding more and more concessions from the artists, including asking record and artist-management companies to waive their rights to songs, a practice that Ken Sugaya likens to payola. All the television networks have publishing divisions, and artists and their publishing companies are willing to sign over their rights one song in the hope that the resulting exposure will boost sales of the artist’s output, according to Sony’s Chieko Nakayama, who deals with Western artists’ tie-ups. Western artists are not as willing to sign over their rights as their Japanese counterparts, leading to a situation where ‘producers of commercial and TV dramas don’t like to use foreign music, because it takes time to work out the details, and in this business timing is very important’, according to Warner Music Japan president Ikuzo Orita (ibid.). In addition, now that the days of the ‘bubble economy’ are over, advertisers are less inclined to splash out on Western artists. Mitsui suggests that the difference between Western and Japanese artists’ attitudes towards their rights may have an historical basis. Noting that before the Meiji Restoration there was no word to express the concept of copyright, Mitsui adds that ‘people still feel a certain awkwardness in the idea of demanding payment or having payment demanded according to one’s legal rights, not to speak of making it a business, and even when they fully understand its validity’ (Mitsui 1994, p. 3). There is an uncomfortably close connection between some of the companies involved in tie-ups and promoting records. Take the case of Fuji Sankei Commun- ications, which owns Fuji Television (one of the national networks, and prime purveyor of dramas), Fuji Pacific Music Publishing, The Sankei Shinbun and Sankei
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 219 Sports newspapers, a string of magazines and Pony Canyon Records, currently firmly established as Japan’s number two record company (with a 13.2 per cent market share: Oricon 1993, p. 38) and home to artists such as Chage and Aska, whose ‘Say Yes’ sold 2.73 million copies in 1991, having been the theme song for a Fuji Television drama series. Other companies, such as the production company Being, specialise in obtaining tie-ups for their artists. Being’s artists include Wands, Zard, T-Bolan, Zyyg, Rev and Deen. Ken Sugaya claims that while few people know their faces, and their records sound suspiciously similar, everybody is familiar with their songs through tie-ups; indeed the system appears to be working, the biggest success being Zard, whose current album has sold 1.8 million copies (Weekly Confidence, 27 September 1993). All this has been achieved without resorting to such tactics as concerts or music videos. This also illustrates the power that Japanese production/ management companies wield, as well as their close relationships with the record companies, highlighting another area where Western artists are at a disadvantage. When Western artists do make a tie-up, the results can be spectacular. The Bodyguard soundtrack album has now passed the 1.5 million sales mark (ibid.), while ‘I Will Always Love You’ (from the same soundtrack) by Whitney Houston was the best-selling Western single of 1992 (RIAJ 1993, p. 29). Of Tokyu’s sample, 95 per cent are familiar with Whitney Houston (Tokyu 1993, p. 15) and 33.3 per cent of them own at least one of her records (compared to 23.7 per cent for Madonna and 21 per cent for Michael Jackson) (ibid., p. 16). However, the conclusion should not be made that if all Western artists could find themselves tie-ups then the sales of Western music would blossom once more. Tokyu’s survey also found, when asking those people who listen to mainly Western music why they do so, that 25.6 per cent gave as the reason their hatred of the commercialisation that tie-ups represent (ibid.). Therefore linking Western artists with commercials and tie-ups might alienate Western music’s core market. Placing Western music in movies would seem to be a safer bet, since young Japanese people claim to watch four times as many Western movies as Japanese films (Tokyu 1993, p. 19), and other soundtracks, such as Grease, Saturday Night Fever and Footloose, have also hit number one on the album charts (Oricon 1990, passim). It is possible that this will be the way that events turn since, as Kawabata notes, ‘it was not a wild decision of Sony to purchase Columbia Pictures in 1989 or of Matsushita to purchase MCA [including Universal Pictures] in 1990. These parent company moves did not mark a switch of interest from Western music to Western movies but, rather, a commitment to the same plan for the future of an integrated audio-visual market’ (Kawabata 1991, p. 334). Karaoke In the UK, karaoke is largely seen as the ultimate pub nightmare, the unwelcome return of pub singers with added reverb. However, in Japan, karaoke is a serious business with a significant influence over the music market. This may be connected with the important place that singing holds in Japanese society. In his book The After Hours, Plath notes that important decisions in a village of potters were usually made at village parties. A particularly significant factor was the decision to sing, in particular, the decision to be the first one to sing. If the singer acquitted himself
