Legendary 1960s underground folk-rock musician from Japan to play free concert

Yoshio Hayakawa, a legendary figure in Japanese popular music history, will play a free, public concert at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at International House. Hayakawa will be accompanied by noted musician and longtime collaborator Masahide Sakuma.

The concert, Hayakawa’s first outside of Japan, is the keynote event of an Oct. 18-19 conference at UChicago on performance and Japanese literature.


Born in 1947, Hayakawa first emerged into the public eye in the 1960s as leader of the seminal underground folk-rock band, The Jacks. Critical darlings but commercial failures, The Jacks released two classic albums, “Vacant World” and “Super Session.”  Yet like their Western avant-garde contemporaries the Velvet Underground, The Jacks made a lasting impact on the music scene and influenced generations of Japanese musicians.

The band’s dark, poetic lyrics and psychedelic sound captured the existential angst of Japanese youth in the turbulent 1960s, according to Michael Bourdaghs, professor in East Asian Languages and Civilizations.

“Between 1968 and 1969, every university in Japan was shut down by a student occupation. There was a rebellious youth movement that was frustrated by the education system and corporate structure of Japanese society,” said Bourdaghs, author of Sayonara Amerika, Sayonora Nippon, a history of Japanese popular music. The Jacks’ music, with its themes of depression and alienation “really spoke to that youth culture.”

After the band’s breakup, Hayakawa released a critically acclaimed 1969 solo album, switching from guitar to piano as his primary instrument of choice. Then, in the early 1970s, he cut all ties to the music industry and for two decades ran a bookstore in the suburbs of Tokyo. He returned to music in 1994, when he released a celebrated studio album. Hayakawa continues to perform live and release solo recordings.

Sakuma, Hayakawa’s collaborator and guitarist, is an equally important figure in Japanese popular music history. Sakuma debuted in the early 1970s with the progressive rock group Yonin Bayashi, later achieving widespread fame as a member of the New Wave band The Plastics, which regularly appeared in the U.S. and Europe in addition to Japan. Since leaving that band in 1981, Sakuma has been one of the most in-demand producers in Japan, working with many of the most popular Japanese rock bands while continuing his own activities as a performer and songwriter.

No RSVPs are required for the event, which also will be streamed live through the Illinois Japan Performing Arts Network.