BOOK TWO: Chapter 12


Join Our Mental Phase Sound

If there is one single band whose tale concludes most righteously this little history of post-war Japanese music, then it has to be that of Far East family Band. For, among all of the artists described herein, Far East Family Band's was the most thorough tale of searching and researching, of aspirations both artistic and altruistic, of dreams unfulfilled and of journeys that reached right around the globe only to return at last to their founder's first place of motivation right down in the foothills of Mt Fuji. During their five-year career, the music of Far East Family Band spanned almost all of the Cosmic rock'n'roll genres, from epic twenty-minute-long funereal acoustic mantras in the style of Krautrockers Sand, Kalackakra and PARADIESWARTS DÜÜL-period Amon Düül to their Ash Ra Tempel-informed percussion-heavy power drives, via saccharine-sweet harmony-laden ballads through euphoric 'Careful with That Axe, Eugene' Pink Floydian guitar epics to rigorously arranged West Coast psychedelic rock songs. From sniffing paint thinners alongside Too Much and Speed, Glue & Shinki in department-store record-company showcases to transcendental meditation, via marijuana, LSD, Krautrock, the Moody Blues and New Age healing techniques, the members of Far East Family Band did it all, and often in the most clichéd manner possible. Inspired by the then-fashionable late-'60s theories of lost Golden Ages and humanity as the progeny of ancient space travellers, the band sung of discovering new lost lands high to the north of Japan. On signing to Columbia Records, their first major-label LP embraced the so-called 'Hollow Earth Theory' that New Age theorists espoused, and the band's obsessive and capricious leader insisted on their own in-house vanity label Mu Land, named after that most ultimate of mythical lost lands.

Furthermore, the members of Far East Family Band were seekers. Hailing from a land whose people were more used to importing exotica than leaving their own landscape, nevertheless, Far East family Band searched for the ultimate kosmische sound by travelling to England, where they worked with Krautrock legend Klaus Schultze, and appeared to recognise no irony in travelling to the USA explicitly in order to search for the wisdom of the Far East. On album covers, they depicted themselves in meditative poses, as Zen warriors, as romantic time travellers aboard an open boat adrift in space. And yet they were no more of a gang than Dexy's Midnight Runners purported to be, forever in thrall to their capricious yet highly charismatic leader Fumio Miyashita. But if Miyashita was a New Age dreamer whose band spawned the blandly ambient million-selling artist Kitaro, then at least this singer/songwriter was never anything less than a highly achieving dreamer. Between 1973 and '76, Fumio delivered us a hefty sequence of four certified classic esoteric rock LPs by the names of NIHONJIN, CHIKYU KUDO SETSU - THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH, NIPPONJIN and PARALLEL WORLD. And yet, when Miyashita died in 2004, it's clear from his published memories, dreams and remarkably few reflections upon this 'rock' period of his life, that he considered Far East Family Band to have been a gigantic failure. That this was really the case will not be shown in the following story, for Miyashita had high expectations that never approached the reality on offer to him. No visionary of the same calibre as Ikuzo Orita or Yuya Utchida ever stopped by to help facilitate his great ambitions. However, Miyashita did in later years achieve major success in his chosen field of healing. Perhaps that success made him judge his comparatively unsuccessful days in Far East Family Band overly harshly. For, in truth, brothers and sisters, the music didn't half sound good.

Let the Sunshine In ...

The story of Far East Family Band begins with the birth of Fumio Miyashita, in 1949, on a large farm near Nishifunabashi, in the green mountainous area of Nagana prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. Here, Miyashita was brought up by a newly impoverished but still highly resourceful family, whose fierce national pride had led them to name their son after the Japanese general in charge of the 1941 invasion of China. The Miyashita family's farm buildings had avoided the near-total destruction suffered by the conurbation to the southeast, and their remote location kept them removed from the daily brushes with immediate Westernisation and the US military. Unlike those of the city children, Miyashita's home was surrounded by woodland, this abundant fuel supply enabling the family both to keep warm enough and to slow-cook ropey vegetables on the point of rotting where they lay. However, many of the post-war privations that the Japanese were suffering could not be avoided, and much of Fumio's childhood was spent defending his honour against the rough children whose parents had been allowed by the new socialist government to occupy smallholdings across the family farm. Nevertheless, much to his ultra-conservative parents' dismay, the presence in the living room of a large radio set enabled Miyashita to catch all of the new sounds blasting out of the occupying force's Far East Network.

In 1965, the sixteen-year-old Miyashita joined local eleki band the Glories, ostensibly as rhythm guitarist. But he slowly insinuated his way into the band, adding songs into their act that he himself would sing. When the Beatles arrived in July '66, the Glories drove in to Tokyo in Miyashita's parents' old estate wagon to bask in the excitement. However, by the end of that mythical day, Fumio himself was less intoxicated by the arrival of the fabulous four than by the lines of Japanese refusenik students who had barred their way. For, in a land where acceptance of authority was all, this public show of outrage seemed more exotic than the four mysterious gaijin that his band had travelled so far to welcome.

