If you conducted a really exhaustive study of Japanese musicians, you'd hear everything from religious Buddhist chanting and traditional shakuhachi and koto music to heavy metal, alternative rock and rap. Hip-hop, in fact, became huge in Japan in the 1980s. There is no metal or rap on The Rough Guide to the Music of Japan, but it does provide an interesting and eclectic survey of Japanese artists in the 1990s. This CD isn't for purists -- much of it consists of modern Japanese pop -- but it isn't without its share of traditional acoustic sounds. The compilation ranges from the contemporary pop of the Ayame Band's "Hiyami Kachi Bushi" and Kawachiya Kikusuimaru's reggae-influenced "Kakin Ondo" to more traditional work by singer Yasuko Yoshida, shakuhachi player Shozan Tanabe, vocalist Tetsuhiro Daiku and biwa player Yukihiro Goto. The album's most unorthodox instrumentals come from Cicala Mvta (who combines the Japanese brass band music known as "chindon" with klezmer on the frantic "Shi Chome") and Kenji Yano, whose quirky take on the "James Bond Theme" successfully fuses Okinawan elements with surf rock. Like other Rough Guide compilations, The Rough Guide to the Music of Japan keeps us guessing and provides a variety of rewarding music along the way.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson