Exploring the world of Japanese music can be a baffling experience for those who don't speak the language.

Where do you start if you're new to the scene? Entry points are fragmented at best, woefully uninformed much of the time and actively damaging at worst. Attempts to promote and release Japanese artists have been consistently forced through the distorting lens of anime fandom; mainstream media coverage is inevitably filtered through hackneyed "wacky Japan" editorial biases; and the blogosphere is overrepresented by the shrill clamor of idol enthusiasts, filled out with a handful of specialist sites devoted to particular scenes. Each of these outlets contains a piece of the true picture, but all together they tell us nothing.

But why does music alone seem to suffer from this institutional tilt toward obfuscation? Bring up the subject of Japanese literature and people will instantly start reaching for names such as Natsume Soseki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Osamu Dazai, Murasaki Shikibu, Yukio Mishima and Haruki Murakami. Mention cinema and Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi, Masaki Kobayashi, Yasujiro Ozu and Nagisa Oshima are well-known and regarded, while there is increasing consensus over a number of important recent and contemporary directors. Talk about anime or manga and the chances are that in those fields, also, a handful of names will reappear on many people's lists.