Over the coming years, the Glories found that they were in a poor geographical location to score many prestigious gigs, although they did manage to support Yuzo Kayama's eleki sensation the Launchers. Miyashita was beside himself at the prospect of meeting Kayama, whose role as 'The Young General' had made such an Impact in forging his identity. Sharing his name with a famous World War II major-general had always been a double-edged sword for the teenager. Outwardly, his refusenik tendencies and those of his cohorts encouraged him to disparage the military connection. But secretly Fumio had always been delighted to hold such a name, with all of the cachet of valour and honour that it held for the older Japanese people he would meet.

However, when the day of the Glories' support gig arrived, the Launchers were no longer led by the debonair Kayama, but by his younger first cousin, the brilliant guitar technician Osamu Kitajima. Nevertheless, the show was a revelation for Miyashita, as he watched Kitajima perform classic after eleki classic on his Californian Mosrite guitar, before turning his attentions to the Japanese biwa, a round full-bellied acoustic lute-styled instrument. Kitajima conjured up such beauty from the biwa that Miyashita was smitten, and returned to his parents' farm full of praise for Japanese musicians who refused to be dominated by Western culture.

The Glories' moments of glory were sporadic, however, and it was many months before their next thrill, supporting Terry Terauchi's Group Sounds prodigies 491. Backstage, the personable Miyashita struck up a relationship with 491's vocalist Joe Yamanaka, who declared his belief that the GS sound was a phenomenon on the way out. Yamanaka praised Miyashita's vocal styling and suggested that he audition for the part of Wolf in Tokyo's forthcoming production of the controversial rock musical Hair (see end of Book One, Chapter Two and Book Two, Chapter Five). Miyashita's audition went so well that the singer was shocked not to win the part of Wolf. However, when he realised that the show's cast of twenty-nine had been selected from a list of almost 4,000 candidates, Miyashita contented himself with a place in the 'Boy Tribe' chorus, alongside other ex-Groups Sounds musicians from the Carnabeats, the Fingers, the Dimensions, Apryl Fool and Miyashita's old acquaintance from 491, singer Joe Yamanaka, now sporting a wild rainbow-dyed Afro that made him look like the foxy love child of Jimi Hendrix and Marsha Hunt.

Despite their relatively low-ranking roles, Joe and Fumio's position in the controversial production of Hair quickly turned them into far more exotic rebellious figures than their equivalents on Broadway or London's Shaftesbury Avenue. Indeed, the heavyweight figures of the Tokyo underground scene all still held the traditional Japanese belief that theatre should be a gateway into normal regular consciousness, regarding Hair as an opportunity for total mass cultural change because the songs were all so insidiously catchy. And both Joe and Miyashita found themselves increasingly intrigued and stimulated to write their own protests songs when surrounded by members of nihilistic street bands Zuno Keisatsu (Brain Police), Yellow, Kant Watanabe's street freak-out band [circle triangle square] (Maru Sankaku Shikaku) and the nihilistic Murahatchibu.

Leap Before You Look... or 'There Goes Justin Heathcliff'

Miyashita's brief tenure in the Tokyo cast of Hair ground to an unexpected conclusion in the spring of 1970, however, when several members of the production were busted for possession of marijuana, causing the authorities to shut down the entire show. Here at the crossroads of the '60s and '70s, Miyashita watched as his cohort Joe Yamanaka was whisked away to become the glamorous figurehead of Yuya Utchida's naked highwaymen Flower Travellin' Band. Determined that he too should capitalise on his days in Hair, Miyashita searched around for a likely musical partner. With few GS contacts of his own, the singer had sensibly kept in touch with Launchers guitarist Osamu Kitajima, who - after Yuzo Kayama's return to movie acting - had taken the Launchers into weird and unlikely realms in the late '60s with two bizarre concept LPs FREE ASSOCIATION and OASY KINGDOM. Kitajima was still enthusiastic about the electric guitar, but had, like Miyashita, become increasingly interested in reawakening Japanese ears to their own traditional instruments, and had recently abandoned the long-obsolete Launchers in favour of something more current. When Miyashita invited the guitarist over to jam at his apartment, the singer explained that his new songs had all arisen from long stoned jams with his new Shinjuku futen mates, his chord structures inevitably becoming more and more simple over the months in order to accommodate the large groups of freaks who'd regularly descend on the Toyoko Gekijo Theatre clutching percussion and such exotic Japanese stringed instruments as the shamisen and the biwa. To Osamu Kitajima, still struggling to rid himself of the eleki associations of the Launchers, this all sounded highly exotic and futuristic, so the two set about putting together an album of traditional Japanese music at a studio run by Kitajima's music publishers.

In autumn 1970, the duo's album NEW CHINA was released to absolutely no acclaim and promptly disappeared without trace. Ominously subtitling the record 'Leap Before You Look', the two - billed as 'Fumio & Osamu' - had become so obsessed with authenticity that Miyashita's songs were entirely lost, submerged under a crushing weight of Japanese and Far Eastern instruments. It was a salutary lesson to them both, and Osamu Kitajima's response was somewhat hysterical, as the guitarist immediately quit Tokyo and flew to London, where he formed the English-styled studio psychedelic band Justin Heathcliff. [1] Back in Tokyo, Miyashita attempted to follow Joe Yamanaka's 'New Rock' route by recording a ham-fisted version of Grand Funk Railroad's already brutal ballad 'Sin's a Good Man's Brother'. But the singer's heart remained bound to the Utopian songs composed during his Hair period and Miyashita decided to search out some of his erstwhile accomplices on the Shinjuku futen scene.

