Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Japan

This brand-new musical Rough Guide is very interesting simply for the range of styles of Japanese music it covers—from the ancient-ainu-meets-world-beat fusion of Oki Dub Ainu Band to late jazz singer Shizuko Kasagi’s World War II-era “Tokyo Boogie Woogie,” a stand-out for its utterly American-influenced 1940’s sound. Kasagi, who became a star in Japan during the American occupation, sings the lyrics to this big band number with her thick Japanese accent—both quaint and slightly disturbing for the WWII history it conjures up. Soul Flower Mononoke Summit (now there’s a great band name!) contributes its catchy “Ah Wakaranai”—featuring accordion and a sanshin or three-string snakeskin banjo. The meditative loveliness of koto music is represented by Tadao Sawai’s delicate “Futatsu no Hensokyoku Sakura Sakura.” Contemporary cult favorite Nami Makioka offers up her endearing “Subayado Bushi,” a modern-ancient combination of almost-funky electronic and traditional instruments, and her captivatingly-fluctuating, exotic voice.