Peter Barakan (or “Peter-san” as his many fans call him) has been a television and radio broadcaster in Tokyo for more than 30 years and can currently be heard every morning from 7-10am on InterFM. He also hosts the NHK television program Begin Japanology, writes for a variety of publications, contributes liner notes to Japan CD reissues, authors books in Japanese while finding time to attend as many gigs as possible. (You can read more about him here). He kindly made room in his busy schedule to chat with me recently over coffee at my favorite jazz joint in Shinjuku.
Unfortunately I couldn’t record our conversation this time as we chatted about a number of topics. I particularly wanted to get his thoughts on musicians, both foreign and domestic, getting gigs in Tokyo. With such a plethora of live music bars, live houses and clubs it would seem easy to get bookings yet from all accounts this is not the case. With the noruma system and the small size of venues it is very difficult for artists to get gigs that will offer any kind of competitive compensation.
“Live shows have always been expensive in Tokyo, that’s not new” Peter informed me. He explained that although I was on target thinking about the high rent and operating costs in over-crowded Tokyo being a factor, “cities like London and New York face the same issues and yet still cultivate a culture in which artists and venues can try and succeed. It’s understood that there is a certain amount of risk when opening a gallery or club yet owners in Tokyo don’t get this and view it solely as a business. It makes it extremely difficult for less established artists on the scene.”
Peter and I got into a bunch of other topics including bilingual education, him catching Bobby Womack live perhaps one night too early and a lot of other music geek stuff. It was a real thrill to hang with the best radio DJ I’ve ever heard (except for maybe Charlie Gillett or Jamal Muhammad) and I didn’t even remember to thank him for introducing me to Congolese rumba via his radio show about 10 years ago!