Precious & Precocious: Here's Magical Power Mako

Possessed by an almost Blakean vision of the world, this self-styled visionary has been releasing albums since the mid-70s, continuing to do so up to the present day. Unfortunately, the extraordinarily varied quality of Magical Power Mako's output during the '90s has contributed dramatically to compromising the public's long-term perception of this charming artist, whose first recordings were influenced by the studio experiments of Faust, John Care and Todd Rundgren. Viewed in equal measures as both a legend and a chancer, there's no doubt that the here-there-and-everywhere approach of Magical Power Mako's attitude to releases has made it difficult to grasp what he's about. Mako's chequered career began auspiciously enough with thunderous applause for his first three Polydor LPs MAGICAL POWER MAKO, SUPER RECORD and JUMP. However, like other single-minded '70s contemporaries such as Mike Oldfield and Franco Battiato, the excruciatingly slow process of Mako's recording techniques contributed to record company impatience, and Polydor dropped him in 1980. Mako thereafter sunk beneath the radar of public opinion, surfacing only occasionally on independent labels through-out the '80s and '90s

Mako was born Makoto Kurita in 1955, growing up in the seaside resort of Izu Shuzenji, a coastal town similar to Brighton or Torquay. Throughout his childhood, he was an outsider who constantly wrote music, playing piano and guitar while still at primary school. At junior high school, Mako decided to make a more concerted effort to realise his musical visions, returning home every day to write at the family house, which was situated high in the mountains, overlooking the town's hot springs. From his bedroom window, Mako had a clear view of an octagonal-shaped hotel built close to the springs, from which, he believed, he was being observed by someone who lived on its third floor. This sense of being observed obsessed and inspired the teenager, spurring him on into the creation of music. During the summer of 1970, Mako began the arduous process of constructing his first solo LP on a reel-to-reel tape machine, ping-ponging the tracks back and forth in order to build up sound. When it was finished, Mako wrote on the reel-to-reel tape box: 'Summer 1970, things a 14-year-old boy thinks about'. In spring 1971, Mako moved to Tokyo, where he found a job in a steel factory and formed his first band Genge, who took up a residency at Shibuya's Jan Jan Theatre. A performance at the music festival 'Jiyu Kukan' (Freedom Space) impressed Lost Aaraaff's singer Keiji Heino, and the two became fast friends. From May 1972, Mako was employed as a writer of documentary soundtracks for NHK-TV, but gained his first real break in February 1973, when a duet with Keiji Heino on the daytime chat show Hiru no Purezento (Lunchtime Present) caused viewers to complain. The following month, Mako performed on NHK-TV's programme Ongaku to Watashi (Music and I), where he struck up a friendship with the experimental composer Toru Takemitsu, then already in his forties. Takemitsu invited the teenager to perform on some of his own new compositions, thereafter securing Mako a place on NHK-TV's prestigious Heritage for the Future series. Next, Takemitsu personally recommended Mako to the A&R team at Polydor Records, who promptly set him up in a home studio located in a rented house on the US Army's base at Fussa, on the outskirts of Tokyo. The resulting self-titled debut LP was something of a masterpiece, revealing Mako as a composer of extraordinary range, one minute bombarding them with musique concrète, the next dueting with himself on blissed-out ballads. Unfortunately for Mako, however, the agonisingly slow recording process that had achieved such a spectacular sound was so out-of-whack with the commercial necessities of the day that the artist would, thereafter, be forever chasing deadlines in an effort to make a career in such a demanding business world.

Far Out in the Foothills of Mt Fuji

Throughout 1971, Fumio Miyashita slowly assembled his dream band from the few high-quality street musicians that remained on the Tokyo scene. In the aftermath of the Yodo-go hijacking, many had fled to the far corners of Japan pursued by the authorities, while the few that remained on the streets of Shinjuku were mainly Johnny-come-lately types from rural areas. Miyashita's agricultural upbringing had instilled in him an innate sense of the need for patience, however, and he picked his musicians thoughtfully. His conservative parents offered the singer the use of their Nishifunabashi farmhouse as a rehearsal space and crash pad out of sight of the overly vigilant Tokyo drug squad. And it was here to the foothills of Mt Fuji that Miyashita brought Zuna Keisatsu's former lead guitarist Eiichi Sayu, with promises of a rent-free existence, clean air and loud music. Next came bass player and sitarist Keiju Ishikawa, formerly with the backing band of ex-Dynamites guitarist Fujio Yamagauchi. Ishikawa had first met Miyashita through producer Ikuzo Orita, while playing session bass on MILK TIME, the Polydor Records 'super session' by former Apryl Fool organist Hiro Yanagida. But the bass player had quit the ex-Dynamites' band after the chaos of the airliner hijacking had brought American CIA men round to his flat. Unfortunately for Miyashita's parents, the free-living Ishikawa also brought several young futen women with him, and the farm took on the look of a commune. Over the next few months, as the farm's population grew to over twenty, the still-drummerless ensemble rehearsed the singer's long unfolding acoustic songs in preparation for playing live. The line-up was finally completed by the arrival of Tomio Maeda, who'd played drums in the final incarnation of Group Sounds giants the Spiders. In the late summer of 1971, the band took the name Far Out and began playing small shows with festival bands Zuno Keisatsu, the M, Slash and former Blues Creation singer Fumio Nunoya's lumbering proto-metal behemoth Dew, whom Eiichi Sayu had left to join Far Out. Onstage, Miyashita was determined to let his band rip through his longest and most strung-out compositions, always remembering the massive jam sessions during the Hair rehearsals as musical high points of his life.

