As I wrote last year in this post about Japanese “city pop” music, Japan in the early ‘80s was an economic powerhouse, resulting in a huge boom of prosperity that impacted many aspects of society — with the country’s music being one of them. One result of this was that commercial city pop, which spoke to the country’s newfound sense of wealth and consumerism.
Another was “kankyō ongaku,” which roughly translates into “environmental music.” It was far more experimental and avant-garde than city pop, but still had some surprisingly commercial origins and inspirations.
In the 1970s, the concepts of Brian Eno’s “ambient” and Erik Satie’s “furniture music” began to take hold in the minds of artists and musicians around Tokyo. Emerging fields like soundscape design and architectural acoustics opened up new ways in which sound and music could be consumed. For artists like Yoshimura, Ojima and Ashikawa, these ideas became the foundation for their musical works, which were heard not only on records and in live performances, but also within public and private spaces where they intermingled with the sounds and environments of everyday life. The bubble economy of 1980s Japan also had a hand in the advancement of kankyō ongaku. In an attempt to cultivate an image of sophisticated lifestyle, corporations with expendable income bankrolled various art and music initiatives, which opened up new and unorthodox ways in which artists could integrate their avant-garde musical forms into everyday life: in-store music for Muji, promo LP for a Sanyo AC unit, a Seiko watch advert, among others that can be heard in this collection.
To help give this music some recognition, the Light In The Attic label is releasing Kankyō Ongaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980 – 1990, a massive collection that brings together music from numerous Japanese musicians from that era, including Joe Hisaishi (who has composed many soundtracks for Studio Ghibli movies) and Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and Ryuichi Sakamoto. According to Light In The Attic, this is the first time these songs have been licensed outside of Japan.
You can hear samples of all of the various songs — many of which sound surprisingly contemporary, especially if you’ve spent any time exploring the vaporwave genre — on the album’s aforelinked page, or via the album’s trailer embedded above.
Kankyō Ongaku will be released on February 15 in in triple LP and double CD formats. You can also order a digital copy, but it’ll be limited to only 10 songs. If you want more, you’ll need to order a physical version.
Want to ensure Opus’ continued existence and get some special perks? Become a supporter today. Contributions help offset the site’s hosting costs.
I've also written for Christ and Pop Culture, ScreenAnarchy, Filmwell, and Christian Research Journal. I pay the bills by creating beautiful user interfaces and websites for Firespring and Red Bicycle.