When Japan finally ‘broke’ in the UK in 1981, and we were suddenly inundated with what felt like dozens of Hansa re-releases vying for attention with the new Tin Drum material, many people did not realise just how popular the band had already been for the previous 4 years in their namesake country. The slow ‘drip, drip, drip’ of the Japan effect in their homeland, where they had been fighting for years for recognition and critical acclaim, hid the fact that they were proper, full-on super-stars in their own right, over there. And so, at the end of their first major, sell-out UK tour (which has sadly gone down in history as the ‘shit tour’) in December 1981, various members of the band hot-footed it over to Tokyo where a major exhibition, based upon their collective artistic and musical skills, was about to open.
The PARCO exhibition, (un)imaginatively titled ‘The Art of Parties’, was an amazing thing – and something that us Little Britain-ers would have found incredible at the time. A whole display devoted to the music, sculpture and photography of the band members – and this at a time when many people back home weren’t fully aware of the band’s colourful history and were only just discovering that they had lived a whole different musical life, long before ‘Life in Tokyo’ finally got on the radio. The exhibition was held across 3 PARCO shopping centres; opening at the Shibuya site in Tokyo on 2nd January, before moving on to the Sopparo Parco in Hokkaido in February and closing at the Osaka Shinsaibashi Parco on 7th March, with each exhibition lasting around a week. At the time, the Parco centres were renowned as being the place for fashionable Japanese folk to buy their classy threads, so hosting a mobile exhibition by that most fashionable of bands, in such an environment, made perfect sense.
At the core of the exhibition was a collection of Mick’s sculptures and Steve’s photography, with Dave & Rich providing the ambient background music “designed to be used in various situations, where it can actually become the natural ambience of the room” Richard Barbieri
Steve submitted 5 of his photos for the exhibition but was surprised to discover that a whole raft of his shots of David Sylvian were also on display. These were images which he had previously submitted over the years to a number of Japanese music magazines for publication, but had no idea they were to be included.
The images which Steve had chosen to be on show, were a more representative mix, far less focused simply on the allure of Mr Sylvian, and included shots of Mick and Yuka. Some of these were later used to publicise the small exhibition Steve had the following year in London, at the Photographer’s Gallery (see next week’s post for more on this!) However, magazines and publicity at the time omitted to show any of these images, choosing instead to stick to the tried and tested formula of ‘picture of David Sylvian = added interest’ (see scans below for evidence)
The PARCO exhibition was publicised and reviewed in a range of Japanese music press and fanzines at the time. Keiko Kurata attended both the Tokyo and Osaka events and remembers that they were very popular with fans – Steve, Mick and Rich all attended the Tokyo exhibition on the afternoon of 8th January.
For me, the really fascinating thing about the PARCO events was the promise of what could have been, had Japan not irrevocably split in 1982. Although those fans who attended the Visions of China (aka Shit Tour) during December 1981 had no real idea of the issues going on backstage, it soon started to become apparent that all was not well in the world of Karn and Sylvian. Tensions were brought to the fore, and interviews given where their personal problems were touched upon (or openly discussed in some cases) and the rumours of a possible split became more and more frequent. However, there was also the sense that this was a temporary situation, which would be overcome, and it was even put forward that ‘Japan’ would/could continue as an umbrella organisation for the creative output of all the members – be that music, sculpture, photography, art or writing. They had already combined their talents for the opening of Mick’s Penguin Cafe, with David & Richard providing music for the venture and Steve photographing the opening day, and Steve had contributed images and words for Mick’s sculpture brochure, when he exhibited at Hamilton’s the previous year. It seemed like a real possibility and I remember clinging to this idea, thinking it would be an amazing way for them all to continue working together…..but, sadly it wasn’t to be. So, for the majority of us, the PARCO ideal of creative egalitarianism was not to be experienced first hand, which is truly regrettable.
scans below from Music Life Special Issue:
With special thanks to Keiko Kurata for the photos of the Sylvian prints in situ at the Tokyo event, and for the Adonis fanzine scans.
All other photographs by Steve Jansen.
Limited edition, signed prints are available to buy from Steve’s website here: http://www.stevejansen.com/imageshop/
Steve publishes archival photographs on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr page here: http://sleepyard.tumblr.com/