Broadcast 12: Akeboshi
One goal of writing O!Susume articles is to show people the massive variety that exists just within the genres of j-pop and j-rock. Erin and I try to cover bands from the 90’s and 00’s, modern day up-and-comers, artists that have broken out internationally, and ones that haven’t made it mainstream even within Japan. I’ve been excited for awhile to feature Akeboshi, since his sound is so unique among Japanese artists, diverging into what I might call “j-folk”.
Years Active: 2002 – Present (2022)
Core Members: Akeboshi Yoshio (明星嘉男)
Point of Origin: Yokohama
When it comes to producing bands and music influenced by the world’s major trends of genre, Japan offers up more than the average. The country’s reaction to the waves of jazz, 60’s rock, metal and hip-hop was more than your slew of cover bands and sound-alikes; solo artists and groups have absorbed the songs they heard in their youth and made stunning contributions to their respective genres, often blurring the lines between.
However, relatively few artists take the path Akeboshi started on; to go find the source of the music he loved and build his style there, rather than stay in his native Yokohama and try to learn from recordings. Fresh out of high school, Akeboshi travelled to England to study at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, a school founded with the prestige of local musician Paul McCartney. During his time there, Akeboshi joined a four-person jazz band, and produced his first mini-album Stoned Town.
In 2003, Akeboshi’s unique musical style was featured on a wider scale due to his involvement with Matsu Takako, a well-known singer and actress in Japan with decades of success (who would also go on to be the Japanese VA for Elsa in Disney’s Frozen.) Akeboshi composed two songs for Matsu’s album Harvest Songs; you can hear his sound clearly in the tracks “Toki no Fune” and “White Reply”, with the somber violins and pulsing drum rhythm providing a deep well of emotion for Matsu’s lyrics to swim in; it all blends together to give a sense of recalling a familiar space in a time so long ago it’s beginning to fade from memory.
Akeboshi had his professional debut in 2005 with Epic Records, an American label owned by Sony, producing six albums with them over the course of nearly a decade. Akeboshi’s name had first surfaced in the mainstream a few years before, when the track “Wind” from his first mini-album was featured as the first ED for the Naruto anime (and is likely where 90% of people know him from.) His song “Yellow Moon” from his fifth mini-album was later used for the 13th Naruto ED in 2006. In 2014, the musician founded his own record label Rooftop Owl.
While Akeboshi has released music relatively consistently over the previous decade, much of his larger projects have been writing tracks for movies and TV commercials. His movie credits include All Around Us, Three Stories of Love, Lying to MOM, Day After Day, The Postman from Nagasaki and the latest, Koisuru Parasite. He’s also composed background tracks for companies like Shiseido, All Nippon Airlines, Toyota, Panasonic, Canon, SONY, UNIQLO and others. His website is well-maintained and features up-to-date news on his latest work in these realms.
Although movies and commercials are quite far removed from his musical point of origin, Akeboshi still makes time to play in live concert shows with other artists, and the blend of Japanese vocals and English folk instruments for which he’s well known and loved can be found in most of his 20-year career. For those like me who particularly love his earlier work, the album Meet Along the Way includes his recordings that he made with local musicians of England and Ireland as he was traveling about, taking inspiration from pub music and street performances. A good amount of his discography was also uploaded onto Youtube in high quality in the summer of 2021.
If I wanted to take a shortcut to getting someone excited about Akeboshi, I’d say that many of his songs have a “Ghibli-esque” sound to them; listening to them easily conjures up images of ancient forests, idyllic little villages and calm yet melancholy sunsets over a nostalgic view. Obviously both Ghibli and Akeboshi’s music are made of far more than that overlapping sliver of the Venn diagram, but I feel that you can make a case for how the art of both the classic movies and this J-folk musician’s work pull at some deep desire within their audiences, making them yearn for a place that feels important to them, yet wholly imagined. I may be putting more of my personal viewpoint into this assertion than I realize, as the rustic, woody sounds of English folk music that Akeboshi weaves among his vocals immediately transports me to evening contra dances, neighborhood house jams and the quintessential pub sessions of community folk music. Just by listening I know Akeboshi has been there too. As our time extends further and faster into the modern age, and small folk traditions shrink and disappear from public view, I want to believe that the candles of their existence will be fed with the fresh spirit of newcomers following Akeboshi’s tune.
I feel that starting with Akeboshi’s most widely known song “Wind” is worthwhile because no matter how much it may have been “overhyped” by being part of the Naruto anime, it’s just a timelessly wonderful song. His lyrics aren’t in perfectly grammatical English but they’re evocative enough to put you in the shoes of a child, seeing and feeling the world through their eyes, and experiencing a distinct sense of loss or loneliness that you’re too young to contextualize, so you must simply hold and grow with.
This recommendation post would be remiss without adding “Akikaze no Uta”, where you get a bit of everything that makes Akeboshi great. Swingy, moody melody, melancholy lyrics, and a rhythm that meanders at a comfortable speed along with your thoughts. I’m always impressed by how Akeboshi’s songs can evoke a sense of sadness, but they never push you to despair; I often feel refreshed once the instrumentals die off, like coming back inside after walking through a spring rain.
“The Cliff” is a bit of a more freewheeling, childlike-dream of a song, with the heavy chords of the piano popping through the strings like the new year’s shoots from the mud beside the road. The instrumental section in particular makes you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s house, in front of a small circle of musicians who are playing just one more set before the evening’s over. Also, while Akeboshi doesn’t have any music videos that I know of, I’ve always loved the artwork he uses for his album covers. The artwork for Meet Along the Way in particular makes me think of Asian Kung Fu Generation’s classic cover style, enough to make me casually wonder if Yusuke Nakamura was involved here too.
Artist Site: https://www.akeboshi.com/
Broadcast written by: Nagi