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Paying our Respects to Nujabes

Posted by Tomas & Sebastian on

In June of this year we took a two-week trip to Japan. We one-bagged it (for you fellow light travellers out there) and had a great time. We spent most of the trip exploring Shikoku and Kyushu, with a few days at the end in Tokyo.

Now that it's been a few months since our trip, we thought we'd share a story from our time in Japan that relates to who we are as a company.

We're both fans of Shinichiro Watanabe, and a number of his series have inspired our designs, such as the Swordfish and Bang from Cowboy Bebop. For both of us, Watanabe introduced to more than just great anime - he also introduced us to great music. Cowboy Bebop is perhaps the most famous of his works on this front, blending together jazz, cowboys, and space. The show has a stellar soundtrack composed by Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts. Most of the music was actually was produced and choreographed specifically for the show.

In his other series, Watanabe seems to place a heavy emphasis on music as well. The anime adaptation of Sakamichi no apollon (Kids on the Slope) tells a wonderful slice-of-life story centered around jazz in Kyushu. The music for this was also done by Yoko Kanno. Changing genres with Samurai Champloo, Watanabe blended together hip hop with Edo-era Japan. Samurai Champloo featured an impressive soundtrack composed primarily by Fat Jon and Nujabes.

In addition to being a great anime, Samurai Champloo was also our first introduction to Nujabes. 

For those who may not know, Nujabes was a DJ and record producer based in Tokyo, Japan. He produced many of his own albums and compilations, and collaborated with numerous musicians from Japan and the United States.

Nujabes' music has been a strong influence for us. One of our very first designs, Battlecry, was inspired by his work on the soundtrack for Samurai Champloo. It combines hip hop and vinyls with the crests of the three main characters:  Jin, Mugen, and Fuu. To us, the design is a subtle reference to the show, and an homage to one of our favourite artists. We actually sampled its namesake song in our one of our video ads - and in true mashup style paired some music about samurai with futuristic footage from Akira.

If you haven't heard Nujabes' music before, give it a listen. It's the kind of music that seems to transcend people, places, and genres - and chances are you've heard it before without realizing. Bars, clothing stores, izakayas, ramen shops, and sushi places - they all seem to have his music on their playlists.

Sadly, in 2010, Nujabes passed away in a traffic accident in Shibuya.

As we were planning our trip to Japan, we wanted to pay our respects in some way. We had done some research on the location of Nujabes' grave prior to arriving, but information was scarce. Digging around on the internet, we originally believed he was buried in Aoyama Reien (青山霊園), Tokyo's largest cemetery. Many notable people are buried in Aoyama, including authors, politicians, musicians, and actors. Dusting off our Japanese language skills, we found this site describing Nujabes' life and the exact address of the cemetery plot. 

So, one morning in Tokyo, we set out for Aoyama. We spent the better part of an hour trying to match the plot address we had found online to the local cemetery map. During our search we ran into a Japanese fellow who was searching for Hachiko's gravesite (yes the Hachiko, Shibuya's famous Akita dog who waited for his master everyday at the Shibuya train station, despite the master having passed away never to return). We eventually found Hachiko's plot with our new-found friend and paid our respects. We told him we were here looking for Nujabes' grave, and he decided to join us as we continued on our search.

After some more strategic wandering we still hadn't had any luck. We decided to get some help, and asked one of the cemetery workers if he knew where we might look. The man was incredibly helpful (and fortunately for us, his English was superb). He made a phone call, and then politely informed us that we were at the wrong cemetery. Nujabes was buried in Tama Reien (多磨霊園), another Tokyo cemetery a bit further from the city center - not Aoyama Reien as certain sources on the internet led us to believe.

Checking back on the Japanese site, we discovered that we had missed the link in the top-left corner telling us that the grave was in fact located at Tama Reien.

After a quick jaunt on the subway, we made it to Tama Cemetery, which is located in a suburb of Tokyo called Fuchu. By now we were quite familiar with how to navigate Japanese cemetery plots, and soon found the right place.

Nujabes' gravesite in Tokyo. Medium-sized, black gravestone surrounded by small, green trees. Nujabes is engraved on the gravestone along with his real name, Yamada Jun.

Some days, some nights
Some live, some die
In the way of the samurai