Like many kids who grew up in the ’90s, ska is one of my favourite music genres. So I was thrilled to learn that there is a thriving Japanese ska scene for me to explore. With ska enjoying a revival of sorts, I took a deep dive into some of the bands from Japan that have been keeping the genre not just alive but thriving for the past 20 or more years.
For those who don’t know, ska is a genre of music that originated in Jamaica in the 1960s, and actually predates reggae by around a decade. It enjoyed a brief period of mainstream success in the late ’90s as bands like the Mighty Might Bosstones and Reel Big Fish got major radio play, but it quickly disappeared from the public consciousness. Ska never really went away, though, and has enjoyed renewed success lately.
So, get your best checkerboard suit on and listen up, cause we’re going skankin’ today here at Rice Digital.
Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra
This is a Japanese ska band that has been around since the 1980s and has been active almost continually since then. They were one of the first big groups to come out of the early days of the ska scene in Japan, and they’ve had a huge influence on the genre over the years. Their music grabs influences from all over and seamlessly incorporates it into the distinctive ska sound the band has helped create in Japan.
The above song is one of their latest offerings, named Almighty — better known to some as the opening theme for the 2020 tokusatsu series Kamen Rider Saber. With their place in the origins of the Japanese ska scene and more than 20 studio albums released since 1990, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra (often shortened to Skapara) is a great band to get stuck on.
In the ’90s, ska bands took on a lot of the energy and drive that characterised the best punk bands of the time, creating the ska-punk sound that has been the dominant form of the genre ever since. Free Kick are one of the best Japanese ska bands to embrace this new genre, creating a high energy stage show and musical delivery that is carried by the distinct rhythm and brass section of ska.
This is another Japanese ska band with a deceptively long history. Started more than 20 years ago as a three-piece outfit in Hokkaido, Free Kick have changed and evolved over the years, bringing in new members while still keeping their punk rock roots on clear display in all their music and shows. They still tour regularly and remain one of the bands I am most desperate to see live.
I recently talked about Oreskaband and their latest release, but you definitely need to check out these Osaka-based women. They’re remarkable in that they manage to incorporate a wide variety of different sounds and influences into their music while still maintaining the distinctive Japanese ska sound they’ve carried with them ever since they first started in 2003.
The above video, a somewhat typical 2020 music video that was recorded and released during lockdown, showcases the readiness with which Oreskaband capture different sounds and bring them together. With a bit of country mixed in with the ska, it highlights just how good these women are. The best part of ska is how it brings people together — and these ladies demonstrate that so well, even under difficult circumstances.
If the Mighty Mighty Bosstones had been a Japanese band, they might have sounded very similar to Kemuri, who first formed in 1995 in California. Following a break from recording and touring in 2007, they reformed in 2012 in Tokyo and have been mainstays in the Japanese ska scene ever since. They have had a large influence both in Japan and abroad, with several international tours under their belts.
With a focus on the Positive Mental Attitude the above song is named after, they strive to be a positive influence on the world. There is a joy that carries through their brass section, even as they tackle difficult subjects through their music. And in a testament to how close the punk and ska scenes have become over the years, Kemuri also featured on our list of Japanese punk bands to follow.
If you’re wanting more Japanese music in your life, be sure to check out our Spotify Playlist for these bands and more from the JRock scene. And be sure to let us know some of your favourites — either down in the comments below or in a letter for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page!
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