Japan

Japan was an English new wave band that released five albums between 1978 and 1981. They formed in 1974 when brothers David Sylvian and Steve Jansen teamed with their school friend Mick Karn, whose fretless basslines dominate the band’s later releases.

Musically, Japan’s output falls into three distinct phases: the subterranean buzz of their guitar-based 1978 albums Adolescent Sex and Obscure Alternatives; the metropolitan chic of their synth-driven 1979–80 albums Quiet Life and Gentleman Take Polaroids; and the otherworldly exotica of their 1981 release Tin Drum.

Members: David Sylvian (vocals, guitar), Steve Jansen (drums), Richard Barbieri (keyboards), Mick Karn (bass, woodwind), Rob Dean (guitar, 1974-80)


Background

Japan sprung from a boyhood friendship between three aspiring south London musicians: singer/guitarist David Batt (b. 1958), his drumming brother Steve Batt (b. 1959), and Cyprus-born bassist Andonis Michaelide. The three were schoolmates at Catford Boys, Brownhill Road, when they started performing David’s songs in the early 1970s.

The brothers received their respective instruments from their father as gifts one Christmas. Michaelide was initially a bassoonist and performed in that capacity with the London School Symphony Orchestra on an October 1972 Radio 1 broadcast. After his bassoon was stolen, he switched to bass guitar.

In June 1974, the trio made their first public performance at the wedding reception for Michaelide’s brother. In search of a name, David dubbed the band Japan. It was only intended as a stopgap moniker but it ultimately stuck. The following year, they were joined by keyboardist Richard Barbieri and guitarist Rob Dean.

In 1976, Japan signed a management deal with record producer Simon Napier-Bell (Yardbirds, John’s Children, Ultravox, Candi Staton). Their early live shows included support slots for the Fabulous Poodles, Muscles, Rokoto, and ex-Traffic musician Jim Capaldi.

In the summer of 1977, Japan entered a talent contest sponsored by the German label Hansa-Ariola, which signed them and fellow up-and-comers Easy Cure (who rejected the contact terms and broke to Polydor-sublabel Fiction Records as The Cure). David and Steve Batt assumed the respective surnames Sylvian and Jansen. Michaelide became Mick Karn. In January–February 1978, with their first album in the can, Japan opened several shows for a soon-to-pause Damned, including a Feb. 11 gig at Oxford’s College of Further Education.


1978: Adolescent Sex

Japan released their debut album, Adolescent Sex, on April 8, 1978, on Hansa. Side one contains four spiky rockers with swelling choruses and angular riffs, including “Transmission,” “The Unconventional,” and “Lovers On Main Street.” Their funk side emerges on “Performance” and the opening side two jam “Suburban Love.” They execute the Funny Girl cover “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in a jolly, harmonized fashion. The buzzing title-track, with its circular singalong riff and swirling bridge, is one of the few songs to merge the era’s two dominant trends, disco and punk. The album climaxes with the hard-hitting “Communist China” and the epic “Television,” which careens past nine minutes with a rising, irrepressible chorus.

Sessions took place in late 1977 at Audio International Studios with producer Ray Singer, a onetime sixties pop singer who recently produced the second Movies album and singles by Lene Lovich and Peter Sarstedt. He’s credited with additional backing vocals. The engineer, Pete Silver, worked on the debut albums by Be-Bop Deluxe (Axe Victim) and Heatwave (Too Hot to Handle).

Artist Dick Whitbread did the Adolescent Sex cover, which shows the member’s heads form a comment around the Japanese red sun (partially could-obscured) with their logo in stark red Japanese brush font against a pitch-black background. The back cover shows the tressed, painted members grouped on a white mattress, lined with a black border with red and green repetitions of the sun and brush logo theme. The photographer was Roger Daltrey‘s cousin, Graham Hughes, who took cover photographs for The Who (Quadrophenia), Roxy Music (Siren), Russ Ballard (Winning), Robert Palmer, Golden Earring, and Frankie Miller. Whitbread also designed album covers for Keith Tippett‘s Ark and fellow UK funk-rockers Bandit.

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” appeared as the lead-off single, backed with the non-album “Stateline.” In Germany, “The Unconventional” appeared as the second single, backed with “Adolescent Sex.” In select territories, “Adolescent Sex” appeared as an a-side with “Sometimes I Feel So Low,” a track from Japan’s second album. “Adolescent Sex” went Top 30 in Belgium and the Netherlands, where Japan mimed both songs on the music program TopPop.

In namesake Japan, Adolescent Sex reached No. 20 on the Oricon Albums Chart. Japanese copies mistranslate several tracks. In Australia and New Zealand, the album appeared on RCA Victor as Japan with a picture of the band huddled on foot under the brush logo (in white).

Japan promoted Adolsescent Sex with an April–June 1978 tour of the UK and Europe with Blue Oyster Cult, followed by a mid-summer London residency at Camden Music Machine. In August, Japan played the Belgian Bilzen Festival, a four-day event with sets by The Boomtown Rats, Fairport Convention, The Jam, James Brown, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Lou Reed, and Dutch rockers Partner. Japan appeared on the third day (8/12) along with Blondie, The Kinks, and Lindisfarne.

“Adolescent Sex” appears on the 1979 Dutch K-Tel comp Action Replay with cuts by The Babys (“Everytime I Think of You”), Blondie (“Hanging on the Telephone”), The Buggles (“Video Killed the Radio Star”), Chic, Duncan Browne (“The Wild Places”), Hot Chocolate, Pointer Sisters, Robert Palmer (“Bad Case of Lovin’ You (Doctor, Doctor)”), and the Tubeway Army (“Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”). The Japan song also appears on the German K-Tel comp Disco Mania with cuts by Foreigner, Frankie Miller, Sally Oldfield (“Mirrors”), and Sylvester.


Obscure Alternatives

Japan released their second album, Obscure Alternatives, on October 27, 1978, on Hansa.

Sessions took place in the summer of 1978 with Singer, who produced this album in succession with UK Hansa popsters Child and retro-folksters the Bowles Bros Band. The engineer on Obscure Alternatives, Chris Tsangarides, worked the soundboards on 1975–78 albums by Barbara Thompson, Brand X (Moroccan Roll), Colosseum II (Electric Savage), Dave Greenslade, Gary Boyle (The Dancer), Gary Moore, Judas Priest (Sad Wings of Destiny), Quartz, and Wally.

Obscure Alternatives sports front and back cover images by rock photographer Fin Costello, who did multiple photoshoots of Japan. Both images show Sylvian seated lotus style at the four with the others standing side-to-side under stage lights. European and Japanese pressings have a blue brush logo. North American and Oceanic pressings have the red logo with greater emphasis on the redness of Mick Karn’s hair. Costello also has visual credits on late-seventies albums by the Boomtown Rats (A Tonic for the Troops), Max Webster (A Million Vacations), Nazareth, The Only Ones, Rainbow, Rush (A Farewell to Kings, Hemispheres), Trickster (Back to Zero), and Uriah Heep.

Obscure Alternatives nearly matched the prior album’s placement on the Japanese Oricon chart (No. 21). “Sometimes I Feel So Low” appeared as a single (b/w “Love Is Infectious”). The a-side appeared on the back of a re-recorded “Adolescent Sex” in the Netherlands, where “Deviation” appeared as a second single (b/w “Suburban Berlin”).

Japan promoted Obscure Alternatives with their only tour of the United States, where they performed in Los Angeles (11/6/78: Starwood), San Francisco (11/7: Old Waldorf) Chicago (11/9), Boston (11/12: Paradise Rock Club), and did a two-nighter in New York City (Nov. 10–11: Hurrahs). They followed with a twelve-date UK tour that included a Nov. 29 makeup show at the Sheffield Polytechnic.


