The Art of Parties – Methods of Dance – live

‘a new energy’

It seems that Masami Tsuchiya heard the music of Japan before the band discovered his. ‘I was very touched by Japan’s music from the very first album,’ he told Bamboo magazine, ‘and I told everyone about them – what great musicians they were. The word got around and Japan got to know about it’. Tsuchiya was a founder member of Ippu-Do, an outfit with an openness to European influences. Some sessions for their 1980 LP Real even took place at Hansa studios in Berlin, originating titles such as ‘German Road’, ‘Heidelburg Symphony’ and ‘Neu! (Changing the History)’ – tracks that boast a new wave sound with synthesisers, sequencers and vocoder vox accompanying driving guitar, bass and drums.

Following the release of the subsequent album, Radio Fantasy, Tsuchiya was ready for a solo project. This time he headed to London, specifically to Air Studios in the middle of town, where he was determined to work with the rhythm section of the English band that he so admired. ‘The request came through management,’ explained Steve Jansen, ‘probably via London based project co-ordinators’ (2022). Japan had been busy, spending three spells on the road in 1981 for the Polaroids, Art of Parties and Visions of China tours, culminating in Christmas shows at the Hammersmith Odeon. Nevertheless, the following month Jansen and Mick Karn were ensconced at Air bringing their signature sounds to Masami’s debut album as a solo artist – Rice Music.

With Japan’s popularity having suddenly accelerated, this would be Steve’s first assignment as a professional session musician, soon to be followed by work in the same studios for Akiko Yano’s album Ai Ga Nakucha Ne under the direction of producer (and Yano’s partner at the time) Ryuichi Sakamoto.

Sessions for Rice Music at Air Studios in London, January 1982, as captured for Music Week magazine. Masami Tsuchiya, Steve Jansen, Mick Karn and (bottom right) Bill Nelson

The invitation to collaborate was fruitful not only in respect of the music produced but also in terms of the personal relationships forged. ‘When I was recording Rice Music the album, we met at the studio and we got to know each other,’ remembered Tsuchiya, ‘and we realised we had similar views towards things, so we had something in common.’

I played Rice Music incessantly when it was released in the UK. It was fascinating to hear musical voices with which I was so familiar adorning tracks from another artist, apparently someone with a complementary vision. The production differs significantly from the spatial separation of Steve Nye’s craftsmanship on Tin Drum but the title track could be considered a cousin to ‘Canton’. Circling atmospherics are soon punctuated with percussion and a bright synthesised line constructed so as to be reminiscent of a traditional melody. Steve Jansen holds the whole thing together effortlessly, Mick Karn’s fingers slide along the neck of his bass to produce those bursts of fretless sound that could only be his, whilst Masami’s guitar rises elegantly above. In the final section there is an e-Bow guitar solo from Bill Nelson, his presence presaging what was to come on Sylvian’s Gone to Earth and then Rain Tree Crow.

Masami Tsuchiya, from the Rice Music photography sessions by Masayoshi Sukita

The altogether more frenetic and overtly poppy ‘Tao-Tao’ again features Japan’s rhythm section and Nelsons ‘flying E-bow’ with a Tsuchiya vocal that speaks of ‘Red Army soldiers‘. The album isn’t just notable for Jansen and Karn’s work, however. There is the wonderful ‘Kafka’, written by Ryuichi Sakamoto with all instruments played and programmed by the ‘Professor’ himself with the sole exception of Masami’s guitars. ‘As far as music goes,’ said Masami, ‘there is no doubt that I think he is one of the most fabulous musicians in the world.’

Probably the most Japan-influenced track is curiously one that features none of the band’s members. ‘Secret Party’ starts with the distinctive click-and-whirr motion of a Polaroid camera dispensing its image, credited to none other than distinguished photographer Masayoshi Sukita. The sleeve-notes even identify the camera models that add percussive effect to the song, the Polaroid SX-70 and Olympus OM-2. Tsuchiya sings the words ‘Gentleman take Polaroids’ above a drum track that could quite easily be constructed of phrases from ‘Visions of China’: there can be no doubting that this is his musical homage to Japan the band.

