The Samurai Beat Goes Online . . . from New York

Fans of Japanese music are turning to SAMURAI BEAT RADIO. But SAMURAI BEAT RADIO (SBR) isn’t an actual radio station. It’s using the Internet and social media to give fans an outlet for Japanese music through its website, blog, podcasts, and events in association with Kinokuniya bookstore in Bryant Park.

Radio producer and on-air personality Megumi Sato is the founder of SBR, formerly known as Tokyo Pop Radio. SBR is in its relative infancy, having started

Megumi Sato, founder of SAMURAI BEAT RADIO

in 2008. However, Sato has been in New York for twenty years, establishing a radio business that broadcast live shows to Japan. Sato was on the scene during the early ’90s, when major Japanese bands, such as Pizzicato Five, were trying to break into the American market. “Lots of Japanese artists started to perform here. More and more people were coming, and more Americans were interested in Japanese music,” says Sato. But the bands weren’t successful here because they didn’t sing in English, and when they tried to sing in English, no one could understand them.

The popularity of Japanese music Stateside was resurrected only a few years later as Americans became interested in anime – and the bands that sang their theme songs. But the real uptick happened in the last decade when, as Sato puts it, “the American otaku emerged.”

Otaku is the term the Japanese use to describe someone who is obsessive about a hobby. While it can mean anything – from trains to music – it generally refers to reclusive and socially inept people who are obsessed with manga, anime, and video games. Sato finds American otaku to be different from the Japanese version.

“American otaku are more like artists,” says Sato. “They are more social and are interested in foreign cultures.”

These American otaku inspired Sato to lay the groundwork for SAMURAI BEAT RADIO. Through Tokyo Pop Radio, Sato had been broadcasting radio shows in only Japanese for a Japanese audience, even doing a live, five-minute talk show after each Yankees game during Hideki Matsui’s tenure with the team (from 2003 until 2009).

But in 2008 TM Revolution, a popular Japanese singer and actor, came to New York as the guest of honor at Comic Con. Sony Epic, TMR’s label, asked Sato for radio coverage. “We wanted to do something for the radio, like a kind of feedback to Japan” [to show how popular TM Revolution was in the US], says Sato. “He was performing at Comic Con, so we made an interactive fan event so we could make a radio show for Japanese audiences.”

They held the event at Kinokuniya, and it was a huge success, with almost 300 people in attendance, most of them non-Japanese. That’s when Sato realized how special the fans in New York are. “My primary interest was not anime or Japanese music, but the fans. The fans here are great. They are so enthusiastic . . . I wanted the fans to connect to Japanese artists through my radio show.”

Thus, SAMURAI BEAT RADIO was born. The main goal is to expose musicians of all genres – from rock bands such as Guitar Wolf to jazz great Oe Senri – to a wider audience. A small staff – writers Tony Yao and Sara Barton and Webmaster Vivian Ho – works with Sato to churn out the interviews, podcasts, and blog entries for SBR, which Sato says is a unique source of information.

“Even if you have the Japan TV channel [on cable], they don’t have a lot of music shows. And if you don’t understand Japanese, you have no idea about the bands.” SBR is broadcast in English, but one of Sato’s goals is for SBR to be bilingual so that both Americans and Japanese can enjoy SBR’s programming. “Japanese are interested in how their fellow musicians are doing outside of Japan,” says Sato.

These days SBR is a radio show without a studio, searching for a space of their own. Thanks to the Internet and Skype, Sato conducts interviews and assembles podcasts and radio programs at her home, where she even broadcasts live to Japan. To get the word out, SBR relies heavily on social media, and Sato and her staff actively update their blog, website, and Facebook page. “I think more people come to our content through Facebook and Twitter,” says Sato, adding that SBR’s most popular podcasts receive 1,000 downloads.

“Making a radio show is fun – play what you like, say what you want – but you have to educate the audience . . . and keep in mind what they want,” says Sato.

Sato promises she and her crew have big plans for giving their fans what they want, with exciting upgrades and improvements. So stay tuned to the Internet for a bigger and better SAMURAI BEAT RADIO.

To learn more about SAMURAI BEAT RADIO, check out their website and blog, “like” them on Facebook, and follow @SBRBlurb on Twitter.