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220 Guy De Launey well (the singers were all male), the community would be more receptive to his suggestions. A poor performance could actually result in a loss of influence (Plath 1964, passim). This might sound bizarre, but it illustrates how seriously some Japanese people take their singing. Amateur singing contests have been a popular feature of broadcasts since the end of World War II, starting with one broadcast by NHK radio in January 1946, and continuing on television in the 1950s. A national institution is Kohaku Utagassen (Red and White Singing Contest), broadcast annually on NHK Television every New Year’s Eve since 1953, featuring professional Japanese singers (although the odd foreigner has appeared), and with the lyrics appearing on the screen in Laser-Disc karaoke-style. The popularity of the programme is best illustrated by the fact that it was considered a disaster when its audience rating fell to 50 per cent in the late 1980s (Pacific Friend, December 1990). Ogawa sees karaoke as ‘a point of contact between the technological age and Japan’s sociocultural traditions’ (Pacific Friend, October 1990), and claims that it is the reason for the recent boom in the singles market, meaning that ‘a hit song cannot be for listening only. Amateurs must be able to sing it’ (Pacific Friend, May 1993). This may go some way to explaining the demise of the band boom: the popularity of karaoke is damaging the sales of acts whose music is difficult to master. Since the introduction of ‘karaoke boxes’ (small rooms or portakabins equipped with karaoke machines and comfortable furniture) in 1986, the for karaoke has expanded beyond salarymen: young people and women regular karaoke-goers. Of Tokyu’s sample, 51.6 per cent claimed to go to karaoke at least once a month, while only 10.3 per cent said that they rarely went 1993, p. 18). 40.7 per cent of those who went said that they mainly sang television drama themes, while only 3.4 per cent said they sang Western songs. Furthermore, 53.8 per cent said they had little or no interest in singing Western songs at in the future. 14.9 per cent said they had bought or borrowed albums could practice for karaoke, and 29.5 per cent claimed to have bought or borrowed singles for that purpose (ibid.). There is, therefore, a clear link between tie-ups, karaoke and the success artists in the Japanese market. All Japanese artists’ singles have an instrumental version included, with the lyrics printed on the sleeve so the purchaser can singing at home. The virtual departure of Western music from the 3-singles market means that the possibility of practising Western artists’ songs home is slim. Furthermore, karaoke can act as a means of disseminating informa- tion about pop music, since people might buy CDs of songs they have heard friends sing at karaoke. This is another door which is currently closed to music. Lyrics Many Westerners do not believe that the lyrics of pop songs are particularly important, and this is regularly reflected in the singles charts. The Japanese would have you believe that people take their lyrics more seriously in Japan, SMEJ Deputy President Maruyama claiming that empathy with the lyrics is crucial to a record’s success.
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 221 There is evidence to support this view. On any television programme featur- ing music – even something as inane as Fuji Television’s Tunnels – the lyrics appear along the bottom of the screen as the song is played. All Japanese record releases have the lyrics included – there is no question of leaving the listener to interpret them. This extends to Japanese releases of Western product, which leads to prob- lems when the original Western release did not have the lyrics included. On such occasions, the record company has a native-speaker transcribe the lyrics as best they can, and then has the lyrics translated into Japanese. Both sets of lyrics are included when the record is released. This method can produce lyrics which are, as one Sub Pop band protested, ‘severely butchered’. I was personally responsible for the transcription of the of Mercury Rev’s album Boces, a job hindered by barely-audible singing and ingly invented or randomly-chosen words. This resulted in my transcribing line as ‘Marmite jars full of fluid-filled eyes’, though I was not entirely sure was correct. I was therefore quite embarrassed when the translated version complete with a note on what Marmite was, where it came from and what it used for. This