An atmosphere of excitement and nervousness rose with the early morning sun on the Micronesian island of Yap.
It is March 1 and the smell of hibiscus drifts through the tibnaw huts. Entire families sit on dried palm fronds, as all ages prepare to perform on behalf of their village in front of the still-powerful tribal chiefs.
The Micronesian island of Yap has a famously unusual currency: hundreds of giant discs of rocks scattered all over the island, many of them too heavy to move.
After falling in love with Africa, world traveller and photographer Robert Michael Poole set his sights on China. “I wanted to explore its diversity,” he says, “and better understand what each region had to offer.” Exploring nine destinations across the country, he discovered dynamic cities and remote hideaways made for business, entertainment and relaxation.
On Hangzhou’s truly ancient Hefang Street, Fang Hui Chun Tang was founded in 1649 by Fang Qingyi. While most modern Chinese pharmacies have turned to machines for production, Fang Hui Chun Tang continues to make gao fang, an herbal medicine paste, entirely by hand—preserving a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. The jelly-like tonic is consumed to boost the immune system.
by Robert Michael Poole
Situated among famous surroundings, NAIROBI is often overlooked. But this city’s BEATING HEART is kicking up dust, and people are taking notice.
IT’S EARLY MORNING. As sunlight glitters across the glass façades that puncture the sky from downtown, a light breeze strokes the city streets before disappearing into a wide blue sky that opens onto the Great Rift Valley and Maasai Mara. Nairobi is a city in its element, snug in its multi-cultural complexity and teeming with the sort of treasures many only associate with the better-known urban meccas like Dubai, Tokyo and New York. (Full article in print-only mSafari (Kenya Airways)
Every year in the Gobi desert, nomads from hundreds of miles gather for their traditional festival of Naadam, which has been on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage list since 2010.
by Robert Michael Poole
On March 11, 2011, the residents of Fukushima Prefecture felt the earth shake as a massive quake struck off the northeastern coast of Japan. But few could have predicted the explosions that would later follow or that the reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant would go in to meltdown. The region has been physically changed, tainted by radiation, but also altered in other ways: The government’s investigation and ensuing media attention has ensured the words “Fukushima” and “radiation” are forever linked.
This chain of 378 mostly uninhabited specks of land spread out from the Gulf of Guna Yala like a streak of skimming stones breaking the surface, and upon them, tens of thousands of Kuna have resisted modernization, only swapping body paint for clothes that mimic the same elaborate patterns once daubed on their skin. (Full article in print-only Centre Magazine)
In few countries is the national festival so deeply associated with its past, and so relevant to its present, as in Mongolia. The Naadam Festival celebrated in the capital Ulaanbaatar each July, is a UNESCO-inscribed Intangible Cultural Heritage. Some suggest its origins date back to sports played by the army of Genghis Khan, as a way of testing strength and skill and the oldest surviving Mongolian language book, The Secret History of the Mongols mentions all three main sports of the festival – horse racing, archery and wrestling.
A century ago, it was traditional for Englishmen and women to enjoy their afternoon with tea with scones, cakes, strawberries and cream. Today, cities around the world have been flooded by coffee shops, and afternoon tea seems antiquated. Luckily, in the heart of one of the world’s finest tea plantation districts, in the valleys of southeast Sri Lanka, the tradition has not only been restored but transformed into a sought-after experience.
by Robert Michael Poole
Travel destinations don’t come much more seductive and alluring as Bhutan. Known to many as “The Forbidden Kingdom,” it’s the last Himalayan Buddhist kingdom to remain intact. Considered a last frontier, it also has a reputation for being hard to gain access to – though that turns out to be largely a myth.
Multi-Academy Award winning director Francis Ford Coppola has carefully kept his under the radar, even with “The Family Coppola Resorts” emblazoned across the five properties, and that’s due to their carefully chosen locations ranging from Argentina to Italy. The story of the collection though began in Central America, long before actor and environmental activist Leonardo DiCaprio bought Blackadore Caye in Belize to develop his own eco-resort in the same region.
Set amongst steaming rainforests amid luscious vegetation with the mere sound of wildlife for company, it may seem no wonder that El Otro Lado has been fashioned into a “Congo Art Chic” boutique. But the hotel owned by the Spanish family Eleta is far from the jungles of Africa. Literally translated as “The Other Side,” the multicolor property is located on an island across from the UNESCO-listed fortified town of Portobelo on the Caribbean side of Panama.
by Robert Michael Poole
Anyone thinking that Panama is simply the icon of modernity in the region, would be overlooking the capital city’s most romantic and alluring attraction – Casco Viejo. The old fortified town was constructed in 1673 on a peninsula surrounded by the sea in order to better defend itself against pirates that had previously destroyed the first settlement, Panama Viejo, in 1671.
Imagine a child’s drawing of an island, jutting out of the sea, square houses clinging to the cliffs and jungle palms on its summit. Welcome to Saba, a tiny speck of a Caribbean island that seems delightfully cartoonish. Technically boasting the highest point of The Netherlands, it has just one road, called, well, The Road, and a capital nestled between its rocky peaks called The Bottom.