By the spring of '72, however, just as Miyashita finally believed that he had rehearsed Far Out enough to commence recording their first album, drummer Tomio Maeda announced that he was quitting. The band was devastated. Only through long months of rehearsals had the band learned all of the nuances, gear changes and guitar licks of Miyashita's twenty-minute songs, and now the unit had disintegrated. For several months, chaos reigned at the Nishifunabashi commune as the band held arduous drum auditions. None was deemed worthy, however, until bassist Ishikawa arrived one evening with the skinny and bespectacled longhair Manami Arai, who looked like a cross between Noel Redding and Budgie's Burke Shelley. Arai's drumming was incredibly dynamic and the ensemble knitted together within weeks. And by early autumn '72, the re-ignited Miyashita had secured a record deal with the small independent Denon label and set about recording their debut LP, to be titled NIHONJIN (Japanese).

A Child's Mitten Hangs by a Single Peg

Like the greatest '70s Krautrock bands, Far Out's debut LP offered a devastating combination of easily graspable chords and sentiments, all set into a highly unlikely ambient frame. With Miyashita's old Hair associate Joe Yamanaka temporarily AWOL from Flower Travellin' Band to provide his own inimitable banshee vocals, and the recently returned Osamu Kitajima playing an assortment of Japanese stringed instruments, Miyashita himself hired in a big Moog synthesiser from jazz pianist Masahiko Satoh and a Hammond organ for lead guitarist Eiichi Sayu. For the obsessive Miyashita, this was to be a recording of ritual precision, uniting Japanese thoroughness with Western modernity. And Miyashita was not about to fail...

Released in spring 1973, everything about the NIHONJIN LP was perfectly conceived and executed, comprised solely of two supremely confident side-long Miyashita songs delivered to its audience in an LP sleeve as iconically pop art as Faust copping Andy Warhol. A child's mitten hangs by a single peg from a washing line on an expansive and borderless cyan-blue background. Think of such classics as the Velvets' Banana LP, or the traffic cone on the sleeve of Kraftwerk's debut album, or La Düsseldorf's spray-painted VIVA.

The musical introduction of side one's eighteen-minute beauty 'Too Many People' emerges from its primordial synthesized soup on slow-picked acoustic guitars that plot a chord sequence straight out of the universal songwriter's handbook, whence emerged Funkadelic's 'I'll Stay', Led Zeppelin's 'Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You' and Tim Buckley's 'Pleasant Street'. Four sketchy and brittle and exquisite chords repeat over and over, as Miyashita hesitates and stutters and dwells longingly over each phrase. It's all so simple on the printed page but so desperately meaningful within its rock'n'roll that you only can feel compassion for all those self-absorbed singer/song-writers whose lyrics fly so wide of the mark. Perhaps, in order to have delivered the true depth of their alienation, they should have simply translated their songs into some foreign language and then back again.

Round and around goes the song, like that optical-illusion staircase that keeps returning us to the same point. Single low bass-guitar notes punctuate the rhythm, as leaden pumping drums introduce a lyrical and slightly out-of-tune lead guitar, which starts weak and slowly gains authority before pushing clear out of the fog into crystal blue. Then a riffing menace envelops the song that drags the whole band into a strange loping Japanese boogie raga. This featureless grind soon takes hold of the song - a slow single-note skank driven by the tom-toms of Manami Arai and the Coral electric sitar of bass player Kei Ishikawa. [2] And here on the NIHONJIN LP, Ishikawa turned into a kind of Samurai Tony Iommi, grinding and wailing his Coral axe into some whirlpool of meditative metal, as a cymbal-less leaden tom-tom rhythm free of any sonic top end drives us relentlessly onwards and inwards and never upwards. Two-thirds of the way into the piece, it comes to a dramatic and abrupt stop. The sitar picks up the descending rhythm again and an extra-unbalanced lead guitar screams from the speakers, before the song caravan trails off again across the desert, along the way picking up a following of beautiful harmony vocalists, another lead guitarist, and Joe Yamanaka's astral castrato worthy of the Moody Blues' John Lodge during IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD. On side two's side-long epic title track, Eiichi Sayu reveals himself to be a lead guitarist of such confidence that he can inhabit the hoary territory of a J.J. Cale or even Hank B. Marvin without ever burning up in a confiagration of clichés. Indeed, the Far Out muse soars so un restrainedly that we are even reminded of how exultant and beautiful that desert-guitar sound was before London's pub rock scene Hope'n'Anchored it to the ocean floor. [3] And here, Eiichi Sayu straps it back with a soaring wild rip-it-out which pushes this epic into a supremely dazed-and-confused autobahn ride. From this point, Far Out take us off into the wild blue yonder with a rumbling vocal chant and steaming guitar ride from the other side of the sky, before terminating with the glorious sound of some wading piper knee-deep in the paddy fields below Mount Fuji.

