Saturday, April 10, 2010

Japan in Toronto, 1979

I loved Japan more than any other group in 1978/79 and into 1980. I had posters all over my walls, tour stuff and books imported from Japan (the country), cuttings from the English music magazines, photos, imported albums, 12" special editions of singles etc., you name it - I had it. I’ll admit straight up though that the love started waning when Gentlemen Take Polaroids was released. I was fairly disappointed, and although Japan made some of my favourite music, by then it was clear they were moving in a direction that just wasn’t for me. Maybe it's time to go back and revisit - I did like some of those later songs (Nightporter and Swing).

Although they seem to distance themselves from their first two albums, I love the mix of funky bass and drum heavy songs with the more moody and dark pieces. Adolescent Sex still sounds good after all this time, from the opening track Transmission to Television and of course, the title track. Can't say that about all the music I liked back then. It's easy to be critical of the early stuff but I listen to the records and enjoy them for what they are.

Their second album, Obscure Alternatives, is definitely a more musically mature album. I remember playing it endlessly, especially Rhodesia, Obscure Alternatives, Suburban Berlin, The Tenant and Sometimes I Feel So Low. I used to love listening to albums in the dark, nice and loud with headphones (still do) and Obscure Alternatives was perfect for that.

I really liked Life in Tokyo. They probably distance themselves from this song too but I think it still sounds awesome today.

Japan played two gigs in Toronto on November 24, 1979 at Ryerson Theatre. I’m not sure why they only played Toronto and no other North American dates but they were extremely popular here, thanks in part to a lot of airplay on CFNY. Luckily for us they did because the Toronto gigs were their last North American shows and the only shows they ever played in Toronto.

I’m the first to admit I have a lot of holes in my memories of Japan. I remember the main things, but not so much the details. Since I no longer have my tickets and passes, I’ve been looking online for help with dates. I’m amazed that so far I’ve found next to nothing about them being in Toronto in 1979 (that might just be down to my crappy searching skills). However, there are some helpful sites, one ( even has scans of concert reviews and a ticket stub ($9.50 - what a bargain!).

I remember four main things about Japan: lining up all night to get one of 30 double passes to a party with them at the Domino Club on Isabella Street, meeting Mick Karn in a room at the Royal York Hotel, going to the party and going to the two concerts. All of that had to have happened in one week; god only knows how much school I missed.

The House of Lords on Yonge Street ran a promotion giving out concert tickets and party passes – I already had tickets but I really wanted the passes so I convinced Marta (my best friend at the time) to go with me the night before and line up. I have to laugh because we were only 15 at the time – the shit we used to get away with (harmless fun really). I told my parents I was going to Marta’s house for the weekend and she told hers she was going to mine. We were third or fourth in line and had to get a haircut to get the tickets/passes (knowing me I needed one). I ended up with two tickets and a double pass for the party (I must have given the tickets away). A few of us also ended up getting our photo taken by a newspaper photographer who happened to come across us in line. I spent a whole night searching the online archives of the Toronto Star and actually found the photo. The quality is terrible but that’s me sitting in the middle.

Personally I didn’t even think they’d publish it, but sure enough they did and my mom saw it the next day in the Sunday paper. I thought the gig was up for me but my parents were cool, or I was a good manipulator...maybe a little of both. I was never told I couldn’t go to the concerts (I’m pretty sure they didn’t know about the party though hahaha, I was very definitely under age).

I went to the party with Marta – I remember she loved Elvis more than anything. She probably had no clue who Japan were, she was just being a friend and keeping me company. We were at her house slapping on mounds of makeup (as if the doorman was an idiot and couldn’t tell we were 15). We were no doubt armed with fake ID and praying the whole way on the subway that we’d get in. I still remember those nervous few moments at the doors of various clubs trying to get into a show underage...I worried for nothing really since I got into every show except one (Duran Duran at the El Mocambo and that was hardly a tragedy). Anyway, my lousy memory means I don’t remember a whole lot about the party beyond having a great time. I had photos that we'd taken (now lost, sob) – in one I distinctly remember Marta sitting beside David Sylvian smiling her beautiful smile (she was gorgeous) and someone who looked a whole lot like Mark Holmes (later with Platinum Blonde) sitting opposite. I have glimpses of other photos in my mind. Sadly that’s all I have left, I lost touch with Marta long ago. It would be interesting to hear if she remembers anything and if so what. I have no idea how I’d find her again. [Just an update...I DID find her on facebook. So excited!!]

Anyway, I also somehow linked up with a couple of sisters, Mary and Dorothy. I didn’t go to school with them and they lived in a different part of Scarborough than I did...I wonder if I met them at the Peddlar or maybe even a gig, though our friendship didn’t extend past Japan. I lost touch with them not too long after the concerts. A friend or relative of theirs dyed my hair purple for me, not all over just at the back a la Steve Jansen and David Sylvian. I know that I met Mick Karn with them. How we managed to meet him in a room at the Royal York Hotel escapes my memory, I just remember being there and it wasn't me that set it up. I have a very vague feeling that perhaps they were related to him or something, though I know he’s from Cyprus and they were Macedonian (I think?). Who knows? I don’t remember details beyond thinking he was very nice and looked really, really hot. He gave Richard Barbieri a run for the money in the crush department. Hey, I was 15, give me a break ;)

From a great set of photos from the Toronto concert on
jlacpo's Flickr photostream.

