Released: February 1980
Tony Visconti: falsetto vocals
‘Crystal Japan’ is an instrumental recorded by David Bowie during the sessions for Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps.
The backing tracks for Scary Monsters were taped in early 1980 at the Power Station in New York City. By the end of the sessions only ‘It’s No Game (No. 2)’ was complete; the remainder were finished in London later in the year.
‘Crystal Japan’ was originally titled ‘Fujimoto San’, and was initially intended to close the album, before Bowie instead chose the reprise of ‘It’s No Game’.
The synth-heavy instrumental recalls the second sides of Low and “Heroes”, which may be why it was left off the album. Bowie performed all the instruments, with producer Tony Visconti providing heavily-treated falsetto vocals.
Crystal Jun Rock
‘Crystal Japan’ was used to soundtrack a 1980 Japanese television advertisement for the Shōchū drink Crystal Jun Rock, a Japanese distilled spirit made by Takara Shuzo Co. Bowie appeared in at least three different commercials, all of which featured the song.
His shots were filmed at a temple in Kyoto over two weeks in March 1980. While in Japan he stayed at the Osaka Teikoku Hotel. Before leaving the country he was asked why he agreed to take part in the commercial.
There are three reasons, the first one being that no one has ever asked me to do it before. And the money is a useful thing. And the third, I think it’s very effective that my music is on television 20 times a day. I think my music isn’t for radio.
He was also asked whether he wrote the music used in the advertisement.
Yes, this is the important point and the reason I agreed to do the commercial. It’s a very slow one. I didn’t use bass or drums, so it’s very different from anything I have done before. It will be included in my next album. I don’t drink while I work so I didn’t drink while I wrote this one, of course.
‘Crystal Japan’ was released as a single in Japan in July 1980, with David Bowie’s 1978 studio version of Brecht/Weill’s ‘Alabama Song’ on the b-side.
‘Up The Hill Backwards’ was released as a single in March 1981 in Canada, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In all countries ‘Crystal Japan’ was the b-side.
Bowie had originally intended for ‘Teenage Wildlife’ to be on the single’s flipside, but insisted on ‘Crystal Japan’ after learning that fans were paying high prices to import the latter single from Japan.
Scary Monsters… And Super Creeps was reissued on CD, cassette and vinyl in 1992 by Rykodisc and EMI, and came with four bonus tracks: 1979 re-recordings of ‘Space Oddity’ and ‘Panic In Detroit’, and ‘Crystal Japan’ and ‘Alabama Song’.
It was also included on the compilations Rare (1982) and the commercially-released version of All Saints (2001).
A remastered version of ‘Crystal Japan’ was released in 2017 on Re:Call 3, part of the box set A New Career in a New Town (1977–1982), on CD, vinyl and as a digital download.