Turbulence ... Personnel Differences ... Far Out Family Band

Unfortunately, despite the artistic success of NIHONJIN, its considerable commercial failure once again caused Far Out to go into meltdown. Shows were cancelled when Manami Arai quit, replaced eventually by drummer Tetsuya Nishi, formerly of festival band the M. The obsessive rehearsal methods of Fumio Miyashita soon caused even this new drummer to walk, replaced by Osamu Takeda. In a sensible effort to shore up the vibe and deflect band members' somewhat justified accusations of being an overbearing leader, Miyashita renamed the ensemble Far Out Family Band, and invited organist Akira Ito to join. Unfortunately, peace and calm reigned only briefly, as Miyashita's endless reading pitched him into the world of occult theorists, conspiracy theories and the lost worlds of Atlantis and Mu. For the rest of the band - city dwellers all, and stranded miles from anywhere - this rural idyll was anything but. The singer's beliefs in lost Golden Ages, the seemingly endless rehearsals at the farm commune, all of this coupled with the chronic presence of Miyashita's parents, became too much for new drummer Osamu Takeda, who disappeared one night, taking long-time bass player Kei Ishikawa with him. When the commune members discovered, one month later, that the rhythm section had flown to Los Angeles to form their own band Kuronikuru (Chronicle), [4] the exasperated lead guitarist Eiichi Sayu also quit Far Out, leaving Miyashita entirely alone at Nishifunabashi, save for his parents, new organist Akira Ito and a few remaining futen women.

Jagged Time Lapse ... Name Changes ... Far East Family Band

Surveying the devastation of his parents' farm and his musical career thus far, Fumio Miyashita decided to follow a course of concentrated action. No more could he rely on Shinjuku hippies for his musical backing, the next bunch had to be professionals; no longer could he impose on his parents' goodwill, Miyashita must now re-enter the city and pursue his career with vigour and thoroughness. And no more could he simply put himself in the hands of the wider cosmos, he must demand that it accept him by thinking in vast terms. This latter course the singer implemented immediately by altering two of the Chinese characters in his name to read 'wealth' and 'substance'. Take that, ye Gods!

Throughout 1974, Miyashita and organist Akira Ito recorded high-quality demos of the singer's new songs and touted them around the Tokyo music business. Even without a band, Miyashita's determination was such that he soon found a deal with the enormous Columbia Records, whose head of A&R Teruaki Kuroda agreed to front the money for new equipment and to give Miyashita his own vanity label within the corporation. For Miyashita, this latter element was essential to the mystery that he insisted the new band must project. The singer had become infatuated with the Moody Blues' main sequence of Utopian concept LPs: IN SEARCH OF THE LOST CHORD, ON THE THRESHOLD OF A DREAM, TO OUR CHILDREN'S CHILDREN'S CHILDREN, A QUESTION OF BALANCE and EVERY GOOD BOY DESERVES FAVOUR. Released after a collective acid trip in an avalanche of visionary ideas between 1968 and '72, the Moodies had adopted their own Threshold vanity label, which Miyashita now wished to ape. He called his new label Mu Land, after the greatest mythical lost land of them all.

Slowly, Miyashita and Akira Ito assembled a highly skilled new band, now renamed Far East Family Band to symbolise their uniquely Japocentric worldview. The long strung-out songs had all been ejected in favour of highly crafted melodic and cosmic ballads, chock-full of lyrical double meanings. Many of the new songs had two or even three titles, and all were inspired by the Moody Blues' Mellotron-heavy sound. The ensemble was an extraordinary sight, every one of them super-long-haired and exquisitely dressed, and seven in number. With his abrupt fringe and crimped perm, new bass player Akira Fukukusa looked for all the world like PARANOID-period Geezer Butler, while bearded lead guitarist Hirohito Fukushima had the look of a Russian mystic. On drums was Shizu Takahashi, who played with a huge Japanese Horai Dora gong behind his head, while most unique to the new band was the inclusion of the wonderfully monikered Joe USA, a Yankee flautist who doubled on sax. And helping out organist Akira Ito was another young keyboardist, Masaaki Takahashi, who went by the nickname 'Kitaro'. Born and raised in the industrial city of Nagoya, Kitaro had been a guitarist in Albatros, a failed New Rock band from his home town. Thereafter, he had bought a synthesiser and formed his own band, Zero. But now, with the financial support of Columbia, Kitaro and Akira Ito were able to summon all kinds of new and unearthly sounds from their enormous arsenal comprised of Minimoog, Mellotron 400, Korg organ, Hammond organ, Fender electric piano, and multiple analogue synthesisers.

