One day sitting in my college haunt of Village Yokocho slurping ramen noodles I heard the spastic intro to Stoicism play over the loudspeaker.


Making sounds like a 9 year old, I grabbed onto Paris (waiter du jour) and squealed one name:


"Uh, yeah I like her. (Un. Suki.)" He said, wiping drops of broth off his face before scuttling back to the kitchen. Before Shou Shou Strip, no one (the Japanese included) seemed to know who she was. It was the year 2000. The most popular group in Japan was L’Arc en Ciel and the number one female singer was Namie Amuro.


I will normally leap onto anything even remotely Japanese. However there is only so much twirly techno love mash I can tolerate. As for L’Arc En Ciel, I just don’t like the way most Japanese men sing. Can’t explain it, don’t want to.

I bit the apple in the Bowery 1998 at some bar I can't recall. I liked the fact that she sang only in Japanese. Maybe that is the snob in me but I can’t stand hearing words like "ANGERU" or "LABU POWAH" when I’m trying to decipher already perfectly lame lyrics. Besides I want new words, not mangled English. Japanese can express things in ways English can’t attempt and it’s also fairly malleable. Ringo likes to combine kanji so that when they are pronounced together, they make practically no contextual sense in Japanese but in English sound just like this: Bo Jackson.

Fucking tease.

She was the first time I ever heard a Japanese artist be bold, offensive and cool. While most Japanese bands were worshiping Prince, Janet Jackson and Metallica here was an artist who listed among her obsessions Janis Ian and Claud Debussy.

She had a voice like a smoker and even if it was nasally, it was also unsettling. The way she rolled her R’s made her sexy in a gangster, dare I say boyish sort of way? Of course, like her Judy and Mary predecessors, she screeched like a banshee. Her album release of Kofukuron (Happiness Theory) made noises that could turn a modem green.

Now Shonen Knife does rock. They are great. Hooray. But that last statement could be one of their songs. All I wanted was a Japanese girl who did NOT sing about love or candy.

Ringo does sing about love. But at least she’s giving a personal account.

Oh yeah, background. Shiina Ringo was born Shiina Yumiko (Shiina is her last name. Ringo is her nickname) in Saitama prefecture but grew up in Fukuoka, largest city in Kyushu. On occasion, she even sings in her dialect Hakata-ben. As in Fukou Jiman she sings at the end "Maa eetai" or "That’s fine." which is usually pronounced "Mou ii".

I can’t recommend any one album. They are all good. Her debut, Muzai Moratorium, has been described as a hybrid between Alanis Morisette and Stevie Wonder. Shou Shou Strip is where all the hit singles reside. That was during her ripped fishnets and nurse fetish days. Then the live album Zecchoushuu which is my personal fave. Mayonaka wa Junketsu is her collaboration with Tokyo Ska Paradise. I really love her jazzy homage to Sid Vicious, Sid and the Daydream (Shido to Hakuchumu) Then there was the cover album Utaite Myouri. Karuki Zamen Kuri no Hana seems to be the music snob darling.

Now I will end this rave with my favorite verse from STEM:

There's a door here, but it will not break
There's a stone there, but it won't remain
Up there a heaven now, but it will not wait
And the lies there, the scent of it, just too much

For more lyrics/translations go here: Centigrade

And this is where I shut the F up about Shiina Ringo.

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