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Japanese cassette tape enthusiast shares his love of nostalgic audio formats

Jo Takase is seen with part of his collection of cassette tapes and radio-cassette players at his home in Shima, Mie Prefecture. (Mainichi/Toshihiro Ozaki)

SHIMA, Mie -- Radio-cassette players and cassette tapes were inarguably must-have items for youthful music fans in the 1970s and '80s. However, the dominance of digital formats has driven cassettes to the edge of extinction.

    "What? For me, they're still mainstream," says Jo Takase, 51, a self-proclaimed cassette tape lover in central Japan. And his collection of some 400 radio-cassette players and decks at his home in the city of Shima, Mie Prefecture, is there to prove his romance with the format still burns strong.

    "Those devices are no longer in production, so the makers don't even accept my requests to repair them. I have no choice but to fix them myself if they stop working," he said.

    According to Takase, cassette tape and radio-cassette player "mania" comes in many flavors, with some focusing on the mechanical features and designs, and others hooked on the manufacturers of cassette tapes and their types.

    Takase, a native of the city of Kawasaki south of Tokyo who now works for Matsusaka CATV Station in Mie Prefecture, is especially taken with cassette tapes used by people to record things themselves. He says he's fascinated by the differing styles of the handwritten labels, and because the recordings themselves vividly capture the original owners' thoughts and feelings.

    Takase's collection is so enormous that even he doesn't know how many tapes he owns. "I got tired after counting up to 4,000," he said. Takase says he has found some real gems among tapes he's bought on internet auction sites or from second-hand shops, likely sold off in bulk by their original owners perhaps because they hesitated to toss tapes that cannot be put in regular garbage bound for the incinerator.

    One of the recordings he holds dear is of a morning assembly at a major company in which a head office executive orders corporate warriors to boost sales, while another is of onboard announcements on a local train -- prompting listeners to reminisce about the Showa era (1926-1989).

    One tape records a baby crying at birth and the mother's sounds of relief in a delivery room, and later the same child singing a nursery rhyme that they had just learned. Another tape was apparently handed to a girl after a young man recorded himself singing and playing the guitar.

    Yet another cassette contains a number of love songs from the time, the label handwritten in rounded characters fashionable around the end of the 1970s and declaring the collection the owner's top choices. Perhaps this was given by a girl to a boy she liked.

    Audio downloaded from the internet does not contain these dramatic moments of days gone by. Takase's tape collection is packed with traces of people's lives in the last two decades of the Showa era. If you play any of those tapes, one's own memories of the period mix and mingle with someone else's.

    Takase has twice held an exhibition of his cassette tape and player collection in Mie since he moved to Shima at age 35. His talk show themed on cassette tapes has also garnered positive feedback. He says he was surprised to find out how many fellow fans there are out there.

    Due to the coronavirus pandemic, he had to forgo an exhibit this year.

    "I will have one when things get settled. I hope to talk passionately with others about cassette tapes," he said.

    "The lure of this world (of cassette tapes) is hard to understand for others, so I'm not looking to be an evangelist. I'm just happy if fellow enthusiasts can engage in fun and deep discussions with each other."

    (Japanese original by Toshihiro Ozaki, Ise Bureau)

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