Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

Seiichi Yamamoto’s ‘Ginga’: Musings from an underground music legend

by Patrick ST. Michel

Contributing Writer

Seiichi Yamamoto has spent the last four decades playing in bands and releasing experimental music on his own and with others, with his most notable stint being the guitarist in the rock group Boredoms. It was during the 1990s, while he was in that celebrated outfit that Guitar Magazine approached him to write a column.

Ginga, by Seiichi Yamamoto, Translated by Kato David Hopkins.
220 pages
PUBLIC BATH PRESS, Music.

“Ginga,” originally released in Japanese in 2009 and translated into English by Kato David Hopkins this year, compiles highlights from that column. The translation is rounded out with Yamamoto’s own fiction, artwork and photography, but the focus remains on his essays — brief dispatches from Yamamoto mostly about music but also including the odd tangent to topics such as catching bats or applying for credit cards. “Most of these pieces were written while I was eating udon or ramen,” he writes in the introduction, “so please make yourself comfortable and feel free to skip around.”

This conversation-at-a-bar feel is the collection’s strongest point. Yamamoto’s stories are peppered with a bit of reflection and a knack for great broadsides that also hint at an artistic philosophy (“Anyway I think of it, white noise is vastly more interesting than something like Foreigner”). Some instances, like his account of the first Fuji Rock Festival, are legitimate historical records of musical history. But Yamamoto’s column was mostly a dialogue with readers, and a chance to show off how funny and sharp he could be when recalling junk sales at recording studios or trips to Guam. Here’s one of the most entertaining books by an underground legend you’ll read this year.