New Year’s Countdown Strategies
Your definitive guide to the best New Year’s Eve events in Tokyo
By: Dan Grunebaum | Dec 16, 2010 | Issue: 873 | No Comments | 4,670 views


A four-day festival organized by leading music mag Rockin’ On at the cavernous Makuhari Messe, Countdown Japan 10/11 surely doesn’t lack for chutzpah. The publisher’s summer Rock In Japan and winter Countdown events have been the J-rock festival success story of the Noughties, duplicating the feats of Fuji Rock and Summer Sonic. This year’s edition opens with the likes of avant rockers Zazen Boys (below right) and neo flower girl Superfly, before leading up to a final countdown night featuring everyone from rapper Kreva to retro New Wave geeks Polysics.

If an extended train ride to Chiba isn’t your idea of a festive New Year, Tokyo’s countless live houses offer a more accessible and intimate experience. Daikanyama’s Unit gives Japan its first taste of “experimental” downtown New York band Zs at the Unit 2010 to 2011 bash. Created by sax player Sam Hilmer in 2000, the band includes a shifting collection of musicians from the city’s post-rock, improv and No Wave scenes. Zs (top) are being billed by Unit as the latest, greatest thing since Battles, and should provide Tokyo’s most dissonant countdown party of the year.

Courtesy of Rockin On

Speaking of dissonance, skronk enthusiasts may also want to point their compasses toward the counterculture Mecca of Koenji, where multi-instrumentalist Keiji Haino is overseeing another of his marathon events at Showboat. Haino likes to start his New Year’s all-nighter early—as in 1:30am on the 31st—and will be flogging his battery of guitars, effects and synthesizers until dawn.

Also in Koenji, psych-folk troubadour Kan Mikami is serving up a night of raw nerve endings at Muryoku Muzenji’s Kan Mikami vs Kanonbosatsu. One of a few artists from Japan’s ’70s acid-folk boom to attract an international audience, Mikami adheres to a brutally immediate fusion of enka and blues. Muzenji had been planning to close for New Year, but the musician apparently insisted it remain open, recalling his days as a lonely Aomori émigré in Tokyo with nowhere to go.

Revelers looking for something more melodic should redirect themselves to Shibuya O-East, where veteran Hokkaido alt-rockers and South by Southwest festival repeaters The Pillows head up Countdown Bump Show!! 2010→2011. They’ll be accompanied by girl group Noodles and punk outfit Dohatsuten, while upstairs at indie venue O-Crest, over 15 bands are pumping it out from the afternoon in Crest Year End Party 2010 Special 2 Days!

Over in the student district of Sangenjaya, weather-beaten rock temple Heaven’s Door celebrates 20 years of survival with Tengoku Tobira Monogatari Dainisho Kanketsuhen, which roughly translates as “Heaven’s Door Story Chapter Two: The Final Edition.” A dozen-odd bands will be on hand, many of whom cut their teeth at the club, including Dead Bambies, Lazygunsbrisky and Tokyo Ryozanpaku, known for letting off volleys of fireworks into the crowd from their loincloth-clad crotches.


Courtesy of Womb

Tokyo’s superclubs will be throbbing well into the wee hours of January 1, but countdown revelers looking for something different should head to the docks of Hinode. The second installment of Rainbow Disco Club is being staged not at a club but at Tabloid, a massive bayside warehouse that’s been converted into a gallery and event space. New York house DJ Darshan Jesrani a.k.a Metro Area (below right) will be returning from summer’s inaugural bash to hold it down in the main room, along with atmospheric UK act Floating Points and live trio Waves, which unites DJ and producer Ian O’Brien with synth/keyboard magicians Kuniyuki and Midorin from Soil & “Pimp” Sessions.

