Japan were a British pop/rock group, formed in 1974 in Lewisham, southeast London. The band achieved success in the early 1980s, when they were often associated with the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement (though the band themselves have downplayed any such connection).
David Sylvian (original name David Batt): vocals, guitar, keyboards
Mick Karn (original name Anthony Michaelides): bass guitar, saxophone, oboe
Rob Dean: guitar
Steve Jansen (Sylvian's brother, Steve Batt): drums and percussion
Richard Barbieri: keyboards
The band debuted on record with 1978's Adolescent Sex and subsequently Obscure Alternatives, which both sold well in Japan and the Netherlands where the single "Adolescent Sex" was a Top 30 hit, they also gained some popularity in Canada. However in their natal Britain those albums were largely ignored.
Though influenced by artists such as The New York Dolls, Roxy Music and David Bowie, both albums were widely dismissed by the British music press as being distinctly outmoded at a time when punk and New Wave bands were in ascendence. However, tracks such as "Suburban Berlin", "State Line" and "...Rhodesia" suggested a creative depth and sense of melody to the band's output which would hint at their future direction. They were managed by Simon Napier-Bell who also managed The Yardbirds, Marc Bolan, London and Wham!.
Their third album, 1979's Quiet Life, heralded a significant change in musical style from the earlier largely guitar-based music to a more electronic sound, with more emphasis on Barbieri's synthesisers, Sylvian's svelte baritone style of singing, Karn's distinctive fretless bass sound and Steve Jansen's odd-timbered and intricate percussion work with Dean's guitar playing becoming increasingly sparse and atmospheric. Quiet Life was their last studio album for Hansa-Ariola, though the label would later issue a compilation album ("Assemblage") featuring highlights from the band's tenure on the label, followed by a series of remixed and re-released singles.
Their final two studio albums, Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980) and Tin Drum (1981), were released on the Virgin label, and continued to expand their audience as the band refined its new sound and, somewhat unintentionally, became associated with the early-1980s New Romantic movement. Tin Drum in particular is critically regarded as one of the most innovative albums of the 1980s, with its startlingly original fusion of occidental and oriental sounds, and was a UK Top 12 album. Its unconventional single "Ghosts" reached #5 on the UK charts, becoming Japan's biggest domestic hit and one of only a very few such 'minimalist' songs to achieve such heights.
With personality conflicts leading to rising tensions between band members, Tin Drum was to be the band's final studio album. Long-simmering differences among the bandmembers came to a head when Karn's girlfriend, photographer Yuka Fujii, moved in with Sylvian (he's presently married to Ingrid Chavez and they have two children), and the individual members forged ahead with their own projects. Rob Dean had already departed towards the end of the Gentlemen Take Polaroids sessions, as his electric guitar work was increasingly regarded as superfluous. During this period, Japanese multi-instrumentalist and experimental keyboardist Ryuichi Sakamoto briefly collaborated with the band, and worked directly alongside Sylvian on tracks such as "Taking Islands In Africa."
The group's final UK performance came in November 1982, culminating in a six-night sell-out stint at London's Hammersmith Apollo. During this period, guitarist and keyboardist Masami Tsuchiya performed with the band on stage. Japan's last ever performance was on 16th December 1982 in Nagoya, Japan. The band's final Hammersmith concerts were recorded to produce Oil On Canvas, a live album and video released in June 1983. Ironically, the band decided to split just as they were beginning to obtain long-overdue commercial success both in their native UK and internationally, with Oil On Canvas becoming their highest charting British album, reaching #5.
All of the band members went on to work on other projects, with varying degrees of success. A reformation of the band members (Sylvian, Karn, Jansen, & Barbieri) in 1989-1990 under the name Rain Tree Crow produced only one eponymously-titled album, released in April 1991. Once again, the band dissolved following frictions between Sylvian and the other members. The project was nevertheless a critical success.
Singles and EPs
"Don't Rain On My Parade"/"Stateline" (UK, Germany, Australia, Italy) 1978
"Adolescent Sex"/"Don't Rain On My Parade" (Spain) 1978
"The Unconventional"/"Lovers On Main Street" (Japan) 1978
"The Unconventional"/"Adolescent Sex (re-recorded version)" (UK) 1978
"Adolescent Sex (re-recorded version)"/"Transmission" (Italy) 1979
"Adolescent Sex (re-recorded version)"/"Sometimes I Feel So Low" (Germany, Holland, France) 1978
"Sometimes I Feel So Low"/"Love Is Infectious" (UK, USA, Japan) 1978
"Deviation"/"Suburban Berlin" (Holland) 1979
"Life In Tokyo"/"Life In Tokyo (Part Two)" (UK, USA, Canada, Germany, France, Japan, Australia, Italy) 1979
"Quiet Life"/"Halloween" (Japan) 1979
"I Second That Emotion"/"European Son" (Japan) 1980
"I Second That Emotion"/"Quiet Life" (UK, Germany, Holland) 1980
"Special Edition EP" (Canada) 1980
"Live In Japan EP" (Germany, Holland, Belgium) 1980
"Gentlemen Take Polaroids EP" (UK #60, Germany, Japan) 1980
"The Singles EP" (Japan) 1981
"The Art of Parties"/"Life Without Buildings" (UK #48) 1981 - also Canadian EP with two tracks from the "Gentlemen Take Polaroids" EP
"The Art of Parties"/"My New Career" (Australia, Japan) 1981
"Life In Tokyo"/"European Son" (UK, Germany) 1981
"Quiet Life"/"A Foreign Place" (UK #19) 1981
"Visions Of China"/"Taking Islands In Africa" (UK #32, Australia) 1981
"European Son (remix)"/"Alien" (UK #31, Germany) 1981
"Ghosts"/"The Art Of Parties (live version)" (UK #5 and most other countries except Japan) 1982
"Cantonese Boy"/"Burning Bridges" (UK #24) 1982 - also a double pack version with extra tracks
"I Second That Emotion (remix)"/"Halloween" (UK #9, Germany) 1982
"Life In Tokyo (remix)" (UK #28) 1982
"Nightporter"/"Ain't That Peculiar" (UK #29, Germany) 1982
"Nightporter EP" (Japan) 1982 - includes b sides from UK releases
"All Tomorrow's Parties"/"In Vogue" (UK #38) 1983
"Canton"/"Visions Of China" (live versions) (UK #42) 1983