Nebraska Bands Find Eager Audiences in Japan, Continuing a Tradition of Musical Exchange

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by Peter_Valente
Fans gather by the thousands to see their favorite American acts perform in Tokyo. Many smaller groups from Nebraska have also found success in Japan. Image: Avex Live Creative

Bent Life, one of a growing number of underground music acts from Nebraska, recently released a four minute mini-documentary, chronicling the band’s July tour of Japan. The video shows the group exploring Japanese city life, and includes footage from some of the live performances. The weeklong tour began and ended in Shibuya, the center of Tokyo’s nightlife, and made stops in Osaka, Nagoya, and Shizuoka.  Large crowds consistently turned out for the shows as the band joined the ranks of American acts which use the Japanese musical appetite to expand their international presence.

Another Nebraska group to find success in Japan is the Lincoln quartet Tie These Hands. One of the band’s early albums was picked up in 2003 by Tokyo’s Linus Records. Since then, they have had several successful releases in Japan, including a 2007 album which made Linus’ top selling list. The successes of these albums and of Bent Life’s tour are just two examples of a robust musical relationship between Japan and the Cornhusker State.

The University of Omaha’s Jazz Ensemble toured Japan and China twice in the last six years, performing at sister cities and sister universities in Shizuoka and Hiroshima, Japan, and Shanghai, Beijing, and Hangzhou, China, where demand for classical music continues to support cultural exchange with the US. Japan’s major cities of Tokyo and Osaka are also now standard tour stops for America’s biggest name popular music acts.

Many Japanese musicians and traditions, too, have found receptive audiences in Nebraska. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s student organization Global Friends of Japan, founded in 1990, puts on an annual “Japan Night” event showcasing food, art, and music from the country, and has even gotten the Japanese consulate involved. The university also hosts an annual “Japan Festival,” featuring Japanese music, dance, and cinema.  Japanese-American Hideo Takahashi is one of the members of “The Birthday Suits”, an originally Japanese noise rock duo which relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota. During a recent show in Omaha, he interviewed with Hear Nebraska and explained that until moving to the US, he had never heard of many of the Japanese bands that are now his favorites.

Peter Valente is a graduate student at American University and a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington.