Ueno’s Masahiro Tatematsu

Mike GristHeaven Artists, Japan 7 Comments

Masahiro Tatematsu is another heaven artist like Yukinko Akira, regularly putting out a unique and innovative street-entertainment product that had to pass multiple auditions to get through. He is a self-styled bicycle percussionist, playing  a motley assortment of xylophones, mini drums, cymbals, castanets, a Tanzanian thumb piano, tambourines and more, all of which fold up and fit into the panniers on his bike. While performing he syncs these instruments together with an erudite patter explaining the blues scale as he plays it, or the African scale, or what jazz syncopation is.

Masahiro Tatematsu.

I’ve seen Masahiro several time before- he lives in Fuchu where I first lived in Japan, and doubtless I saw him at the station or in one of the parks there as long as 5 years ago. More recently I’ve spotted him at his favorite haunt in Ueno Park- near the museums. He generally plays the weekend from around 1pm to 4pm.

Decked out in bike gear.

I’ve chatted to him a few times- this most recent time he’d actually finished playing for the day by the time we found him, but agreed to play a few notes so I could film him- video at the bottom. He’s such a friendly guy- he remembered me and SY vaguely from the last time we’d chatted to him and he’d been playing to an audience of just the two of us. That time I gave him 1000 yen.

Heaven Artist Placard.

Masahiro’s history is written out on placards he sets up before his drum/xylophone kit, detailing his roots as a session drummer in jazz bars- which he soon tired of and longed for the open road. He took a long bike trip in Australia but halfway through found himself short on cash, so whipped out the mini-drum kit he’d brought with him and started busking. Upon returning to Tokyo he wanted to continue, and his arrival dove-tailed nicely with the inauguration of the Heaven Artist program. He signed on, auditoned, and was onr of the first to be given the run of Tokyo’s parks.

Profile in Lonely Planet!

He plays about 20 days a week most often at Ueno, where on a busy day he says he can make up to 70,000 yen (about $700) for 2 hours of playing.



Mini drums.


Foot tambourine.


Second xylophone, wrist jangler.


Tanzanian Thumb Piano.


Bike with panniers for gear.


Mini cymbals and bells.


He packs up for the day.


We asked for this pose- I was surprised when I saw it because he looks quite small. When he’s commanding an audience from behind his drum kit I suppose he has a much larger presence.


Masahiro Tatematsu from Michael John Grist on Vimeo.


You can see all MJG’s Tokyo content here:

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Comments 7

  1. Post

    Ha, yes, 20 days a month leongsoon- good catch 🙂 I already corrected it in the text, so people shouldn’t think you’re crazy when they don’t also find the error.

    Tornadoes- he built all the stuff himself stuff so it’s lightweight and foldable- the xylophones are on very skinny frames which fold down, and the keys themselves just roll up. It packs down pretty tight and light I guess.

  2. I heard his amazing music in July 2006 outside the Ueno Zoo, I purchased his CD and to this day still play it and remember how amazing he is! Well I bet he never thought his music would bought and taken to New Zealand! Japanese people are truly amazing people, awesome country, great people!


  3. Post

    Drum kits- Spam? I guess it got through, 8 months ago. RSS is top right, orange button, in the header.

    Bruce- Right, he`s a cool and friendly guy. He traveled Australia himself for quite a while, and is also a photographer.

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