1979: “Life In Tokyo”

On April 13, 1979, Japan released “Life In Tokyo,” a non-album single produced and co-written by Giorgio Moroder. The single is a double-a side with a long version (7:05) and short (3:30). In the US, the short version appeared as an a-side on Ariola America (b/w “Love Is Infectious”).

Moroder produced the song in succession with 1979 titles by Suzi Lane, The Sylvers, The Three Degrees, and the elaborate double-album Bad Girls, the second four-sided studio release by Donna Summer. Along with his recent production of No. 1 in Heaven by Sparks, this was one of his earliest projects with a rock band. (Moroder, who would soon work with Blondie, had long avoided rock acts because of their creative autonomy.) Unlike most Moroder productions, which occurred at the Music Factory in Munich, the “Life In Tokyo” session took place at Rusk Sound Studios in Los Angeles.

“Life In Tokyo” appears on the 1979 German Hansa comp 24 All Time Super Disco Hits with cuts by Amii Stewart, Eruption, Space, and Voyage.

In mid-1979, Japan prepared material for their third album with Sylvian’s “European Son” (not the Velvet Underground song) as the intended title-track. They wanted to work with producer John Punter, a soundman on the fourth album by Roxy Music (Country Life) and the first two solo albums by Bryan Ferry, as well as titles by the Doctors of Madness (Late Night Movies, All Night Brainstorms), Judie Tzuke (Welcome to the Cruise), Sad Cafe, and the soundtrack to Rock Follies of ’77. However, Punter was busy producing the second album by Gloria Mundi.

Japan commenced work on a new album at London’s DJM Studios with Napier-Bell. After they completed an actual Velvets cover (“All Tomorrow’s Parties”), Punter became available for their project.


Quiet Life

Japan released their third album, Quiet Life, on November 17, 1979, on Hansa.

The Porter sessions took place in September 1979 at London’s AIR Studios with engineer Colin Fairley, a onetime drummer (Beggars Opera, String Driven Thing) and recent soundman for Climax Blues Band, the Sensational Band, and Split Enz (Dizrythmia).

Karn plays saxophone and flute on Quiet Life, which features orchestral arrangements by Ann Odell on “The Other Side of Life.” Odell, a recent presence on the 1977–78 Ferry solo albums In Your Mind and The Bride Stripped Bare, did prior orchestration for Badfinger, Harvey Andrews, Murray Head (Say It Ain’t So), Sonny Worthing, and her own band Chopyn, a mid-seventies one-off with guitarist Ray Russell. The conductor, Martyn Ford, also led string ensembles on seventies albums by Baker Gurvitz Army (self-titled), Barclay James Harvest, Caravan (For Girls Who Grow Plump In the Night), Elf, Graeme Edge Band, Nasty Pop (Mistaken ID), Paul Brett, Racing Cars, Roger Glover, Shawn Phillips, and Three Man Army.

Quiet Life is the only Japan studio album housed in a gatefold sleeve. It features white-backdrop medium shots of Sylvian (front), Karn (back), and Barbieri, Dean, and Jansen (l–r, inner-gates). The cover reveals a new group image (shorter hair, ties) that marks Japan’s shift from glam to the burgeoning New Romantic scene. This would be the final appearance of their red brush logo.

Quiet Life first appeared in Canada, where it charted on the Top 100. Japan performed two shows on November 24, 1979, at Toronto’s the Ryerson Theatre with featured saxophonist Jane Shorter, an early member of Thompson Twins. Quiet Life subsequently appeared in Europe and Japan, where it reached the Oricon Top 25. The album went unreleased in the US.

“Quiet Life” thrice appeared as a single, first in Japan (b/w “Halloween”). The video shows the suave group miming on a dark soundstage with upshots and zoom-ins on their instrumentation. In 1980, Hansa issued the single in Europe, backed with a new b-side (see below).