Marta didn’t go to the gigs but Mary and Dorothy did. To be honest, I remember the shows being exciting because it was Japan and I loved them, but also that they weren’t awesome. We got to hear all the new songs from Quiet Life, but I think because of that I missed out hearing a lot of my favourites from the first two albums and that would have been a slight letdown for me. There are some reviews posted on the Nightporter site – I most definitely wouldn’t be as harsh as they were ("nameless and faceless in 15 years"). It didn't matter, I loved them anyway and Quiet Life would turn into my favourite Japan album.

I found this photo on Flickr a while ago and I am POSITIVE I had a copy.

I asked the person where they got it from but they weren't at liberty to give me the name of the girl who had given it to them. In between shows Mary, Dorothy and I were prowling around the hallways of Ryerson looking for the band and met up with Richard. I’m sure this is where that photo was taken. I mean look at the lockers - I just remember this image so well (I had a crush remember?).

Little did I know it, but releases after Quiet Life marked the beginning of the end of Japan for me. I just had a memory creep up on me that I had this album signed, I can visualize it clearly. We must have gotten advance copies or it was released before the concerts in November (the discographies online make it seem like it was released in December...I think it was earlier here). No matter, I can’t go back and look because I don’t have it anymore. I wore out Quiet Life on the record player, especially Fall in Love with Me and In Vogue. What a great album still all these years later.

When they released I Second that Emotion as a single I remember thinking WTF is this shit? If I’m honest I was starting to get really irritated with David Sylvian’s new look and vocal stylings (there are parts in the video that reminded me we used to call him The Joker). His voice was never my favourite thing about Japan and he just seemed more and more narcissistic with every release taking up all the cover space.

By Tin Drum I pretty much stopped listening to anything new by them. As happens, I got into other bands, finished school, started university, etc. Except sporadically, I never did keep up with what the band members were all doing separately and though my cousin told me about Porcupine Tree, I never really got into their stuff. I came across Mick Karn’s website, I think I’m most interested in what he’s doing. Check out his gallery, he’s got some stunning sculptures.

Here are the other members' websites:

Richard Barbieri:
Steve Jansen: (some great photos)
David Sylvian:
Rob Dean: Rob's now "a professional guide, writer and artist on the birds of Central America" in Costa Rica. Video:

I hope some Toronto Japan fans come across this posting, I would love to hear about what they remember.


  1. Lovely piece - thankyou for sharing your memories

  2. Thanks, though I wish I could remember more details!

  3. Very entertaining entry. I'll bet you could find your old friend Marta through Facebook.

  4. What a glam jam
    great newspaper shot - 'House of Lords':CLASSIC

  5. Paul still owns/manages the House of Lords. You can find him on the the S/E corner park bench of his shop on occasional, sunny days. Funny to think in the olden days (early 80s), punks and skinheads would break out a bloody fight on his corner). Paul looks exactly the same as he has all these years. I saw him TODAY!

  6. Thanks a lot for sharing your memories here.
    Great story to read and informative as well, I knew nothing about this show they did.

  7. I was at the early show, still have my ticket stub..buried in the basement I guess. A friend took a roll of pictures and had the film rip as he took it out of the camera, nice to see the shots on flikr. I remember the start of the show, the stage was washed in haze and dry ice and white light with a single red light coming up from in front of the drum kit, a cool Japanese flag. The rest of the time I was mesmerized by Mick Karn.
    One of the guys that ran Sonic Temple (formerly at Yonge and Parkhome) had a laminated poster from the show, I tried to buy it from him with no sucess.

  8. Finally! In all my searching I've never come across any mention of anyone who remembers them being here or who was at the shows. Thanks for leaving the comment :)

  9. I remember sometime around 1990 at a garage sale in Toronto a girl was selling her records when I spotted a hand painted wood gig poster of the ryerson shows which she wouldn't sell it to me as she said it was one of a kind. I believe she worked at Records on Wheels on Yonge Street. I wish I had made her an offer she couldnt refuse. What a miss!

  10. This has been a great read. I was born in 69 so obviously I was too young to attend. It's a fascination to read this, thx so much!

  11. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your special memories, and funnily enough a lot of what you felt, so did i, my favorite album is A Sex followed by Quiet life. I saw them at Lancaster uni around mid 78, they were doing a miss match gig, a 70/30 Obscure A'ts and the rest A sex. Polaroids was in the uk voted their best material, i love all the albums but if i had to scrap one from japans discography it would be Polaroids over Tin Drum because i felt Sakamotos influence getting Sylvian ready for Brilliant trees. But ill end with my all time favorite track in a link ...

  12. Wow thanks for sharing! I was 17 at the time and never knew about the concert or would of been there for sure. I have David Marsden from CFNY to thank as the first time I heard Adolescent Sex I was hooked. I still really like the early material but bought all of their albums even though the sound has changed so much. Thanks to the Corona virus for giving me time to rediscover Japan as haven’t listened to them for a while and they hold up so well. Actually really like their newer material now!

  13. Has anyone ever seen or heard any footage from these shows?

  14. I have the poster for the shows message me if you want to see it or a copy

  15. I haven't been to a lot of concerts, but this is my favourite. They blew me away...opened with Alien, at the end of the bass intro, played in the dark, the stage exploded with light and they came forward on stage, Mick Karn wearing a green lame lizard costume...the beginning of an amazing show! I was 19, my younger brother introduced me to them.