Camera Obscura Alternatives

1982 Sons of Pioneers promo shoot
1982 Sons of Pioneers promo shoot Signed by Steve & Richard

Over the last few weeks, followers of Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ blog may have noticed him sharing a number of ‘previously unseen’ photos of JAPAN. The images, taken by a range of photographers and spanning the band’s full career – from the pomp & pout of the late 70s, to the pristine poses of the Virgin era – were discovered earlier in the year, and it has been fabulous to finally see some new photos emerge.

Richard by Yuka
Richard Barbieri – photographed by Yuka Fujii

Whilst many of the images have not been officially published previously, some of the shots may seem familiar to many fans; there are a number of ‘alternative’ photos from sessions with Patrick Litchfield, which appeared in The Sunday Times magazine (and one of my least favourite JAPAN photo-shoots, for the record!) as well as lots of early promos by Günther Rakete and a whole slew of uncredited shots of the band in recording studios and on stage.

The Alternative Smiling Session – by Patrick Lichfield

A number of these photos are now being auctioned on behalf of the band members. For those blog-readers who do not access the FB groups, where the auctions are discussed and promoted, here is the link to the goodies which are currently on eBay.


The auctions will run for 7-days. News and discussion about this, and other JAPAN-related announcements, are updated regularly on the ‘NIGHTPORTER’ facebook page. Come and join us!


penguin cafe – ‘cooking in a room with people’

Those of you who regularly follow Steve’s ‘sleepyard’ tumblr (or who inhabit the shady world of Japan fb sites, where these pictures are often re-posted within seconds of Steve hitting ‘enter’) can’t fail to have noticed the slew of amazing photos he unearthed last week, documenting the opening of the Penguin Cafe in 1981.  From the initial shots of Mick and Rob, beautifully robed in their own ‘penguin’ suits, to the onslaught of images of all the ‘Japan’ boys celebrating the first day of Mick & Yuka’s catering venture, we were treated to that rare thing – a whole raft of new images featuring Messrs Karn, Sylvian, Barbieri and Dean.

Rob Dean - Penguin Cafe
Rob Dean – Penguin Cafe

Much was made in the music press at the time, of Mick’s involvement with the Penguin Cafe; a lunchtime only affair, where he crafted exquisite pastries (as he did clay) into the shape of hands and fingers, to serve alongside a range of curries, grilled meats and vegetarian meals. However, the reality was that it was actually Yuka’s idea to transform the small space at the October Gallery into a restaurant and tea room.  Given a 10 month contract, Mick and Yuka took the name from the Penguin Cafe Orchestra (an instrumental band who would frequently cross paths with the Japan members over a number of years) and they would spend hours devising menus with Mick concentrating ‘most on desserts, with my sculpted finger biscuits as the main attraction….cinnamon flavoured with chocolate finger nails, with the real treat appearing once bitten and the jam interior oozed out’ (MK – Japan and Self Existence)

Mick & Rob - Penguin Cafe
Mick & Rob – Penguin Cafe

But, this was 1981. A year when Japan started to really break into the mainstream in the UK; with 2 tours (in May and December) and an album to record, just how much time could Mick have really devoted to the running of the Penguin Cafe? I think Connie’s PR machine must have been running on full throttle again, as Mick was frequently credited with being the ‘owner’; whereas in reality, Yuka and her friend were responsible for the running of the business, with Mick contributing to the creative side of catering, as and when he could. A polymath he may have been, but even he couldn’t be in 2 places at the same time!

However, that matters not a jot. Regardless of how much time he actually spent with his hands in a mixing bowl, what we have here are some wonderfully candid images of the band in relaxed and happy mode, enjoying the atmosphere of the opening day of the cafe. Richard and David contributed in their own way, providing a musical backing tape – and Steve (obviously) took on the role of professional snapper!

Richard Barbieri - Penguin Cafe
Richard Barbieri – Penguin Cafe
Poised penguins, Rob Dean (L) and Mick Karn
Poised penguins, Rob Dean (L) and Mick Karn
Happy penguins, Rob Dean (L) and Mick Karn
Happy penguins, Rob Dean (L) and Mick Karn
Mick - Penguin Cafe
Mick – Penguin Cafe

So, what of the cafe’s namesake, The Penguin Cafe Orchestra? How do they fit into the ever unravelling story of Japan? Well, at the end of the 10 month tenure at the October Gallery, the PCO were drafted in to perform, marking the climactic closing of the Penguin Cafe.  Although I am by no means an expert on the rather convoluted history of PCO , there are some pretty obvious connections between the 2 sets of musicians……

Simon Jeffes formed PCO in the early 1970s and went on to work with Sylvian and Sakamoto in 1982 on ‘Bamboo houses/Bamboo Music’

Sylvian, Sakamoto & Jeffes
Sylvian, Sakamoto & Jeffes

Joining Jeffes was none other than Steve Nye, a man whose impact upon Japan, and the recording of ‘Tin Drum’, cannot be over-stated; he continued to work with Sylvian for a number of years and worked with the band again on the Rain Tree Crow project.

Sylvian and Steve Nye during recording of Tin Drum
Sylvian and Steve Nye during recording of Tin Drum

Another PCO alumnus who fits into the story is Ian (Jennifer) Maidman, who joined David, Steve & Richard on the ‘In Praise of Shamens’ tour in 1988/89 and contributed to Alice’s ‘Il sole nella pioggia’ album, alongside Steve, Richard and Jon Hassell.

