Anyone with young children trying to learn English will no doubt be familiar with the face and voice of Eric Jacobsen, a singer-songwriter who has appeared on NHK Channel 3’s morning program “Eigo de Asobo” for the past 11 years. Jacobsen’s theme song “What Do You Like to Do?” has become so well known among the viewing public that children often break into a rendition of the song when they see him.
Born in New York, Jacobsen, 45, says he was always into music. “We had a lot of folk music experience in our house. I got my first guitar when I was 8.” He first came to Japan in 1981 as an exchange student in Yamanashi Prefecture. “I didn’t know anything about Japan. For the first three months, I couldn’t talk to anybody, so I started writing songs. I didn’t think about a musical career in Japan.”
He returned to the U.S. and, after majoring in Japanese language and literature at the University of Colorado, he came back to Japan in 1986 and stayed for about 3 years. “I taught English for a year, then just played music by myself and in two bands. Most of my income came from street music. I usually played in Shinjuku outside the east exit from 10 at night to 1 or 2 in the morning.”
By the early 1990s, Jacobsen was working with production companies making content for NHK before landing the job on NHK (he started off as the voice of a stuffed animal). “Eigo de Asobo” -- aimed at kids 2-5 -- is on weekdays from 7:50 a.m. and again in the afternoons from 5:10. “I have a corner in which I go out to a park or other interesting place with kids, and we play together and sing songs. The whole idea is to make up a song about whatever we happen to be doing on the spot and sing it in English together.”
Jacobsen has become so popular that he is in demand to perform in public halls, schools and kindergartens, playing for anywhere between 300 and 1,200 fans. Many of the songs are original ones he created for the mobile English lesson site Native Eigojuku (www.eigojuku.jp). “If I have a thought, it will usually come out rhythmically,” he says of his style. “I compose songs that people can relate to in everyday life.”
Last year, Jacobsen formed a band, E-JAM. “We play about once a month. The concerts are like kids’ rock shows with an English education slant. We just made a CD which is available only at live events. However, we’re talking with record labels about releasing it for general sale and we are also shooting for a tour.”
In addition to his NHK and E-JAM activities, Jacobsen keeps busy producing music and content for TV shows, commercials and educational materials. He also performs with his “adult” band at clubs in Tokyo. “I work some pretty long days,” he says. “I get up early to see my kids off for school, then often go back to sleep. I have a studio at home, so I get a lot of work done late at night.” Over the years, Jacobsen says he has accumulated about 12 guitars as well as mandolins and banjos, making for a very musical household.
When he is not working, Jacobsen likes to ride his bicycle around Tokyo, but no longer plays his guitar in the park as much as he used to. “If I do that now, one or two kids will recognize me, and then more will come. I love playing for kids, but it can get out of hand.”
E-JAM will perform in the Harajuku-Omotesando Halloween festivities at Quest hall on Oct 26 at 11:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 5 p.m. The band will also give two Christmas concerts at the Sheraton Grande Tokyo Bay hotel on Dec 21. For further information on Eric and E-JAM, visit www.e-jam.jp.© Japan Today