Even the cover, shot by Sukita, looks like a companion piece to Tin Drum, with Tsuchiya seated at a wooden table just as Sylvian had been on the previous year’s release.

After a frenetic 1981 that had ultimately stressed their bond to the limits, the first half of ’82 would be a time for Japan’s band members to try their hand at independent projects. A pause after a difficult tour and a time to assess future options and opportunities. For Steve Jansen it would mean freedom to accept an invitation from YMO drummer Yukihiro Takahashi to join him onstage in the line-up for his homeland What, Me Worry? tour. It was the start of a close friendship forged in music that would continue right up until Yukihiro’s passing in January 2023.

Also backing Takahashi were his YMO colleague Haruomi Hosono on keyboard and bass, former Plastics guitarist and saxophonist Hajime Tachibana, and Ippu-Do’s Masami Tsuchiya – so the acquaintance made in London would be quickly renewed on another continent. Hot on the heels of his inaugural ‘pro-session’, this would be Jansen’s first project with none of his fellow band-members involved.

This might have been the period of the last throes of Japan but Takahashi reminds us how young his guest drummer was. ‘In 1982, I asked Steve to play the drums for my first solo tour. That was the beginning of our long-lasting friendship. We travelled across Japan, played shows, and in no time, became very close…He observed things and people around him in his quiet way, to which I related well…Mature he may have been, [but] he was still a young man in his early twenties…On the first day of the tour as we were about to hit the stage, Steve, in his dressing room was sitting on the floor looking very nervous. He sat there with his eyes looking down and just said, “it’s a nightmare”. Of all the times we have spent ever that was the one and only time I saw Steve so tense.’ (2019)

Steve Jansen & Yukihiro Takahashi, Japan, 1982

Having a drummer as a front man required an unusual arrangement on stage. Two drum-kits were positioned at the back, Takahashi’s on the left as viewed from the audience and Jansen’s on the right. Yukihiro would also play keyboards and sing from a dais in centre-stage whilst Steve took care of his drum parts from behind. Hosono was to the front-right mainly on Prophet-5, with Tachibana left and Tsuchiya far-left.

Mick Karn tells us in his book Japan & Self Discovery that it was Steve who, following the What Me, Worry? outing, put Masami’s name forward for Japan’s farewell Sons of Pioneers tour in the final quarter of 1982. It was necessary to co-opt an additional member for live performance as Rob Dean had departed after the Art of Parties tour. The Tin Drum material was light on guitar – hence the parting of the ways with Rob – but his parts were integral to renditions of songs from Quiet Life and Gentlemen Take Polaroids which remained an important part of the set. These needed to be represented.

Peter Gabriel’s guitarist David Rhodes had guested on the last of the 1981 tours, adding his deft touch to the band’s sound. Perhaps he was too close in temperament to the quieter members of Japan, performing with craft but not too much in the way of stage panache. Asked about the choice of Masami once the band took to the road for Sons of Pioneers, Sylvian said, ‘He came to London in the beginning of this year to record his solo album called Rice Music, which has just been released, and he used Steve and Mick on that album, and I met him. I was doing an interview with him for a Japanese magazine and I got on with him well, and I liked his guitar playing. He just had interesting ideas and so he was the obvious choice when it came to thinking of guitarists.’

Steve Jansen commented, ‘From my point of view on stage I get to see Masami performing for the first time. When I toured with him in Japan he was far away from me and I couldn’t actually see him performing, but this time I could and he’s great, very interesting to watch and a great performer.’

A soundcheck interview for Smash Hits magazine included Tsuchiya himself. Questions were translated from English to Japanese whilst the guitarist bravely sought to answer in English. His clipped responses convey both his excitement at being invited to participate – ‘Amazing, great feeling,’ ‘Every time happy and enjoying,’ ‘New experience,’ – and the extent to which the tour band shared more of a musical language than a conversational one. A particular phrase stands out as a personal conviction pre-rehearsed for the interview: ‘I think this is destiny.’

