Introduction to Japanese Music – Shonen Knife

Shonen Knife

Photo by rchappo2002 on Flickr

I’m not as big a music fan as I was in my teens and early twenties. My lust for music went out with the flannel shirts and grunge of the Seattle scene. But once and a while a band comes along and makes you sit up and take notice.

Enter Shonen Knife.

Who is Shonen Knife?

The band Shonen Knife (少年ナイフ) was originally made up of three girls from Osaka that got together back in 1981. Made up of sisters Naoko Yamano and Atsuko Yamano and their friend Michie Nakatani. At the time an all female band was a strange sight in Japan. Especially one playing punk/new wave music with a heavy Ramones influence.

Shonen Knife

Photo by watsonsinelgin on Flickr

You could probably make the case that Shonen Knife is not that far of a departure from my grunge roots. With heavy powercord driven guitar riffs they sound like a female version of Nirvana on happy pills. In fact, they opened for Nirvana back in 1991. This is what drummer Atsuko had to say when they first met the band:

So I went to a record store, and I bought their CD. And when I saw their photograph, I thought they might be scary persons, because their hairstyles and their clothes were very grunge. But once the tour had started, I noticed that all the members were nice, good persons. And because this was our first experience of a long tour, the drummer Dave [Grohl] helped us with setting up the drum kit.

Kurt Cobain was a big fan of their music and even said he was “transformed into a hysterical nine-year-old girl at a Beatles concert” when he saw them play live for the first time.

Though the band has gone through some changes over the years, with sister Atsuko retiring in 2006, it has always maintained it’s fresh and fun sound.

Why we like the band

While we were in Osaka, I was constantly on the look out for Shonen Knife CD’s. I figured since we were in their home town they would be famous icons and CDs would be easy to come by. I was wrong.

I eventually tracked down some used ones at a Book Off store by meticulously hunting through their Japanese CD section. Let me tell you, being able to read hiragana really helped me out here.

Since I heard that Kurt Cobain liked the band, I’ve always wanted to hear what they sounded like, so I bought the Let’s Knife CD and another greatest hits remix CD.

After we got home, and since it was in the middle of sakura season, I wanted to head out and photograph around Osaka castle. So I gave Stacey the CDs I bought and told her to take a listen and tell me what she thought when I came back.

She was blown away.

Stacey loved the girls. Their mix of grungy pop with ultra happy lyrics made her smile. From songs about riding a bicycle, going fishing or cleaning pots, Shonen Knife was a quirky girl band that fit with her personality. They were a hit!

What’s wrong with Osaka?

After listening to the music myself, I couldn’t wait to take to the Osaka streets and talk to people about their hometown band. I talked about Shone Knife to friends, my Japanese teacher, even my hairdresser.

But every time I mentioned their name I was met with blank stares. “Who?” they would say.

My hairdresser was so confused about what band I was talking about that he was sure I meant to say “I love Avril Lavine” and tried to steer the conversation in that direction. I couldn’t understand how no one had heard of this band?

So what’s wrong with you Osaka?! Shonen Knife encompasses all that’s great and unique about your city and personality. Let Tokyo have its J-Pop bands, it’s time for you to embrace these girls!


I know what you’re waiting for – how does the music sound? Here’s a selection of some of their songs and covers for you to enjoy:

7 Responses to “Introduction to Japanese Music – Shonen Knife”

  1. Mikey  on October 8th, 2011

    I love this band, if i had to live on a desert island and could only have one CD with me, it would be Let’s Knife!

  2. Travis  on October 8th, 2011

    I just bought their Ramones tribute CD last night. Don’t tell my wife! :)

  3. Shani  on October 9th, 2011

    Phoenix likes it!!!!

  4. Travis  on October 10th, 2011

    Nice Shani! I’m sure he was rocking out :)

  5. Recent Published Work : Hans Watson Photography  on February 10th, 2012

    […] website “I Heart Japan” used one of my shots in an article about the all girl Osaka rock band Shonen […]

  6. bang-bang  on April 18th, 2012

    i Love shonen knife!!! especially their version of Top of the World! ;)

  7. Travis  on April 18th, 2012

    I don’t think I’ve heard that yet. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks!

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