When it was launched in 2010, Instagram was essentially used to enhance photos via an array of filters, a fun take on Kodak Instamatic cameras that allowed people to create playfully framed square pictures on their smart phones. Flash forward five years and Instagram has become the most ubiquitous outlet for amateur and professional photographers to display their works.
by Robert Michael Poole
Hotel Max, Seattle’s downtown boutique art hotel, has revealed its latest collaboration, teaming up with legendary local independent record label Sub Pop to combine music and art in its lobby – and beyond.
by Robert Michael Poole
Nowhere else in the United States has the art of wine-making been perfected as much as in California, which accounts for 90 per cent of the country’s entire output. To put that in perspective, if it were a country, California would be the fourth largest wine producer in the world. Culture+Travel thought it’s time to look more closely at what’s on offer in Napa’s quieter neighbor, Sonoma.
Imagine your dream vacation. A bustling city perhaps? A tropical island? Now imagine, sitting in your office daydreaming about the luxury hotel you’ll be staying in – then spending the rest of your day actually designing it.
The allure of discovering the romance of yesteryear lies at the heart of the joy of travel. Explorers and backpackers alike seek to discover destinations ancient and historical, where the memories of decades, centuries, and millennia fill the air with tales of life, love and war gone by. Finding these physical testaments to human endurance though, is not the tough part. Tuning in to the echoes of the past radiating around them seems to take a certain mindset.
by Robert Michael Poole
It began as a tiny village. Founded as a venture by Joseph Bloore and Willian Botsford Jarvis in 1830, even their entrepreneurial spirit could surely not have imagined that Yorkville, in Toronto’s north, would become the city’s most upscale district.
Home to the first five-star hotel in Canada, it is not the expense of the area that gives it its character though. It is the story of how it became a center for Canadian culture – musical, literary and artistic.
by Robert Michael Poole
As a resident of Tokyo for ten years, I’ve been a frequent visitor to Japan’s culturally distinct ryokan, dotted around the countryside. The traditional inns, often located close to the natural hot springs that run through the spine of the country, are not only the top choice of foreign guests, but of most Japanese themselves, all seeking a feeling and experience of old tradition and comfort that no modern hotel can replicate. Until Now.
“How’s my photo?” chirps a young woman holding up a Polaroid selfie to her friend. They are huddled in an aisle at a basement consignment shop on Tokyo’s tree-lined avenue Omotesando, surrounded by clothes, furniture and sundry knick-knacks, preparing a vintage handbag for display.
“Cute!” the friend replies. “I think you can sell the bag for much more with that smile pinned on it.”
The island of Bermuda lay seemingly orphaned by the Caribbean, well northeast of tropical paradise islands of the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, some 1,100 miles away from Miami. Discovered by Spaniard Juan de Bemrudez (hence the name) in 1503, the islet of just 53 square kilometers is in fact closest to the state of North Carolina. Still a British Overseas Territory – with the Union Jack remaining in its flag – Bermuda stands alone as both a historical and scenic anomaly.
The story of Tbilisi Fashion Week has very much become the story of modern Georgian fashion. It’s an industry on the rise, thanks to the power and personality of fashion week founder and model agency manager Tako Chkheidze. A former model herself, Chkheidze recently oversaw the 5th year and 10th edition of Tbilisi Fashion Week, which concluded with Georgia’s cultured class, celebrities and government ministers gathered together at Chateau Mukhrani Winery for a breathtaking midnight finale by star designer Avtandil Tskvitinidze.
Renowned film director Takeshi Kitano slammed the Japanese movie industry Saturday, moments after receiving the Samurai Award at the 27th Tokyo International Film Festival. “The studios are linked to movie theaters, that’s the worst thing,” Kitano said before surprising even admirers of his outspoken personality by claiming that the entire film industry in Japan is in crisis, reliant on anime and comic-book adaptations supported by TV companies.
The 1st Kyoto International Film and Art Festival closed Sunday, with its most prestigious award going to renowned actor Koji Yakusho. Held at the historic Yoshimoto Gion Kagetsu on the edge of Kyoto’s famed and still active geisha district, the closing ceremony of the inaugural event marked the end of four days of exhibitions and screenings spread across the city.
TEAV Boutique Hotel takes it name from a particularly resonant word in Cambodian society. During the 17th to 20th Centuries the term “teav” was used to describe high-ranking and respectable women in the upper-echelons of the Khmer civilization. It was also used to describe those who showed sophistication and hospitality, an idea the this unique hotel is committed to.
Fuji Rock 2014 had opened on Thursday night with its traditional pre-party, in which thousands gather in the Oasis of food and drink stalls to gear up for the 3-day festa – this year sans Kanye West, who mysteriously pulled out to leave the line-up looking a tad weak. Fortunately, Fuji Rock has never been just about the music. Warmth was the theme of this year’s event, with act after act sharing their appreciation for the Japanese crowd.
In his home country of the UK, Gary Rhodes OBE is known as the “chef’s chef.” Rhodes Across Tokyo at Shangri-La Hotel” brought the chef back to Japan for the first time in 15 years, for a weeklong presentation of modern British cuisine. ARTINFO Japan caught up with him to discuss how Singapore inspired his marriage, eating snakes in Hong Kong, and the one thing that connects British with Japanese cuisine.
