Music Is Our Universal Language

The author (center) with Shu Ikeuchi (left) and Jun Saito at Diskunion in Shibuya

The author (center) with Shu Ikeuchi (left) and Jun Saito at Diskunion in Shibuya

Music brings people together. I’ve known this for a long time; we all know this, of course. But I recently had the chance to travel to Japan for one week and this fact came to life in a wonderful way.

As my day job, I work as a videographer for wedding video production company Propeller USA. Every year, a few of our employees fly to Japan for work. This winter, I got to join them for a business trip to Tokyo, Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. During my down time, I wanted to explore the cities and hang out with friends I’ve made through my blog/record label Aloha Got Soul.

In Tokyo, I had a handful of friends I wanted to meet with. I reached out to a friend named Shu Ikeuchi, whom I met last year at my monthly spin session, Soul Time In Hawaii, at Bevy. Shu had heard about the event from a Japanese DJ who mentioned it on Twitter. He stopped by and introduced himself, and we immediately connected over Hawaiian and Japanese AOR music. We planned to meet in Shibuya for half a day during my trip.

Also in Tokyo is another friend of mine, Jun Saito, who loves Hawaii and plays in a ska/jazz band called Your Song Is Good. (Their music really is good; you should check them out!) We first met two years ago in Hawaii. Jun stepped out of his rental car as I was walking across the parking lot to Jelly’s. “Excuse me, are you Mr. Aloha Got Soul?'” he asked. We bonded instantly over somewhat lost-in-translation conversations about Hawaiian rare groove records.

So, in Shibuya I met with Shu, 23, and Jun, early 40s, for a short digging trip and lunch. It turned out that Shu is actually a big fan of Your Song Is Good, so he was grateful to be hanging out with Jun! Regardless of our age differences and any language barriers, we had a fun time exploring the streets of Shibuya, stopping in at Diskunion and other record shops before having beers and ramen at a tiny restaurant called Kiraku.

Norio Sato (left) and Eiji Taniguchi dig through records at Sound Pak in Osaka  ROGER BONG PHOTOS

Norio Sato (left) and Eiji Taniguchi dig through records at Sound Pak in Osaka ROGER BONG PHOTOS

Then, my friends realized that Japan’s DJ Muro has a shop in Harajuku, so we hightailed it by taxi with the little time I had left before returning to work. In 2009, DJ Muro released a mixtape of rare Hawaiian funk called “Hawaiian Breaks.” It was that mix that inspired me to start Aloha Got Soul, which in turn is the reason why Shu, Jun and I had become friends! (Muro was at the recording studio when we stopped by his shop, so we didn’t get a chance to meet him.)

In Osaka, I met with two independent record shop owners, Norio Sato and Eiji Taniguchi, of Rare Groove and Revelation Time, respectively. Their shops are about seven minutes apart from each other by foot. Norio’s shop is located in the American Village shopping district of Osaka. In his building are six other record shops. Only in Japan. We walked around the neighborhood and hit at least three others in the area — King Kong, Sound Pak and JJ’s Records — with plenty more left unvisited.

Both meetings in Tokyo and Osaka were brief but memorable and have reminded me that no matter where one is in this world, music is the universal language that connects us all.