Japanese musician gave up NHK career to pursue dream in Taiwan

Koji has accomplished marvelous works in Taiwan's music industry

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TAIPEI (Taiwan News) - Japanese musician Koji Sakurai set foot in Taiwan 25 years ago and is now the music director of Ju Percussion Group’s upcoming year end concert “Long For.”

Koji came to Taiwan at the age of 25 and has accomplished marvelous works in the music industry. With his humorous and calm personality, he has made plenty of friends.

Before he came to Taiwan, he graduated from Berkley College of Music in America and then took a job as a music director at Japan's NHK network.


Director of Ju Percussion Group (left) and Koji (right) promoting the year end event "Long For." (Ju Percussion Group photo)

However, he always longed to produce music rather than just edit. So when his friends invited him to come to Taiwan, he decided to quit the NHK job without hesitation in order to pursue his dream as a musician.

Additionally, at that time, the music industry in Taiwan was thriving and that was why it was an excellent destination for Koji to develop his career. Little did he know, he would end up staying for more than two decades.

Comparing life in Taiwan and Japan, Koji expressed his preference to stay in Taiwan because of the freedom.

“In Japan, there are many rules and restrictions. In Taiwan, on the contrary, I feel less repressed and instead have a more free life,” said Koji.

When Koji first came to Taiwan, he could not speak Mandarin at all so he signed up for language classes and started learning the traditional phonetic writing system.

However, he gave up in two weeks because it was too complicated for him. Obviously, the phonetic characters of bo po mo fo (ㄅㄆㄇㄈ) don't look anything like the musical notes "do re mi."

After 25 years, Koji Sakurai’s Mandarin is not very fluent, but is much better than before. This owes to the hard work of his current wife Shan-Shan and their Taiwanese friends.

Koji & Tom


Koji (left) and Tom (right). (Tom Chang's fanclub photo)

Among all his friends, his most remarkable friendship has been with the popular singer Tom Chang (張雨生). Together, they have produced plenty of hit songs.

With their love and passion for music, they have produced famous songs such as “I Look Forward,” “Karaoke, Taipei, Me.” Moreover, they have also cooperated with popular singers, such as Tao Ching-Ying (陶晶瑩), A-Mei Chung (張惠妹), and Wang Lee-Hong (王力宏).

Their contribution to Taiwanese industry has been great, with the unforgettable musical titled "Kiss Me, Nana," which is still very popular with audiences.

Interestingly, neither of them had ever watched a musical before, but they were able to write this hit work together. According to Koji, they spent a tremendous amount of time doing research.

Tom was the song writer and Koji was the composer. They promised each other that after the show, they would go to New York together and enjoy musicals.

“It takes one creative mind to know and cherish another," this explains the friendship they had until Tom passed away in 1997 due to a car accident.

“I regret that we had a fight while 'Kiss Me, Nana' was being performed and we did not hug each other when the show ended. Now I will never have the chance to tell him how much I cherish him as a friend,” said Koji.


Koji (left) and his wife Shan Shan (right). (Taiwan News photo)

Surprisingly, “Kiss Me, Nana” turned into “Kiss me Shan Shan.” Koji and his wife Shan Shan met while working in the Godot Theater Company (果陀劇場).

Now, Shan Shan is Koji Sakurai’s manager as well. Additionally, she helped Koji to get a professor job at a university so that he has a stable income.

Koji & Ju Percussion Group


Koji and Ju Percussion Group after year end concert "Long For." ( Ju Percussion Group photo)

After 10 years living in Taiwan, Koji met a xylophone player, Wu Pei-Jing, who worked in the Ju Percussion Group. She asked the talented musician to write a song for her to play.

It was the first time that Koji wrote a song for xylophone. It was the beginning of a journey, and the creative relationship between Koji and the Ju Percussion Group.

The musicians in Ju Percussion Group quickly hit it off with Koji based on their common interests in music and alcohol. With the companionship of beer, together they came up with creative ideas and transformed them into amazing music pieces.

Ju Percussion Group showcases several music events annually, and Koji has participated in these events occasionally since 2007. But now he never misses the group's major concerts.

On the other hand, the majority of Koji’s works are now made for the Ju Percussion Group. This year, not only did Koji write and edit songs, he became the music director of the Ju Percussion Group’s important concert “Longing For” (有一種嚮往).

Ju Percussion Group holds a year end concert annually. It is a chance for the band to share their gratitude and expectations for next year with their loyal fans.

As a music director, the responsibility is heavier than merely being a songwriter. “I have to focus on organizing the concert comprehensively, beyond just one song’s editing. It is very stressful which caused me to have bad dreams often. I even dreamed that a xylophone turned itself into a barbecue rack and all could think of was how to play it,” said Koji.

The year end concert “Long For” was a huge success with some of the inspiration for the songs coming from Japanese myths or stories. There were six re-edited songs in total, including the classic Titanic Suite, the Night Train to the Star, and the Legend of 1990 Suite.

“I wanted the concert to bring the audience a sense of life so they can experience the ups and downs from the music. Also, it is set as a reunion with friends so it will be happy and chill,” said Koji.

The “Long For” concert was held at the Taipei National Concert Hall (台北國家音樂廳) on Dec. 1, and the next show will be at the Taichung National Opera House (台中國家歌劇院) on Dec. 8. The last location will be at Jhihde Hall (至德堂) of the Kaohsiung Arts and Cultural Center (高雄市文化中心) on Dec. 15. For more information, please go to the Ju Percussion Group Facebook page or buy tickets here.


Trailer (Youtube video)