In hit Korean film “Miss Granny” an old lady finds herself transported back in to the body of her younger self. If that sounds surprising, then its even more so when considering that the man behind the heartwarming tale is none other than Hwang Dong-hyuk. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with the director at the Okinawa International Movie Festival, to discuss how the film came about, what he would do if he could go back I time, and the next direction of his career.
Situated in the far west Pacific, south of Japan and east of the Philippines, the small island of Guam is the USA’s most far-flung territory. Part of Micronesia, a group of islands that includes the diving paradise of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Marshall Islands and Kiribati, it is often overlooked as a destination compared to the more well-known tropical paradise islands of the region. But the fact it is less frequented by independent travels is part of the appeal. Escape the resorts booked full by Japanese and Korean tourists, and Guam has plenty to offer.
by Robert Michael Poole
While the neighboring cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE get most of the attention, Muscat offers perhaps the most authentic experience of the Gulf region, offering history, charm and rugged landscapes from the coast to the inland mountains and deserts. Designed in the style of a Moorish fort, Muscat’s Al Husn offers the Sultanate of Oman’s most extravagant stay option.
The 6th edition of the Okinawa International Movie Festival concluded with booming fireworks over the beaches of Ginowan on Monday March 24, five days after the sun-drenched event in southern Japan kicked off. Principally dedicated to comedy, the festival has gone from strength to strength since its inaugural edition, and while this year it lacked the Hollywood star-power of 2013, when director Joel Schumacher helmed the jury, the festival spread out further in to the local communities of Okinawa, and held two red carpets, the second of which took place on the main street of the prefecture capital of Naha, when it seemed all the islands stopped for a few hours to witness the parade.
It should have happened by now. Optimists in South Korea had expected K-Pop to invade the US even before Psy went supernova in November 2012 with Gangnam Style. But tours by the likes of the Wonder Girls, sold out shows in New York by Girls Generation and a Will.i.am collaboration with 2NE1 have all as yet failed to place K-Pop at the top of the charts – or in the popular consciousness of the American public. But now Crayon Pop, a five-piece girl group only formed in 2012 by Chrome Entertainment have achieved quite a coup. Late last week Lady Gaga announced via Twitter that the quintet will open her summer concerts in North America.
The Philippines is, according to the local tourist authority’s tagline, “more fun” than any other destination in Asia. The country though is more diverse than most, and in recent times has been developing fast – not least in Cebu. Malapascua, just 2.5 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide, is home now to 6,000, of which most are young kids, many of which relocated here once Dutchman Dik de Boer discovered that the surrounding waters are home to one of the blue planet’s most majestic of creatures, the thresher shark.
Art Fair Tokyo revealed its line-up for the 2014 edition at press conference on Monday at Palace Hotel Tokyo, presenting a broadening of its content in both art form and origins of the works on show. Japan’s biggest art event returns from March 7-9 at Tokyo International Forum, and as in previous editions, will feature selections of items of antiquity, ceramics and modern art.
Art Fair Tokyo revealed its line-up for the 2014 edition at press conference on Monday at Palace Hotel Tokyo, presenting a broadening of its content in both art form and origins of the works on show. Japan’s biggest art event returns from March 7-9 at Tokyo International Forum, and as in previous editions, will feature selections of items of antiquity, ceramics and modern art.
TPAM’s eclectic line-up for 2014 is exemplified in its choices for the International Showcase section, and it’s there that fast-rising multimedia artist siren eun young jung from Korea is set to present her latest work “(Off) Stage / Masterclass.” ARTINFO Japan caught up with siren eun young jung ahead of the performance to discuss her desire to develop the feminist artistic language.
While the works of master ukiyo-e artist Hokusai are world famous, the talent of the daughter who followed in his footsteps has been difficult to evaluate. Many of the works by Katsuhika Oi have proven hard to identify or been lost with time, which makes the retrospective now on show in Harajuku all the more vital.
Few people have the vision to shape the kind of performing art that people choose to see. Theater, opera, and stage musicals have all developed over decades and centuries. But for one Belgian-Italian, there remained room for growth in grand, large-scale production shows that could combine the niche and much-maligned talents of circus acrobatics with postmodern dance, music, and narrative. This year, however, is set to be a breakthrough year for artistic director Franco Dragone. Dragone’s company, set up shortly after he left Cirque du Soleil, has gone on to produce even more elaborate, technically challenging, and spectacular shows than seen before.
Breaking in to Hollywood is tough at the best of times. But for Asian actors, the day when one is given a lead role still seems some way off. That hasn’t stopped actor Masayoshi Haneda from Japan, from making significant headway though. In spring, Haneda will be back on the big screen once again, alongside Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in the futuristic action movie, “Edge of Tomorrow.”
The stars of Hollywood movie ‘Battleship’ gathered for the world premiere at Yoyogi Stadium, Tokyo, with a red carpet event and screening in a 15,000 seater venue decked out with moving mock naval ship turrets. The movie, directed by Peter Berg, features a cast including pop star Rihanna alongside Brooklyn Decker, Alexander Skarsgard and Taylor Kitsch, as well as Japanese actor Tadanobu Asano. AP got an exclusive one-on-one with Rihanna before she strode the red carpet.