episode serves to illustrate that Japanese people honestly believe that English-speakers both understand and attach importance to lyrics. Without excep- tion I was met with a reaction of disbelief every time I explained to Japanese record company workers that many English-speakers are unfamiliar with most songs’ lyrics and are not bothered by this situation. Maruyama claims that many Japanese people have a complex about English lyrics, having studied English in school for six years without having mastered the spoken language. Sony Records’ Norio Kurihara was also firm in his belief that Western music’s poor market share could be almost entirely attributed to the lyrics factor. Tokyu’s survey seems to back this view: of its sample, 57.4 per cent claimed to have little understanding of English (Tokyu 1993, p. 19), while 39.9 per cent of those who rarely listened to Western music gave the reason that they could not understand the lyrics (ibid., p. 17). This ‘English allergy’ would seem to have great bearing on Western music’s position in the current market. Naturally, as noted earlier, it also means that Western artists’ songs are rarely sung at karaoke, thus further depleting sales potential. This view would be easy to accept were it not for the fact that Japanese artists’ lyrics are not saying anything particularly profound either. For the past sixteen years, the Southern All Stars have been one of Japan’s most consistently successful acts, yet their lyrics mix Japanese and English with seeming abandon in a style known as ‘Japanglish’ (which, legend has it, was developed after the lyricist lost his original lyrics down the toilet and was forced to improvise). Mitsui describes such lyrics as ‘nonsense syllables that sound like English words … The lyrics are not taken as a meaningfully-constructed entity, but as part of sound’ (Mitsui 1991, p. 306). One of the most successful singles of recent years, ‘Bad Communication’ by B’z, variously urges, ‘oh, oh, give me your body’, ‘kiss dake de ii’, (just a kiss is OK) before concluding, ‘oh I don’t know-wo-wo-wo-wo-wo- wo: bad communication!’ This did not prevent the song being a hit in the charts or at karaoke. One observer notes that, ‘in the mid-1970s, many Japanese rock fans did not mind whether lyrics were in Japanese or English’, citing such bands as Go Die Go, and earlier examples such as Haruomi Hosono’s band, The April Fool, and
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222 Guy De Launey Yuya Uchida and The Flowers (who sang in barely-intelligible English) (JASPM 1991, p. 16). Even now, Tokyu’s survey found that 66 per cent of young people believe that English lyrics fit pop music well, as opposed to 23 per cent who believe Japanese lyrics do (Tokyu 1993, p. 16). Tokyu’s survey concludes that the popularity of karaoke has much to do with the current position of Western music, and that if English-language karaoke could be popularised, then Western music’s share would increase. It cites as evidence the large number of female record buyers who are open-minded about Western music, but go to karaoke regularly, and so buy mainly Japanese product (ibid., passim). Whilst both Maruyama and Hiroshi Inagaki suggest that Western artists should tailor their products towards the Japanese market more, Tokyu’s sugges- tion is probably a more realistic solution than having Western artists sing in Japanese, as Australian band Girlfriend did recently in a campaign supported by the Australian government (Billboard, 9 January 1993). By doing this, Western artists would be running the risk of alienating their core audience, as illustrated by one Sony staff member’s remark that the section featuring Japanese rappers on the De La Soul album Buhloone Mind State was ‘un-cool’. Conclusion It is clear that despite their widespread acceptance of many aspects of culture, the typical Japanese music listener has a much greater preference music made by home-grown artists. Although global superstars’ records reasonable amounts, they are eclipsed in terms of sales by artists who are unheard of outside Japan. The current state of the Japanese music market reflects neither imperialism nor the concentration of multi-national record companies on superstars. Sales of Western music in Japan have been in constant decline best part of three decades, and it is difficult to see how the strong position domestic music could be significantly eroded now. Indeed, the multinational record companies are now starting to think that rather than extending the tion of Western artists, building a roster of domestic acts is the way to an market share in Japan. For example, even though PolyGram’s roster of Western artists enjoys relatively respectable sales in Japan, the company’s paucity Japanese artists leaves it with a poor overall market share. For a company as PolyGram, failure to perform in the world’s second-largest music market unacceptable. The success of ‘local artists’ in Japan reflects the erosion of the position Anglo-American music in many countries. The success of artists such Base (from Sweden), Culture Beat (Germany) and 2 Unlimited (Holland) in international hits indicates that the world’s music markets are opening up of all nationalities. Japanese record companies, keen to exploit this trend, been putting pressure on their international affiliates to market Japanese worldwide. However, following a number of failures, including Nokko’s album Call Me Nightlife, Sony Records decided that the sharp drop in sales caused by artists’ absence from Japan while promoting records abroad a poor exchange for the tiny dent being made in the American and European