Undiscovered Northern Lands & CHIKYU KUDO SETSU

In March 1975, Far East Family Band entered Columbia's main studio and commenced the recording of their first album. Entitled CHIKYU KUDO SETSU (Hollow Earth Theory), the record was conceived as a series of interlocking concepts, all driven by wonderful melodies and fantastic sounds from the Mellotrons, synthesisers and Joe USA's exotic Japanese flutes, biwas, shamisens, etc. Moreover, Miyashita had decided that most of the songs should bear an English title that bore little resemblance to its Japanese equivalent, creating an ambivalent art statement that was so multi-layered as to be almost opaque. For example, the album's opening song 'Michi no Tairiku' (Unknown Landmass) was given the English title 'Undiscovered Northern Land'. Track two, 'Jidai Kara' (From the Era), was also called 'Birds Flying to the Cave Down to Earth'. Track six, 'Enshinkoku' (Country of the Smoking God), became in English 'Moving, Looking, Trying, Jumping in a Maze', while the album's sole clunker - the mawkishly sentimental 'Kidoairaku' (Delight, Anger, Sorrow, Pleasure) - became known simply as 'Four Minds'. Even the album's title CHIKYU KUDO SETSU (Hollow Earth Theory) bore an entirely different English title THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH on its exquisitely printed and tooled sleeve. Inside the jacket, a full-colour inner depicted a magnificent sunset, whilst a separate gatefold lyric sheet showed the new ensemble standing - Pink Floyd-like - surrounded by masses of state-of-the-art instruments and amplification. On the red vertical Obi-strip used to advertise the contents, a portentous message proclaimed: 'The eternal word woven into creation with eleven keyboards. At last the road of the 21st Century is open. The eastern spirit has touched people all over the world.' On the gatefold inner, A&R director Teruaki Kuroda caught the (nowadays absurdly clichéd) Zeitgeist with sleeve notes that ran:

Besides the colossal sound of 'eleven keyboards' and wind accompaniment by Joe USA, Miyashita had invigorated his new shorter songs by adopting an entirely new lead-vocal method. Aping the singing style of Moody Blues keyboardist Mike Pinder on certain songs, whilst copping Moody Blues drummer Graeme Edge's spoken-word ideas on others, Miyashita also employed a call-and-answer soul-revue technique in which the band members were each given key words to sing one after the other. So thorough and so complete was Miyashita's dedication to his muse that, despite its shameless Moody Blues influences, the whole album sounded like the brand-new band that it claimed to be.

All Aboard the Klaus Schultze Express!

With considerable money now invested in Far East Family Band, Columbia Records sent the seven musicians out on a Japanese tour throughout summer 1975. In August, however, A&R director Teruaki Kuroda called Miyashita to inform him that Germany's Vertigo Records was interested in the band. Apparently, German synthesiser genius Klaus Schultze had discovered the original Far Out LP and, wishing to produce the band, had alerted friends at the label. Schultze was on tour for most of the year, but Vertigo now asked the German synthesist if he could help Miyashita to create an interim German-only album [5] by radically re-mixing most of the new record CHIKYU KUDO SETSU/THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH (removing the laborious Easy Listening of 'Four Minds' in the process), and adding to it a re-working of the huge cosmic epic title track from Far Out's NIHONJIN. Barely one week later, Klaus Schultze and various members of the seven-piece ensemble were ensconced in Tokyo's Onkyo House Studios adding synthesisers to the re-mixed tracks and laying down the new version of 'Nihonjin' as requested. For Miyashita, this was a joyous return to his underestimated past, while recording for the rest of the band was entirely painless, as they had been performing the song nightly during the Japanese tour. In Germany, Vertigo's art director conflated together the many exotic front-cover images from CHIKYU KUDO SETSU/THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH, and added the agreed new title NIPPONJIN, a Westernised version of the original Far Out title. Added below, for extra mystery, was the intriguing tag line 'Join Our Mental Phase Sound', for Klaus had added a whole slew of Dieter Derks-ian dub mixing to their Moody Blues sound, making NIPPONJIN sound like an epic Cosmic Jokers re-mix.

If Fumio Miyashita had found that the first ten years of his career moved at an inconceivably slow pace, the singer was sure to soon be yearning for the past when, in late '75, he found himself aboard Klaus Schultze's chain-smoking Teutonic juggernaut of one of '70s rock'n'roll's most iconoclastic hard-workers this side of Frank Zappa and Todd Rundgren. For, in the work schedule of Miyashita's new producer, every Japanese would have met their match. On a promotional tour for the NIPPONJIN Germany-only album with his new wife Linda and A&R man Teruaki Kuroda, Miyashita caught up with Klaus in Frankfurt, where the German was in the middle of a concert tour promoting his latest LP TIMEWIND. Under the impression that Far East Family Band were all in town just waiting to record, Klaus casually announced that he wouldn't be ready until the end of the month, but could they all please fly to England, where he'd already booked time in the Manor Studios, owned by Virgin Records, with whom Klaus had just struck his own deal. Looking green around the gills, Miyashita smiled dryly and confided in his A&R man that they needed another four months to get the songs ready. Grinning and chain-smoking, the effusive German let it be known that by that time he'd have encircled the world several times, orchestrated a double-LP and invented three new synthesisers. But he'd see them in Good Old Blighty in six weeks if they could get it together... Er, Look Out!