Japan’s hardest working actress, Maki Horikita, is taking her career to new heights in her latest TV drama. The 24-year-old, who has had a busy year on stage, in movies, TV series and multiple commercials, is currently playing the lead in Fuji TV’s new drama “Miss Pilot,” airing in prime time at 9pm every Tuesday. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with Horikita at Fuji’s TV studios to discuss her recent high-profile roles as professional working women in a society which ranks 106 out of 136 in gender equality, according to the United Nations.
Three hours north east of Bangkok, the traffic has ground to a halt. Surrounded by the evergreen forests and grasslands of Khao Yai National Park, the cars soon find themselves backtracking from an unexpected menace – wild elephants on the road. A few minutes away though, there is no stopping the momentum of Thailand’s biggest musical event, the Big Mountain Music Festival. Now in its fifth year, and held on Khao Yai’s Bonanza Racetrack in picturesque nature, it has grown into the largest festival in South East Asia, attracting 130,000 people over two days.
While the Japanese music charts are dominated by J-Pop, an alternative scene has been bubbling up in Kobe. Already spreading to Shibuya, Tokyo, the movement is best described as worldly indie-pop, and is led by artists shunning the local music and instead taking their cues from the likes of the xx, Cat Power and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. At the forefront of the movement is American-born artist BOMI, who in December 2013 took to the new artist stage at Thailand’s Big Mountain Music Festival. “People are free here, so they dance, scream and shout, with freedom,” the 26 year old told ARTINFO. “It’s not like this in Japan.”
Ayaka Nishiwaki, Ayano Omoto and Yuka Kashino, better known as “A-chan,” “Nocchi” and “Kashiyuka” to their fans, make up J-Pop dance unit Perfume. All in their mid-twenties, the usually technicolor-dressed trio formed some 13 years ago in Hiroshima, starting life as an Akihabara idol group, but quickly emerging as an electronic dance unit, thanks to the knob-twiddling wizardry of producer Yasutaka Nakata. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with the group at NHK’s studios to discuss a burgeoning career that has seen them tour worldwide this year, encounter new fan bases, and release their first new studio album in two years through a recent worldwide deal on Universal Music.
Angela Reynolds began modeling in Tokyo at just 14, immediately standing out amongst the elite models, thanks to looks inherited from a Japanese mother and British father. One of the most recognizable figures in the Japanese fashion industry today – so much such so that only her first name is needed – Angela spoke with BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan about the effect talking publicly of her experience of cancer has had on her, and how it has reshaped her opinion of the meaning of fashion
Earlier this summer, Japanese cinema goers got to savor a Hollywood-produced war movie. This one, titled “Emperor,” tackled a topic that virtually no Japanese director dares to touch — Japan’s own experience during World War II.
BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan sat down with Haneda to discuss his own views on the time period, and the need for the Japanese film industry to examine Japan’s history so that new generations can learn for themselves about the effect that their nation’s actions have on modern day relationships.
For most actresses, playing the female lead in a Hollywood movie is a pipe dream, achieved only by a tiny minority who were lucky enough to get their break, usually after years of auditions and hard work. Eriko Hatsune, though, wonders why she’s an actress at all.
BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan sat down with Hatsune in her native city to discuss how a shy, seemingly unambitious young lady, with next to no self-promotion, made her way to the big screen.
Tim Burton, J.J. Abrams, and Katy Perry are all renowned for creating widely different fantasy worlds in their films and music videos. And as customers of Tokyo’s most talked-about live show, it’s appropriate that what they would have witnessed is a hyper-performance art extravaganza that is best described as a mixture of the otherworldliness of each of them — plus all the quirkiness of a Japanese sensibility. The Robot Restaurant, located in Shinjuku’s red light district, wasn’t meant to be this way. In fact, it was launched with a view to rivaling the AKB48 shows on Tokyo’s east side…
Shikoku’s deep south might not seem like the obvious location for a luxury spa resort, given the easy access of hot springs in Hakone and Karuizawa. But Muroto, on the southern tip of Japan’s most rural island, houses a structure that takes the concept to luxurious new heights. The curvy lines of Utuco Auberge & Spa mimic the waves crashing against the volcanic rocks at its front, but the water in its pools has a far deeper source, some 1,200 feet below. Designed by world-renowned make-up range creator Shu Uemura, Utoco’s rejuvenating powers aren’t limited to its own pools and treatments, either.
by Robert Michael Poole
For residents of the world’s largest city, escape from the urban sprawl is a regular urge, and one location has for decades developed into, quite literally, the hot destination for day-trippers.
Hakone, a ragged terrain of valleys and peaks around Lake Ashi, is Japan’s prime hot-spring haven, renowned for its natural beauty protected by the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, and the newly UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Site of Mt.Fuji.
It takes about 45 minutes of fairly easy climbing to reach the top of Mount Nosoko. At 282 metres, it’s not Ishigaki’s tallest peak – that honour goes to 526-metre Mount Omoto – but the view of the island makes it one of the “must do” experiences on any visit to Japan’s Yaeyama Islands, which lie about 400 kilometres south-west of the island of Okinawa and are only some 200 kilometres from Taiwan.
by Robert Michael Poole
Japan’s third city may not have the gloss of Tokyo or the timelessness of Kyoto, but it’s second to none in terms of its food, energy and an unflagging sense of fun.
A NEON MAN RUNS ALONG A neon blue track on the iconic Glico candy billboard above Dotonbori Street, one of Osaka’s more garish tourist destinations. But just below this busy thoroughfare, reflections of chochin lanterns ripple in the canal as a parade of boats drift lazily by. These contrasting images say a lot about Japan’s third city. Unlike other destinations, Osaka doesn’t come with a neat, prepackaged tagline for the tourist guides.
Times gone by are often treasured in retrospect, but rarely as they were actually experienced. Tony Bennett grew up in the golden age of American popular music, listening to the standards as they were first being released, working with the icons of the early 20th century, and then joining their ranks during the 1950s pre-rock’n’roll era as he made his own name. Spending time with him now feels magical in the moment, partly due to the feeling of warmth, honesty, and star quality of a man who can tell tales of Billie Holiday first hand — but also because at the age of 87, it’s clear that his love for being onstage has not ebbed one bit.
This month, Blue Note unveiled a new voice in jazz, a man whose pedigree on two independent label albums earned him consecutive Grammy nominations. Dubbed a “Soul Poet” for his lyrical tenacity in terms of social commentary, Gregory Porter sings in a booming baritone from the heart — a heart that he has already interpreted to be his very own “bling.” In Tokyo for a series of dates on what has become a non-stop round of international shows for the in-demand singer, Porter’s reputation as a spiritual thinker – words flowing from his mouth like a sonneteer – proves precise even during a morning encounter in classy Aoyama.
At sweet sixteen, Japanese pop phenomenon Hatsune Miku has her whole life ahead of her. In fact, she may have an eternity, because unlike her rivals she hasn’t aged a bit since her 2007 debut. And there are no tantrums or tiaras either, despite a number-one album. This teen only needs electricity. With her trademark cyan pigtails, tomboy necktie and thigh-high boots, Miku’s faultless performances defy her youth. But then, as a hologram, it’s not her lack of faults that has garnered legions of glowstick-waving fans, it’s how very lifelike she, and the rise of digital pop stars, has become.
Fuji Rock Festival has never been about just the music. For the army of campers who ascend the mountains to Naeba Ski Resort in Niigata, the songs are the soundtrack to days away from the claustrophobic city humidity, traded in for dips in rivers and waltzes through forests in the mists and rain around Yuzawa. Murmurs of discontent with the actual lineup seem to pervade the Thursday pre-party atmosphere each year, though if there’s anything that regular Fuji rockers know, it’s that the Monday morning descent back is always fuelled by tales of unexpected new musical discoveries, and stage sets that blew expectations away.
When the Summer Sonic music festival began in 2000 as promoter Creativeman’s flagship event, it stood in a field of just two international music events, alongside Fuji Rock. Despite the onslaught of domestic music festivals from Rock in Japan to the Rising Sun Rock Festival, Summer Sonic has since gone on to solidify its reputation thanks to headliners like Coldplay, Jay-Z, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and Rihanna, as well as its proximity to downtown Tokyo. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with founder Naoki Shimizu at his Harajuku office to discuss how he is “donating” the Sonic brand for free, and why his competition isn’t coming from within Asia, but rather from Europe and America.
Ever since her onstage acting debut at the age of just 15, Okinawa-born Meisa Kuroki quickly went on to become one of Japan’s most sought-after entertainer and model. With striking good looks, athletic ability, and stage presence, she has juggled careers in TV, film and theater, and even singing. After taking some time off following the birth of her daughter in September 2012, Kuroki is making a comeback as the lead in the play “Tomoe Gozen,” which is loosely based on the historical 12th Centutry female samurai of the same name.
J-Pop singer Chara is really anything but. Originally the pioneer of high-pitched vocal gymnastics, the now 45-year-old songstress was a revelation when she debuted with her ultra-girly delivery, and within a year copycats acts were everywhere. She inspired a generation of imitators from Yuki all the way to Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, but after just a few albums left pop behind and found her own voice, tackling soul, R&B and rock, reinventing her sound by listening and learning from everything around her. At this year’s Fuji Rock Festival, her latest unexpected unit came with the simple moniker Chara x Yusuke Kobayashi x KenKen, where ARTINFO sat down with the trio.
When naming the most influential Japanese figure in Hollywood these days, only one person stands out – Yoko Narahashi. But her name may not be very familiar to industry outsiders. Ever since working on Steven Spielberg’s “Empire of the Sun,” the casting director is responsible for making the careers of dozens of actors from Japan over the years.
Catching up on the year’s music in two days is easy. Just ask the 210,000 who attended Summer Sonic in Tokyo and Osaka this past weekend, making it the largest music festival in Asia. The self-proclaimed “city festival,” designed for the convenience of the largest potential audience possible, closed with its annual fireworks above Marine Stadium in Chiba on Sunday, August 11, capping its most successful event ever.
