Music / Japan

Japan were a New Wave band from London formed by vocalist David Sylvian, bassist Mick Karn, Keyboardist Richard Barbieri, drummer Steve Jansen and guitarist Rob Dean (who left in 1981). There were active from 1974 to 1982 and reunited shortly in 1991 under the name Rain Tree Crow. They are considered an influential Synth-Pop band of The '80s and leader David Sylvian later became a distinctive Art Pop pioneer.

Not to be confused with Japan, the country.


  • Adolescent Sex (1978)
  • Obscure Alternatives (1978)
  • Quiet Life (1979)
  • Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)
  • Tin Drum (1981)
  • Rain Tree Crow (as Rain Tree Crow) (1991)

This band provides examples of:

  • Band of Relatives: Steve is David's younger brother by about two years.
  • Bishōnen: Everyone in this band.
  • Bi the Way: David noted early on that he'd had relationships with men and women, but that he didn't find sex very interesting. His songs are equally likely to have 'boy' in the lyric as they are 'girl' or 'babe', a good example being "In Vogue".
  • Breakup Breakout: David Sylvian became an iconic art pop musician of The '80s.
  • Camp: They weren't called New Romantics for no reason.
  • Deadpan Snarker: David Sylvian has his moments.
    Reporter: If gentlemen used to take Polaroids, do they take Hipstamatic pics on their iPhones now?
    Sylvian: No, I think they take Viagra now.
  • Darker and Edgier: They were known for easy-going Synth Pop, but later evolved into complex Genre Busters.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: The whole group during their early glam rock years., but Mick and David take the cake
  • Dutch Angle: The music video for Swing.
  • Expy: Nightporter is very reminiscent to Erik Satie's Gymnopédie No. 1.
    • Some people accuse David Sylvian to be an expy of Bryan Fery and also David Bowie. In the former case, "Halloween" has a near identical intro to Roxy Music 's "Out Of The Blue", but for some reason they were never sued.
  • Genre-Busting: Their last album as Japan combines synth-pop with East-Asian folk music.
  • Glam Rock: Started like that, and just kept the flamboyant clothes.
  • Guyliner: Richard Barbieri would often sport thick black eyeliner. Steve Jansen and Mick Karn would do this too.
  • Intentionally Awkward Title: Adolescent Sex.
  • Lead Bassist: Mick Karn, with his distinctive fretless bass sound.
  • Mohs Scale of Rock and Metal Hardness: They never really get higher than a 3. But it's not like they wanted. In the band's early days they had a few guitar riff driven songs such as "Lovers On Main Street" and their version of "Don't Rain On My Parade".
  • Nobody Loves the Bassist: Averted, as Mick Karn is considered one of the best rock bassists of all time.
  • Out of Order: At the height of the band's popularity with Tin Drum, their previous label Hansa released several late 70s songs as singles in order to promote their compilation "Assemblage". As the group couldn't stop them coming out, they helped commission special remixes and cover art. In the strangest instance Japan themselves proceeded to release the two year old 'Nightporter' as their final official single in 1982, whilst Hansa followed with a release of 1979's All Tomorrow's Parties in 1983. This led to a lot of the newer fans thinking Japan was a new band who were putting out all these great non-album singles. One notable thing is that Steve Nye, responsible for many of the remixes, went on to be David Sylvian 's long term producer.
  • Red China: Played straight on their album Tin Drum. The cover shows David Sylvian sitting below a Mao poster, eating rice.
  • Sharp Dressed Man: Once again, everyone in this band.
  • Smart People Wear Glasses: David Sylvian in the Tin Drum era. However, he intentionally wore unfashionable frames as a fashion statement. Whilst they otherwise aren't part of his public image, he can be seen wearing more modern glasses in some pictures later on.
    • Though not back in the Japan days, Richard Barbieri is always seen with them in the modern day and is widely regarded as having been the smart man of the group.
  • Stage Names: David Sylvian, Steve Jansen and Mick Karn are the stage names of David Batt, Stephen Batt and Adonis/Anthony Michaelides. David and Steve have since legally changed their last names to their stage names.
  • Synth-Pop
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Mostly averted.
  • Trope Codifier: New Romantic, which is a lush version of Synth-Pop.
  • Vocal Evolution: David Sylvian, and how! He went from a high, quite flamboyant voice to a soulful low voice between Obscure Alternatives and Quiet Life.
  • Word Salad Lyrics: David Sylvian is prone of that.