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 223 markets. For the time being, both Sony and MCA Victor plan to concentrate on South-East Asia. As far as the position of Western pop music in Japan is concerned, it is to believe that the present situation will improve if artists, record companies concert promoters continue with current promotional techniques. In particular, given the recent failure of British artists to penetrate the American market, hard to credit that a country such as Japan, with a population of 123 million people, is being given so little attention by Western artists and record companies. To say that the Japanese market is being wilfully ignored is probably overstatement, but the tours currently being undertaken by Western artists very limited. Record companies seem unable or unwilling to change this state affairs and often put the blame on the handful of concert promoters – such as and HIP – who deal with Western artists. However, as the Tokyu survey points out, Western pop music’s fortunes are unlikely to revive unless the interest of open-minded young female listeners can be raised. This, the Tokyu survey claims, will not happen without more opportunities to see Western artists in concert (Tokyu 1993, p. 11). Live performance is certainly a more realistic option English-language karaoke, the other suggestion the Tokyu survey has to make. The benefits for Western acts of spending more time in Japan are clear see. Ties between artists and Japanese record companies would improve; would be more chances to appear on studio-based television programmes as Music Journal) and opportunities for in-store promotions. While Western currently has fervent supporters in MTV and FM radio, these relatively young media suffer from low audiences and, in MTV’s case, a belief in the inevitability of its success bordering on hubris. Exploiting the possibilities presented by live performance and the buoyant Japanese singles market – assuming a way around the tie-up problem can be found – would be more likely to bring results. Western pop music still has the edge in a number of areas. It is still seen the ‘authentic item’ by Japanese record buyers; it is cheaper to buy, whether domestic release or an import, and maintains a perceived integrity which Japanese music is seen to lack. It is possible, given that the Japanese spend less per capita on music than the British or Americans, that given the right sort of promotion, Western pop music could improve its overall sales in Japan. However, it is difficult to see a return to the days when Western pop music had a stranglehold on the Japanese market and domestic acts were slavish imita- tions of Western artists. Bizarre as it may seem to a Western listener, Japanese pop music has as much right to be viewed as ‘authentic’ as that of any country. Given the recent inroads made by non-Anglo-American artists and power of the Japanese record companies, it may only be a matter of time before Japanese pop music makes a sustained appearance on the world stage. Acknowledgements This study would not have been possible without the co-operation, help and advice of a number of people. I would therefore like to thank Toru Mitsui, Hiroshi Ogawa, the staffs of Sony and Epic/Sony Records, Richard Lloyd Parry and the Naganuma family.
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224 Guy De Launey Endnotes 1 In the absence of any great amount of written material, much of the research for this paper was undertaken while working in Sony Records’ Western Music Department in Tokyo during Summer 1993. In addition, a number of formal and informal interviews were carried out, both in Japan and in Britain. Where quota- tions or information in the following text are not referenced, they are the product of these interviews. A list of some of the more formal interviews appears at the end of this paper. 