Going where the grass is bluer

Mandolin and lute player Takeshi Iwamoto performs at a bluegrass jam session at Tokyo club Moon Stomp - photo from Japan Times by Virginia SorrellsThese days it isn’t any surprise that bluegrass is a world-wide phenomenon. However, the wonderment associated with stories from elsewhere continues.

Yesterday, I came across an interesting story about bluegrass activities in Japan, in the Japan Times, to be precise.

The story, by Virginia Sorrells and Nicholas Vroman, focuses on the Moon Stomp club in Koenji, the musicians who get together at the club, and some of the wider aspects of bluegrass music in Japan.

In the six years since it opened, Moon Stomp in Koenji ‚Äî which seats about 20 with room for another six on the stage ‚Äî has become a magnet for roots and creative musicians, thanks to the efforts of manager Yasuhiro Shimazaki. A bass player himself, Shimazaki has been a fan of roots music since his teens and is especially fond of The Pogues. Just inside the door of the club, there’s a photo of him backstage with the band’s frontman, Shane McGowan.

Shimazaki reflects, “The owner was a bit skeptical at first of my programming choices for Moon Stomp, but people started coming.”

And come they do, seven nights a week, often filling every one of the 20 seats and lining up two or three deep at the back of the room. Whether it’s the twice-monthly free bluegrass jam session or live performances, the audience often consists primarily of other musicians.

The basement entrance to Moon Stomp is plastered with posters of local roots acts: The Moonstompers, Cabarello Porkers, Kanaboon and Booncompanion. One recent bluegrass jam night, the door swung open and the strains of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” in somewhat idiosyncratic English drowned out the sounds emanating from neighboring clubs.

The full story is available online.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics. A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe. He wrote the annotated series I'm On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.

  • nickvroman

    Hello Richard, Thanks for the link to the article. It was great to find a lively – and hot – bluegrass community in Tokyo. The twice monthly jam sessions at Moon Stomp are great. One thing in the article that got changed erroneously and slipped by our proofreading was characterizing Iwamoto-san (pictured above) as a mandolin and lute player (???!!!) He’s actually a luthier, not a lute player. He makes wonderful hand-crafted mandolins – I’m particularly fond of his “bat-inspired” mandolin – http://www.urban.ne.jp/home/mohei/mandolin.html. Yes, bluegrass is alive the world over. Domo arigato… Nick Vroman – nickvroman@yahoo.com