In 1981, Hansa capitalized on Japan’s commercial breakthrough on Virgin with a third release of “Quiet Life,” this time with the non-album Sylvian–Barbieri instrumental “A Foreign Place,” a barren piece with a light, simple piano motif (in G) adorned with faint synths and tricking plucked guitar.


1980: “I Second That Emotion”

On March 22, 1980, Japan released a non-album cover of the Miracles classic “I Second That Emotion,” their first of two Motown covers. The single appeared on red vinyl in the UK, backed with an edit of “Quiet Life” (which wouldn’t appear as a UK a-side until 1981). German and Dutch pressings flip the two sides while Japanese copies dispense with “Quiet Life” (already an a-side in that territory) for “European Son,” the first release of that song in any nation.

Smokey Robinson wrote “I Second That Emotion” with Motown staffer Al Cleveland and scored a 1968 Billboard No. 4 hit with the Miracles original version. In 1969, a duet cover version by The Supremes and The Temptations reached No. 4 on the UK R&B Chart.

This was Hansa’s final release of new material by Japan, which signed to Virgin in mid-1980. Meanwhile, Japan embarked on their Quiet Life tour (with Shorter), which started with a March 4–5 engagement at London’s The Venue, followed by a six-city swing through namesake Japan, starting with a March 19–20 engagement at Tokyo’s Budokan. These concerts generated the Hansa International 12″ Live In Japan, issued in Germany and Benelux with four live numbers: “Deviation,” “Obscure Alternatives,” “In Vogue,” and “Sometimes I Feel So Low.”


Gentleman Take Polaroids

Japan released their fourth album, Gentleman Take Polaroids, on November 7, 1980, on Virgin.

Sessions took place between July 2 and October 2, 1980, at three London studios (AIR, Townhouse, the Barge) with Porter, who produced and co-engineered the album in succession with titles by Melba Moore, John Wetton, and The Tourists.

In addition to Fairley, Gentleman Take Polaroids lists three co-engineers. AIR sessions were co-engineered by Nigel Walker, a soundman on 1979–80 albums by America, Chris de Burgh, UK (Danger Money), and UFO. Townhouse sessions were co-engineered by Steve Prestage, who worked on recent titles by Ann Steel, Bliss Band, Chas Jankel, Peter Gabriel (“melting face”), and fellow Virgin acts The Members, The Ruts, Skids, and XTC (Drums and Wires). German soundwoman Renate Blauel is credited as the assistant engineer, having also worked on recent albums by Mike Oldfield (Platinum), Stephen Bishop, and Sakamoto’s concurrent B-2 Unit.

Gentleman Take Polaroids features multiple synthesizers played by Sylvian (ARP Omni, Oberheim OB-X, Minimoog), Barbieri (Micromoog, Polymoog, Oberheim OB-X, Roland Jupiter 4), and Jansen (Sequential Circuits). The latter two are credited with the Prophet 5; all three with Roland System 700. Dean, who was less involved in these sessions, plays ebow on select passages. Karn debuts his signature fretless bass on this album and also plays sax, oboe, and recorder.

Guest players include jazz contrabassist Barry Guy, oboist Andrew Cauthery, and a vocalist named Cyo (“Methods of Dance”). Violinist Simon House (High Tide, Hawkwind, Third Ear Band) plays on “My New Career.”

Two tracks rehearsed during the Gentlemen sessions, “Some Kind of Fool” and “Angel in Furs,” were not brought to fruition. (The former was later finished by Sylvian and released on his 2000 comp Everything and Nothing.)

Gentleman Take Polaroids is housed in a black-framed single sleeve with cover photography by Stuart McLeod (front) and Nicola Tyson (back). The front shows Sylvian, made-up Blitz style with his now-trademark platinum wave hairdo; shielded from downpour with a neon lightning bolt in the background. The back has a small group photo of the suited quintet with a now short-haired Karn sporting sky blue sharkskin. Tyson documented London’s Blitz scene and captured many candid images of Julia Fodor (Princess Julia), Peter Robinson (Marilyn), and George O’Dowd (Boy George) in their pre-fame club glory.

