Turning Japanese

One of the most popular Japanese girl punk bands of the late 1970s were 水玉消防団 or if you prefer, Mizutama Shobodan – and just case you can’t cope with the first two versions, they were also known as, The Polka Dot Fire Brigade. An all female 5 piece, they formed in Tokyo in 1979, and although they achieved a certain popularity in Japan, they hung on to their low-profile internationally.

Hot on their heels, certainly in terms of a huge International breakthrough, were Zelda, also one of J-Pops pioneering all girl bands, more Pop than Punk and in 1982 they released their eponymous first album. The original line-up of Sachiho Kojima (bass), 15-year-old vocalist Sayoko Takahashi, Fukie Ishihara (guitar) and Kuniko Nozawa (drums) continued to perform in various forms until 1996.

However, if it’s actual rock stars you’re after, this may be of more interest. At almost the same time, in 1981, in Japan’s second largest city Osaka, a band called Shonen Knife, which translates literally as “Boy Knife” were busy making plans. More Punk than J-Pop they unleashed themselves at a time when all-girl bands were still a rarity in Japan. Even after citing The Ramones and The Buzzcocks as influences, this three piece encouraged positivity above anarchy, and wrote catchy, upbeat songs with lyrics more likely to contain references to sweets and animals than a punk torrent of destruction or boredom. They describe themselves as “ultra-eccentric-super-cult-punk-pop-band-shonen-knife!”  Shonen Knife performed their first gig on March 14, 1982 at Studio One, a club in Osaka, in front of an audience of 36 people and later that August, they released their first independent album, Minna Tanoshiku, on cassette.

By the mid 1980s, their records were being released on US grunge label Sub-Pop, they began to be played on BBC’s John Peel radio show, they opened for Thurston Moore in the US and were even name-checked by Kurt Cobain.

30+ years later, they are still around, still playing and still evidently fond of The Ramones, aren’t we all. 1, 2, 3, 4…


1 thought on “Turning Japanese

  1. When all of this was starting I was working on an assembly line in Detroit, and missed much of it, especially much from England. A great site to learn some stuff that I never would have heard of unless you had put up this site. I am especially interested in these Japanese bands, that except for Shonen Knife, have pretty much sunk into obscurity. Thank ghod for the internet, and for you, for dredging up this information.

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