Korean-American singer Priscilla Ahn may be an LA girl, but it’s in Japan that fans seemed to have warmed to her most. On her ninth visit to the country, she brought a band for the first time, presenting a new, fuller sound at Fuji Rock Festival that pits her crystalline voice against electronic beats and indie rock drums. Born in Georgia but raised in Pennsylvania, Ahn has spent the last ten years in Los Angeles. Yet despite her family on her mother’s side being Korean, she has been learning Japanese, even singing two songs in the language at Fuji Rock’s Red Marquee, where she presented her new sound to the Saturday morning crowd after just three rehearsals.
For the Tokyo City Report, Robert Michael Poole presents a guide for Culture Buffs, Food Lovers, and Trend Setters, including where to sleep, nosh, buy, and what to experience.
Tokyo celebrated “Festival Brazil” in July with thousands of revelers gathering in Yoyogi Park, many of whom were there to see headline performer Luan Santana perform his brand of sertanejo universitário – a genre new to many. Santana, who has become one of the most popular and successful performers in his homeland at the age of just 22, addressed the Brazilian and Japanese media before the show, expressing his admiration for the politeness of the Japanese on his first visit to the country.
Tokyo’s International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival returned for its 22nd edition in 2013, continuing its reign as the longest running festival of its kind in Asia. The star guest this year was director Michael Mayer, whose male love affair film set against the Arab-Israeli conflict, “Out in the Dark,” has become a sleeper hit, screened at festivals all around the world since 2012, when it was selected for the Toronto International Film Festival. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with Mayer to discuss the motivations behind his first film, the challenges of shooting in Ramallah, and changing attitudes to gay cinema.
One of animator Hayao Miyazaki’s earlier works, the 1989 feature film “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” is set for a live-action adaptation with the first images being released this week. The story follows a 13-year-old witch and her talkative black cat Jiji, who has become one of the most popular characters ever developed by Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, which he co-founded with fellow animator and director Isao Takahata in 1985 following the success of the duos “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.”
Tokyo, a city of 35 million, boasts a wealth of performance venues of all kinds, offering a plethora of concerts and events every month across a range of arts. BLOUIN ARTINFO recently took a look at some of the best places to catch contemporary dance, and now presents the top six concert halls to catch opera, ballet, theater, and classical music.
“Underwater Harmonist and Guinness World Record Holder” Ai Futaki is looking to take performing arts to a whole new level. Below the ground. The Japanese free-diver has made a name for herself as a videographer, model, and documentary maker, recently discussing her experiences underwater at TEDxTokyo 2012. Now Futaki is training above ground again and looking for new partners to expand the possibilities of dance in the ocean, as she prepares to head to Sipadan Island, Malaysia. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with Futaki to discuss a possible new realm for performing arts.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most extraordinary songs to reach the top of the U.S. Billboard charts, a song named after a hot-pot dish that changed the perception of an entire nation for many, and set a bar that no other Asian act has yet been able to achieve. That song is Kyu Sakamoto’s 1963 classic “Sukiyaki.”
When artist Storm Thorgerson, creator of iconic LP covers for Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, died earlier this year, it seemed like the age of art in rock had finally passed with him. While the need for cover art shrunk (quite literally) during the CD era, the digital age has created a musical landscape that does not require any cover art at all, arguably depriving a generation of listeners of the rich association that these visuals impart. Many of these are good enough to hang in galleries, and used to be as vital to a new release as the music itself. One artist though, Kii Arens, has found a niche in which he keeps this spirit alive.
Ten years ago, promising 16-year-old classical violinist Akiko Yamada, educated in France at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Paris, was collecting trophies at international competitions for her talent. But then, following a series of severe health issues that began with a trapped nerve in her arm, she disappeared from public view. For a long time, it seemed to both her and her fans that Yamada’s fledgling career was already over. Ten years later though, the youngest ever winner of the first Grand Prix at the Concours International Long-Thibaud (2002) returned after what she calls “a long pause of reflection.”
by Robert Michael Poole
The 11th century book “The Tale of Genji,” written by Japanese noblewoman Murasaki Shibiku about the life of the Japanese Emperor’s son, is often cited as the world’s oldest novel. Set in the northern hills surrounding Kyoto, the area of Arashiyama retains much of the scenery of the period in which the novel was set, with its traditional Togetsukyo (moon crossing) Bridge, rickshaws, and stores selling local wares such as tofu, sake, and beautiful lacquerware. It’s just one of the top five must-sees in the old Japanese capital.
Japanese singer Bird prefers not to be stereotyped. Though her name recalls the legendary Charlie Parker, she says there is no specific link (in fact it came from the fuzzy hair she once sported that producer Shinichi Osawa dubbed a “bird’s nest”). Real name Yuki Kitayama, Bird has established herself as one of the most genuine voices of Japan in the last ten years, while fads have come and gone, her versatile voice has adapted and resonated with new generations of listeners, from pop to jazz to R&B.
Japanese cinema has become increasingly inward-looking of late. Last year, locally-made films accounted for 65.7% of revenue, according to the Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan. This is the first time it has topped 60% since the late 1960s. But all is not healthy. Though total revenue was up 7.7% in 2011, to $2 billion, the failure of domestic product to attract audiences in other territories has led directors and producers to focus on the local audience, churning out big-screen adaptations of manga and short stories, with characters played by pop stars and idols rather than skilled actors. Producer Kazuyoshi Okuyama however, is attempting to buck the trend.
The Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF) announced May 15 a new image and restructured content for its 26th edition due to take place October 17–25, suggesting a long overdue and thorough revamp. The film festival, often derided for its formality and deadpan seriousness, has apparently found a new heart in the shape of a camera, as it enters its second quarter century.
Located for the past three years in Tokyo’s up-and-coming Bakurocho gallery district, Tobin Ohashi Gallery is run by American Bob Tobin and Japanese Hitoshi Ohashi, an affable duo who have been making concerted efforts to inject some dynamic, freewheeling social life into what can be an overly closed gallery scene in the Japanese capital. Ohashi leads regular tours for collectors as part of his Tokyo Art Collectors Group, while Tobin often hosts informal mixers over wine and snacks at both the gallery and the couple’s art-filled residence in Roppongi, whenever visiting artists are in town.
Homosexuality remains very much a taboo topic in Japanese society. Even if it does not necessarily suffer explicit prejudice, it is at the very least a subject that is rarely discussed in an open way, especially when it comes to women. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan caught up with director Shusuke Kaneko to discuss his latest work focusing on two young lesbians entitled “Jellyfish,” the influence of William Wyler’s “The Children’s Hour” (1961), and whether a male director can ever do justice to a topic that is very personal to women’s experience of life.
Visual artist Remo Camerota has always had a knack for adapting to new technologies. A fine arts graduate from Melbourne, he has worked in animation, cutting edge TV editing and special effects, and most recently made his name with urban painting and photography. Now Camerota has joined forces with animator Kiyoshi Kohatsu and programmer Pietro Zuco for a unique collaboration with the US new wave group Devo, creating a new edition of his Kit Robots series entitled “DevoBots.”
Known to most as the master of space and time in the sci-fi series “Heroes,” Masi Oka is indeed a master of many talents. He is a visual effects artist at ILM who worked on the Star Wars prequels, an actor currently to be seen in the rebooted “Hawaii Five-O”, a teacher of improvisational comedy trained at Chicago’s Second City, and increasingly, a producer in his own right. The Japanese-American Oka is renowned for his high IQ – he was once featured on the cover of TIME magazine as an “Asian American Whiz Kid” – and when he sits down with BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan in Okinawa, his knowledge and skills across a wide range of show business is immediately apparent.
Architecture and filmmaking are not the two most obvious artistic bedfellows. But for Lee Yong-joo, an architecture graduate from Yonsei University, the appeal of the latter tempted him away from his original path, and in 2009 he wrote and produced his first film, horror flick “Living Death”. A mild success, it convinced him to return to what he knew best for his next film, the nostalgic romance of “Architecture 101”. A surprise smash hit in South Korea, the story revolved around two students who meet at an introductory class on architecture in college, fall in love, but soon drift apart.
ARTINFO JAPAN caught up with Lee in Okinawa to discuss his thoughts on traditional Korean hanok, modern Korean architecture in Gangnam, and Korea’s fading architectural heritage.
New Zealand-born Rebecca Gibney has become so familiar to Australian audiences that even she considers herself Australian these days. “Except when the All-Blacks play” she says. Winner of multiple Golden Logie Awards for most popular personality on Australian Television, for her role as warm-hearted mother Julie Rafter in TV family drama “Packed to the Rafters,” Gibney has become an adopted national treasure. Gibney and producer Jocelyn Moorhouse sat down with ARTINFO JAPAN to discuss why the popular TV actress took on the most challenging role of her life.
Turkish filmmaker Hakan Algül doesn’t do art-house. In fact, unless his movies can reach the maximum possible audience, he won’t even listen to producer’s offers. “Festivals are for films with 10,000 viewers – mine are watched by 4 million” says the big man. “But this festival is about comedy and peace, and this is important for me,” he told ARTINFO Japan during an extended interview.
by Robert Michael Poole
Expert knowledge in London, spotless interiors in Tokyo and a multicultural experience in New York. Our writers check out taxi services at major Cathay Pacific destinations across the world. So how do they fare?
Tokyo’s taxis have come a long way since the first six Model T Fords rolled out of the Tokyo Taxicab Company 101 years ago, with a plethora of taxi companies now operating and mass fleets of Toyota Crowns slowly being replaced by the electric Nissan Leaf. More than a million passengers are driven daily, by some 67,000 registered drivers, most of whom are older than 60 and male. Politeness and cleanliness are the order of the day and tips or negotiations are practically taboo.
When classically trained dancer Peijia Huang ventured into her first feature-film, she didn’t do it by half. In fact, she made a double leap. For Taiwanese director Yi-Chien Yang’s “Cha Cha for Twins”, the 24 year old played both the leads, identical twin sisters Mini and Poni. For Peijia Huang the opportunity to expand her repertoire was one she couldn’t turn down, and while attending as a guest at the Okinawa International Movie Festival, she told ARTINFO Japan she wants to try acting in English some time soon too.
