Afterglow thoughts on Bluegrassing in Japan

Kelly Stockwell has been back home in Vermont for a week or so, after a Chroma Technology business trip to Japan with her company president Paul Millman. She offers these radom observations on leaping into the breach with a bunch of Japanese bluegrassers she’d never met. Kelly joined in with a group of Shin Akimoto’s bluegrass pals at the Yokohama Jug Band festival earlier this month during the weekend portion of her business trip.

First:  We were SEVERELY tired due to jet lag and the tight schedule of business travel, and it was kind of a blur and some of it is even hard to remember!

Bluegrass in Japan is like bluegrass anywhere.  Folks are happy to join in, be a part of the show, or sit and cheer on the band. No wonder karaoke is popular, the whole country is a cheering squad. With no rehearsal or a chance to “vet me” as legit or not they were willing to give it a shot based on a friend’s recommendation.

Some songs are named/sung in English, some in Japanese, and there’s no warning or explanation, you have to listen, hang on and jump in.

Stoves is a bar anybody in the US would be happy to have in your home town. They like black & tans and Zima. Paul in particular thought it was a great bar that would be right at home in Vermont.

Fellow musicians were willing to loan me instruments, tell me the chord number – or not (no 6 in their version of Sitting on Top of the World!). The banjo player tuned down in F and using a capo for G reminded me of the loose bassy sound of my New York banjo friend Bob Mavian.  He even concentrated like Bob Mavian.  There was a nice Gibson RB-3 banjo there at Stoves too.

Sarcasm doesn’t appear to be common in Japan. Paul made a “joking” sarcastic comment to a Japanese customer group that I had misquoted our product on the low side and I would be disciplined for it. They were HORRIFIED and apologetic, and Paul had to explain he meant it as a joke.

You notice when you try to talk to people in Japan you start leaving out prepositions and conjunctions and speak the way you type into Google, “Eat, Sushi, Bar?”

I asked our customer Miss Kaori Shimizu how to say “Nailed it!” in Japanese, trying to explain how I use it with dual musical meanings of ACTUALLY nailing a bass break, or just completely blowing the break. After mulling this over, she suggested “Yoku Yatta!” which means “you did it!”

While Osaka and Tokyo are huge spread out business cities, Yokohama is more of a young “happening” kind of place.

Festival souvenir t-shirts come packaged in clear plastic sleeves!

You see nearly zero Japanese wearing sunglasses. When asked about it, they explain that their eyes are “strong” and sunglasses aren’t needed.

Business and First Class on ANA  (All Nippon Air) is the ONLY WAY TO FLY!

Speaking of exhaustion, I had no idea how terrific it would be to get home and sleep 11 straight hours in my own bed!

But I did get home in time to participate as a staff musician at Mandolin Camp North in Charlton MA, where I met mandolinist Mike Compton, “the USA’s Shin Akimoto!  Ha ha!.”

So to all the Bluegrass Today readers who followed my adventures in Japan, try it yourselves if you ever get the chance! And “Yoku Yatta” to all!