He Said – She Said – The A to Z of Japanese Music – The Letter “I”


I is for Irezumi ! ! !

I is for Irezumi ! ! !


Ms 4 -80She Says:

After our short break, we are back with the next letter in our series of posts about Japanese music, culture and language  This week we are looking at the letter “I”  We have great tunes, P sensei has added a video to help understand the word of the week, and S sensei and the culture club are looking at tattoos this week, so if you want to know what the maple leaf and dragon motifs mean that our cover guy is displaying  ( and if you should be scared or not )  then come and  find out in the culture cub this week ! ! !

spike-80 -1He Says:

Hello again, fan, and welcome back to A-Z ! It’s been a while and we’ve missed you. This week we are looking at the letter “I”, the most selfish letter of the alphabet. Remember, kids, there is no “I” in team. Which is what me and Sakura are, sort of…

mrp3 80He Says – I is for In Hi

In-Hi – I absolutely adore In-Hi ( and their previous incarnation as “Indian Hi”), as Sakura says below they are thoroughly modern in style but manage to introduce Okinawan melodies ( which are very easy to recognise once you get your ear “in”) into their songs. They are rightly proud of their Okinawan heritage and many of their songs are “Oki” friendly in subject matter, sea, blue skies, beach life etc. They call it “Okinawacore” and I find if a most pleasing noise. They also have a habit of recording the same songs in slightly different styles which is both fun and gives their output a nice “homespun” feel, as if they are just “winging it” and not too serious about it all. Love them.

In Hi – Okinawa Justice

In Hi – Billy Boy

sakura 80 -3She Says:

In Hi come from my home of Okinawa and so are very close to my heart.  They were originally formed in the late 1990 decade as Indian Hi but in about 2001 they changed their name to In Hi. I really love the way they mix in traditional elements of Okinawa music into the punk genre and you can here this really nicely in Okinawa Justice.  They are still playing even today and are one of the more politically active groups in the Okinawa music scene.  They have done a lot to promote Okinawan groups by organising festivals both in Okinawa and on the mainland of Japan.

~ ♥  ~ ♪ ~  ♫ ~  ♪ ~  ♥ ~

Ms S - 80She Says – I is for Izumikawa Sora

I think on The Spill we really do not have enough flowers, sweets, cakes, kisses and blushing when a boy and girl hold hands . . .  and so to put that right I have chosen a track written by the queen of Kawaii anime, the one and only Izumikawa Sora ! ! !   If you have ever wondered why all Shojo anime themes song sound like, it is probably because it seems like they are all written by Izumikawa Sora ! ! !  She is actually a really accomplished musician and was a child classical piano genius.  She had a good solo singing career, but it is as a song writer and producer that she is most famous.   She has composed j-pop songs for at least 100 different j-pop acts and has produced hundreds of tracks.  But it is the niche of composer of anime theme tracks that she has really made her own and she has really defined the genre of the shojo anime theme. ! ! !   Get ready for a sugar rush ! ! !

Izumikawa Sora – Kaze ga Nanika o Iou to Shiteiru ( sung bySaori Hayami )

mr-p-80He says:

I do admire the amine theme song as an artform, there’s nothing like a good one ( c.f. Totoro theme), they are, deliberately I suspect, insanely catchy and memorable. Trouble is there is just so many of them ! Must be thousands by now, so it’s hard to keep track of the really good ones. I like this one a lot, very typical and none the worse for that.

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Learn Japanese The Fun and Easy Way with P sensei’s One Word A Week Method ! ! !

 P senseiP sensei Says – I is for Ikusa

This word can have several meanings, army, battle, war, fight, campaign….you get the idea. It’s a very “martial” word. I’ve chose this video as an extra treat as I think the band are interesting, they combine modern “metal” type sounds with traditional Japanese melodies and instruments. I’m not sure I like it but I certainly admire the idea. The video is, of course, kind of violent, as you might expect but, as with many Japanese “war” films there’s a certain balletic quality to the fights and the combatants are more like dancers.

Anyway, Ikusa , use it with care !

Educational Video – Wagakki Band -Ikusa

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Class is Over so it time for club activities – Join S Sensei in the Culture Club ! ! !

Follow me to the Culture Club boys  ! ! !

Follow me to the Culture Club boys ! ! !

