Living in Japan

British Rock in the Japanese Inaka: Nagasaki’s Music Scene

Nagasaki might not be the first place you think of when you think of a thriving music scene, but let me tell you how wrong you are. This tiny Japanese city has a secret side that most foreigners won’t ever see.

Nagasaki is a charming little city. You won’t find yourself immersed in chaos like in Osaka or Tokyo. Rather, it’s a city to find yourself falling in love with nature all over again.

I’m from just outside of London, a place I believe to be one of the greatest hubs of music in the world, where I would go to a concert a week or sometimes more. I’m obsessed with live music. The feeling of community when you’re arm in arm belting a tune back to the band is what I live for.

In my 2nd or 3rd week in Nagasaki I went to Sky Jamboree, a music festival on Mount Inasa, that I thought would have all the fun and mischief that comes with British music festivals. Boy, was I wrong. Orderly fun was on the agenda. That’s not to say it wasn’t a great time, because it was a good crack, but it definitely didn’t have any naked drunk people sliding around in the mud.

After that, I was keen to scope out the music scene more, only to find that Nagasaki had barely anything going on. I was told repeatedly that I’d have to go to Fukuoka to find what I so desperately wanted to immerse in. It was honestly one of the hardest things about moving here. I lived for music. It defined me. And I didn’t have access to it. I was debating leaving because of it if I’m being honest.

But then a fateful night came my way.

The Night That Changed Everything

Late into a beverage fuelled night in Nagasaki’s primary gaikokujin drinking hole, I got talking to this Japanese fella Jack (as he went by). He didn’t speak much English but ended up telling me he loved Catfish and the Bottlemen (a popular British band, unknown to most Japanese). To say I was shocked would be an understatement.

At that point, I hadn’t found my musical brothers in Nagasaki in either the foreigners or Japanese people I’d met. I hadn’t nerded out about the intricacies of indie bands and whatnot for so long. I knew this was going to be a game-changer. We stuck on one of their tunes and sang our hearts out arm in arm. Jack still has the video of that encounter that he gets out on the regular.

I felt so refreshed that night. I’d managed to find someone to properly get into a musical chat with. It was a taste of home that I hadn’t experienced for a while.

The Next Day

The next day I went to a band called Culenasm’s gig in a local live house. It was my first time there and I took a co-worker to go and try and check it out. I arrived and someone came up to me. “Hey Ben.” Lone and behold, it was Jack from the night before. It turned out he was the sound engineer that night. What are the odds of that? We had every chance of being a fleeting encounter in a dive bar, but through pure chance, we bumped into each other at a random Sunday night gig. It was meant to be. We exchanged Line details and arranged to drink the following week.

And that was it. We went for that drink the following week and the rest is history. I didn’t just gain a friend; I gained a brother.

Getting Into the Scene

I found out later that Jack was in a band, and that he had a gig…in a flower shop. That’s right, a flower shop. I went along by myself not knowing what to expect from a floral occasion, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve probably ever made. Not only was the gig very good, but I was introduced to a load of other band folks and taken to a nearby bar where they all drink.

It turned out that that flower shop, Verde, also runs a record label to which a few local bands are signed. I’d found it. I’d found the coveted music scene that I’d been looking for. It’s not a huge scene but it’s absolutely thriving.

There are almost monthly live events here in Nagasaki that I would have never known about if I hadn’t gone to Jack’s gig. The scene here truly is thriving. There are 3 or 4 live houses which are the regular haunts of the bands and I’d say there’s about one big live event every month. Okay, I’ll admit the musical style isn’t always up my alley, but in truth, I’m spoiled for choice.

The only thing that frustrates me about live music here is the price. In England, I’d pay around £10 for a University band without a reputation. But here I’m paying £25/30. It’s nice that the bands are being supported and that, but it can sometimes ruin the run a bit when you know how much you’ve sunk into a ticket before you even know one of the band’s tunes.

A Taste of Home

One thing that always surprises me is that so many of the bands here are British-inspired. I’ve been to so many gigs that leave me thinking I’m in a peculiar British venue that’s having a Japanese night. Not many of the band guys speak English but they sure know their British rock music. If you’re ever intrigued you should check out The Goldilocks or Angies.

If you’re more into your Japanese style rock then 月には行かない (Never go to the moon) are a great Nagasaki band worth checking out.

My Own Band

I’d wanted to join in the fun since I found out there were regular gigging bands here in Nagasaki. There’s a cheap practice studio nearby that’s well equipped and venues I felt like we could get a slot at, especially if we played the gaijin card. So I put the call out to my foreign friends, and a year, and 4 gigs, later I’m in a regular gigging band called Moody.

It’s a bizarre thing to be super immersed in the music scene here. I literally come from England, yet I’m having more fun in this pseudo-British scene than I ever had in London. Life takes you down weird twists and turns sometimes.

Repaying the Favour

All the gigs we’d had up to that point had been supporting the other bands in the area. I eventually posed it to my bandmates that we organize a gig and invite other bands to come play with us. After a couple of months Japanese business meetings, promotion, band practices, and general stress, we laid on a great night at a local billiards bar. I felt like I’d finally managed to give back somewhat to the community that had so well served me.

Japan has a bit of everything for everyone. I’ve had the greatest time finding my people in this tiny Japanese city. I compel you to come to Japan and have your own experience here. You’ll have to work for it but when it pays off I guarantee it’ll be worth it.

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