Japan recap: May 2024 at DJ BAR Bridge & Greenroom Festival


Japan is a special place for Aloha Got Soul. We've been traveling to the country since 2017, and since our first gig there we've been encountering warm embraces and smiling faces from people who love the music of Hawaii. Every event brings together music fans who appreciate the sound of our islands, and want to hear more of the rich tapestry of song that permeates Hawaii's past and present.

This May, with the support of RUSH Production, we played two magnificent venues: DJ BAR Bridge Shinjuku, and Greenroom Festival in Yokohama. 

Here's a recap of the two events and highlights our week-long adventure.  


We arrived on a Wednesday at Narita, and found waiting for us our tour manager, Ittetsu Asai. We'd spent two weeks with Ittetsu last October and very quickly grew fond of his hospitality, relaxed nature, storytelling, and music selection. Reuniting with him was a relief after our long flight from Honolulu. 

Driving into Tokyo proper, we found ourselves somewhere in Shinjuku area, just east of the main station, digging into a tonkatsu meal not far from where we'd soon be digging through records at nearby shops (I don't recall the name, but the first one we visited was packed to the gills with records, its "aisles" just big enough for one person at a time. The reality kicked in here, that we were in Japan, where shops are compact and choice is deeper than the ocean. 

Thursday, we started the day around 10am and made our way towards Diskunion Shinjuku — of which there are multiple locations, but we hit the main one, the big one with soul, hip hop and dance records on the fourth floor — to meet with DJ Notoya, who's been a constant companion on our Tokyo trips since 2017. We also meet up with some friends who've been helping us out at the shop; together we perused the bins at Diskunion, eventually finding ourselves outside a conbini for drinks, then popped into Beams Japan. 

The week before our trip, Oliver injured his leg while breakdancing. The injury was enough to put him on crutches and his left leg in a boot. But it wasn't enough to stop him from enjoying our trip! His spirits were high from the moment we set foot on the plane in Honolulu, his excitement for making the most of our trip to Japan so insatiable that with every opportunity, he'd be digging for records. His injury also meant that we intentionally kept our radius of exploration close to the hotel. 

By dinner time, we found ourselves walking past a few spots near our accommodation, but none looked particularly interesting to us. So, while the three of us stashed our vinyl finds in our rooms, Notoya found a place nearby that seemed good, according to reviews and photos. We went, and fell in love. A so-called "genjiyaki" restaurant, with fresh seafood skewered and grilled on a "primitive grill" made of hot charcoal, a technique used since the days before gas or electric cooking. We had the best meal, and we hope to return someday.

No evening with friends in a big city like Tokyo is complete without drinks on a set of stair (in New York, the iconic stoop comes to mind). We filled a shopping basket with snacks and drinks at a nearby conbini, then found a broad set in Nishi-shinjuku to shoot the breeze and watch the night go by. 

Feeling the excitement of our first full day in Tokyo, we asked Notoya for a recommendation on a record bar in the area. His pointed us in the direction of Soul Stream, to which we hopped in a taxi and made our way. Turns out, the bar is just a stone's throw from DJ BAR Bridge, where we'd be playing the following night. We found a corner in the bar to call home for the next 90 minutes, whisky highballs our drink of choice while we watched (and listened to) the selector play tunes from records obscure (rare) and familiar, including — to our pleasant surprise — cuts from so-called "dollar bin" records, LPs we've overlooked all these years for various reasons, and tonight they sounded nothing short of spectacular. Maybe it was the curation and context, the atmosphere. When I think about it, though, I believe a lot of the beauty of these records (e.g. Bob James & David Sanborn's Double Vision) comes through on a quality sound system. Goals!  


Friday, our first gig would be that evening starting at 8pm or so and going until 5am the next morning. So, how did we start the day? With a croissant and iced coffee breakfast (so good that we went back for a second round). Then? Diskunion again. More digging. To be honest, most of the day I don't quite recall. We went to more record shops, that's for sure, and all within Shinjuku area. We met RUSH in the early evening and made our way into the basement of Bridge to find the bar's staff prepping for the evening. The night would begin shortly, and we wanted to check out their mixer to be sure we knew how to work it (there were a lot of knobs), and how the room sounded (heavenly). 

