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Jul 24

[interview] Hiroyuki Takashima – 75 Years of Music

takashimaInterview by Cassandra Murnieks

Hiroyuki Takashima was the most influential man in the Japanese music industry during the 20th and 21st century. At 75 years of age his musical career spans over 50 of those years and he was responsible for The Beatles success in Japan. Takashima always had a penchant for music, ever since he was a child. He recalls a moment during World War II in 1945, when he was 14, where his family home was flattened after a bomb attack. The young boy was running through burnt fields and being shot at from a plane. At the end of the war he didn’t feel sadness or sorrow, but knew he could sleep at night.

After the war Takashima got involved with a High School play. When he played “Schumann Traumerei,” it brought the crowd to tears due to the raw emotion. It was at that moment he knew that he wanted to get involved in music. Initially he wanted to be a Stage Director with the new-wave theatre scene that existed in Japan at the time. He went to Waseda University and graduated with a degree in literature, specializing in theatre performance in 1957.

In 1959 Takashima began working at Tokyo Shibaura Denki in the recording division (later known as Toshiba EMI Limited and currently known as EMI Music Japan Inc). Takashima also handled American based record label Kapp which Roger Williams and Brian Hyland were under. Hyland’s catchy hit “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” became well known under a Japanese title and is still used in TV advertisements in Japan. Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and The Cascades were other Western acts that he looked after.

But a song landed on Takashima’s desk at the end of 1962 that would change music forever. The song was “Love Me Do” by The Beatles.

He remembers that, “At the time most western singers were solo and in Jazz it was chorus groups. The exception was the Everly Brothers, who sang and played instruments. I could listen to 2 or 3 seconds of a song and be able to predict if it could be a hit.”

Takashima found the way that they used chords was different and that he liked the message coming out of the music. After making the commitment to look after the British group, it was now a matter of marketing them to the people of Japan. Takashima started visiting radio stations in 1963, but when he mentioned that they were a British group they wouldn’t talk to him. The only solution he had was to create a social phenomenon.

“Toshiba’s offices were in the middle of Ginza. I went to the local tailor and told them that I had the rights to The Beatles, which never existed. I asked the tailor if he could make thirty collarless suits and that he could have the rights. I told him that he could make a lot of money. He made the suits and they went on sale just before summer, but we didn’t sell any, so I made my sales people walk up and down the fourth block of Ginza which is the centre of fashion. I invited the media to come and take photos which helped get the word out.”

To further awareness he had the staff at Toshiba get the mushroom haircut that The Beatles had and renamed it the “Beatles Cut.” They even held a Beatles look-alike competition. For Takashima, it was now about getting the music out in the market place. Since stereos weren’t in many households in the ‘60s, record concerts were held. Some of these were held at Hibiya High School, which is one of the best secondary schools in Japan. Takashima introduced some of The Beatles songs at these concerts, which were well received.

beatles_budokanElvis was playing all over the radio and Takashima’s next target was radio program Hello Pops which played live requests. He knew the program director from his university days. Takashima bribed three girls who worked there to write down The Beatles as requests.

Music critic Ichiro Fukuda warned Takashima that “The Beatles would only do well in England and that they wouldn’t be a hit.”

Takeshima says, ” When Ichiro told me that The Beatles wouldn’t make it, I warned him that they would be huge in Japan and the biggest band in the world.”

With Western song titles being slightly altered to suit the Japanese market, Takashima believes this is why The Beatles were successful there. He says, “The Japanese titles were more direct with The Beatles, ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ became ‘I want a Hug’ which appealed to the consumers and in my opinion, this is why The Beatles were such a success.”

“My big belief at the time was how we renamed the song in Japanese and was one of the most important decisions to make. At the best of times the way you can communicate what a song is about is through the title and they will pick up a few words which help them understand it. So concentrating on the title is crucial to the success of the song.”

The Beatles didn’t tour Japan till June 1966 and returned another three times. At the peak of The Beatles popularity in Japan, record sales were just under the million mark.

In 1991 Takashima established his own business, Takashima Music Offices, as an operation division of Eighteen to nurture classical musicians. In 1996 the music mogul partnered with Columbia and began the J-Classic Series, a Japanese inspired variant of the classical genre. He also changed the traditional academic flow of classical concerts and turned out performers such as Mino Kabasawa, Satoko Koda, Yosifumi Hata and superstar Yoshihiro Kondo. Today he manages his daughter Chisako Takashima, who plays violin. The 41-year-old will be playing two sold out concerts at Suntory Hall later this year.

Takashima has taken his classical concerts all around the world including Carnegie Hall in New York, Cambridge University in England and more recently at the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. Takashima and musicians Susumu Aoyagi (piano), Ayako Ishikawa (violin), Takako Hagiwara (flute) and Lisa Kataoko (koto) perfomed “Enchanted Sky: a night of Japanese harmony,” which was made possible by the Japanese Foundation. The foursome played classical songs by Frederic Chopin, Rentaro Taki, Michio Miyagi and Franz Liszt. In front of a small and intimate crowd, the music weaved throughout the hall celebrating Tanabata. Takashima left the performance smiling.

The Japan Society Australia – http://www.jpf.org.au/