In a rustic cafe in central Tokyo, a soft-spoken man with a friendly smile awaits us — He is introducing the Japanese underground rock music scene to travelers from around the globe.
“I wasn’t always interested in bringing the Japanese music scene to a non-Japanese audience,” Hirotaka, an avid concert goer, and certified tour guide explains to us over the busy jazz piano playing in the background.
“It wasn’t until around five or six years ago, during at rock music festival when I noticed the band Babymetal had garnered a large following of non-Japanese fans, that I felt particularly inspired to introduce more Japanese music to the world.”
Hirotaka is a huge fan of rock music, and his TripJunction tour is one where his passion is on full display — From helping his guests book concert tickets, to introducing them to new artists he thinks they’d love, Hirotaka is passionate about connecting non-Japanese music lovers to the eclectic and ever-changing Japanese music scene.
“I think Japanese rock musicians are some of the coolest people in the world.” He beams. “Their unique style is unlike anything else.”
However, Hirotaka doesn’t limit his services to Japanese rock bands, but also happily introduces his guests to the Japanese idol scene, up-and-coming indie artists, and Japanese pop musicians as well. Live music venues in Tokyo are small, but provide a deeply intimate experience, and the quality of performance is something that Hirotaka believes is unbeatable anywhere else in the world.
“I always ask my guests to tell me their favorite genre of music — I like to get a feel for their musical tastes. Then, I pick artists that I think they’ll love. I think it’s a bit surreal for them to see music videos of certain artists, and then arrive in Japan and actually get to see them on stage.”
After grabbing a bite to eat, Hirotaka will take his guests to the music venue where they will enjoy the musical performance of their choice, helping them to meet and take photos with the artists after the show if guests choose to do so.
Hirotaka also coaches his guests on the proper etiquette for visiting music venues in Japan.
“When I have guests who want to go see a Japanese idol show, I show them how to properly and respectfully enjoy the show, how to cheer them on, and how to dance along, much as the regular patrons do.”
Japanese music has always held a peculiar place in the global music industry — with Japanese artists either often being discovered through anime theme songs, or becoming known for their outlandish punk-rock visual-kei attire, it is both surprising and intriguing to Hirotaka to see how bands, who are not necessarily the most popular in Japan, gain popularity in the West thanks to the strong otaku subculture that exists overseas.
“I get a lot of guests asking for my help because they want to see a particular artist, but they have a hard time navigating the Japanese ticket system, through Japanese online ticketing vendors. Luckily, I have connections to artists and concert promoters, so I’m happy to purchase tickets to such shows through my direct contacts instead.”
The greatest reward for Hirotaka is knowing that the Japanese musicians he has carefully curated for his guests are a hit.
“I had two guests from Chicago who came to see a Japanese idol festival. They loved it so much they took photos with every idol, and bought all of their CDs” he laughs, recalling the sheer volume of compact discs the two American visitors left with.
Whether guests wish to participate in Hirotaka’s tours as singles, groups, or families, he happily accommodates anyone as long as they have an interest in music.
“Seeing a live musician perform is a relatively affordable way to spend a night out.” He adds.
“It’s also a great place to rub shoulders with famous musicians who have shown up to the same show by coincidence.” He says, recalling a time recently when he wound up at a bar counter with the drummer from a famous Japanese metalcore band.
“This band is very famous, probably one of the top three metalcore bands in Japan, and yet we were taking photos and chatting very casually. Me, a few non-Japanese guests, and the drummer. It was incredible.”
When asked about his plans for the future, Hirotaka expresses that he wishes to continue to connect with music lovers from around the world, offering them an unforgettable experience in Japan.
“There are so many uniquely Japanese experiences out there for visitors to Japan, but if you’re looking for something deeper, more underground, I hope you’ll come and explore the music scene with me.”
Hirotaka’s tip for visiting live music venues in Japan? Make sure you carry lots of cash. “Japan is a cash-based society, and a lot of music venues won’t accept credit card, so make sure you bring enough cash when you come out.”
“And don’t be shy, don’t be afraid to mingle in the crowd with other music fans! Music is meant to be a shared experience, after all.”
Hirotaka’s TripJunction tour is a four-hour nightlife experience, bringing you to deep into the Japanese music scene. Meet at Harajuku and make your way to the music venue, stopping for a bite to eat, or a little shopping if time allows. Hirotaka will help you ease your way into the crowd, and show you how to mingle with fellow music fans, just like a local. Please remember to bring cash for entry, merchandise, and your own food and drink!