The Recording of PARALLEL WORLD

And thus, on a pissy 14th November 1975, buoyed up by incredibly high expectations, six members of Far East Family Band and their partners entered Virgin Records' already legendary studios, at Shipton-on-Cherwell Manor, just east of Woodstock, in the verdant Oxfordshire countryside. Unfortunately, due to the ludicrously strict regulations enforced by Britain's Musicians' Union, poor Joe USA had been unable to secure a work permit in time. For the six Japanese band members, however, the recording could only be a thrill ride of epic proportions. For, although barely three years into its existence, The Manor' had already entered Japan's progressive rock folklore as the birthplace of Mike Oldfield's TUBULAR BELLS, and Fumio was almost overwhelmed to be following in the footsteps of personal favourites such as Faust, Gong and Slapp Happy. With almost thirty rooms to choose from, Far East Family Band's entourage spread out around the main house and got stoned down at the lake while Fumio and Linda Miyashita scanned the new material to see if enough had been prepared. Feeling under pressure from the Frankfurt encounter, Miyashita had asked his wife to contribute lyrics to the new record. Downstairs, Klaus Schultze, accompanied by guitar maestro Gunther Schickert, [6] decided where to set up Shizu Takahashi's drums. Thereafter, Klaus, Kitaro and Akira Ito set up their huge arsenal of analogue synthesisers in an antechamber next to the control room, including a VCS3 and two ARP 2600s that the producer had shipped over from Berlin.

Throughout the first week, the band worked exclusively on Fumio and Linda Miyashita's new songs, laying down tracks long into the early hours and surfacing only in the late morning. By the second week, however, the musicians were feeling so confident around Klaus Schultze that they readily agreed to his suggestions of creating music out of the moment, and Miyashita felt considerable pressure lifting off him as the band followed their German producer's directions taking them into genuinely unknown territory.

Klaus grew particularly close to drummer Shizu Takahashi and synthesists Akira Ito and Kitaro, both of whom' were now encouraged by their German producer to dump chords in favour of a more kosmische approach. Indeed, by the second week, Far East Family Band were approaching the kind of thunderous percussion and synthesiser meltdown rarely achieved outside Germany, and in particular by music informed by Klaus Schultze! Like a melding-together of the Cosmic Jokers, the first Funkadelic album, Agitation Free's LAST-period 26-minute 'Looping' and much of Klaus Schultze's own work of the same period, the Japanese ensemble had - with the help of their German mentor - deployed their electronic arsenal with such effortless aplomb that each new track eclipsed their previous work, conspiring to create a wholly original work. Virtually without vocals, PARALLEL WORLD occupied the kind of vast and eternal kosmische space that only the greatest Krautrock albums had thus far commanded. Whatever crazy titles Miyashita would at a later date decide to impose on these tracks, Klaus had created one seamless and ever unfolding earth-shaking, occasionally skanking masterpiece. Indeed, by the end of the third week, both band and producer were convinced that they had a classic double-album on their hands. Moreover, staff at the Manor Studios had alerted Virgin Records' Company people, who were considering signing the band for the UK. With just one typical Miyashita composition on the whole album, the rest of the band - especially the drummer and synthesists - considered PARALLEL WORLD to be their own work, and understandably now expected writing credits as the staff at Tokyo's Columbia offices anticipated that the record could go stellar.

Disaster ... Haemorrhages ... Kitaro Goes Stellar Alone

Unfortunately for Far East Family Band, nothing but chaos ensued. Sensing that Klaus Schultze would insist on PARALLEL WORLD's being a double-LP, Virgin Records pulled out of the deal entirely, sending such negative vibes to the Japanese company that they too got cold feet. In order to fit on to one vinyl disc, Klaus was now forced to edit twenty minutes from the final album, reducing it to sixty minutes in length - still as long as the Rolling Stones' double-LP EXILE ON MAIN STREET. In Tokyo, the LP was released in a magnificent sleeve, with a massive two-sided poster that depicted the band aboard a Viking ship, Fumio Miyashita straddling the prow. Unfortunately, after the previously ecstatic songs and sounds of CHIKYU KUDO SETSU/THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH, the band's move into such a heavy underground sound almost totally free of melodies or even of guitars was too much for Japanese fans, who rejected it completely. What had sounded complete and righteous in the English landscape meant nothing to the people who'd expected more Moody Blues and Pink Floyd. And so, right after delivering their most astonishing and forward-thinking work, Far East Family Band were dropped altogether by Columbia.

