Jamaican-Japanese Music: Japanese Ska and Reggae

March 22, 2013
Ticket stub to Bob Marley & The Wailers performance in Japan. Source:

Welcome, to what is probably only the second article about Jamaican-Japanese music on the Internet.  If you find any other one, let us know!  This was by far one of our staff's most interesting topics to research.  If you've noticed a consistent theme across blog posts, it is that music trends in Japan tend to closely follow music trends in the United States.  Because the countries of Japan and the United States have always been emotionally close (think about it--other than Latin American countries, Japan is the only other country in the world where the American sport of baseball is commonly played), Japanese musicians have often formed longtime relationships with American musicians, often mirroring the current moment in American music.

This tradition isn't just confined to folk revivals, pop music, and rock 'n roll!  During the 1980s when Bob Marley was all the rage, Japan had the #3 highest number of ska and reggae musicians after Jamaica and the United States.  Ska, or スカ (suka) or j-ska in Japanese, is a combination of Jamaican calypso music with American rhythm and blues tunes--quite the world away from J-Pop!  Ska has had three waves, and the third wave--the punk wave often associated with ska--became the most popular J-Ska version.  Despite that, some J-Ska songs have distinctly pop elements, making the genre a cross-over hit.  Japanese ska also includes electronica and heavy rock presences (called ska-core), making it a little harsh to listen to for us with sensitive ears, but for those of you who enjoy head-banging, it's definitely a genre you should look into--we won't, however, be promising you any success for those SuperStar videos!  However, if you are interested in J-Ska, you should definitely check out TSPO, or Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra 東京スカパラダイスオーケストラ (Tōkyō Suka Paradaisu Ōkesutora), widely considered to be the most successful J-Ska band of all time.

Ska is often regarded as the predecessor to the most popular Jamaican music genre, reggae.  Japanese reggae has almost the same origin story as Group Sounds:  in 1979, famous Jamaican reggae music arrived when Bob Marley (by this time an international superstar) arrived in Tokyo on the Babylon by Bus Tour in Japan to promote reggae in the Pacific Rim.  Once in Japan, Marley and his music became instantly popular with Japanese audiences, and Japanese artists began imitating traditional reggae beats with Japanese music and language.  In Japan, Marley was impressed by the seriousness and depth of Japanese reporters questions about both his Rastafarian religious beliefs and music philosophy, a marked difference from the jocose questions he fielded in Europe and the Americas.  Over the course of a week, Marley played eight concerts in five different venues in both Osaka and Japan.  Marley's trip has become iconic to Rastafaris and reggae lovers in terms of the universal appeal of their "one love" philosophy; if interested, more can be read here about Marley's visit to Japan and how it influenced the development of Japanese reggae.

While Japanese consumerist markets identified reggae as the "most up to date" music trend and attempted to standardize reggae into the music industry, Japanese reggae artists began collaborating with Jamaican reggae artists.   In coverwork, Rastafari philosophy was overlayed with popular Japanese mythological, religious, and literary symbols, themes, and designs.  The first Japanese reggae music festival (Japansplash) was hosted in 1985.  Japanese reggae artists, such as ジョー山中, Pecker, and Mute Beat.  Furthermore, during the 1980s, many Japanese bands incorporated reggae beats within their music and cover artwork.  As the Japanese music industry corporatized and adopted a "superstar factory production" model, a topic we will cover in the next blog, reggae was squeezed out of mainstream music industry.  However, it continues to survive in Japan's underground music scene.  If you decide to do a Japanese reggae song for Japanese SuperStar, trust us, you will stand out!  We'll see you again soon!

If you are looking to do more research on Japanese reggae, consider looking through this playlist: