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Last Updated: Friday, 8 September 2006, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
Jamaica and Japan see reggae ties
By Rhoma Tomlinson
Kingston, Jamaica

Akihiko Narisawa came to Jamaica two years ago from Japan with one aim in mind - to find authentic Jamaican music produced by Jamaican artists and send it back to his homeland, where love for Jamaican reggae had skyrocketed to almost cultish proportions.

Jamaican duo SOJAH perform in Osaka
Jamaican reggae duo SOJAH did not realise how big they were in Japan
"I am interested in reggae and I want to know more about reggae music, and understand more about Jamaican culture and people," Mr Narisawa says.

"I can really only understand Jamaica if I'm here."

The 30-year-old business graduate runs the Jamaican branch of Tokyo-based Oasis Music and sends thousands of records to Japan each month.

Mr Narisawa is one of hundreds of Japanese who have come to the land of reggae to bury themselves in reggae music culture.

They want to drink in, and take back to Japan, the complete Jamaican reggae experience - late-night visits to the dancehalls, eccentrically dressed artists sporting dreadlocks, the lyrical poetry of the Jamaican DJs and the mixture of Bob Marley-styled culture reggae with hardcore dancehall rhythms.

Outspoken lyrics

Japan's love affair with reggae really took off in the 1980s.

Bob Marley's brand of conscious and culturally expressive reggae had taken the world by storm, inspiring social revolutions and placing the Caribbean island in the big league as far as the global multi-billion dollar music industry was concerned.

Young Japanese embraced the music. They loved the outspoken lyrics, the many sounds of the reggae beat and the energy of the Jamaican performers.

Today, reggae music is a multi-million dollar industry in Japan and Jamaican musicians are in demand more than ever.

Akihiko Narisawa sorting through his music
Akihiko Narisawa from Tokyo is living out his reggae dream

And in Jamaica, you can see young Japanese people strolling along the busy thoroughfares, hanging out in areas like Trench Town, seeking inspiration from Bob Marley's community.

They are at the Jamaican studios and production houses, purchasing and recording what they call authentic Jamaican music.

For reggae fans back in Japan, there are businesses like Mr Narisawa's.

"I go out to the distribution companies or music studios and I get records and make CDs, then I ship them to my company's head office in Tokyo," he said.

He also gets dub plates - a promotional brand of music done on a popular rhythm by a famous artist or radio personality - and sends these back to Japan.

"After people hear the Jamaican artists in Japan, they want to hear more about the artists and want to get singles. So when they come to our shop in Tokyo, they can get these singles. We also sell music on our website."

The fans in Japan are crazy about the music... they want to talk like Jamaicans, walk like Jamaicans, and sing like us...
Singer Konscience from SOJAH

Phillip George, a Jamaican who manages Japanese-owned company Rockers Island, which also exports records to Japan, says the business is profitable.

Last year alone, Rockers Island shipped more than 800,000 records to Japan and Mr George says he currently has a list of some 130,000 records waiting to be supplied to customers there.

"These are songs produced here in Jamaica by our artists, songs from five, 10 years ago. They are still in demand in Japan."

Businessmen such as Mr Narisawa and Mr George have paved the way for many Jamaican artists to visit Japan.


Last year, two brothers who call themselves SOJAH went to Japan, invited by Japanese promoter Dr Money.

Although hardly known in Jamaica, the duo's hit single, Pon Di Corner, reached number one in the Japanese charts in 2005.

Records sorted for export at Rockers Island
Dealing with Japan's demand for reggae keeps record stores busy
They did seven shows, earning $2,500 (1,370) per show. Sources in the business say big artists can easily walk away with $5,000 (2,740) to $7,000 (3,830) per show.

One of the brothers, who calls himself Konscience, said they had no idea they were so big in Japan.

"When we got there our music was playing on radio, sound systems and even on cellular phones. It was a real eye-opener for us," he said.

"The fans in Japan are crazy about the music, they don't just want to hear the songs, they want to talk like Jamaicans, walk like Jamaicans, and sing like us... it shows us that music is much bigger than what we're seeing here in Jamaica. Artists must go beyond the hype and see it as a business. We should try to write our lyrics that people worldwide can understand."

SOJAH will return to Japan in September for a promotional tour of their new album.

Ask a Japanese reggae lover to name top reggae artists and the names flow from their lips - Sizzla, Beres Hammond, Bob Marley, Bounti Killa, TOK, Elephant Man, Busy Signal.

The two island nations may be far removed geographically and culturally, but for now they are bound by Jamaican reggae.

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