In the spring of 1979, Bob Marley and The Wailers travel to Japan for their first and only tour of the country. The King of Reggae and his band are greeted by enthusiastic fans and the press in Tokyo and Osaka. This essays follows Marley and The Wailers during their twelve days and eight intimate concerts in Japan, and what they meant for reggae music and culture on the Japanese islands. The second part of the essay zooms in on the development of J-Reggae and the Japanese reggae experience.
Between 1973 and late 1980, Bob Marley and The Wailers travel around the world to spread their reggae music and message of rebellion, redemption, and Rastafari. In the spring of 1979, the legendary reggae formation extends its international triumphs to the ‘Far East’ and ‘Down Under’ by touring Japan (Nippon in Japanese), New Zealand, and Australia. The tour is ground breaking, not just for The Wailers, but also for reggae music in general, as few bands have travelled so far to spread the music and message. The Wailers play eight concerts in total in the cities of Tokyo and Osaka, where the reggae pioneers are greeted by enthusiastic fans and press. The promotional tour is a great success, signalling the start of a reggae boom and the rise of a Japanese home grown reggae scene.
In this essay we go back in time and follow the Jamaican reggae king and his entourage as they visit the cities of Tokyo and Osaka. From interviews, Japanese newspapers and magazines, as well as visits to the concert venues in Tokyo, emerges a colourful picture of Marley’s twelve days and eight intimate concerts in Japan, and what they meant for reggae music and culture on the Japanese islands.
— Bob Marley, Osaka 1979
Reggae is a music that fight for the oppressed people anywhere upon the earth. It defend the oppressed people, it show them freedom. It is the best music for the human being. Everyone know that. Reggae music is the best music for human being
We follow the band on their trip through Japan, visit the venues in Tokyo where they played, and get up close and behind the scenes with the story and photos of Shin’ichi Miyoshi, at the time the director of record company Toshiba-EMI. Miyoshi escorted the band and was there when the Jamaicans travelled, relaxed, ate together, reasoned about Rastafari and Jamaica, and when they went on stage to perform. The story of Miyoshi is complemented with an interview with a Marley fan and unique artwork made by a Japanese artist.
The visits to Japan of Bob Marley and others like Jimmy Cliff planted the seeds which in the 1980s would grow into a Japanese home grown reggae scene. The second part of the essay zooms in on this subsequent development of J-Reggae.
Finally, the Japanese reggae experience is explored in an attempt to understand the Japanese fascination with reggae, Rastafari and Jamaica. Why and how does reggae in all its forms and shapes grab the attention of the Japanese? Looking beyond the surface, there are interesting links and angles that help to explain reggae’s enduring appeal in Japan.
Keywords: Bob Marley and The Wailers, Japan, Rastafari, reggae, tour