S Sensei says – I is for Irezumi

A Little History

girl tattoo

A girl with a full body Irezumi

The first Japanese people were actually originally pacific islanders and do not come from mainland Asia at all and this has influenced our language, which has some similarities to other pacific languages like Samoan, and also the first Japanese shared the practice of tattooing in the same style as the pacific islanders.  When the first Chinese visited Japan about 300 BC they reported that the people wore blue tattoos and were quite horrified at how uncivilised and primitive we were. It was trading with China and the influence of the Chinese traders that stopped these early tattoo traditions and tattooing became a form of punishment for several centuries.

The colourful tattoos that people associate as Japanese tattoos these days are descended from the Edo period ( 1600 to 1868 ) This was a golden era for the arts and wood block printing.  At this time, many wood block printers used their skills and some of the same tools to become tattoo artists.

Irezumi uses a series of motifs to make the design and each motif has a specific meaning derived from its Buddhist or Shinto symbolism.  People choose the motifs to make a statement about themselves and their beliefs and values, so each tattoo is a message from the person to those who see it.

The Meaning Of The Motifs


In Japanese folk law, dragons are kind creatures that usually do good for the world and the people in it.  They control the forces of nature for the benefit of the people of the world, and they are strong, kind, wise and forgiving.  People wear dragon motifs to express the aspiration to have these qualities.

Maple Leaves 

Maple Leaves are the symbol of lovers and time passing.  The cycle of the seasons symbolically start with the Sakura ( Cherry Blossoms ) and end with Momiji ( Maple Leaves)  If the leaves show the changes in colour ( like our cover guy)  they represent time passing.  So I think we can see our cover guy is not a bad guy after all ! ! !  What do you think his message is ? ? ?

Hou Ou, Sakura and Koi in An Irezumi design

Hou Ou, Sakura and Koi in An Irezumi design

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Blossoms or Sakura ( yes  – I was named after them ) are powerful symbols of rebirth and a fresh start.   They are also symbols of the transient nature of life.   Choosing Sakura in your Irezumi represents a desire to change or to commemorate a new start.


Koi or carp are considered in Japanese folk law as the most worthy fish.  They are famous for being very brave and strong and stoical and never showing fear and accepting death with bravery. It is said that a carp can become a dragon if it swims up a mythical river to the a waterfall called the Dragon Falls and can jump across the falls it will become a dragon.  So Koi are almost always protrayed with their heads facing upwards.  They are one of the most famous of the traditional designs as they symbolise these “manly” qualities.


The Phoenix or Hou ou is the most magical of all the mythical birds.  In Japanese mythology the phenix is the only creature that can unite ying and yang, and so is often used as a symbol of marriage.  Hou ou is a powerful Shinto symbol of the immortal soul and in Buddhism it symbolises rebirth so there are also powerful spiritual meaning  to this design also.  What message do you think our guy with the koi, sakura, and Hou ou is trying to tell us ? ? ?


A Snake As The Main Motif in an Irezumi

A Snake As The Main Motif in an Irezumi

In the Abrehamic regions the snake is associated with the devil, but the opposite is true in Shinto and Buddhism. The snake is a lucky creature ! ! !  The Snake or Hebi is thought to have supernatural powers in our tradition, and can foretell the future.  They can also predict earth quakes and natural disasters and so they are even welcomed in homes in much of Japan. In folk stories snakes are often portrayed as the guardians of treasures and shrines and magical places. Sometimes they will give gifts to humans. In Irezumi they often represent a prophecy or a guardian

There are many more symbols, usually of flowers and animals, but also the served head and skulls are often found which represent punishment and anger or death respectively and feature often in Yakuza tattoos.

None of our guys are Yakuza, they are all conveying a nice message I think.

Remember kids you need to be 20 years or over to have a tattoo and a full body Irezumi can cost as much as 30,000 USD.  In Japan you will also not be allowed into many public places like hot springs and gyms or swimming pools if you have a tattoo so I definately do not encourage you to have one ! ! !

mr-p-80He says:

Japanese tattoos can certainly be stunningly beautiful. Thanks to Sakura’s comments we Westeners can now also understand some of the images and their meanings. I’m a bit ambivalent to tattoos, I don’t mind in principle but in actuality there are so many really, really awful tattoos around, usual ones that people have “designed” themselves. I saw a lot of these in America, on the beaches, usually on the arms and legs of rather portly , middle-aged blokes. Not a good look.

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mrp2 -80He Says:  I is for Inotomo

Can’t really add to what Sakura says other than to say that I find Inotomo’s work really soothing and pleasant. She has a lovely voice and the simplicity of the songs only helps accentuat that. Blissful.