The party started with Hiroshi Kawanabe providing midtempo groovers, leading up to Oliver's (O'Spliff) set, which represented his style in the best way — a touch of psych and breakbeat, with hints of disco. Oliver set me up perfectly, and I proceeded to play a handful of dance tracks that remix local songs, alongside other dance cuts that I've been enjoying lately. Max High took things for the following hour with a solid set of italo disco and disco boogie — I think it was one of his best sets to date! Following Max was DJ yumi-cco, whose selections were very familiar to me. yumi-cco felt the same: later in the evening, she commented to me that we have similar styles. I totally agree, and look forward to spinning with her again someday. By this time, we were hitting 3:30am and, after a brief discussion on the spot, decided to play a rotation of two songs each until 5am. 

We made a great party at Bridge, and people danced all evening long with us into the early morning. When we finally emerged from the basement, the sky was light and the city had already begun the new day. Although we were still buzzing with energy from the excitement of the party, we knew we needed rest — we'd be departing Tokyo at 11am that same morning to head to Yokohama for the Greenroom Festival.




Saturday, 11am, Ittetsu picked us up from our hotel to make our way to Yokohama. The drive was about 1.5 hours, though I don't think any of us slept on the way — we were probably too nervous about our sets at the Greenroom Festival. None of us have ever really played a festival before (I've played the Greenroom's "After Party" events, which are like mini-festivals with a few hundred people at most). Yes, we were nervous. But, as a friend of mine with festival experience told me: Japanese audiences will appreciate whatever you play, so do what you love, prepare to take people on a sonic journey, and everyone will enjoy it. (Thanks for the advice, Brian!). 

We cheers just before our sets began, with Max kicking things off at 2pm. 

Our sets were held at the Port Lounge in Panorama Disco's mobile DJ booth (an Airstream outfitted with a sound system, lounge, and DJ setup. (Panorama's founder, Jun Hiraoka, mentioned he used help out with the sound system at Honolulu's Lotus Soundbar, a venue which I never got a chance to experience — it was just before my time — but about which I've heard great things.) Max's set was primarily reggae, but luckily for us we got to hear some unreleased original tracks. Max had initially planned a 45-minute set, but we learned our sets would all be 50-minutes each, so he pulled together some on-the-spot selections that were a big hit with the crowd! (We can't wait to hear more of what Max is working on!). 

Oliver's set was, as expected, full of local and Hawaiian bangers! 

I had prepared a 90-minute set, which was the original expectation until we found out day-of that everyone's sets would be 50-minutes. That left me with the chance to skip over songs I maybe wasn't fully confident in, as well as feel out the crowd and their vibe and play to what seemed to work best. My set was roughly sectioned into three parts: Aloha Got Soul releases and classics, then remixes/reworks/edits of songs we've grown to love at AGS (for example, "Lihue", "My Last Disco Song", or "He Loves You"), and closing out with rock/psych/pop tracks from past and present. We filmed everyone's sets, but decided to publish just mine on YouTube. 

I want to say thank you to everyone who joined us at Greenroom that day. It was such a lovely setting, outdoors by the sea with so many happy people enjoying the music with us. 

Back at hotel, exhausted, we found the energy to search for a late dinner nearby and came across a yakitori spot just around the corner from our hotel. (Max had turned in for the night, so it was just Oliver and I, our bellies ready for a big meal). We went in, with one of the best yakitori meals either of us have probably ever had. It was the perfect finish to a long 48 hours filled with good music, high energy and wholesome excitement.  


The following days we met with friends new and old, including a dinner with the guys from Pool Side, and another with the Soul Time in Tokyo crew who's been with us since 2017! We also ran into a friend at (guess where) a record store.

With the day off on Sunday, Max headed back to Yokohama by train to visit some family, and Oliver and I caught the bus to meet with Yoshi from Tokyo Cultuart by Beams for an afternoon of lunch and casual shopping. We started off at Tower Records, which had two beautiful Altec Voice of the Theater speakers (not in use at the time because there was a live act on stage). Hungry, we headed to the basement of department store PARCO, where a dozen restaurants beckoned us. We were looking for curry, and we found it at Lucky Curry — and we also found another Diskunion location, in the basement, just three doors over from the lunch spot. Yoshi held our place in line while Oliver and I popped in for a quick dig. 

