Blue Nippon

Authenticating Jazz in Japan

Blue Nippon

Book Pages: 384 Illustrations: 17 b&w photos Published: September 2001

Asian Studies > East Asia, Cultural Studies, Music > Jazz

Japan’s jazz community—both musicians and audience—has been begrudgingly recognized in the United States for its talent, knowledge, and level of appreciation. Underpinning this tentative admiration, however, has been a tacit agreement that, for cultural reasons, Japanese jazz “can’t swing.” In Blue Nippon E. Taylor Atkins shows how, strangely, Japan’s own attitude toward jazz is founded on this same ambivalence about its authenticity.
Engagingly told through the voices of many musicians, Blue Nippon explores the true and legitimate nature of Japanese jazz. Atkins peers into 1920s dancehalls to examine the Japanese Jazz Age and reveal the origins of urban modernism with its new set of social mores, gender relations, and consumer practices. He shows how the interwar jazz period then became a troubling symbol of Japan’s intimacy with the West—but how, even during the Pacific war, the roots of jazz had taken hold too deeply for the “total jazz ban” that some nationalists desired. While the allied occupation was a setback in the search for an indigenous jazz sound, Japanese musicians again sought American validation. Atkins closes out his cultural history with an examination of the contemporary jazz scene that rose up out of Japan’s spectacular economic prominence in the 1960s and 1970s but then leveled off by the 1990s, as tensions over authenticity and identity persisted.
With its depiction of jazz as a transforming global phenomenon, Blue Nippon will make enjoyable reading not only for jazz fans worldwide but also for ethnomusicologists, and students of cultural studies, Asian studies, and modernism.


Blue Nippon is the fullest account of the history of jazz in Japan to appear in any Western language to date. . . . [G]roundbreaking. . . . Atkins’s attempt to open up jazz discourse and history to the contributions of non-black non-Americans is a brave and well-argued one.” — Alan Cummings, The Wire

“[A]bsorbing. . . . That an African American art form could firmly take hold in Japan is fascinating in itself, but Atkins goes beyond the initial interest inspired by his subject with a fluid writing style and extensive research. . . . This book will appeal to readers with a general interest in Japanese culture and counterculture as well as those specifically interested in Japanese jazz. Highly recommended for specialized music collections and for all public libraries, especially those with significant jazz or Japanese cultural holdings.” — Library Journal

“[An] excellent study. . . One is grateful to Atkins for making us aware of musicians we may otherwise have missed.” — David Cozy , Asahi Shimbun

“[An] intriguing new book. . . . Atkins’s book will appeal to devotees of both jazz and Japanese culture. His story is an important one.” — David Brent Johnson , Bloomington (IN) Independent

“[H]ighly recommended for readers interested in Japanese history and culture, particularly since World War II, as well as the history and culture of jazz. In the year in which Ken Burns’s Jazz: A Film appeared, a film that neglects to mention many aspects of jazz besides jazz in Japan, Taylor Atkins’s book begins to fill a significant gap in our knowledge of the music.” — Wayne Zade , All About Jazz

“Atkins . . . pulls off a compelling super-informative chronicle—and he does it as a true fan, a loving son of the music, eager to give back to a scene that has obviously touched and nourished him.” — Alex Kostelnick , International Examiner

“Atkins includes a wealth of absorbing historical information on a variety of topics. . . . Recommended. . . .” — K. R. Dietrich , Choice

“Authenticity itself being something of a fetish in Japan, E. Taylor Atkins has struck a rich vein. Like bop itself, Blue Nippon suggests more directions than it can ever take and asks more questions than it can possibly answer. What more could you ask of a book about jazz?” — Peter O’Connor , Daily Yomiuri

“Thank you E. Taylor Atkins. Thank you for getting me reading until 3 a.m. . . . [T]his book is so very readable . . . . . Jazz buffs will find endless source material . . . .There is a great deal more to this book than ‘authenticating Jazz’ and it deserves the highest recommendation for the great deal of research that must have been involved. Again, a stimulating, instructive read. Do yourself a favor, go get a copy.” — Lawrence Brazier, Jazz Now

"Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan is a groundbreaking historical study of jazz in Japan that has no rivals in any language, including Japanese. It is a thoroughly researched and insightful cultural history, written with flair and brimming with enthusiasm. For these reasons alone, the book warrants attention, not only by scholars of modern Japanese cultural history but by those in the emerging interdisciplinary field of jazz studies." — Michael Molasky, Journal of Asian Studies

"Blue Nippon does an excellent job in depicting the core ambivalence of the Japanese jazz community in its many historical variations, and in drawing clear connections to social, political, and global cultural currents. . . . Blue Nippon is an important contribution to historical research on Japanese music, and one that I strongly recommend for its lucid historical description and analysis. Atkins should be proud of what he has accomplished as a historian. . . . Blue Nippon is still an excellent text for coursework in jazz history, Japanese studies, and music history."
— Richard Miller, Asian Music