Inotomo – Morning Light

Ms 4 -80She Says:

Inoue Tomoko celebrates her tenth aniversary as a professional musician this year.  She has used the name Inotomo as her stage name since she became a professional. She has a lovely voice and I love her simple and beautiful arrangements.  She gained a lot of popularity after she wrote and performed the theme song for hit  drama series Minna no Uta.  She performs more or less constantly and has a really loyal fan base.  Hearing this track again and listening to some of her songs for this post as really made me want to see her.  When I do I will write a review for you all  ! ! !

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faye4 -80She Says: I is for Incapacitants

I must say Noise is not a genre that features a lot on my iPod playlist ! ! !  However He Said She Said explores all genres so we can give our loyal reader the broadest view of the Japanese music scene ! ! !  Incapacitants are duo that formed in 1981 and have been making a noise ever after.  They are one of the most famous of the Japanese band playing in this genre and have been very influential in the development of Japanese Noise over the last 20 years.  Actually, even though they are famous and well respected in their niche, they both still have full time day jobs which has limited their ability to tour overseas.  So, here they are performing live in a rare overseas performance in London.  Enjoy ! ! !

Incapacitants –  Live in London

MrP 4-80He Says:

BLOODY HELL ! Talk about from the sublime to the ridiculous !  I have a bit of this kind of thing which, I guess, springs partly from the rich fount that is “Metal Machine Music”. I do like a bit of “wibble” but prefer it with a little more tune and structure. Hawkwind being the benchmark for me.

This is what music will sound like when the robots take over.

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spike-fayeShe says:

We hope you have enjoyed the post ! ! !  I think we had a wide range of music this week, from the sweet to the  . . . . not sweet ! ! !  I hope you found the culture club and P sensei’s word of the week fun and interesting, Next time we look at music, language and culture that begins with J . . .well sort of . .  J is a bit of problem in Japanese really, but we will try ! ! !

He Says:

Well, we hope you enjoyed the rather bumpy ride this week ! How many of you managed the whole 20 minutes of incapasitantism I wonder ? We’ll see you soon with the “J”‘s . Not sure why Sakura says it’s a “difficult” letter, we’ll find out soon, no doubt. Until next time…..

  ~ ♥  ~ ♪ ~  ♫ ~  ♪ ~  ♥ ~

8 thoughts on “He Said – She Said – The A to Z of Japanese Music – The Letter “I”

  1. Hi! What an interesting and informative post, thank you for all the information about tattoos and the wide variety of music. I was getting a bit worried at first that I wouldn’t like any of the music this time, perhaps the letter I is not so good for me.

    However, I did enjoy Ikusa, the video was quite fun, and Inoue Tomoko was pleasant. May I ask, is Irezumi (the full body kind) very common in Japan? I suppose they would have to be well off, but I don’t understand what the significance of the tattoos would be, is it to declare a certain cultural thing or religion? I find it really interesting.

    • Hi Beth ! ! !

      Irezumi are not common in Japan. I actually only know one person ( a girl ) who has one. All full members of Yakuza clans have them and they mark their entry into the clan.

      But there is one group of regular guys that nearly all have them also and that is firemen. Since the Edo period the dashing and brave and romantic firemen have worn them. Many other normal people have them to mark significant changes in their lives or to make some type of personal philosophic statement . As most of the symbolism is Buddhist or Shinto religious symbolism I have heard about people that have them following pilgrimages or religious events in their lives like my friend.

      They take about two years of weekly visits to complete so as well as the money it is very big commitment in time and people do not have Irezumi just because they feel like it ! ! !

      I am really pleased you found some music you liked ! ! !

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment ! ! !

      • Ah, I understand, firemen and Yakuza, thank you for explaining. It’s really weird here, when I was a teenager only old sailors and really alternative people had tattoos, but now, if I go to the swimming pool it’s unusual to see people with no tattoos, they’re so popular they’ve lost any appeal they ever had for me! Plus I don’t like needles or pain so I wouldn’t have one anyway 🙂

        I have friends who have cool tattoos though, like music band symbols, I’m just surprised how the acceptability of them has changed in relatively few years. Thanks for the reply, I enjoy reading your posts.

  2. Another fabulous, interesting and well written article from you both.

    Not had chance to listen to all the music but loved the informative section on all the design and meaning of the tattoos.

    Many thanks to you both.

  3. Hi Leavy ! ! !

    I am really happy that you read the poat. We made the music selection challenging this week – sugar, noise, Okinawa core and singer songwriter challenging because we wanted to show things people would not normally listen to. I hope when you have time you will listen and tell us what you think about it ! ! !

    Did you try to understand what the guys in the photos were trying to say ? ? ?

    I hope you are well.

    Sakura x x x

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