Looking at the Future of Clubs in Japan: DJ SODEYAMA’s Tokyo NightlifeMusic
People from all over the world visit Shibuya today. With Shibuya Station at its center, development has reached the surrounding areas, and new points of interest are popping up everywhere. DJ SODEYAMA - who started showing up at clubs in Tokyo back in the 90s and moved on to become a DJ - has grown up in Shibuya and has been watching the town, as well as the club scene in general, transform. As we walked from Shibuya to Yoyogi-Koen - the next train station - he gave me his take on the Japanese club scene.
—New stores are popping up on the shopping street between Shibuya and Yoyogi-Koen. I think many of them are quite unique.
DJ SODEYAMA (hereinafter, S) I think it’s like a mixture of the old Shibuya and today’s Shibuya. There aren’t so many people here, so maybe you can maintain a lower stress level than you can in downtown Shibuya.
―Before you became a DJ, when did you start clubbing?
S I was in 10th grade so it must have been 1992 or 1993. The first club I ever went to was Club Gold, which was located in Shibaura. I also went to clubs in Shibuya such as CAVE. I was born in Hatsudai, so Shibuya is pretty much my hometown.
―Have Shibuya and Hatsudai changed compared to back then?
S They are totally different. For starters, there weren’t any boutiques. There were plenty of shops, but most of them are gone now. Shibuya, like Shinjuku, was not as safe as it is today. Hanging out with peace of mind is a new thing around here.
―Did you learn to DJ after you started hitting the clubs?
S Yes. I started out with house, but now I also play techno. My stance towards DJ-ing and how I party hasn’t changed much, though. Now that I am a DJ, clubs are also workplaces, but the feeling hasn’t changed.
―What do you think about how the changes in Tokyo?
S The change is gradual, so I can’t really remember how things have changed. For example, I can’t remember what was there before Hikarie. PARCO has disappeared, but in a few years, I’ll probably be asking myself, “What used to be here?” Changes are happening rapidly. The shopping street in Hatsudai, where I grew up, is totally different from what it used to be. The arcade that I went to when I was a student is gone, a futon shop has also vanished. Hatsudai has changed dramatically since the Opera City was completed. Yoyogi-Koen never used to have this many fancy stores, either. I guess, since it’s close to Shibuya, some development is unavoidable - as is the case with any area that surrounds a popular and growing city. It’s a good thing, but sometimes it can make you feel a little lonely.
―You have been involved in the club scene for a long time; what do you think about the Japanese scene?
S Anyone that has been in the Japanese club scene for 20 or 30 years would know, but nightlife is a controversial topic in Japan. For the past ten years or so, many people involved in the club scene have been working hard to make the club scene better; however, the big earthquake and the Adult Entertainment Law problem have thrown us off track. There are many small issues, but I think the main cause boils down to the fact that the club scene has not matured into a culture yet here in Japan.
―Aren’t there are a lot of clubs and parties though?
S There are many interesting parties and great DJs in Japan, but I don't think the scene is part of the culture yet. In Europe, people go to nightclubs like we go to izakayas. Instead of going to see someone specific, it seems more like, “Hey, it’s the weekend — let’s go to a club!” It seems, in Europe, clubs are established as a form of entertainment and are incorporated into everyday life for many people — and I think that makes the club scene belong to the culture.
―So, what places in Tokyo do you think are interesting to go to at night?
S I would recommend the Golden-Gai in Shinjuku. Shimbashi and Koiwa might be fun districts to visit also. Regarding clubs, there are many tourist-friendly clubs such as Contact, VENT, WOMB, and ageHa. On the other hand, small clubs like OATH and Red Bar feature mostly Japanese talent, so they are great places to check out the local DJs.
―How do you think we can establish a club culture in Japan?
S Most of the clubs feature DJs from overseas on weekends. There are many good Japanese DJs, but they are not presented well. It’s not just the clubs’ fault, though, I think the media is responsible as well. This makes it hard for the Japanese scene to mature into a culture. There is a lot to be improved with the Adult Entertainment Law for sure, but I think the way we promote club events important as well. I am always thinking about how to establish a club culture in Japan, looking towards 20 years and 30 years in the future.