From Cherry Blossoms to Tumbleweeds: How Buddy Holly inspired a trip 6,248 miles across the world

Written By Maggi Gallaspy

January 30, 2024

#Attractions>Must Sees #Live Music

It’s August in Saitama, Japan, and the mild summer warmth gives way to sunflower fields, blueberry picking and marigold blooms. Across the world, in the High Plains of West Texas, there’s an uncanny familiarity in the seasonal landscape, despite the arid climate and higher temperatures. 

A musician from Japan is settling into his dream vacation in a city known to him as the birthplace of Buddy Holly. And as soon as he steps foot into Lubbock, he’s transported back in time. 

In his elementary school, 11-year-old Shinichi Sakuma, “Kelly,” was listening to the radio when a hit song from America came rolling out of the speakers. 

“It was like being struck by lightning, as I often describe it,” Kelly said. “I’ve been interested in Buddy Holly since I heard ‘Rave On’ on the radio.” 

He remembers what it felt like hearing the rock ‘n’ roll legend’s voice for the first time, his internal dialogue on repeat, exclaiming, “That’s what I’ve been looking for! This is what I was looking for!”

“That weekend I ran to a used record store and bought the album,” Kelly said. “I remember I was so impressed with how great all the songs were.”

When he was 17 years old, Kelly started playing in his first band. Later, he’d go on to start his 5-piece ensemble, named after his idol’s wife, “Elena Holly.”

For years, as he paid tribute to the legend through music, he dreamed of the day he’d visit the many places associated with Buddy Holly. In 2023, that figment of his deepest wishes became a reality when he took his first trip to the U.S. mainland.

“I could almost hear him breathing, which was very exciting,” Kelly said. 

Throughout their time in Lubbock, Kelly and his wife visited The Buddy Holly Center and statue at the West Texas Walk of Fame, the KRFE AM580 Radio Station, Buddy Holly’s gravesite and other artistic nods and tributes to the singer. 

Before he left, he wanted to make sure he would have a lasting memento of his time in Lubbock. 

“I got a lot of great souvenirs and photos, but since I was going to the town where Buddy Holly was born and raised, I wanted to have the name of the town on my body,” Kelly said. “I will never regret it.” 

A tattoo, he decided, would be the perfect way to commemorate his trip. 

Kelly stumbled upon Flipper’s Tavern, home to a “cool atmosphere” and “friendly staff” when looking for somewhere to eat. When he went to leave, he realized he was next door to Inkfluence Tattoo. The rest is history thanks to tattoo artist Mike Tweed. 

“He happens to be a nice guy who specializes in Japanese tattooing and seems to visit Japan often, so I felt a connection with him,” Kelly said. 

He felt that welcoming hospitality around the city.

“The people in Lubbock were very nice and kind to us, even though we could not speak English very well,” Kelly said. “I recommend Lubbock because it is a place where music, nature, wall art, and history match, and you will never get tired of walking around the city.”

When recounting his stay in Lubbock, he told us, “It was definitely an unforgettable and important trip for us. It’s hard to get there from Japan, but I would go there again and again if I could.” 


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