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Columns

Travelers Tune

By Shoutaro Takahashi

Shang Shang Typhoon

2006
ISSUE
13

Shang Shang Typhoon's Emi Shirasaki encounters the "King of Tohoku"

This issue features travel tips and hometown secrets from the lead singer of Shang Shang Typhoon, Emi Shirasaki.

They pull influences from throughout Asia, Okinawa, and mainland Japan, then mash them up into a delightfully unmistakable and unique melody. The fresh sounds seem to cross borders, but the originality is something truly “Japanese.”

Shang Shang Typhoon’s scheduling takes on the same “free” style, evident when the band toured Tohoku (northern mainland Japan), not to do live shows, but rather to experience Tohoku’s “Big Four” of festivals - Aomori’s “Nebuta,” Hirosaki’s “Neputa,” Sendai’s “Tanabata,” and the “Kantou” festival of Akita.

“That was the first time I had been to Nishimonai, and I was so taken aback by how unique and graceful their bon odori (traditional Bon Festival dance) is,” commented Emi in her intentionally thick Tohoku dialect. Nishimonai is a small town nestled in the southern portion of Akita Prefecture and lies only some fifty kilometers from her hometown of Sakata in the prefecture of Yamagata.

“I was born and raised in Tohoku, but to tell the truth I’m not that familiar with the area,” Emi continued. “Tohoku usually conjures up ‘dark’ and ‘dreary’ images, and in that respect the bon odori of Nishimonai is certainly the ‘King of Tohoku.’”

The mention of their land as “dark” and “dreary” grinds in the face of most from the Tohoku region, admittedly, me being one of them. However, Ms. Shirasaki, in her delight for the many idiosyncrasies of the Tohoku region, considers those characteristics to be a big plus.

The ladies at the festival all wear patchwork-style, light summer kimono and don a braided, split hat to cover their faces. The soft light from the lanterns only shines bright enough to reveal the eyes, lending even more of a visual aid to Tohoku’s “dark” image.

“In the darkness of the night the only things visible are the pure whites of the hands and nape of the neck - quite an erotic scene. (laughter) Because you can’t see faces, the Japanese imagination runs wild with thoughts of hidden eroticism,” goads Emi.

The bon odori of Nishimonai is full of sweeping movements and is quite complicated, with an erotic sense flowing from the finger tips of the female dancers. Men who hear this usually get riled up with a desire to see things in person. “But after the event you see the faces of the dancers,” explains Emi, “and, you’re like ‘What the?! It’s some wrinkled old lady?!’”

Other members of Shang Shang Typhoon have taken inspiration from the dance, not just only in the steps and movements, but also in incorporating some of the taiko (traditional Japanese drum) and fue (traditional Japanese flute) patterns into their music. Of course, the typically “dreary” Tohoku style takes on the much “brighter” form one would expect from a Shang Shang Typhoon tune. The depth of Tohoku, mixed with the blustering style of Shang Shang Typhoon - quite a combination.

“But, wait,” continued Emi, “There’s even more ‘King of Tohoku’ places to be found!”

Well, if that’s the case, we’ll just have to continue this conversation in the next issue. Look forward to more tantalizing tales from Ms. Shirasaki in the February issue.

Shang Shang Typhoon’s New Wax and Shirazaki’s Musical Roots

Shang Shang Typhoon
“Attarimaeda” (M&I COMPANY)

Straight from the man behind the music: “Shang Shang Typhoon came from wanting to represent the music of the country we were born and raised in. This 11th album is our newest release and stinks of the Showa Era.”

Janis Joplin
“PEARL” (Sony)

“Ms. Joplin doesn’t need an introduction, but I do have to confess to her that this hick from a small, lonely town in Northern Japan sings Crybaby in the local dialect. Sorry...”

Taraf de Haidouks
“Band of Gypsies” (Sony)

“Real Romanian gypsies with the name to prove it. They’ve lost members due to both fights and the hearse, but just pull some local in and keep rocking in high speed.”

Various Artists
“Congotoronics 2” (Plankton)

“The piano and electric guitar work it out loud and proud in this compilation of new wave musicians. Without neither rhyme nor reason, your body will dance the moment you listen.”