The Shibuya-Ebisu-Azabu clubbing axis will be groaning under the collective mass of a slew of heavyweight DJs shipped in for the occasion. Womb’s New Year Countdown 2011 blowout in the seamy Maruyamacho district of Shibuya stars Magda and Marc Houle, both from influential DJ Richie Hawtin’s Minus label. Magda (above) is a longtime proselytizer of the minimal techno favored by her label boss, while Houle is, in many ways, the brains behind the Minus machine, as one of its principal producers.

Hawtin’s crew took their cues from Detroit techno, and the original godfather will be on hand for the annual Electronic Tribe fest at Yebisu Garden Hall. Derrick May hasn’t offered up a new release in years, but his DJ sets demonstrate an eclecticism that strays far beyond his catalog of early techno masterpieces. Joining him in what looks to be the most diverse Tokyo countdown party this year are evergreen abstract turntablist DJ Krush, Gildas from French electro label Kitsune, and Boredoms frontman Eye in his DJ incarnation.

If all that techno sounds a little too cold and clinical, Nishi-Azabu’s Eleven will be an oasis of warmth thanks to the presence of New York house godfather Timmy Regisford. The DJ known as “The Maestro” was the force behind the legendary Club Shelter in NYC, and is famed for his marathon ten-hour-plus sets. Eleven’s New Year’s Eve Countdown to 11 will also serve as the release party for his latest album, At the Club.


New Year isn’t all about big-name touring DJs, mind you. In what’s become an annual tradition, two domestic heavyweights will be ministering to the faithful in the barn-like confines of Liquidroom in Ebisu. Techno kingpins Takkyu Ishino and Fumiya Tanaka are reuniting as masters of ceremonies for the Liquidroom presents 2011Liquid event, along with DJ Nobu, who is fast making a name for himself as the force behind the Future Terror events.

The dope sounds of dub, dubstep and all things bass-oriented are on the cards at Club Asia’s Countdown ’10 to ’11 event. The night will see a live set from Rebel Familia, the unit formed by dubstep producer Goth-Trad and veteran bassist Takeshi “Heavy” Akimoto, as well as by hip-hop turntablist DJ Baku (right), best known as the public face of Popgroup’s Kaikoo festivals.

For the gay/mix crowd, The Ring attracts the party boys, transvestites and attendant fruit flies to Warehouse702 in Azabu-Juban. Started almost two decades ago, the event helped haul gay Tokyo nightlife out of the Shinjuku Ni-chome closet, and
continues to provide a venue for foreigners and Japanese looking to hook up.

>> R&B & JAZZ

Masanori Naruse

Masanori Naruse

Photo by Masahiro Sanbe

International rock stars will be thin on the ground in Tokyo this New Year’s Eve, but a number of R&B and jazz talents are serving up the hits at the city’s posh supper clubs.

Billboard Live in Roppongi is roping in perennial bad boy Bobby Brown (right) along with Johnny Gill and Ralph Tresvant (below right) for its third annual countdown event. The three vocalists once served as lead singers for ’80s boy band New Edition, and have been touring together recently under the name Heads of State; they’re known to perform New Edition chestnuts like “Cool It Down.” Tickets in Japan—where Brown was popular enough to spawn a generation of “Bobby Otoko” imitators—are selling quickly.

If the ’80s are a bit too recent for your tastes, one of the numerous splinter groups of ’60s Motown greats The Temptations will be in town for the Cotton Club’s Rolling Like a Stone Into Year 2011 event in Marunouchi. The night features the 13-strong The Temptations Review with Dennis Edwards (below), fronted by the singer who took the group in a new direction in the late ’60s with gritty, socially aware hits like “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”

Aoyama’s Blue Note, the godfather of Tokyo supper clubs, digs even deeper into history with a countdown event starring The Legendary Count Basie Orchestra directed by Dennis Mackrel. A defining act of the ’30s-’40s big-band jazz era, the group continues to swing even after its original leader’s death in 1984, and is now helmed by the last drummer to have been personally hired by Basie himself. The special guest for the evening will be four-time Grammy-nominated jazz singer Ledisi.