Virgin lifted “Gentleman Take Polaroids” as a single, backed by the non-album Barbieri instrumental “The Experience of Swimming” (UK, Australia). In Germany, the song was backed with the non-album Dean instrumental “The Width of a Room.” Japanese copies feature the album track “Burning Bridges” as the b-side. Virgin UK also issued a double-single (VS 379) with all four tracks.

“Gentleman” featured in the playlists of Rusty Egan, the Blitz DJ and Visage drummer who spearheaded the London New Romantic scene with bandmate Steve Strange. In Birmingham, denizens of the NuRo haunt Rum Runner heard the song spun regularly by DJ and keyboardist Nick Rhodes, a Sylvian lookalike whose band, Duran Duran, signed with EMI in late 1980 after rocketing to fame as the opening act for Breaking Glass star Hazel O’Connor.

Gentleman Take Polaroids reached the Canadian Top 40 and went Gold in the UK. Japan launched the album with a November 27, 1980, show at London’s Lyceum. On December 20, they performed on the BBC music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. They did one exclusive showcase on February 7, 1981, at London’s Hammersmith Odeon, followed by a seven-date Japanese tour that culminated with a Feb. 27 show at Tokyo’s Budokan.


1981: “The Art of Parties”

On May 1, 1981, Japan released “The Art of Parties.” The song features a three-piece brass section: saxist Mel Collins (Camel, King Crimson), trumpeter Martin Drover (Gonzalez, Keef Hartley), and trombonist Cliff Hardy (Trinity, Hungry Wolf). Sylvian’s backing singers on “Art of Parties” include Olympic Runners participant Pearly Gates and the ubiquitous Ruby James, a prior sessionist for Kin Ping Meh, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, and Stomu Yamashta’s Go.

Japan recorded “The Art of Parties” in March at Basing St (Island) Studios with Punter, who subsequently moved to Canada and produced the Ontarian synthpop band Spoons. The exclusive b-side, “Life Without Buildings,” is a Sylvian instrumental that later appeared on a blue flexi-disc in the March 1982 issue of Trouser Press.

Hansa surrounded this release with two singles in the UK market: a re-released “Life In Tokyo” (b/w the long-unavailable “European Son”) and the first domestic a-side issue of “Quiet Life” (b/w the instrumental rarity “A Foreign Place”).

Japan embarked on the Art of Parties tour, a nine-date UK jaunt with shows in Manchester (5/9/81: Apollo), Liverpool (5/13: Royal Court Theatre), Birmingham (5/14: Odeon), and Edinburgh, Scotland (5/12: Odeon). Their May 17 show at the Hammersmith Odeon was their last appearance with Rob Dean, who left the group that month. His first post-Japan credit is on the 1981 Gary Numan album Dance, where he plays on the track “Boys Like Me” alongside Karn, who also plays fretless on “Slowcar to China,” “A Subway Called ‘You’,” “She’s Got Claws,” “My Brother’s Time” — the last three also feature Mick on sax.

Japan were slated to headline the second day of Daze of Future Past, a new wave festival on September 26–27, 1981, at Queens Hall in Leeds. Killing Joke also reneged on the event, which featured sets by Altered Images, Bauhaus, B-Movie, Echo and the Bunnymen, Gang of Four, Inner City Unit, The Revillos, Wall of Voodoo, and Thompson Twins (plugging A Product Of…).


Tin Drum

Japan released their fifth album, Tin Drum, on November 13, 1981, on Virgin. It opens with a re-recorded version of “The Art of Parties.”

