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Toho Sara: Coming in from the Wilderness

Makoto Kawabata reflects on the early 90's, New York, the dawn of his second phase and the formation of Toho Sara.

Over the past 25 years, Makoto Kawabata has proven to be one of the most explosive and versatile guitarists / overall musicians in the world. He has toured and recorded tirelessly—solo, with collaborations, and most notably his group Acid Mothers Temple. On the occasion of the newly released edition of Toho Sara's debut LP, Kawabata writes about the group's formation in collaboration with Asahito Nanjo (High Rise, La Musica) and Hisashi Yasuda. His original recollections in Japanese can be found on his personal blog; they are here available as translated by Justin Simon.

Originally released on compact disc by P.S.F. Records in 1995, Toho Sara’s first, self-titled album has been reissued by the American Black Editions label as a double-LP set. Black Editions always puts great care into its productions, and this release—with its gorgeous, gatefold jacket and inner sleeve—is no exception.

Toho Sara was my first official full album release, and the starting point of what would become a long, steady stream of releases for me. At this point, as you may know, even I have a hard time wrapping my head around my extensive discography.

When Erochika[1] disbanded in 1992, I temporarily immersed myself in home recordings and the like. When my personal life went through some changes the following year, I gave up on music, and put my activities on hold. After a bit of meandering, however, I caught the bug again. I wanted to explore New York's experimental music scene—considered cutting edge at the time—so I flew to America with nothing more than my shamisen. I was completely self-taught, but performed regularly on the streets of New York. And night after night I haunted the Knitting Factory, at the time still the reigning mecca of the avant scene. I caught performances by a wide variety of artists, both famous and unknown, and decided to get serious about playing music again. I rambled a bit more, but soon found my way back to Japan.

I was no longer interested in forming a rock band, and devoted myself to more experimental home recordings. Miraculously, during this same period I ran into Nanjo from High Rise, who I had previously played with in an experimental group called Johari. Nanjo asked what I had been up to, and when I described the experimental material I’d been working on, he took a keen interest. Shortly after that I drafted Yasuda from Erochika as well, and with Nanjo and Yasuda, we built the basic foundation for Toho Sara.

If I track down any rare photos of Yasuda from the time we put Toho Sara together, I’ll post them here.

In those days, Nanjo had just relocated to Tokyo from Nagoya. Every month, I stayed with him for extended, two-week recording sessions, and that’s when we started the production of this Toho Sara album. But Nanjo, who considered himself a “Singer Concept Writer,” was constantly coming up with new ideas for bands, and we put together a huge assortment of different kinds of recording projects.

Even though some twenty five years have passed, those days still feel like they were just a few years ago. For me, the Toho Sara album represents the start of my "second phase" of musical activity, and it played an instrumental role in carving out the path that’s brought me to the present.

Life is mysterious. I had terrible luck throughout my teens and twenties, but I met people in those days who would have a huge impact on my life in the following years. Overall, the course of my life has unfolded in a chaotic way. But, ultimately, I ended up reuniting with those key figures at precisely the right moments for meaningful collaboration. Of course, I’ve completely lost contact with many of these people, including Nanjo and Yasuda, but the memories of our time together, and the albums that we made together continue to reappear in this way, as threads that connect my past to my future.

As with the recent Musica Transonic reissue, the Black Editions version of Toho Sara has a bonus track chosen by Nanjo. I of course didn’t know which piece he chose, and was eager to hear it.

In addition to the double LP release, digital versions can be found on the Black Editions Bandcamp site, so please check those out as well.

[1] Psychedelic folk / alternative rock group, featuring Kawabata alias Makoto Inari in 1984-1992.

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