Meet Me In Yokohama, Mama, Part Ni

No, that’s not a reference to the Knights Who Say “Ni!” – Ni is Japanese for Deux.

When we left our intrepid travelers Kelly Stockwell and Paul Millman of Vermont, they were winging their way to Japan on a business trip for Chroma Technology, hoping to meet Shin Akimoto, “the Bill Monroe of Japan” at the Yokohama Jug Band Festival over the weekend.

So Kelly and her boss Paul have been doing successful business visiting their customers in Osaka, and Saturday they jumped the bullet train to Yokohama, accompanied by their bluegrass-loving customer Miss Kaori Shimizu. Kaori has visited Vermont and seen Kelly’s band “Hot Mustard” live!

Kelly met up with Shin easy as pie outside the Jug Band Festival thanks to cell phones.

Shin announced “A bluegrass jam will be held at Stoves Bar at 3:00” from the stage when Ragpapa’s Jug Band performed on the main stage. Shin had made the arrangement at Stoves with Hage Tomiyasu just that morning – Hage was pleased to mix in a bluegrass set.


Shin, bless his heart, pulled together a bluegrass band to provide a bit of contrast to the jug band music, and to make Kelly welcome. Shin says about the bluegrass pickers,

“Shinji Kotani from Kobe (my home) is one of the best entertainers in this jug band festival and a good bluegrass singer, too. We often sing duets together. Many great bluegrass musicians joined with pleasure for this opportunity. Ryukichi Hayakawa is good friend of mine and one of the best banjo pickers in Tokyo area. Charlie Nishio and Masuo Sasabe played guitars and Hage Tomiyasu of Stoves played washboard. Koji Kajino joined the jam on banjo near the end.”

Kelly was thrilled to find that ever-considerate Shin had also arranged the loan of a carved bass fiddle with good strings and low action for her to play, thanks to Akihide Teshima of The Empty Jug Band.

So in this “rowdy bar,” which was one of the official sponsoring venues for the Yokohama Jug Band Festival, Kelly became an official Japanese entertainer, for a 30 minute set joining in with Shin and friends.

Kelly even sang Make Me a Pallet On Your Floor. She reports that other songs this throw-together band did included Foggy Mountain Top and Sitting On Top of the World. Shin adds that they played You Won’t Be Satisfied That Way, and Foggy Mountain Special in honor of Earl Scruggs.

Miss Kaori took photos and video that should arrive through the ether by Monday in time for an Afterword to this international bluegrass adventure.

Mission completed in spite of severe jet lag, Kelly, Paul and Kaori jumped on the bullet train Saturday night to head northeast for a day in Kyoto Sunday, then more business in Tokyo on Monday before they wing it over the Arctic Circle home.

Shin says he had a great time, and he hopes Kelly did too, although she says she didn’t see a single band with a jug! Kelly says she may look into making a washtub bass back home after seeing all the jug bands at work – so as usual not all good deeds go unpunished.

Now you’ve got to admit it, this is the ONLY WAY for a bluegrasser to do a business trip to Japan! Is there any other way to travel??

Photos provided by Paul Millman and Kelly Stockwell.

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About the Author

Dick Bowden

Dick Bowden is a VERY traditional bluegrass picker and fan from New England, who makes occasional contributions to Bluegrass Today representing the old timers' viewpoints.