Turning J.A.P.anese

Big in Japan: Sweet J.A.P.

Big in Japan: Sweet J.A.P.

Sho is a man of few words. Two words, in fact: The lead singer for the local punk band Sweet J.A.P. wants to answer all interview questions posed to him one night this fall with the same retort: "Top secret." Sitting outside Minneapolis's Spyhouse Café, Sho, a Japanese native, and the other four J.A.P.s seem to have learned one very effective rock 'n' roll rule: Coy is cool.

"Why did you want to come to Minneapolis?" I ask.

"Top secret," is the response.

And so forth: "How old are you?" "What's your real name?" "How many girls did you make out with on your tour to Texas?"

This all seems to be classified information. The only subject Sweet J.A.P. consider worthy for print--aside from the genius of Ozzy Osbourne and David Bowie--is punk rock. That said, Hideo, the band's lead guitarist and founder of the local label Nice & Neat Records, does not appear as concerned with Minneapolis punk vogue: He's wearing a white button-down oxford and stone-washed jeans. (Still, this Eighties look is very trendy in New York City these days.) Hideo (none of the band members want to reveal their last names) becomes quite animated while extolling the virtues of garage rock and playing punk in the States. He has the standard local gripe--the lack of all-age venues--yet he will confess that he loves it here. "You can see blue sky," Hideo says. "In Tokyo, you can't see sky, and it's not blue. It's white."

"I'm looking for a J.A.P.," says guitarist Takashi, a rather nice hooligan type squeezed into a tight t-shirt. Takashi, turning into a shameless self-promoter, also wants you to know that he is available.

Ah, yes, the testosterone levels of youth! It's not hard to surmise that doses of that hormone frequently take over the J.A.P.s, and when it's combined with an inordinate amount of energy, it makes for chaotic, jumping-all-over-the-stage action. Sho and Takashi scream out the alto parts. Hideo counters with screams of an almost prepubescent pitch. And drummer Yuichiro becomes a downright brutish, bombastic thing.

Sweet J.A.P., who have been playing for almost two years now, consider themselves to be a garage band. And it's true that during parts of their live set they definitely pull off a Nuggets-era, jerky power-chord garage sound. Yet judging by the two songs ("Turn Me On" and "Can't Stop Love Go") on the Nice & Neat Records 7-inch split--shared with the Texas act the Reds--the J.A.P.s also dabble in hardcore as well as pure, Green Day pop punk. Taken in whole, the band members most resemble Hideo's heroes, the Japanese group Das Boot, who have also shared a split 7-inch with the J.A.P.s.

While candid about the band's music, the J.A.P.s again turn coy when asked what their songs are about. "Personally, I don't like to be political lyrics-wise," Sho says. "But I think as a band, it's kind of political being Japanese and playing in the States. My existence is political. I like it that way." Sounds like pretty good rhetoric until Sho finally admits that he makes up most of his lyrics onstage.

But everything seems inherently political these days. And a few months, a statewide strike, and an international crisis after this initial interview, I check in with Hideo, who sounds pretty much the same on the phone as he did earlier this fall. He reports that he had hoped to meet up with his Japanese friends at a punk festival in Las Vegas but they canceled because they are now too afraid to travel in the States. Confident that Minneapolis is a peaceful city, as well as a highly unlikely terrorist target, Hideo says that the J.A.P.s are sticking to their busy schedule for the upcoming year. The band is submitting a song for a 1+2 Records compilation, as well as a compilation for an unnamed Texas label.

In the meantime, Hideo is also happy to report that Takashi has found two new girlfriends in the past two weeks.