(Good grief, I feel as if I need to get Pete Frame to help me out with this!)

Ian Maidman USA 1988
Ian Maidman USA 1988

Thankfully, all of the people mentioned also feature in photos taken by Steve, which makes my life much easier – and this blog far more interesting. However, what of Mr Jansen himself? The man who is, by the very nature of this blog, usually absent from any of the images.

He once joined PCO on stage at Hackney Empire, as almost evidenced on this clip which has been doing the rounds on youtube for a couple of years:

And he also contributed a beautifully whimsical version of ‘Isle of View (Music for Helicopter Pilots)’ to the 2007 Penguin Cafe Orchestra tribute album.

So, there you have it. There are probably lots of other connections between the 2 bands that I have neglected to mention – feel free to highlight any omissions in the comments box below. There is one glaring oversight I think could have been addressed at the time, given the obvious influence of various members of PCO upon the members of Japan from 1981 onwards…….Rain Tree Penguin, anyone?

Flyer for the Penguin Cafe
Flyer for the Penguin Cafe

All photos by Steve Jansen A selection of these images are available to purchase from Steve’s imageshop

Steve answers questions and publishes photographs on his ‘sleepyard’ tumblr here:

Although Simon Jeffes sadly died in 1997, Penguin Cafe lives on under the stewardship of his son, Arthur, and information about the band can be found here:

‘Isle of View (Music for Helicopter Pilots)’ can be purchased via i-tunes

‘japan’ record covers

The eagle-eyed amongst you may be sensing a certain feeling of deja-vu right now, thinking “well, this all seems rather familiar?”  – but there is good reason for me posting a newly-edited version of one of our earlier pieces.

This week, we lost a very lovely man and fellow fan Jonathan Cluroe (1960 – 2015)

He was an active and charming member of our on-line community and was always full of positivity and enthusiasm for all things ‘japan’. He loved his old vinyl and would often post pictures of his turntable playing his chosen music for the day……….hence, it seemed appropriate to re-post this piece, which looks at Steve’s iconic record covers.

So this is posted today with much sadness – for Jonathan, with love and respect – we will miss you, and your hair-related anecdotes, dearly. xxxx


Steve’s first foray into photographing the band specifically for a record sleeve came in 1981 with The Art of Parties. The photos were taken at Mick’s flat, a bucket of water on hand to give the impression of tropical humidity…….and resulted in these beautifully captured portraits of each of the members of ‘japan’. These pictures were a million miles way from the perfectly sculpted images we had been used to seeing of the band; only a few months earlier we had been presented with the almost Newtonesque cover of Gentlemen Take Polaroids and yet here we see them in just a dash of eye-liner, looking sultry and sweaty……. The ltd edition 7″ fold out version (which is featured here) is, without doubt, my favourite Japan sleeve……

SJ 007                            SJ 014

SJ 009                            SJ 010

SJ 011                          SJ 008

Not so much another infamous Jansen “selfie” when it came to his photo – Steve set the shots up and one of the other members clicked the shutter…..

SJ 013                         SJ 012


In October 1981, Visions of China was released and this Jansen cover, featuring a segment of the iconic picture of Chariman Mao, alluded to what was to follow – the Tin Drum cover would also feature this picture of Mao  – and the emerging interest that the band had developed in Chinese music.

SJ 003                         SJ 004


Masami Tsuchiya (& Mao)  photographed in Kensington by Steve Jansen


March 1982 saw the release of Japan’s most successful, and yet least commercial sounding, single…….the photo that featured on the 7″ version was taken by Steve, on the roof of his flat.

SJ 001                          SJ 002

Confusingly, the photo which features on the 12″ version (below) was credited to Yuka Fujii and, due to the similarities in style, I had always assumed the 2 were taken at the same session.  However, Steve explained this wasn’t the case….


(photo by Yuka Fujii)

“they were not taken at the same time, (as far as my memory serves) – I don’t even know which session came first. Mine were taken on the roof of my London flat which was only accessible via a very difficult to negotiate skylight suspended over a deep stairwell (and this was not a flat roof) and the purpose was to experiment with infra-red film, but as it turned out the location had no bearing whatsoever on the shot used for the cover.”  Steve Jansen (Dec 2014)


David Sylvian – shot on infra-red monochrome film on the rooftop of 23 Stanhope Gardens, London, for ‘Ghosts’ cover (shortly before Steve fell through the skylight – I kid you not!!!)

Steve has recently added another of the ‘Ghosts’ outtakes to his imageshop – you can read about this in more detail here:

'ghosts' out-take
Shane McElligott’s signed copy of the ‘ghosts’ out-take


2 months later came the final Jansen cover for a Japan release. This one perplexed many fans, as it featured an image of the Japanese photographer, Yuka Fujii – but most people assumed it was a picture of a young Chinese man. Such are the dangers of taking things too literally!  This photograph of Yuka was also featured in the Parco Exhibition in Japan in 1982

SJ 005                          SJ 006

the photos chosen by Steve to be exhibited at the 'parco' show
the photos chosen by Steve to be exhibited at the ‘parco’ show

Bringing us bang up to date, Steve has included some of his own photographs on his more recent ‘download only’ releases, which are available via ‘burning shed’, including this image ‘hotel room, pusan’ on the cover for ‘exit north’

exit north sleeve -  'hotel Room, pusan'
exit north sleeve –
‘hotel Room, pusan’

Details of how to purchase one of Steve’s prints can be found here: