What is this?

A newsletter focused on Japanese music, from the upper levels of J-pop to developments in Tokyo’s independent music community.

Who are you?

I’m Patrick St. Michel, a writer based in Tokyo who has been writing about Japanese music since 2009, when I started the blog Make Believe Melodies. My writing has appeared in The Japan Times, Pitchfork, The Atlantic, Bandcamp Daily and more. I also contributed an entry in 33 1/3’s Japan series, on Perfume’s GAME. The peak of my career was when I met city pop legend Tatsuro Yamashita after a show and he described me as “a really weird guy.” Have never been happier in my life.

The face of someone having to entertain a music journalist.

Why Do This?

I wish I had an urgent reason for starting this — the music writing industry is collapsing, so retreat to newsletter! Nobody wants articles about Japanese music! Gotta get in on the money train that is Substack! None of that explains it, though.

In reality, I simply want a space to write what I want. I ran Make Believe Melodies for ten years, starting off as a ramshackle Wordpress account I set up while teaching English in the Kansai countryside in 2009 following typical college-is-ending-what-do-I-do-ahhhhh dread. That blog — set up right as the music blogging wave was crashing into the shore — persevered as a place to share thoughts on music from a country largely ignored by the English music media, starting as something akin to a diary of me learning about artists and growing into something more focused on sharing great music from the country’s many musical communities with English-speaking readers.

After a decade, though, time became more precious and Make Believe Melodies went on a surprise hiatus. Midway through the year, I realized — I felt really down about not having an independent space to just write about Japanese music industry ephemera or whatever post-chillwave SoundCloud upload had caught my attention in a given week. So, I started this to…just write with people who have followed along sometime over these ten years (thank you so much).

What exactly is this?

I want to send out two editions a week — one essay-ish like piece (mimicking what I used to do over at TinyLetter…guess I was kinda sorta out in front of this journalism shift?) followed by a weekly round-up of Japanese songs/albums worth your attention published every Friday (if you followed Make Believe Melodies, think of it as a compact version of what I used to do, in time for the weekend). Current English-language media isn’t particularly interested in Japanese music — which is understandeable, even if my Gmail drafts grow more depressing everyday. It’s still worthy of celebration though — especially as it remains the second biggest music market on the planet, and full of fantastic music worthy of much more than Substack drafts.

Does it cost money?

Nope. While my far-off fantasy is of doing special series on bigger topics featuring all kinds of interviews and research worthy of asking for $5, I’m not really interested in that right now. I literally just want to restart Make Believe Melodies in a new form, and avoid promoting posts on the doldrums of Twitter.

When will these mails go out?

If you followed the TinyLetter version of Make Believe Mailer, you know…that this could burst into flames at any minute and I’ll just vanish (that was before I had a kid, too). Ideally, I want to send out the essay post on Wednesday and the track round-up on Friday.

Anything else I should know?

If you followed along with the original Make Believe Mailer, I’ve already added your email to the list for this, so don’t feel like you have to subscribe again. If you don’t want to receive these, please unsubscribe!

Subscribe to Make Believe Mailer

Covering Japanese Music, From The J-pop Industry To The Underground


Freelance writer in Tokyo