Masami would later confide to Bamboo that there are ‘seven gods that belong to the Japanese tradition. Among them is the God of Art called Benzaiten and I think I have a very good relationship with that God…It’s like I have a very good friend who happens to be a God of Art…I think I am a very lucky man. It’s not what I am doing that has brought about success, maybe it’s my ancestors, or somebody around me that made me a friend of the Benzaiten. That’s maybe why the Benzaiten comes and visits me now and then.’

The first I would see of what Tsuchiya brought to Japan’s stagecraft was another appearance by the band on the BBC’s music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. Following a short series of European dates, the group were now embarking on a round trip of England and Scotland that would reach a finale with six nights in a row at the Hammersmith Odeon. Having performed their new arrangement of ‘Nightporter’, the musicians were on their feet for the funk-guitar drive of ‘The Art of Parties’. Confined by the space available in the studio, Mick Karn could not engage in his customary glides across the stage, and whilst the closely cropped shots capture a composed Sylvian, the camera operator struggles to keep Masami or his instrument in frame as the guitarist hops excitedly from foot to foot, dipping and rolling to the song’s riff. A solo break shows the guitarist attacking the strings feverishly with the edge of his plectrum and then, as the programme credits roll, the lead singer takes up position beside the guest guitarist, Sylvian’s understated cool contrasting with Tsuchiya’s darting, agitated dance.

Japan performing The Art of Parties on The Old Grey Whistle Test, 22 October 1982

Questioned as to whether the set-list for Sons of Pioneers would include any new songs relative to the previous Visions of China tour, Sylvian confirmed that they would be working from the same back-catalogue, adding: ‘The material sounds a little different, I mean it’s why we have Masami touring with us, because the Quiet Life and …Polaroid albums were very… were meant be like muzak, very easy listening and we can’t really carry on playing that type of music live, it doesn’t really work live. And Masami’s joined the band for the tour to add some more aggression, more… like a breath of life into the material again. So it does sound quite different I think, it has a new energy that it didn’t have before.’

The Oil on Canvas video shows how Masami’s performance blossomed when unleashed on the larger stage, Mick and he being the ‘larger than life’ characters in the line-up. The stage costumes, designed in the most part by Masami’s wife, Yoko, added to the flamboyance of the presentation. Amongst the histrionics there were also moments where the guitarist struck a statuesque pose, most memorably during ‘Methods of Dance’ when he crouches as if entranced, cradling his guitar reverently as the stage lights dazzle on the white of his suit, before he once again springs into life. ‘It was a great tour,’ he later remembered. ‘During the tour David was very understanding and allowed me to do what I wanted to.

‘It was tough touring around all the places and I had to do a satellite programme for Japanese TV from overseas at the same time, but now, looking back, it is one of the happiest memories.

‘We still have a very good relationship, David and I…We still meet twice a year when David comes to Japan and we always get together and talk about religion, art and literature…’ (1985)

Masami Tsuchiya, adopting a statuesque pose during ‘Methods of Dance’, still from the ‘Oil on Canvas’ video

By the time of the live shows it was clear that Japan were splitting up and thoughts were turning to next steps. ‘Of course I’m interested in making records and carrying on in music but it’s not my priority any more,’ said Sylvian at the time. ‘I want to get involved in other things. I want the music to be more of an experiment than it ever was before. Masami, myself and Steve plan to be working together a lot in the future as well, on different projects and things. I just want to explore different avenues in music. I think for myself my interest in music is all very stale, you know, and I want to find something new to make me want to write again.’

The planned trio of Tsuchiya, Sylvian and Jansen never really came together with the three going their separate ways once the dates concluded in Japan that December, albeit the three were involved in the music for Sylvian’s Preparations for a Journey video project released in 1985.

Masami’s presence on the tour is a reminder of the melting pot of collaborations that were happening at the time between the members of Japan and prominent Japanese pop musicians, including all three members of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Some tracks emerged, others were started but never completed. Steve Jansen: ‘I do remember back in ‘82 the Takahashi live band (other members included Masami Tsuchiya, Hajime Tachibana and Haruomi Hosono) recorded a track which was intended as a single, and at that time Hosono and I also started to collaborate on some new tracks but busy schedules meant these projects were abandoned for more pressing commitments.’ (2015)

Preferences vary among both band members and fans between David Rhodes and Masami as the hired hand for Japan’s last two tours. Looking back, I’m glad that there were two different line-ups for fans to witness and that Masami’s Japanese magic was part of the final goodbye.