"[A] fascinating book . . . . [B]eautifully written and fact-studded. . . ." — Michael H. Kater , American Historical Review

"[An] essential meditation in English on the history of jazz in Japan. . . . Atkins considerable scholarship is everywhere on display here (notably in his remarkable bibliography, his archaeology of early Japanese jazz, and his perceptive treatment of free jazz and its politics in the 1960s and 1970s), and numerous names are revealed for the first time to Western readers (and, I suspect, to many Japanese readers as well). Several American figures are also rescued from obscurity. . . . This is a first-rate effort, a remarkably readable account of the history of Japan’s experience with the first truly world music, interlaced with oral history, and focused on the music as a mirror in which to view Japan’s shifting role in Asia and in the world." — John Szwed , Journal of Japanese Studies

"[E]ngagingly written and theoretically sophisticated analyses of jazz, modernity, and national identity in Japan and China." — Nichole T. Rustin, Radical History Review

"[T]he first scholarly book in English, and perhaps in any language including Japanese, to explore comprehensively the history and cultural meanings of jazz in Japan. . . . [T]his is a wonderful book: perhaps the only academic book that I have ever read cover to cover in a single sitting. . . . Anyone with any interest in Japanese jazz-or for that matter, in Japanese life in the twentieth century-could learn from this book." — Gordon Mathews , Social Science Japan Journal

"[T]his book is not simply a history of jazz in Japan, but also a very readable record of the social and cultural implications of the introduction of this musical form into Japan. . . . The history of the import of jazz into Japan, the opening of jazz cafes, and the various types of performance venues and the people associated with all of these is relevant not only to historians but also anthropologists and others concerned with social institutions in Japan. Blue Nippon is a good resource for all of them." — Anne Prescott, Indiana University East Asian Studies Center Newsletter

"Atkins' lucidly written Blue Nippon is a welcome contribution to jazz scholarship as well as to Japanese cultural history." — Mina Yang , Popular Music

"This book informatively enlarges our understanding of the jazz diaspora. . . . This study is richly informed by Atkins' work as a teacher in Japanese and his palpable commitment to the music as a record collector, broadcaster, and performer. As an academic, he has highly developed skills in 'reading' the culture; as a musician he has also lived it. Atkins' sensitivity to jazz as a lived story as well as the subject of critical analysis places his work in this very stimulating space." — Bruce Johnson , Perfect Beat

"This is a gem of a book. Blue Nippon is a profound achievement for providing an engaging, readable, and incisive analysis of jazz in Japan. . . Like other important monographs . . . Atkins demonstrates how much insight can be gained from an extended focus on a single genre of music in a particular context. In addition, he has created a reading of history and of jazz that enriches both. His description of the joys of a jazz club in Japan in many ways offers a metaphor for the world he has created in his book." — Ian Condry , Current Musicology

"This narrative continually reminds me that oral history can have an unusually vivid and poignant impact. E. Taylor Atkins understands this well and employs personal encounters to his advantage. . . . [A] meticulous study. . . .With the astute eye of a historian and jazz buff, Atkins weaves factual data with various accounts. . . . Blue Nippon is a welcome addition to the fields of ethnomusicology and Japanese cultural history, particularly the study of 'Westernized' music and popular culture in Japan. . . . [H]ighly readable and enjoyable. . . . Blue Nippon is destined to become a classic in jazz history. . ." — Judith Herd, Ethnomusicology

Blue Nippon focuses on jazz in Japan but is actually much more far-reaching. It reminds me of The Modern Jazz Quartet—scholarly yet swingin’!” — Phil Morrison, Jazz Bassist and Composer

“This is a powerful gem of a book. Atkins’s mixing of voices is wonderful and his scholarship impressive. Moreover, his complex argument is communicated in language that is straightforward, engaging, and compelling.” — Christine Yano, University of Hawaii, Manoa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

E. Taylor Atkins is Associate Professor of History at Northern Illinois University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations


Prelude: Plenty Plenty Soul

1. The Japanese Jazz Artist and the Authenticity Complex

2. The Soundtrack of Modern Life: Japan’s Jazz Revolution

3. Talkin’ Jazz: Music, Modernism, and Interwar Japan’s Culture Wars

4. “Jazz for the Country’s Sake”: Toward a New Cultural Order in Wartime Japan

5. Bop, Funk, Junk, and That Old Democracy Boogie: The Jazz Tribes of Postwar Japan

6. Our Thing: Defining “Japanese Jazz”

Postlude: J-Jazz and the Fin de Siecle Blues




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Finalist, 2002 Award for History, Association for Recorded Sound Collections

Winner, 2003 John Whitney Hall Prize, Northeast Asian Council of the Association for Asian Studies

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2721-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2710-3
Publicity material