As musicians we are always amazed by the possibilities of merging different influences and finding new inspirations to develop different and fresh sounds. A good example of this result of making something new by mixing different genres is city pop.

City pop is a genre of music that originated in Japan around the 70s and became wildly popular around the 80s

Late 70s Japan

In order to understand the audience and the general feel of city pop we have to understand the context in which it was born. Maybe, some genres don’t necessarily need this sort of explanation but city pop does.

As its name implies, this type of music wanted to make the listener feel the city life in the best way possible, and it was the perfect time for that. Japan was reaching an economic peak , and technological advancement didn’t stop surprising people with arcades and the sony walkman.

At the same time, sounds from the west were “invading” Japan with new wave, jazz fusion, blues, and rockabilly.

According to Yosuke Kitazawa, trhere was a thirst for celebration and a very active nightlife, he says:

The public spent lavishly on imported wine and liquor, luxury clothing, art, and international travel. Japanese nightlife, from flashy restaurants and hostess bars to glitzy bars and discotheques, was second to none. Japan needed a soundtrack for this new lifestyle, and city pop was born.

It also inspired many visual artists such as Hiroshi Nagai, who found a way to mix pop art with American ads and surrealism. These sort of art eventually also inspired the graphic design for Sonic the Hedgehog’s Green Hill Zone.

80s Japan

The 80s was the golden age of city pop, which started with Yamashita Tatsur?’s single “Ride on Time”. From there on city pop got into the mainstream, as the sound of the city.

It became almost a cultural movement in Japan, and everyone was involved with city pop one way or another, and artists such as Yazawa Eikichi and Inoue Y?sui who were more along the lines of rock and folk, were also getting into the trend.

Women in City Pop

City pop had a big influence on women in Japan, not only from a musical perspective but as a way to express the fact that women also enjoy the same nightlife as men.

In a way this genre brought a new era when it comes to gender equality even though it came from a place of leisure.

To this days some of the biggest city pop hits are sang by women.

Singers like Hitohmi Tohyama and Junko Ohashi sang about the inner workings of their bedrooms as they addressed risque and sometimes taboo subjects like one-night stands and the pursuit of men. While most Japanese love songs hesitate to express emotions directly, this allusion to physical relationships encouraged women to take an active role in their own sexuality.

Plastic Love and City Pop Revival

The youtube algorithm sometimes takes us to very weird recommendations, videos that we don’t really know why they are for us, one of these videos was Mariya Takeuchi’s Plastic Love.

This started a new fascination for the genre in the 2010s which made it even more international.

This was also due to the vaporwave and future funk boom, which are heavily influenced by the sounds of the 80s. Artists going into these new genres went back to music that felt appropriate to have as an inspiration or sample. That’s how everyone just kept stumbling with city pop.

According to vice.com

Sample-heavy Internet genres like vaporwave and future funk soon rose to prominence, offering a hyper-commercialized take on 80s pop as fantastical and escapist as they were critical of the empty promises of capitalism. For these online communities, old city pop records would serve as a massive visual and sonic touchstone.

It’s still fresh, full of energy and contradictory as it feels both nostalgic and modern, but that is just what makes it so special.

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Despite all the connections and relationships between different cultures, there is still a big difference between the east and the west mostly between Western culture and Asian culture, including Japan. While music is a place to share a universal language, there are many interesting differences in the way music developed since many centuries ago.

According to britannica.com there are: “three general concepts: (1) the sound ideal, (2) the structural ideal, and (3) the artistic ideal; but those three things are not clearly separate in any musical event”.

Ancient and Nara Period

The very first signs of music in Japan showed many similarities with China and Korea, so in a way, they influenced eachother very much, and at the time, there were few lines that separated them in terms of music. It wasn’t until the time when Japan was known as Yamato Japan due to the domination of the Yamato clan that Japan started to use instruments such as barrel drums which were played with sticks, while another figure is seated with a four or five-stringed board zither across his lap. Crotal bells (pellet or jingle bells)

The way japanese music evolved was that it managed to produce avery complete sound with few instruments.

8th Century Japan

It was at this time the history of Japan’s music starts to get clearer and a sens of the musical structure, instruments and composition can be understood.

In terms of the structure in Japanese compositions there was a clear difference from Western music, and that is the  jo-ha-ky?, this is a three part sturcture which Japanese music followed. First, an introducction, then scatterings and finally, rushing towards. The interesting thing about this, is that all three parts were different from each other, as opposed to the western structure of recapitulation.

