Touring In the Land of the Rising Yen

I receive emails on a regular basis from readers here who ask me how they can come to Japan to perform their music and introduce themselves to Japanese audiences. Quite a few people who have used the standard technique for setting up tours in the US or Europe–namely working off a collected list of contacts and venues, then “cold calling” via email or phone to try to book tours–have run into dead ends, usually because their intended correspondents never write back and the whole thing soon comes to naught. The reasons for this are not because of any predisposition against their music, but deeper cultural tendencies that work against such kinds of approaches.

Generally speaking, business in Japan is conducted between people who have established some kind of personal relationship, having either met each other face to face, or through the introduction of a friend, colleague, or trusted business contact. For this reason, plus issues of language, emailing or sending letters to people who you don’t know or to who you haven’t been vouched for by some trusted party, has very little chance of success.

So, how do you “break in” if you don’t already know people in Japan? Believe it or not, the best way is to come over and start meeting people. Getting in touch with people as a visitor without asking for a gig, or simply making contacts by attending events such as concerts, openings, receptions, and so forth can be important first steps. People in Japan want to know the face and the personality of anyone they might work with, so it is not an untoward or a bad strategy to introduce yourself to people this way. Hence your first trip over might be confined to just promotional groundwork for a future tour or project.

But…how to get to Japan in the first place? With the costs of international airfare, plus a dollar that is so weak that it gets sand kicked in its face by bullies on the beach, even a short visit here can cost several thousands of dollars. If your promotional budget is ample, great, but few of us can spend that kind of money on spec these days.

Fortunately there are a couple of agencies that support travel to Japan for research, contact building, and most importantly, individual artistic goals. The Asian Cultural Council is one. Alas, their deadline for 2009 has just passed, but they deserve your consideration if you can think a little longer range.

The Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission works cooperatively with the National Endowment for the Arts to sponsor The U.S/Japan Creative Artists’ Program. They support five-month residencies in Japan for artists to pursue their individual artistic goals. It is extremely competitive, as only five grants are handed out each year, and not only for composers but also for architects, choreographers, creative writers, designers, media artists, playwrights, visual artists, and solo theater artists. Recent composer awardees have included Ellen Fullman, Jane Rigler, Elizabeth Brown (due to arrive any day now, I’m told) and Kevin James (who will start his residency in early 2009).

According to the program’s literature, selected artists will receive:

  • A monthly stipend for living expenses and a housing supplement, as well as an allowance for professional support services
  • Up to $6,000 for round trip transportation for the artist, domestic partner and/or dependent children, and a baggage/storage allowance
  • A stipend for pre-departure Japanese language study in the United States

Additional information, including guidelines and the application, can be found here. The next deadline for this program is February 1, 2009. If you think you might be interested in a stint in Japan, and a chance to lay the foundation for a continuing relationship with the country, I urge you to check this program out. And feel free to ask any questions about life in Japan here in the comments section. O-machi shite orimasu (I’ll be waiting to hear from you).

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