That evening, Max reconvened with us to meet  at Pool Side in Shibuya, where we met with Kousuke Suzuki, a dedicated Hawaiian record collector who's at every gig we do in Tokyo and frequents our store whenever he's in Honolulu. Kousuke and his coworker, Ogi, had an hour or so before the shop would close for the day, so we wandered the neighborhood and saw Yoshi off at the nearest train station. Back at Pool Side, we signed their wall with our names and the AGS logo. Familiar names on the wall included JxJx from Your Song Is Good and Shing02. From there, we made a short walk to a nearby yakiniku restaurant, where we all tried our best to speak in the others' mother tongue — Kousuke and Ogi finding their way through some kind of Japanglish, and us trying our best with the simplest of Japanese words. Somehow, we managed, and the evening's conversation was filled with laughs and jokes and friendship.

(The mama-san of the restaurant came by at the end of the meal after noticing Oliver's injured leg and offered to show us her recent ankle injury — she had CCTV footage of her fall down the stairs outside her restaurant (two camera angles!), and the x-rays from the doctor's office revealing the screws and plate that was inserted into her ankle... ouch! Oliver returned the favor and showed her photos of what his injury looked like, and we all had a big laugh and left feeling light and bubbly).

Monday we headed to Coffee Swamp for the second time during our trip. The compact cafe on a quiet backstreet was adjacent to our hotel; the coffee is excellent and the atmosphere fitting for our trip, with music playing from vinyl and record collection on display. A customer of our shop was in town, so he joined us for a quick coffee and catchup before we headed off for the day on official business.

Our business of the day was a morning meeting with Ultra-Vybe for a forthcoming mix CD compilation, and an afternoon appearance on InterFM with DJ Shaula. Journalist Kana Yoshioka met us at the hotel, and we soon joined RUSH's Yasushi Takayama at Ultra Shibuya, a record store that doubles as the headquarters for the label/distribution company, Ultra-Vybe. Pre- and post- meeting, we dug through the bins and left with a small stack each. Lunch time followed, and we found ourselves ravenous near the InterFM office in Chiyoda, just across from the Imperial Palace, so we popped into the first spot we could, a small udon restaurant up the street. More coffee followed (it was a long weekend), and up to InterFM we went to meet Shaula for our 3pm live on-air convo. Shaula welcomed us warmly, and we chatted on-air about AGS's roots, the Honolulu music scene, and what Aloha Got Soul has up to these days (she's had AGS on her show a few times over the years). Max then did a "live DJ play" for listeners, highlighting some of the label's latest releases. It was a sweet way to wrap the short trip, talking story with Shaula and seeing some behind-the-scenes of Tokyo radio. 

We hit HMV Shinjuku one last time, and ran into our friend Atsushi Sano there (he manages the store). We chatted for a while and he picked Oliver's brain about Filipino records, which he's been collecting more and more of lately. 

From there, we met with Jun, Ryo and Yoshi for dinner and drinks near the hotel. Again, our attempts to converse with each other in broken English / broken Japanese were rewarded with plenty of laughter and good times. It had been a while since I'd caught up with all three — as I mentioned earlier, we've been doing Soul Time in Tokyo together since 2017. Yoshi manages Tokyo Cultuart by Beams, Jun organizes the events on behalf of Kakubarhythm and his band Your Song Is Good, and Ryo runs clothing company Cup & Cone. We drank a touch more than we probably should have, but surprisingly felt just fine the next morning, our day of departure. 


Tuesday we were out! We hit a Hard Off for last-minute thrifting, and then an onsen to unwind before our flight home. The thing about flying from Japan to Hawaii is you're traveling back in time — we departed Narita around 8pm, and arrived in Honolulu the same day at 8am. Our shop was open that day thanks to Miss Lulu, who'd been holding it down while we were overseas. 

We couldn't have done this without the help of RUSH ProductionIttetsu Asai, and Miss Lulu —and all our friends and fans in Japan. (Special thanks to Nate for getting the Port Lounge timetable banner for us!). 

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