Photo Journal: Tokyo to Tennessee

Charlie Nagatani, the owner of Good Time Charlie, is a living legend in his hometown
Charlie Nagatani, the owner of Good Time Charlie, is a living legend in his hometown | © Lee Whittaker
Kumamoto, on the island of Kyushu, is home to Japan’s most vibrant country and western music scene outside of Tokyo. Credit for this goes to Charlie Nagatani – the 83-year-old owner of local honky-tonk bar Good Time Charlie.

Walking into Good Time Charlie in Kumamoto’s lively Chuo Ward district is like being teleported to a local bar in Tennessee. The bar’s owner, Charlie Nagatani, has sung country music here for the last 60 years, and is something of a living legend in his hometown.

Having dedicated his life to bringing country music to his seaside city, Charlie also launched Japan’s first country music festival, Country Gold, in 1989. He’s a member of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, an iconic achievement for country musicians, and was even invited to a White House state dinner by the Clintons.

Photographer Lee Whittaker met Charlie in Kumamoto in 2017, and shot the following images for this photo series Tokyo to Tennessee.

Charlie’s bar, Good Time Charlie, is the centre of Kumamoto’s country music scene © Lee Whittaker
Both the bar and the Country Gold Festival attract swathes of Japan’s country music fans © Lee Whittaker
Country Gold Festival is popular with young and old alike © Lee Whittaker
Stepping into Good Time Charlie is like being transported straight to Tennessee © Lee Whittaker
Good Time Charlie is chock-full of Americana © Lee Whittaker