The Rear View Mirror: Yen Records’ We Wish You A Merry Christmas

Uniquely deviating from the overplayed standard holiday music fare, Yen Records’ We Wish You A Merry Christmas is a Christmas LP actually worth your time, energy, and money. With exclusive material from Haruomi Hosono, Yukihiro Takahashi, Miharu Koshi, Taeko Ohnuki, Moonriders, and others, it creatively rounds up the YMO orbit in a cohesive holiday listen.

In 1982, Alfa Records founder Kunihiko Murai launched Yen Records, essentially a playground for Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and Yukihiro Takahashi to sign and produce whoever they wanted. After all, the chart-topping YMO disproved Alfa’s initial skepticism, and its members (especially Hosono) expertly balanced artsier ideas with commercial success. Within the label’s first year, in addition to releasing Hosono and Takahashi’s own records Yen signed Miharu Koshi, former Plastics guitarist Hajime Tachibana, Testpattern, Inoyama Land, Jun Togawa, and Koji Ueno among others. Most of these releases weren’t straightforward pop; Koshi rejected her idol beginnings in favor of oddball techno-kayo, while Inoyama Land and Interior released new age records before the genre fully exploded (three years after its initial Japanese release, Windham Hill more successfully reissued Interior’s Hosono-produced self-titled debut). Hosono practically lived in his newly established LDK (Living-Dining-Kitchen) Studio (purportedly built because he spent too much time in Alfa’s Studio “A”), and his work outside YMO became increasingly textural and experimental (sometimes to its own detriment).

Little is known about November 1983’s We Wish You A Merry Christmas. Yukihiro Takahashi and his older brother Nobuyuki Takahashi (a music producer not to be confused with the filmmaker of the same name) are credited album producers, though some of the individual songs heavily carry Hosono’s fingerprints. Vinyl pressings, while not terribly expensive, are far from ubiquitous; when they do appear, they’re often in pristine condition (Japanese Wikipedia says it reached #57 on the Oricon LP Chart, a relatively modest peak considering the parties involved). If it wasn’t for online databases like Discogs or RateYourMusic, it could very easily go unnoticed.

Christmas in Japan differs from that in the West; while it’s gradually become more secular worldwide, Christmas there has almost no religious affiliation (only about 1% of the population is Christian) and December 25th is still a school day. Post-war adopted traditions include winter illuminations and a Christmas meal of KFC and strawberry shortcake, and Christmas Eve is a romantic holiday almost as important as Christmas itself. Japan has its own share of popular Christmas music, though one of the most enduring 80s Christmas hits is “king of city pop” Tatsuro Yamashita’s longing “Christmas Eve,” reissued every few years and viewed in the same vein as Wham!’s “Last Christmas.”

However, don’t expect to hear Christmas standards or many jingling bells on We Wish You A Merry Christmas, a very distinctively Yen Records product. It opens with Hosono’s “25 Dec. 1983,” an immersive ambient piece whose only relation to Christmas is its title. “Silver Paper Stars” is Moonriders’ fun but not overly goofy operatic Christmas rock track, while Miharu Koshi’s “Belle Tristesse” (“A Beautiful Sadness”) fits neatly alongside her (highly recommended) Yen albums Tutu and Parallelisme. Composer Koji Ueno’s “Prélude Et Choral” is an orchestral instrumental that also lacks overt Christmas-ness, while Jun Togawa’s “Koutansetsu” (“Nativity” in Japanese, but “Christmas” in Chinese) is a digital synth-laden ballad.

