Japan's Must-Read Magazine

Starving Artist: Duncan Walsh

Shikoku. The lost island. Aside from white-clad pilgrims, nobody comes here. The Japanese themselves are hard-pressed to locate Matsuyama on a mental map. All traces of culture run cold in Botchan’s room, Dōgo Onsen. With no discernible pulse, we cast a palm across the eyelids and move on.

Duncan Walsh arrived in Ehime Prefecture more than three years ago and, with the miserablist wit of a nascent Morrissey, set about turning the barren landscape to his advantage. Siding himself with an international collective that called themselves The Watanabes, Walsh began depicting the deflated life of a rural gaijin with the kind of self-deprecating humor that comes natural to many British men. His lyrics struck an instant chord and JET communities across the nation were set buzzing with news of an unlikely new hero.

"I suppose we really started taking our music seriously with the huge success of Love Princess," he explains. "It has this lyric about, “wishing for more success with the opposite sex”, which went down a treat with the vast populace of sexually starved, rurally imprisoned English teachers in Ehime. It felt like we really had written one for the people." With the advent of Youtube and MySpace, the song has taken on a life of its own, and Walsh is delighted to find it’s been broadcast on radio stations both here and abroad. "It catapulted us onto the forefront of the Northeast Ehime music scene," he boasts proudly, tongue firmly in cheek.

Following a well-received national tour ("we played to a whopping 4 people in Himeji"), the band played their last jam-packed gig in Matsuyama in mid-2007 before following the big-city lights to Tokyo. Various factors have held them back since their arrival, not least the departure of their longtime drummer, but the boys are kept afloat by the experience of living their dream. "To be honest, the hard times have just made it seem more real," Walsh tells me, his enthusiastic manner reminiscent of a slim-line Jack Black. "We don’t care whether we actually make it big, we just want to tell our grandkids that we were in a band in Tokyo. We want to embrace music for a few years; write songs, play live and go home happy that we gave it a shot."

The band have one serious aim for the coming year. "We want to make it to the Fuji Rock Festival. We reached the last 50 contenders in 2007 and narrowly missed out." The voting for the unsigned stage will start online early next year, so set your bookmarks for spring. In the meantime, keep an eye on the band’s MySpace for gig listings, and make sure you log onto YouTube for a taste of rural Ehime, Watanabes’ style.

YouTube: Love Princess, by The Watanabes
MySpace: www.myspace.com/thewatanabes