Sessions took place between June and September 1981 at three London studios (AIR, Odyssey, Regents Park) and the Manor, an Oxfordshire mansion studio owned by Virgin head Richard Branson. Nye produced and engineered Tin Drum in succession with albums by YMO drummer Yukihiro Takahashi  and French new wavers Marquis de Sade. He also worked with Icehouse on “Love In Motion” (b/w “Goodnight, Mr. Matthews”), a stopgap single later included on international versions of their 1982 album Primitive Man. The assistant engineer on Tin Drum, Phil Bodger, also worked on the 1981 debut album by Classix Nouveaux and the singular release by Scottish sophisti-popsters Albania.

Sylvian assumes guitar duties on Tin Drum, which features Karn on African flute and dida. Jansen does Linn LM-1 drum machine programming on “Still Life In Mobile Homes” and “Cantonese Boy.” House, who returns as guest violinist, plays on concurrent titles by Bruce Woolley and Robert Calvert.

Sylvian designed the Tin Drum cover with UK broadcast DJ Steve Joule, who designed recent sleeves for Ozzy Osbourne. The grayscale cover shows a bespectacled Sylvian seated alone under a dangling bulb beside a bowl of rice with chopsticks in hand before a wall tacked with a 1959 photo of Mao Zedong. The back cover has a small monochrome pic of the band seated side-to-side on four-legged chairs in an otherwise unfurnished white narrow room with a framed photo of Chairman Mao. Returning photographer Fin Costello also has visual credits on Duran Duran as well as 1980–81 titles by Judas Priest (British Steel), Nazareth, Rush (Permanent Waves), Steve Winwood, and Toyah Willcox.

Tin Drum spawned three singles: “Visions of China” (Oct. 1981), “Ghosts” (UK No. 5, March 1982), an “Cantonese Boy” (UK No. 24, May 1982). The video to “Visions of China” extends on themes of the album cover: Sylvian (grayscale) alone in a sparsely furnished room, seated lotus style before a television on which an image of Chairman Mao cuts to assorted footage — Chinese sword duels, dragon dances, chess games (all color), and Communist Chinese military rituals — as David strokes his hair in bemusement.

Japan embarked on the fifteen-date Visions of China tour, which started on December 12, 1981, at Cornwall Coliseum in St. Austell and wrapped with a show on the 27th at the Hammersmith Odeon. Random Hold guitarist David Rhodes (a Peter Gabriel sideman) filled out Japan’s lineup for these shows and subsequently recorded with the opening act Blancmange.

Tin Drum reached No. 12 in the UK, No. 16 in Norway, and also went Top 40 in Japan and Sweden. To capitalize on their newfound fame on Virgin, Hansa issued Assemblage, a compilation of the Japan’s pre-Polaroids output with an emphasis on rarities. Side one focuses on 1978 with “Communist China,” the re-recorded “Adolescent Sex,” the non-album “Stateline,” and the Obscure Alternatives cuts “…Rhodesia” and “Suburb Berlin.” Side two bookends with the non-album 1979–80 a-sides (“Life in Tokyo,” “I Second That Emotion”) and also includes “European Son,” an edit of “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” and the title-track from Quiet Life. The compilation reached No. 24 in the UK Albums Chart, where it lingered for two years, fueled by multiple singles.


1982: Sons of Pioneers Tour

Japan mimed “Ghosts” on the March 18, 1982, broadcast of Top of the Pops, where a seated, solemn Sylvian enacted the words with facial expressions amid the fog-laden setting of his somber bandmates. They returned to TotP for the May 27 broadcast, where guest hosts Debbie Harry and Roger Taylor (Queen) announced Japan, which mimed “Cantonese Boy” on a dry-iced, lavender-lighted stage with slanted cross-bars.

With Japan at peak-profile, Sylvian’s photogenic looks featured on numerous UK and European magazine covers, including issues of Sounds, Smash Hits, Noise!, rockin’ on, and the Japanese publications ONGAKU and Music Life. However, Japan’s newer 7″ picture sleeves featured photographs by Jansen that de-emphasized the band in favor of titular subjects (like the Asian youth pictured on “Cantonese Boy”). Those that do show the singer (“Ghosts”) present him in a shaded, withdrawn manner.