Edo, Meiji And World Wars

Everyone has some sense of what the Edo period was in Japan, even if you don’t know it. The Edo period was the era of the Samurai and shortly after Ninjas, which have been used in many forms of art, stories and games.

There is also a type of music that comes to mind which often includes the “shamisen” and the “shakuhachi”, the first being strings and the second a type of flute. There was also a lot of use of drums, called “taiko”.

Before the second world war, Japan was very interested in their traditions and identity.

“In the writings and musical works of the composers, Japanese-style composition is seen as an act of seeking and creating a Japanese identity in an international context”


After that, the modernization of Japan came with European and American influences, but Japan managed to preserve its tradition and essence; the result being, new and fresh ideas for their music.

Modern Japan


It’s actually interesting to go on youtube for example and search for japanese artists, because while many of them still perform very traditional folk music, the way they’ve incorporated other genres is very interesting, genres such as Jazz, Rock, Hip Hop and Pop. In a way Japanese music manages to be extraordinary most of the times in terms of the performance and composition.

One of these great artists was Ryo Fukui, a self-taught Jazz pianist. While he is not one of the most famous he certainly brought a lot of new inspirations to jazz, however it did not reached its full potential.

Thelonious Monk taught us the beauty of improvisation. Louis Armstrong helped us find fun in swing. Duke Ellington showed us the wonder and joy to be had with a big orchestra. Ryo Fukui had all the material to make a similar impression on the world of jazz with the modal masterpiece that is 1976’s Scenery, but among some of music’s biggest injustices, the lack of a global stage for musicians of Fukui’s ilk is one of the most unfortunate. When listening to Scenery, it’s hard not to think about the countless other potential works of art that the Western musical zeitgeist has failed to account for.

Jazz Izzin

Ryo Fukui 1976

It’s up to you to explore a bit more in the area that you prefer, but there is no doubt that Japan is one of the most interesting in terms of music.

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A Master Class Series by Robin Steinweg

Music for Life

Music for Life

My second Music for Life Master Class—a success.

I started this series with plans to invite senior musicians. I’ll expand it to include musicians of all ages. Music for Life could end up defining my studio.

A master class series like this can enhance and promote your studio as well as inspire and bless your students. (Be sure to schedule it on your MTH calendar, and have reminders sent automatically!)

As students arrived, I directed them to the dining room for cheese, crackers, lemonade and sweet tea. Things go better with an after-school snack, don’t you think?  Snacks 5-20-15

Char Monette came as our featured local musician and piano teacher. I invited students and parents/grandparents to attend. We had good attendance in spite of busy May schedules.

Char shared musical moments and wisdom for about twenty minutes.

At age 8 her family moved to Japan when her dad was called up to fight in the Korean War. They couldn’t have a piano because he was only a lieutenant. But her classmate’s dad had a higher rank, and owned a piano. She walked home from school with Edward every day and practiced half an hour. Her teacher spoke no English, and she no Japanese. Music was their common language. She practiced very hard to earn a pat on the shoulder, and avoid mistakes which elicited a “No-no-no-no!” or worse, a rap on the knuckles with a pencil.

She began to teach in 1977 when another musician in town told her she must. This is good for us to remember! We can encourage musical gifts in others.

Ava, Amy Jorgenson, Sam, Char Monette, Bethie              Char Monette speaks to my students

Char said:

“Music is a gift from God. To think that your fingers can move on the keys, and music comes out… that is a gift from God.”

“I don’t often sit and listen to music. I would rather make music.”

I asked, “Char, what has music meant to you throughout your life?”

She responded, “You know, I don’t really think about it. I breathe, but I don’t think about that either. Breathing is pretty important. Music is just like that.”

She played “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” from her John Thompson Third Grade Level book.

Char's book, 1938 copyright

My students played for her. Some played their own compositions or their own arrangements of pieces. Some played my arrangements. They all gave a gift of music back to Char to thank her for coming to show them Music for Life!

You might like to read about my first guest in this series: professional drummer, vocalist and pianist Martha Nelson: Music Is for Life    …and here are a few of my students…

Sarah Wruck plays her own Key to My Heart     Sam plays Purple People Eater

Leanna plays Phantom of the Opera Dane plays In the Hall of the Mtn King

Chris plays Theme from Titanic   Ava plays Big Brass Band

Malea Niesen


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