That's right, there's a big Japanese country music scene. There's even a music festival, Country Gold, that attracts 20,000 people a year. It was started 25 years ago by Charlie Nagatani, who headlines the show with his band, the Canonballs.
Charlie also has a bar in Kumamoto (capital city of the southern island of Kyushu) where you can strut your stuff:
Kumamoto is famous for its ancient castle, distinctive cuisine and Suizenji garden. But among the American community in Japan, Good Time Charlie's Bar is another popular Kumamoto attraction.This may seem weird, but is very Japanese:
Last month, I visited the bar to hear Charlie Nagatani and his band playing American country music for an enthusiastic audience. Japanese men and women dressed in jeans, boots, and bandanas danced to his music or clapped time from their seats. I ordered a nice cold Coors beer, but Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey and soda seemed to be even more popular choices.
"Some people like the music. Some like the horse. Some want nature. Me, I like everything. I'm in it for the whole country experience," says Johnny Tsuji, whose headpiece sports a rattlesnake snout, and who cherishes the days when he can dress like a cowboy. "In Japan, you know, we can't wear this on the street. We hide it away until there's an occasion."Here's part of a Japanese TV documentary which has Charlie and the Canonballs performing at Country Gold. This is real country - Charlie and the band have performed at the Grand Ole Opry more than a dozen times. While I don't have a translation of what's being said, this will give you the flavor of Country Music, Japanese style.
Shigeru Yoshihiko and his wife have come to Country Gold five straight years. They handmade their star-spangled line-dance outfits, and even played country music while their 3-year-old was being born. "We love the sound," says Mr. Yoshihiko. "It was a special birth."