‘The Art of Parties’ – live on The Old Grey Whistle Test

Richard Barbieri – keyboards; Steve Jansen – drums; Mick Karn – bass;  David Sylvian – electric guitar, vocals; Masami Tsuchiya – electric guitar

Originally broadcast on 22 October 1982

‘Methods of Dance’ – live

Richard Barbieri – keyboards; Steve Jansen – drums; Mick Karn – bass, backing vocals; David Sylvian – vocals, keyboards; Masami Tsuchiya – electric guitar, backing vocals

Produced by John Punter and Japan. From Oil on Canvas, Virgin, 1983

Music and lyrics by David Sylvian

Lyrics © samadhisound publishing

The featured image is from a photographic session by Fin Costello, a shot from which was featured on the cover of Smash Hits magazine in November 1982.

Artist quotes are from 1982 or from Masami Tsuchiya’s interview with Bamboo magazine in 1985 unless otherwise indicated. Full sources and acknowledgments for this article can be found here.

Download links: ‘Methods of Dance’ – live (Apple), ‘Rice Music’ (Apple), ‘Kafka’ (Apple), ‘Secret Party’ (Apple)

Physical media links: Oil on Canvas (Amazon), The Best of Japan, including Oil on Canvas (DVD – Amazon)

‘As a guitarist in Japan he definitely brings a new breath of life to the material and without him on this tour we wouldn’t find it so enjoyable playing the music, I don’t think.’ David Sylvian, 1982

More about Japan in the Tin Drum era:

Visions of China
Sons of Pioneers
Ghosts – live

5 thoughts on “The Art of Parties – Methods of Dance – live”

  1. I am grateful to Thomas Furch on twitter who reminded me that Fin Costello’s photographic journal of Japan’s final tour, published as ‘Sons of Pioneers’, includes a shot of a working set list taken during rehearsals. This shows that at one stage it was intended that Masami’s track ‘Rice Music’ would be played following ‘Cantonese Boy’. The annotations show it was replaced by ‘Canton’.


  2. 22 October 1982.

    The pinnacle of Japan’s (‘small’) audience/ TV career, in my view. It doesn’t get better than that. The music. The playing (after c. 8 years of determined practice and creativity), the tune, the aesthetic, the fashion style, the words, the desire (for a new reality). The sheer enthusiasm of youth. The pleasure principle. Masami Tsuchiya helped to make it what it was. The far east, European west, synthesis (like minded individuals, what a team!)

    Whilst that was going on, I was three weeks into my third full time job (with a ‘small pond’ public window, profile – though it turned out to be one of my most sociable, pleasurable outlets). No job can last forever though, it’s only natural, for it not to.

    Steve Jansen’s drumming reminded me of Stuart Elliott’s (Cockney Rebel co-founding member), who I had the pleasure to hear live (only for the first time), last December, whilst Steve was playing “The Art of Parties”. It was great to see Bill Nelson too, in that photograph (obviously happy to be there, the time and place, is what we have, to make the most of). Some day, I would love to see and hear all surviving members (live), though I’d be content (still) with what is still out there, if it doesn’t happen.

    And the writing of this piece. The surviving former members of Japan and associates, are fortunate (as are we, the readers), to have such an eloquent window, besides their own means of gathering light. A gem. From Jem.

    4 February 2023.

    Thank you, again…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ‘As with Mick, once he’d found his dancing feet, Masami’s theatrics raised the game of the performance element of the band. Masami was a humble, humorous, gentle soul whose presence helped maintain good spirits on a difficult tour. There was even talk of Steve, Masami and I forming a trio after the tour was over…However, once the tour was over, we somewhat inevitably went our separate ways.’ David Sylvian, twitter, 2022


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