On Wednesday, July 7, 1982, Mick Karn partook in the Princes Trust Rock Gala at Dominion Theatre, where he played in a super-group with Pete Townshend, Phil Collins, and Ultravox frontman Midge Ure. They performed “Let My Love Open the Door” (from Townshend’s 1980 solo album Empty Glass) and the Walker Brothers‘ “No Regrets,” which Ure recently covered as his debut solo single. That month, Karn recorded his first solo album at AIR Studios.

Hansa continued to milk Japan’s back catalog with a UK 7″ release of “I Second That Emotion,” backed with the Quiet Life track “Halloweeen.” This time, the Miracles cover reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. Months later, Hansa reissued the single with “Quiet Life.”

On October 1, Japan launched their Sons of Pioneers tour at Koncert Haus in Stockholm. For this tour, they added guitarist–keyboardist Masami Tsuchiya of the Japanese new wave band Ippu-do. The Continental leg touched down in Hamburg, Munich, Leiden, and Brussels before wrapping on the 11th at Le Palace in Paris, France.

They commenced their final UK tour with an October 18–19 engagement at the Brixton Fair Deal; the first night filmed for the 10/22 TOGWT broadcast. The UK leg totalled thirty shows with two-nighters in Manchester, Bristol (Colston Hall), and a three-nighter at Birimgaham’s Odeon.On November 17, Japan played their first of six sold-out nights at the Hamersmith Odeon. Their show on the 22n would be their last ever UK performance.

That month, Virgin lifted the Polaroids tracks “Nightporter” and “Ain’t That Peculiar” as a new single. It went Top 20 in Ireland.

Meanwhile, Karn issued Titles, his debut solo album with backing on selelct tracks by Barbieri, Jansen, Rhodes, and guitarists Hugh Burns (a Gerry Rafferty sideman) and Ricky Wilde (Kim‘s brother). Musically, the album further explores the percussive exotica of Tin Drum with a greater emphasis on instrumentals that spotlight Karn’s fretless bass. Virgin issued “Sensitive,” a reworked version of “À Distância” by Brazilian singer Roberto Carlos, as the album’s single.

On November 29, Japan played the Youth Welfare Centre in Bangkok. In a rarfe act for a Western band, they stopped in Hong Kong for two shows at AC Halls in the village of Kowloon.

In December 1982, Japan wrapped their career in namesake Japan. On the 8th, they played Budokan with YMO members, followed by a two shows each at Tokyo’s Nakano Sun Plaza (12/9–10) and Koesi Nemkin Hall (12/12). After shows in Osaka (12/14: Festival Hall) and Kyoto (12/15: Kaikan Daiichi Hall), Japan gave their final concert on December 16, 1982, at Shi Kohkaido in Nagoya.


Final Releases

Japan disbanded at the height of their fame. In April 1983, Hansa released a single of the Quiet Life tracks “All Tomorrows Parties” and “In Vogue,” the from the Live In Japan EP. It reached the UK Top 40.

In June 1983, Virgin released Oil On Canvass, a live double-album culled from Japan’s November 1982 shows at the Hammershmith Odeon. It features “Quiet Life,” half of Polaroids (“Gentlemen Take Polaroids,” “Swing,” “Night Porter,” “Methods of Dance”), and nearly all of Tin Drum (everything but “Talking Drum”). The album also features three new studio instrumentals: two solo miniatures (Sylvian’s “Oil on Canvas” and Barbieri’s “Temple of Dawn”) and the Sylvian–Jansen collaboration “Voices Raised In Welcome, Hands Held In Prayer.”

