Meet Me in Yokohama, Mama…

… or, USA’s bass pickin’ Kelly meets Japan’s mandolin pickin’ Shin

Some of us folks in the business world do a lot of traveling. For bluegrassers, business travel often spins off into great musical experiences like concerts, jams, vintage instrument stores, festival sites, bluegrass clubs, historical spots and new friends they never would have encountered except for business trips. Who among us hasn’t taken the side trip to Rosine when doing bidness in Beaver Dam?

Savvy bluegrassers learn to plan a musical itinerary around their business trips.

Ms. Kelly Stockwell of Putney, VT is an engineer working for Chroma Technology in Springfield VT – they deposit highly technical vacuum-metallized coatings on all kinds of 21st century optical devices. Their website says Chroma Products include “filters, mirrors, sets and holders, and light sources” and the company is “well known for creating filter sets for the multitude of fluorochromes that are typically used in epi-fluorescence microscopy.”

Well… yeah, of course! Kelly works in technical sales and frequently attends optics industry conventions and sales conferences all over the world. Her role? For fans of NBC’s comedy series, The Office, Kelly readily admits to being “the money beets” in the Chroma Products booth.

Kelly is also a MIGHTY FINE stand-up bass player with the Vermont bluegrass band Hot Mustard, with her banjo picking husband Bruce Stockwell, and April and Bill Jubett who play rhythm guitar and second banjo and lead the singing.

That’s right, “two banjos, two couples, no waiting.”

Kelly is also a long-time staff musician at Banjo and Mandolin Camp North in Massachusetts.

Kelly and Chroma Technology President Paul Millman are visiting customers in Japan this week and staying over the weekend. Kelly’s noggin is spinning with tales of the wonderful bluegrass played in Japan.

Being tight with a bunch of Nashville performers and some well-traveled northeastern pickers, Kelly has heard a lot about the famous “Bill Monroe of Japan – Shin Akimoto”. Kelly has already had the experience of jamming during an international business trip, at Club Oklahoma in Munich Germany.

And she’s already been to Japan for business in the last couple of years, so she’s comfortable about Japan.

A plan begins to hatch… or whatever it is an egg does before it hatches…

Shin Akimoto, of Nishinomiya (city), Hyogo (prefecture), on Honshu Island, is one of the two best known Japanese bluegrass mandolinists, along with Akira Otsuka. In fact, Shin filled in for Akira with Bluegrass 45 when they appeared at the Ryman Auditorium for the Courtney Johnson Memorial.

Shin and Akira both graduated from Kwansei Gakuin University. Shin has played mandolin for 20 years with Akira’s brother Joshes’ band Leaves of Grass. Two things distinguish Shin – he is a stone cold Bill Monroe disciple, and he’s left-handed, playing a custom made left handed mirror image F5 style mandolin (even the maker’s name in the peghead is inlaid in mirror image – you can only read it in a mirror – in the mirror Shin and the mandolin look right-handed).

Shin has been coming to US festivals and IBMA for decades, first as a picker on pilgrimage, more recently representing B.O.M. Service (owned by the Watanabe brothers). B.O.M. Service publishes Moonshiner – the leading Japanese bluegrass magazine, and is also the major Japanese purveyor of all things bluegrass. Shin speaks excellent English and knows jam etiquette, so he is welcomed aboard anywhere he travels around Nashville.

He is a particularly close friend and admirer of Mike Compton, the ultimate Bill Monroe devotee.

Since 2000, Shin has also hosted the monthly Osaka Bluegrass Night.

Ragpapas Jug Band posterSo Kelly has overcome her innate shyness and reached out through mutual friends to contact this borderline mystical Shin Akimoto. “Is there any bluegrass in Japan the weekend of April 7 so that I could meet you?” she emailed. Well, it turns out, yes, sort of. There’s a huge jug band festival in the seaport city of Yokohama near Tokyo that weekend and Shin’s Ragpapa’s Jug Band is performing, He replied “come on and find me!”

Shoot, on Friday Kelly and Paul are going to be in Osaka only 515 kilometers away by bullet train, and Paul is an old folkie, totally up for it, so WHY NOT?

As we post this article, Kelly and Paul are hard at work selling optics and Shin is rehearsing for the festival. WILL THIS INTERNATIONAL CAPER WORK OUT? Well, isn’t this how any of us would plan a trip to Japan? Stay tuned – more details to come!

In the meantime, the American embassy is on high alert for “an international incident” unlike anything since President George H. W. Bush went to that banquet.

Photos courtesy Kelly Stockwell and Shin Akimoto.

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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.