Among We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ synths, the natural percussion and acoustic guitars on French singer/songwriter/writer/actor Pierre Barouh’s “Ce Jour-Là” stand out; it makes logical sense, though, as Barouh founded the Saravah label after which Yukihiro Takahashi named his 1977 debut solo LP. Spacious vocal harmonies make Taeko Ohnuki’s self-explanatory “Inori” (“Prayer”) one of the most conventional Christmas songs here, and Ginji Ito’s “Hokori Darake no Christmas Tree” (“Dusty Old Christmas Tree”) is pleasant city pop. There’s another instrumental in Hajime Tachibana’s seemingly Emulator-based “White And White,” and Takahashi’s closing track “Door wo Akereba” (“If You Open The Door”) is his standard New Romantic synthpop fare. Approaching this release as a YMO/Hosono/Yen Records fan definitely helps, but it’s not essential to enjoying this interestingly eclectic Christmas album.

My copy is a near mint 1984 second pressing (standard Yen labels instead of the original’s custom labels) with a first edition obi, so someone at some point must’ve switched something. I’m not sure if there are any mastering differences, though this pressing’s sound is naturally presented with rich textures and luxurious black backgrounds. The direct-to-board jacket nicely features Tsuguya Inoue’s simple yet appropriately beautiful illustrations, and a greyscale four-page insert features lyrics and credits (albeit in Japanese and French). It’s unavailable digitally and hasn’t been reissued since GT Music’s 2005 CD, though the LP only cost me $28 (plus shipping from Japan). Whether or not you can still get a copy this season, it’s an incredibly solid, easily relistenable holiday release.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

Jazz listener's picture

I think you need to rethink your opening sentence:

“Uniquely deviating from the overplayed standard holiday music fare, Yen Records’ We Wish You A Merry Christmas is a Christmas LP actually worth your time, energy, and money.”

First of all, how does one “uniquely deviate” from something when to deviate already means “to depart from usual or accepted standards”?

Secondly, you really don’t need to denigrate other genres of music, or those who enjoy them, to show the merit of the genre/artist you’re reviewing.

Please have a new draft on my desk by the morning.

Michael Fremer's picture
I agree that I was lax on point one. I have an excuse involving the recently run F1 race. However, while I agree denigrating other genres etc. is unnecessary, that's the writer's call....thanks for your input "tho".
MalachiLui's picture

but i hear your points. to the first point, i'd say that it stylistically deviates from the normal christmas music we're used to hearing. that's why i wrote it like that, though i see your point.

and regarding overplayed christmas music, it's not the music's fault for being overplayed! i like a lot of that stuff but ngl i'm a bit tired of hearing it.

PeterPani's picture

You will love Kotringo's そりすべり from
Besides the Yen record (I bought it around 1996 during a visit to Taipei) the only X-mas record that is listenable during every season is Dylan's Christmas in the Heart.
I expected a lot from Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas. But - as very often with Ella - it sounds done in a rush, quickly recorded to get over with - opposite to Dylan, who recorded his X-mas-songs with pleasure and true spirit.
After several hearings last week, the Ella I put on our free-gifts-space-table of anonymous collectors in our common public garbage room. A lot of records I buy pleasure other people - first come, first served :)

geolark's picture

Vinegar: Aggressive writing voice

Uniquely deviating from the overplayed
standard holiday music fare, Yen Records’ We Wish You A Merry Christmas is a Christmas LP actually worth your time, energy, and money.

Honey: Passive writing voice

Offering a unique listening experience differing from most traditional holiday music, Yen Records’ We Wish You A Merry Christmas is one Christmas LP that may actually be worth your time, energy, and money.

Glotz's picture

Yet, I still think anyone his age with his love of music, has a tendency to 'PUNK ROCK' their writing. It's only natural.

Looking at Corey Greenberg's pre-press typed mess of his Nobis review in the 90's was a stark reminder of that, both stylistically and from a technical grammar perspective. He must've given JA some headaches for sure.

Do we really want to water down ML's writing for our sake? I think letting this teenager come to his own conclusions is the most important advice to give. Though I do like the reminder, he perhaps needs the reminder in 5 years from now.

Jazz listener's picture

He’s making the same point I did. Thanks for agreeing with us.

Pretzel Logic's picture

...but can we agree on how fantastic that Miharu Koshi track is?

MalachiLui's picture

it is indeed an excellent song.