Best Japanese music of 2020

A personal Top 10 Japan albums of the year



Back in January, I paid money to watch Cats at the cinema. In retrospect, it feels like that’s where 2020 all started to go wrong. It’s been a grim year for many, and—compared to friends who’ve lost loved ones or found themselves out of work—I feel like I’ve gotten off lightly. Being slightly under-employed for much of the year has given me plenty of time to listen to music, and I’ve written about over 100 Japanese releases during the past 12 months (if you missed them, you might want to check my Spring, Summer, Mid-Summer, Autumn and Winter round-ups). Much as I fear for the future of the live music scene, here and elsewhere, creativity will apparently never be in short supply. It’s been inspiring to see artists respond to the challenges (and unexpected opportunities) of the COVID era. This is the pick of the stuff I’ve written about this year: albums that I thought were exceptional, or that resonated with me the most.

New music from Japan (Winter edition)

Notable Japanese releases from 2020, in brief


You can tell that end-of-year lists don’t count for much in Japan from the volume of significant releases landing during late November and December, which would normally be considered the fag-end of the year. Before I try to cobble together a Top 10, here’s my final round-up of interesting sounds from this fine country, including a handful of things that I missed earlier in the year. As per usual, I’ve included Bandcamp links where available, and would encourage you to consider stumping up the cash if you hear something you like. Send any hate mail to the usual address.

Tokyo Gigs January 2021

Note: Due to the state of emergency currently in effect in Tokyo, I'm not updating listings at the moment. Many of the shows listed here have been cancelled or postponed.

JAN 8 KEI MATSUMARU QUARTET Pit Inn, Shinjuku ¥3,000
JAN 9 TECHNOWOLF, MARI SAKURAI, JUBEE, &c. Club Asia, Shibuya ¥3,000
JAN 10 KEIJI HAINO/DAIRO SUGA Koen-Dori Classics, Shibuya ¥3,000
JAN 11 RUINS, KOREKYOJINN, KOENJI-HYAKKEI Koenji High ¥3,800
JAN 11 NATSUKI TAMURA/SATOKO FUJII Pit Inn, Shinjuku ¥3,000
JAN 12 AKIHIRO YOSHIMOTO Velvetsun ¥TBC (stream)
JAN 12-13 HIROMI/KAZUNORI KUMAGAI Blue Note Tokyo, Minami-Aoyama ¥9,900
JAN 15 JUN NUMATA VS MASATAKA FUJITAKE/HIROMICHI SAKAMOTO Knuttel House, Iriya ¥2,500
JAN 15-17 HIROMI/KAZUNORI KUMAGAI Blue Note Tokyo, Minami-Aoyama ¥9,900
JAN 17 HIROSHI MINAMI TRIO Pit Inn, Shinjuku ¥3,000
JAN 17 SHOHEI TAKAGI PARALLELA BOTANICA, MANAMI KAKUDO WWW X, Shibuya ¥4,200
JAN 17 TOKYO SHIOKOUJI + ZOZHIT/ERMHOI Wall&Wall, Omotesando ¥3,000 (gig)/¥2,000 (stream)
JAN 24 MASAYO KOKETSU/TATSUHISA YAMAMOTO Knuttel House, Iriya ¥2,500
JAN 25 KEIJI HAINO/TATSUHISA YAMAMOTO 440, Shimokitazawa ¥3,500 (gig)/¥2,000 (stream)
JAN 26 UA x NARUYOSHI KIKUCHI Blue Note Tokyo, Minami-Aoyama ¥8,800
JAN 28 UA x NARUYOSHI KIKUCHI Blue Note Tokyo, Minami-Aoyama ¥8,800
JAN 29 ANSWER TO REMEMBER Blue Note Tokyo, Minami-Aoyama ¥6,600 
JAN 29 MASAYO KOKETSU/NII TETE BOYE/AKIRA SOTOYAMA Velvetsun ¥TBC (stream)
JAN 31 MITSUHISA SAKAGUCHI/YUMA TAKESHITA/TETSURO FUJIMAKI Knuttel House, Iriya ¥2,000

All prices are for advance tickets, unless otherwise noted. Due to COVID-19 prevention measures, venues are running at reduced capacity, so booking ahead is highly recommended (and often essential).

New music from Japan (Autumn edition)

Notable Japanese releases from 2020, in brief


Apologies to the half-dozen people who’ve been relying on this blog for Tokyo gig listings. I haven’t had much mindless downtime to fill recently, which is why the listings are looking a bit... bare. I’ll try to get things updated soon, but in the meantime, here’s another whistle-stop tour of some of the aural delights bubbling up from the Japanese underground.


New music from Japan (Summer bonus edition)

Notable Japanese releases from 2020, in brief

With live music in Tokyo still mostly confined to smaller venues that can afford to put on shows with only a dozen-odd people in attendance, most of the action is still happening online. Trying to keep up with all the interesting stuff being released right now can make you feel like the protagonist of Woman in the Dunes, but here are a few of the things that have caught my ears recently, including new music from Nisennenmondai, Boris, Ai Aso and Sapphire Slows, the long-awaited return of You Ishihara, and some remarkable outsider sounds of very dubious providence.