Being a Musician in Japan

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There is a big scene for foreign musicians in Japan in terms of venues to perform. These places tend to be in the larger suburbs of Tokyo such as Shibuya, Shinjuku, Harajuku etc. and the crowd will normally be a mixture of locals and foreigners.
There are many Open Mic venues as well, where you can simply perform without advance notice. Simply bring your instrument, or Audio track and wait in line.
The suburbs will cater more for the Japanese bands. You many see foreigners performing with the Japanese like myself but Japanese language ability would normally be a must.

 

Working with Japanese musicians

MitsuA lot of Japanese musicians tend to be very theory based, meaning they like to have something structured before playing, preferably in the form of notation or chords etc.. Not too many Japanese musicians are used to improvising, like we do here in the west.
Going into the studio and expecting an idea to emerge from a random jam session maybe difficult here in Japan unless you find the right members.
I have met up with a lot of Japanese who are into the Jazzy Neo Soul and are aware of the non-theory ear based jamming techniques. But even still it is always best to go into the studio with something solid, otherwise it can be non productive.
When you go to a studio in Japan, you will notice that most musicians (80%) dress in dark clothes and play mainly rock. I have often seen up to four guitarists in the same band strumming the same chords and a singer fighting for decibel levels.

Can money be made from music in Japan?

If your job is working with music e.g. Karaoke track programmer, studio technician, then that would be a full time job and earn a normal salary. However actually being a musician maybe be hard to earn as a foreigner here in Japan, even from gigs.
Most foreigners here in Japan have their regular day jobs and do music on the side for a hobby or some extra pocket money from the gigs.

Can a foreigner get a record contract in Japan?

This again is difficult as the record industry is Japan does not cater very much for non Japanese. However there is an exception for some Korean singers due to the popularity of K-Pop in Japan. However they do sing in Japanese.
The Korea language is very similar to Japanese in terms of grammar, so Korean artist use that to their advantage and often perform in Japan.
There are also some mixed race singers here e.g. Crystal Kay who is half Black / Asian however she has Japanese nationality and is bilingual.
There is also another mixed race half black singer by the name of Jero, who actually sings Enka which is traditional Japanese folk music. Also Know as Japanese Soul.

How to get a Visa in Japan

If you work for a company full time, they should be able to sponsor you. Many people ask about self sponsored artist Visa’s. For these you still need to start of on a normal Visa. E.g. working or spouse. Before this expires you can apply for an artist visa however you will need to show immigration evidence that you are able to financially support yourself through your music for example with bank statements showing the cash flow.
For most English speakers in Japan, the easiest route would be to apply for an English teaching job. This should get you a three year visa and you can quit and change status anytime.

5 thoughts on “Being a Musician in Japan”

    1. There are Neo Soul Bands in Japan but very few. Most bands tend to be rock, or if it’s soul they tends to like Funk or 60’s Soul.

      1. Many Japanese are very aware of the Neo Soul scene but just find it difficult to play or perform in the genre. In the past I have make tracks on the DAW and then given them to musicians to learn. We then do a session in the studio. That can work quite well.

    1. If you are in the foreigner “Gaijin” community then it is quite easy to find other to play with. Even check on Tokyo Metropolis. For Japanese bands you will have better success if you actually speak Japanese and go to sites such as http://www.with9.com

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