We have just received the news that Susumu Yokota has passed away at the cruelly young age of 54 after a long period of illness. We understand that he died in late March, although his family has only just released the news.
We released six of Yokota’s albums over a period of four years (1999-2002), including three that have come to be considered classics of ambient music: Sakura, Grinning Cat and The Boy And The Tree. Those records helped put us on the map, and are still some of the best selling releases in The Leaf Label’s 20 year history. Their word-of-mouth success was made all the more remarkable by the fact that Yokota barely promoted them, visiting Europe to play live just once in the entire period we worked with him. Yokota returned the compliment by releasing a personally selected compilation of Leaf releases on his own Skintone label (Leaf Compilation, 2001). My personal favourite of his albums was the first we released, Image 1983-1998, a collection of delicate, otherworldly archive recordings.
As well as his ambient work, Yokota was respected for his house and techno music, with releases stretching back to 1993.
I only met Yokota three times, twice in the UK and a third time when I visited Japan in 2001. Yokota drove me (sometimes at alarming speed) through the endless sprawl of Tokyo and Yokohama to the tranquil city of Kamakura, where we visited ancient Buddhist and Shinto shrines and an extraordinary vegetarian restaurant (a rarity in Japan) that only served variants of tofu (it tasted immeasurably better than that sounds). Later we visited an onsen (hot spring baths), a real Japanese treat. Though he spoke very little English, he was always a charming and thoughtful companion. A sign on a harbour wall in Japanese and English we saw on the trip inspired the title of a Leaf compilation: "Watch for tsunami when you feel earth quake”, an instruction that would haunt me years later.
July 14 2015