What is a Fishmans?

A final soundtrack doesn't always mean the end of a band or group. Learn more about Fishmans, their last album, and its significance in music.

On December 28th, 1998, Fishmans took the stage for the last show on their farewell tour. As a last hurrah before the original core of the group disbanded, they blew the roof off of the Akasaka Blitz in Minato for 2 hours and 7 minutes. Going through the various eras of their own history, the band weaved through reggae-dub, dream-pop, and psychedelic stylings throughout the night, culminating in their 41 minute-long closer, Long Season. 

~Play the music along for the full experience ~

This performance was the last of what this group had to give, the sum of all the work that they had put into their art since the band’s formation in 1987. 11 years of dedication played out to a crowd in 2 hours and 7 minutes. This chunk of time, perfectly encapsulating what the group was and ever will be, was recorded and distributed as 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare. While the album had found moderate success in Japan during the time of its release, it is only during the internet age where this piece of art is truly appreciated. Music snobs from all corners of the web have found themselves entranced by the sonic-daydream that is this album. From the dub-inspired, heart wobbling baselines, to the siren-like voice of frontman Shinji Sato, Fishmans has managed to be reborn in the hearts of listeners 20 years after their grand finale. 

Cementing their status as a hipster’s holy grail, Fishmans can be found on /mu/’s (of 4chan) essential listening list and as number 18 on Rateyourmusic’s greatest albums list. (An interesting side note is that Fishmans also happens to be the only Asian artists in the top 100). While 18 may not seem like the most impressive position, this list is also based off of the amount of reviews given for an album, not just the average score of the album. When looking at the actual score given to 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare, we see that it is the highest rated album on the list at 4.36 of 5. This places its score above even Radiohead’s Ok Computer and Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, both coming in at 4.23 and 4.27 respectively. Even on a list specifically catered towards music critics, this album managed to establish itself as a true hidden gem. 

Despite the modern day appreciation for the band and their music, lead singer and guitarist, Shinji Sato, would never see these results. Sadly, he never even had the chance to see the album released. Just three months after the recording of their final show, the frontman of Fishmans had passed away at the age of 33 due to heart failure.

While bassist Yuzuru Kashiwabara and drummer Kin-Ichi Motegi would later go on to join other bands, Sato’s death ended any chances for a reformation of the group. Shinji Sato and the rest of Fishmans’ final performance released six months later, with other projects releasing afterwards from the group's backlog of work. 

Even without knowledge of the tragic backstory of this album, you can feel the finality that the band performs with in their music. While Sato may not have known that this would be his last show, he knew it was going to be the last show for the group. Originally, the farewell tour and subsequent disbanding were due to Kashiwabara growing tired of the music industry and wanting to leave it behind. Sato and Motegi were meant to continue their work under the Fishmans name, but the band as they knew it was coming to an end. This resulted in the band fully giving itself to the audience, opening themselves up for what was the last time.

While listening to their final performance, you can feel the band members trying to appreciate each moment that they still had together. With their songs playing out like flashbacks, nostalgia drips from each note, making us miss moments we’ve never even experienced. If you have the chance, check out Fishmans. 98.12.28 Otokotachi no Wakare is a highlight reel of their work, and a great overview of the band’s stylistic progressions.

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October 2021

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