Oil On Canvass is housed in an olive-framed gatefold with an expressionist oil fingerpainting by Yvette Anna, who also did cover art for Adam Ant and Fad Gadget. The inner-gates feature enhanced headshots of each member (including Tsuchiya) by Anton Corbijn, who also took the snow-set photo of U2 for the inner-gate of their 1983 release War.

To promote the album, Virgin released a single of two live Tin Drum numbers: “Canton” and the earlier a-side “Visions of China.” The single went Top 50 while Oil On Cancass reached No. 5 on the UK Albums Chart.


After Japan

David Sylvian teamed with Ryuichi Sakamoto for the 1983 single “Forbidden Colours,” the vocal version to the instrumental theme to of the period war drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, starring Sakamoto an David Bowie. Sylvian’s debut solo alum, Brilliant Trees, appeared in 1984. It reached No. 4 ob the UK Albums Chart and spawned a hit with “Red Guitar.” He then released the 1986 double-album Gone to Earth, a mix of dark vocal tracks and ambient instrumentals with musical guests Bill Nelson and Robert Fripp. In 1987, Sylvian released Secrets of the Beehive, an acoustic set with backing by Jansen and Sakamoto. He then teamed with ex-Can bassist Holger Czukay for the 1988–89 albums Plight & Premonition and Flux + Mutability. They collaborated earlier (with Jansen and Jon Hassell) on the Virgin EP Words With the Shaman.

Mick Karn plays bass on Tsuchiya’s 1982 debut solo album Rice Music. He also plays 1982 releases by Akiko Yano, Marie Léonor, and the third album by Swedish new wavers Lustans Lakejer (En Plats I Solen). In 1983, he collaborated with Ure on the one-off single “After a Fashion” (b/w “Textures”) and added fretless bass to “Glow World,” a track on Bill Nelson’s Chimera EP. Karn then teamed with ex-Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy in Dalis Car, which issued the 1984 album The Waking Hour. His second solo album, Dreams of Reason Produce Monsters, appeared in 1987 on Virgin. In the late eighties, Karn played on albums by Joan Armatrading, Kate Bush, and trumpeter Mark Isham (Group 87, Sons of Champlin).

Steve Jansen backed his brother on select recordings and played on mid-eighties recordings by Ippu-do and Icehouse. He collaborated with Yukihiro Takahashi on the 1986 single “Stay Close.” Jansen and Richard Barbieri teamed as Jansen–Barbieri for the 1985 Victor release Worlds In A Small Room. Under the moniker Dolphin Brothers, they made the 1987 Virgin release Catch the Fall. The pair also back ex-Real Fish saxist Hiroyasu Yaguchi on his 1988 release Gastronomic and Italian singer Alice on her 1989 album Il Sole Nella Pioggia.

Rob Dean formed Illustrated Man with drummer Hugo Burnham (Gang of Four) and two Australian musicians: bassist Philip Foxman (Supernaut) and keyboardist Roger Mason (Models, The Reels). In 1984, they issued a self-titled EP on Capitol. Dean then backed Sinead O’Connor on her debut album The Lion and the Cobra and co-wrote the hit “I Want Your (Hands On Me).” He’s one of multiple guests (along with Bill Nelson and Mel Collins) on the Nye-produced 1987 Chrysalis release Still Looking for Heaven on Earth by Crazy House. In 1989, Dean supplemented ABC (by then a duo) on their fifth album Up. Dean then moved to Australia and formed The Slow Club, which charted locally with the 1990 Virgin album World of Wonders and its hit “Shout Me Down.”

Sylvian reteamed with Jansen, Barbieri, and Karn in late 1989. Under the moniker Rain Tree Crow, the released a self-titled CD in April 1991 on Virgin with select backing by Nelson and guitarist Phil Palmer (Bliss Band, Dire Straits). Sylvian resumed his solo career and cut a collaborative disc with Fripp. The others released three discs as Jansen–Barbieri–Karn. Barbieri joined Porcupine Tree for a lengthy run. Karn died in 2011.


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