Back in Roppongi, some high-powered jazz and R&B talent are convening high in the sky at Mado Lounge. Tokyo City View Countdown 2011 is headlined by jazz songstress Monday Michiru, the daughter of famed jazz composer Toshiko Akiyoshi and sax player Charlie Mariano, who was the comely face of the ’90s acid-jazz movement here. She’ll be ably supported by the supple, groove-centric band Cro-Magnon, and DJ sets by crossover jazz dandy Shuya Okino, among others.

In the earthier environs of Shinjuku, four-decade-old jazz temple Pit Inn is hosting its perennial All Night Concert 2010-2011. Opening with a session by restless saxophonist Kazutoki Umezu, the night offers a who’s who of the Japanese jazz scene. Pianist Hiroshi Mikami is helming the countdown itself, leading a trio featuring eclectic sax man Naruyoshi Kikuchi (right) as guest. The pair collaborated last year on the highly rated duet album, Flowers and Water.


Courtesy of Koransha

One of Japan’s most distinctive New Year customs is the performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in the days leading up to the 31st—a tradition apparently started by German POWs imprisoned in the country during World War I. Most of the big Japanese orchestras will be holding their own performances of nenmatsu no daiku (at least 23 ensembles around Japan will perform the piece on December 26th alone), but the one to catch is the Leningrad State Orchestra (right) with soprano Maria Litke, conducted by Peter Feranec, on December 29 at Bunkamura Orchard Hall and December 30 at Tokyo Opera City.. For true enthusiasts, the Iwaki Memorial Orchestra will wend its way through all of Beethoven’s symphonies from 1 through 9pm on December 31 at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, in a marathon tradition that started in 2003.

Another recent evolution of the Japanese classical New Year is the staging of late-night “Sylvester” concerts, named after the saint whose feast day falls on December 31. These generally take the form of paeans to Viennese waltz composer Johann Strauss, such as the Suntory Hall Sylvester Concert 2010 featuring the Vienna Folk Opera conducted by Rudolf Bibl. Meanwhile in Shibuya, Bunkamura’s Tokyu Sylvester Concert 2010-2011 celebrates the 150th birthday of Mahler with a program featuring renowned soprano Shinobu Sato. Across town at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall, the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kazuyoshi Akiyama has a more diverse program, with Strauss pieces sitting alongside jazzier selections by Gershwin and Bernstein.

Hair of the Dog

We asked Tokyo’s countdown specialists how they cure a New Year’s hangover

“First I drink a lot of water and have a good sleep. When I wake up, I have a relaxing bath and go out for yakiniku. Then I’m back in form.”—Yuko Ichikawa, Eleven

“Unfortunately, I can’t drink. What’s worse is that the company my father-in-law manages produces and sells sake.”—Miho Harasawa, Blue Note

“My favorite cure is to drink water!”—Ryoko Morishima, Billboard Live

“I go to my gym and sweat it out doing yoga and running.”—Kouichi Hashino, Disk Garage

“Just grit your teeth and bear it.”—Kanji Suzuki, Pit Inn

“Actually, I’m hung over right now. It’s standard advice, but I like to drink a lot of water.”—Ujiro Yamazaki, Unit

“Believe it or not, a tall, cool glass of chocolate milk does the trick: the sugar meets the alcohol still in your system and gets rid of the headache, the caffeine in the chocolate helps you get your head back together, and the milk coats your stomach. It really works!”—Monday Michiru, musician

“Take a Hythiol-C tablet before and after drinking.” —Emiko Murakamo, Mado Lounge

“A quiet New Year’s Day, some good, warm food… and a beer.”—Metro Area, DJ

“Take a bath, eat soba noodles, and sleep.”—Akane Uehara, Cotton Club

“I’ll just be lazy and relax, stroke my cat, and eat Japanese New Year’s food.”—Kaori Fujimori, Module



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