2 The number of ‘import shops’ such as Tower Records, Virgin, HMV and Wave is steadily increasing. These outlets sell product imported mainly from the USA, with prices significantly lower than Japanese issues of the same product. This has prompted most record companies to drop their prices for Western artists’ product, for example Sony Records Western artists’ albums retail at 2,300 yen as opposed to domestic artists’ 2,800 yen. Japanese record companies also include sleeve notes, lyric trans- lations and bonus tracks as an incentive to buy the domestic issue. Tower Records’ Keith Cahoon is adamant that sales of imported prod- uct are included neither in the Oricon charts, nor in the RIAJ’s figures, and thus Western artists’ sales are actually higher than they appear. However, while there are around 7,000 record retailers in Japan, the number of import shops can be counted in dozens. Nevertheless, all the above mentioned chains continue to add new stores despite Japan’s economic downturn, an indication of the strength of import sales. 3 Relations between Japanese record companies and their Western counterparts could be closer. When I asked a staff member of MCA in London about relations with MCA Victor and Matsushita, I was told that MCA UK was just a small part of the MCA Group, which was in turn just part of Matsushita, and that the British side knew little about the Japanese side, and, he assumed, vice versa. 4 MCA International actually discourage their art- ists from undertaking certain tours of Japan, since they are unhappy with the arrangements made by some Japanese promoters. Further- more, they claim that tour support money is unnecessary given the high price of tickets – upwards of 5,000 yen. There is also some con- cern that money spent on tickets may result in a corresponding fall in money spent on artists’ recorded product. References Amano, J. and Arisaka, A. 1991. The Idolist Manual: Idoru Popusu 80-90 (Tokyo) Buruma, I. 1984. Behind the Mask (New York) Epic/Sony Records. 1992. General Overview of the Japanese Music Industry, internal report Fujimori, K. (ed.) 1980. Popu no genzai kei (The current shape of pop music) (Tokyo) JASPM (Japan Association for the Study of Popular Music). 1991. A Guide to Popular Music in Japan (Takarazuka) JPRA (Japan Phonograph Record Association). 1985-1991. JPRA Year Book (Tokyo) Kawabata, S. 1991. ‘The Japanese record industry’, Popular Music, 10:3, pp. 327-45 Kimura, A. 1991. ‘Japanese corporations and popular music’, Popular Music, 10:3, pp. 317-26 Kitagawa, J. 1991. ‘Some aspects of Japanese popular music’, Popular Music, 10:3, pp. 305-15 Mitsui, T. 1983. ‘Japan in Japan: notes on an aspect of the popular music record industry in Japan’, Popular Music, 3, pp. 107-20 1991. ‘Introduction’, Popular Music, 10:3, pp. 259-62 1993. ‘The reception of the music of American southern whites in Japan’, in Transforming Tradition: Folk Music Revivals Examined, ed. N. Rosenberg (Urbana), pp. 175-293 1994. ‘Copyright and music in Japan: a forced grafting and its consequences’, in Music and Copyright, ed. S. Frith (Edinburgh), pp. 125-145 Oricon. 1990. Oricon Chart Book 1970-1989 (Tokyo) 1993. Oricon Chart Data 1992 (Tokyo) Plath, D. 1964. The After Hours (Berkeley and Los Angeles) RIAJ (Recording Industry Association of Japan). 1992. RIAJ Year Book 1992 (Tokyo) 1993. Nihon no recodo sangyo 1993 nenban (The Japanese Record Industry, 1993 edition) (Tokyo) Sony Records. 1993A. Clementine Press Pack (Tokyo) 1993B. Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra Press Pack (Tokyo)
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Western pop music in the Japanese market 225 Tokyu Agency International. 1993. Yo-gaku softo shijo ni kansuru jittai chosa (Survey regarding the actual condition of the market for Western pop music), report for SMEJ (Tokyo) Interviews Chieko Nakayama, Promotion, Sony Records, 5 August 1993 and 12 August 1993 Norio Kurihara, Manager, International A & R, Sony Records, 10 August 1993 and 24 September Akiko Ozawa, Promotion, Sony Records, 11 August 1993 Steve McClure, Tokyo Bureau Chief, Billboard, 12 August 1993 Kazuo Hirai, International Business Affairs, SMEJ, 12 August 1993, 30 August 1993 and 28 September 1993 Hiroshi Inagaki, SMEJ Deputy President (Sony Records – Domestic Music), 16 August 1993 and September 1993 Shigeo Maruyama, SMEJ Deputy President (Ki/oon/Sony Records), 17 August 1993 Jeff Murray, Director of Talent and Artist Relations, The Music Channel/MTV, 19 August 1993 and September 1993 Yukari Kondo, Promotion, Epic/Sony Records, 24 August 1993 Nicole Babaridge, International Co-ordination, Epic/Sony Records, 25 August 1993 Keith Cahoon, Far East General Manager, Tower Records, 27 August 1993 and 20 September 1993 Mizue Mase, Product Manager, Sony Records, 13 September 1993 Ken Sugaya, Producer, For Life Records, 24 September 1993 and 29 September 1993 June Shinozaki, International Co-ordination, Sony Records, 24 September 1993 Newspapers and Magazines consulted Asahi Evening News, Asahi Shinbun, Billboard, EAR, The Face, Folk Roots, The Japan Times, Melody Maker, Music Labo, Music Week, New Musical Express, Pacific Friend, Rockin’ On, Select, Sounds, Tokyo Journal, Tokyo Weekender, Weekly Confidence
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