Time for some obscure Japanese synth music – Hiroshi Sato’s Orient


If you are into really weird stuff, this may be a treat for you. It has come to our attention that the rare and wonderfully idiosyncratic 1979 LP from Hiroshi Sato, Orient, is set to hit stores early next year.

The record is being brought out of obscurity and onto record shelves by label Wewantsounds. It is the first time that the record from the multi-instrumentalist and producer will be reissued and features a new remaster from the original tapes.

Sato, was a member of Happy End and had things turned out slightly different, he could have been a part of Yellow Magic Orchestra. The position was offered to him by Haruomi Hosono but was later taken by the master himself; Ryuichi Sakamoto. Needless to say, it is a testament to Sato’s musical chops, all of which are on full show on Orient. With Haruomi Hosono featuring on bass, Sato took on vocals, keyboards and synthesizer, kalimba, drums, writing and production duties for the album.

Sato grew up the eldest son at a temple near the southernmost tip of Japan’s southernmost island, Kyushu. As a teenager, he sang Elvis Presley songs in the temple and spent his days recording music on an early multi-track recorder in the temple’s storeroom.  A few years later, he moved to Kyoto, where he took up the bass guitar. At 20, he began teaching himself the piano, and shortly thereafter began playing with Masaki Ueda and other artists in the Kyoto area.  Some of his earliest professional experience included working with Haruomi Hosono in Tin Pan Alley following Hosono’s departure from Happy End in 1974.

In 1979, Sato released the album Orient, featuring Ueda, Hosono and other frequent collaborators. Hosono’s bassline can be heard on some of Orient’s strongest tracks. While Picnic is an iconic J-Funk track, it isn’t entirely representative of the album as a whole.  On much of the album, the exotica influences from his work with Tin Pan Alley are evident.  Flying Carpet, another track featuring Hosono, mixes the two styles well.

Though Sato has a large catalog of solo work, he is probably best known in Japan for his contributions to the work of others as a keyboard player, composer, arranger, producer, and sound engineer. Tatsuro Yamashita considered him Japan’s best pianist, and Sato played keyboards on almost all of Yamashita’s work in the 70s and 80s, including seminal albums Spacy and For You.  Sato contributed to much of Haruomi Hosono’s pre-YMO work during this period as well, including solo album Cochin Moon.  In the 1980s, Sato continued to contribute to the work of artists such as Masaki Ueda, Cindy, Anri, and Toshiki Kadomatsu.  For this reason, he may be the most featured artist in this series.

In 1980, Sato moved to LA and signed with Alpha Records.  During this time he met Wendy Matthews and the two collaborated on Sato’s most iconic album, Awakening.  Though Tatsuro Yamashita plays a Telecaster on several tracks – For You was recorded in the U.S. during this same period – very few individuals were involved in the record’s creation outside of Sato and Matthews.  Alpha was able to provide Sato with access to a LINN LM-1 drum machine, and this entirely replaced the rythym section on Awakening.  One of the album’s biggest strengths is its variance in tempo, typified by the two versions of Blue and Moody Music that bookend a majority of the album.

You can pre-order a copy of here before it hits shelves February 2.