Haruomi Hosono: Japan’s Alternative King of Pop

Haruomi Hosono: Japan’s Alternative King of Pop

Yes, globally, that title is often attributed to Michael Jackson, but no single person was as influential to Japanese Pop music as Hosono was coming out of the 70s. Several subsets of the genre would emerge in the following decades: City Pop and Shibuya Kei were two which were mostly specific to Japan, and Synthpop was one that flourished throughout the entire globe. 

Hosono’s various projects and collaborations with other musicians were among the first instances of these genres, as well as many others, and shaped music throughout Japan and the rest of the world over the course of the 70s and 80s. 

Hosono, who was sometimes credited as “Harry Hosono” often produced tracks with a humorous or quirky feel to them. His experimentation with electronic sounds in the 70s and 80s often felt playful, as in the case with his album Philharmony in 1982 which produced tracks like an electronic synthpop version of the well known Italian folk song Funiculi Funicula (if you don’t recognize the name, look it up and you’ll surely recognize the sound). 

Hosono Would Often Collaborate with Other Japanese Musicians, Forming Numerous Bands and Groups in His Earlier Years

Hosono first gained recognition as a member of the rock band Apryl Fool in 1969. Hosono and his bandmate Takashi Matsumoto would continue on to form another band with Eiichi Ohtaki and Shigeru Suzuki, Happy End, which despite only being active for around 4 years from 1969 until 1972, is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential Japanese bands to exist.

Following Happy End’s disband, Hosono continued to work with Suzuki and other musicians, exploring his obsession with the exotica genre which would eventually lead to the formation of another band. Before that, Hosono completed various other solo and non-solo projects.

One of his contributions that have gained recognition once again in recent years is the album Pacific, which was a 1978 release by Hosono, Suzuki, and Tatsuro Yamashita. It featured 8 tracks, of which Hosono composed three. Pacific was the perfect kickback album, featuring sounds reminiscent of jazz, disco, funk, and lounge among other genres – the perfect representation of the imagery of an island in the pacific. 

The whole album is a classic, but the standout with regards to Hosono’s work here is with no doubt the final track of the album, Cosmic Surfin’. Merging exotica and electronica, Cosmic Surfin’ was a glimpse into what Hosono had in store for the world over the next few years, as his next big project would seek to experiment with and perfect this mix of sounds. 

Hosono’s Experimentation with Electronic Sounds Led to the Yellow Magic Band, and Eventually the Legendary Yellow Magic Orchestra

Hosono is perhaps most well known as the founder of Yellow Magic Orchestra, a three-man band together with Yukihiro Takahashi and Ryuichi Sakamoto formed in 1978. Hosono, who had worked with both Takahashi and Sakamoto in some capacity prior, invited the two to work on his fourth album, Paraiso, which was released in 1978. 

Paraiso featured The Yellow Magic Band – a collective of around a dozen colleagues of Horoso including Takahashi and Sakamoto, which culminated in an exotic and varied sound that included several acoustic instruments and had vocal contributions from at least six different members. After Paraiso, all three musicians continued to experiment with electronic instruments on various projects over the next few years. 

Hosono had the idea of creating an album that used electronics and electronic instruments, which were fairly new at the time, to revisit the south pacific and oriental sounds found within the exotica genre that had existed since the late 1950s. 

Hosono began to recruit members for his band, which would become Yellow Magic Orchestra, midway through 1978. When the project turned out to be a success, YMO ended up sticking together for many years, producing a number of albums and becoming one of the most popular acts in Japan at the time. 

Reissues and rise to popularity in recent years

Many of Hosono’s albums from the 70s and 80s which did not see North American releases upon their first pressings have in recent years been reissued, with the sudden desire to explore all facets of Japanese culture on the rise and the popularity of City Pop among other genres of music growing. 

An example of one of Hosono’s works that have gained recognition recently is his two-track album Watering a Flower, which was posted to youtube in 2017 and has steadily gotten views and garnered interest in Hosono and especially Yellow Magic Orchestra since then. Watering A Flower features two eclectic, calming ambient tracks: the A side track, TALKING あなたについておしゃべりあれこれ, and the B side track, GROWTH 都市にまつわる生長のことなど

Someone listening to either of these for the first time with a sudden urge to explore Hosono’s prolific repertoire has their work cut out for them but is sure to descend down a rabbit hole of discovery as they delve into his work and discover the many others he has collaborated with over his career. 

Haruomi Hosono
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