For those three musicians most involved in the recording, the rejection was too much. Drummer Shizu Takahashi and synthesists Akira Ito and Kitaro immediately quit, causing the Miyashitas and their two remaining shell-shocked cohorts - bass player Akira Fukukusa and guitarist Hirohito Fukushima - to flee to America with Mickey Curtis's drummer Yujin Harada. In Los Angeles, the shattered Quartet attempted to carry on without record-company support, as synthesist Kitaro returned to Japan, where he was invited by Dr Acid Seven to move into a commune run by the guru in the village of Asaka in the mountainous region of Shinshu, near Tokyo. Urged on by Acid Seven and inspired by Klaus Schultze's solo success, Kitaro recorded his own music with the financial help of the local director of NHK Shinshu. Soon after, Kitaro commenced a Grammy Award-winning solo career that would see his bland New Age music embraced by millions.

The Final Ignominy ... the Craft Descends ... Disintegrates

In Los Angeles, however, all was gloom and despondency. No major label was interested in the band, and the musicians were forced to make a deal with a wealthy English progressive rock fan named Anthony Harrington, who ran his own independent record label and idolised Genesis. Harrington had styled his company All Ears after the English band's progressive label Charisma, even the company logo being a poor Charisma copy featuring a cartoon white rabbit from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Pumping money into the band was no problem for Harrington, but Miyashita's muse had entirely evaporated. And so, over the coming months, the depleted Far East Family Band slowly recorded a new album of limp material co-written by the band with lyrics mainly by Linda Miyashita. In the summer of 1977, the band released their final record TENKUJIN (Heavenly Being) on the All Ears label, complete with cover art by Genesis artist Paul Whitehead, whom Anthony Harrington had commissioned at great expense. Despite opening with the ultra-brief Krautrock-styled 'Descension', which sounded like Neu's Michael Rather in his Harmonia incarnation, the rest of this appallingly sentimental record saw Miyashita return to the safety of his 'Moody Blues sound, Mike Pinder vocals'n'all, Moreover, as the record cover looked like the natural follow-up to Genesis' NURSERY CRYME and FOXTROT albums, the confusing TENKUJIN simply slipped beneath everyone's radar and the band promptly disintegrated.

Remaining in Los Angeles for the next few years, Fumio Miyashita studied acupuncture. Eastern medicine, philosophy and esoteric theory, even recording a funk-styled solo LP DIGITAL CITY in June 1981. After its inevitable failure, however, Fumio and Linda Miyashita returned to the Iizuna Highlands of Japan, where the songwriter embarked on a hugely successful career making 'Healing Music', a New Age ambient-style pulse music for sleep and meditation. His book The Healing Life was accompanied by ambient concerts at Shinto shrines, and Miyashita remained highly successful until his death from respiratory failure in August 2004. Inevitably, Miyashita's failure discoloured his memories of Far East Family Band's achievements, especially in the light of his subsequent success. From sniffing paint thinner to creating Shinto temple meditations is not such a great jump for those truly seeking transformation. And it can only be hoped that, in the coming years, Far East Family Band - and PARALLEL WORLD particularly - begin to gain the plaudits they so clearly deserve.

Footnotes: (go back)

  1. The Justin Heathcliff project released one LP and was Kitajima's successful attempt to cop the kind of English post-REVOLVER psychedelia that such London bands as the Syn, Mike Sluart Span, and the Flies were recording in 1967-68. Considering the record was recorded in London by a former GS guitarist with a fixation for traditional Japanese instruments, its sound is highly believable.
  2. I pay particular attention to the make of the sitar because this was no gourd-shaped acoustic Indian instrument, but a fully fledged solid-bodied rock axe fashioned out of Burgundy vinyl-covered masonite aka hardboard by the American Danelectro company. Found on many of the greatest '60s pop-psychedelic raga moments, it's impossible to play this thing like Ravi Shankar and cohorts.
  3. Praise must be inserted here for the current so-called 'desert generator' bands Yawning Man and Ten East, whose epic re-assessment of Hank B. Marvin and his ilk has created a new stoner-rock-meets-post-punk take on the surf instrumental. Slowing the rhythms down considerably and throwing in dark bass notes has resulted in classic current LPs such as Yawning Man's ROCK FORMATIONS (Alone 2005) and POT HEAD (Alone 2005).
  4. Although based in Los Angeles, Chronicle was comprised entirely of Japanese members, guitarist Nobuo Hatchi and organist Kenji Mishiro completing the line-up. After limited success in the USA, including 1975's LIVE AT WHISKY A GO-GO, Keiju Ishikawa returned to a Japanese career of songwriting and cartoon theme tunes.
  5. The re-recording of Far Out's epic 'Nihonjin' for the German-only LP meant that two songs, 'Four Minds' and 'Rebirth' (Transmigration), from THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH had to be omitted. Although created specifically for the German market, NIPPONJIN also gained release in Italy and New Zealand.
  6. Although credited only as engineer on PARALLEL WORLD, Gunther Schickert's echoed guitar work with the experimental power trio GAM was incredible, as was his 1975 Brain Records solo LP SAMTVOGEL.


2THE CAVE DOWN TO EARTH1975Columbia/Mu Land
4PARALLEL WORLD1976Columbia/Mu Land
5TENKUJIN1977All Ears