Dancer Fukiko Takase may well have played the ingénue a few times in her stage career. But never one as prominent as this. For the very first music video by Atoms For Peace, lead singer Thom Yorke teams up with The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer Wayne McGregor CBE for an abstract performance of contemporary dance.
Taiwanese cinema is on the rise. According to the producer of “Cha Cha for Twins,” made on a locally-funded budget of USD$700,000, even new directors can find US$1 million fairly easily these days. For director Yi-Chien Yang, the opportunity afforded her a 45-day shoot for a story that is based on her own life as an identical twin. “Cha Cha for Twins” has already shown at film festivals in San Diego, Toronto, Hong Kong and Osaka. ARTINFO sat down with Yang at the Okinawa International Movie Festival to discuss the film’s conception.
Actress Kaori Momoi, 62, has become something of a legend in the acting world in Japan. In a wide-ranging interview with BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan, she is only too happy to share her frank opinions on the failings of Japanese actors at home and abroad, who might have a real shot at Hollywood, and the bitchiest actresses around. She even requests extra time to do so…
Prince Genji maneuvered his way through all classes of life in 11th century Heian period Kyoto. Demoted to a commoner, the amorous and politically astute son of a concubine eventually retired an honorary emperor during the last period of classical Japanese history. To this day, Arashiyama retains the scenery of a millennium ago, the 1000 year old Togetsukyo Bridge still traversed daily by man powered rickshaws and illuminated by glimmering lanterns.
Studio Ghibli, led by animation master Hayao Miyazaki, has crafted timeless stories of man’s complex relationship with nature since 1984’s “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind”. Perhaps none of the studio’s works better depicted the affect of mankind’s desire to progress by using the natural world’s resources, whilst also depending on nature to survive, than in 1997’s “Princess Mononoke”. Now, the tale of Ashitaka of the Emishi tribe living in Japan’s Muromachi period, the industrialist Lady Eboshi of Iron Town and San, a girl raised by wolves to hate humans, is coming to a theater stage in a production by the Whole Hog Theatre.
The world’s biggest metropolis is surprisingly one of the easiest cities to navigate by bicycle, and the choice transport of millions of salarymen and students. Just a ring of the bell will part pedestrians on any pavement – ideal for this inner-city street-food tour adapted from Cycle Tokyo, a website aiming to help people to see the city at its best on two wheels.
by Robert Michael Poole
Meandering my way around the labyrinth of Doha’s souq, the scent of shisha lounges, spices and Arabic perfumes seem to linger from centuries old. The restored Souq Waqif dates back hundreds of years and today from the falcon souq where prized birds go for hundreds of thousands of dollars, to chic silk garments and local crafts, it is all housed in a charming maze of Qatari architecture, the only traditional souq remaining in the Gulf. But to the delight of travelers, they too can be housed within the complex in the heart of Qatar’s capital, thanks to a series of boutique hotels that have been created out of old town houses. BLOUIN ARTINFO went exploring to see what they have to offer.
Japanese R&B singer Crystal Kay has been expanding her horizons of late. From performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall, to collaborating with Far East Movement in Orlando, Florida, the 27-year-old singer has been spreading her wings internationally – most recently via “Dance Earth,” in which she took to the stage for the first time as a character in a musical theater production. BLOUIN ARTINFO caught up with Kay to discuss her coming English-language album, and the decline of R&B in Japan.
Chiang Mai, Thailand’s green and pleasant northern city near the intersection of Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand — Southeast Asia’s “Golden Triangle” — has been a hot spot for travelers for generations for its walled city of temples, massage parlors and mystical mountain basin setting. But it’s not all elephant rides and cooking classes anymore; a new influx of tourism has catalyzed the regional melting pot of cultures into a new and flourishing arts scene, with galleries and cafe culture blooming all over, from the Ping River in the east to Nimmanhaemin Road in the west. ARTINFO gives you the lowdown on six of the best, as well as essential intel for spending a few days immersed in Chiang Mai’s burgeoning art scene.
Japanese architect Toyo Ito has been named the 2013 Laureate and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner at the age of 71. The prize is considered architecture’s “Nobel” and is given each year to a living architect who demonstrates talent, vision, and commitment consistently, while providing “significant contributions to humanity and the environment through the art of architecture.”
It’s hard to judge if Hideo Nakata directing AKB48’s Atsuko Maeda is a match made in heaven or hell. Either way, admires of either are likely to be divided by horror film “The Complex,” set to open across Japan on May 18 2013. At its Asian premiere, Nakata, 51 – best known to western audiences for shock-horror movies “The Ring” (1998) and “Dark Water (2002) – exacerbated the multiple contradictions of the movie as he danced jovially besides Maeda and co-star Hiroki Narimiya.
When Genki Sudo, 34, announced his retirement from kickboxing in December 2006, after victory at a Japanese K-1 fight in front of 52,000 fans in Osaka Dome, he commented in his post-match interview that he planned to travel overseas to see how humans solve their problems. But few would have predicted that the devout buddhist known as the ‘Neo Samurai’ would 5 years hence be performing in front of thousands at Microsoft’s WPC 2011 conference in Los Angeles with his own YouTube sensation dance ensemble, World Order. ARTINFO spoke with him about World Order’s tech-era message.
When Leslie Kee attended the opening of his first gallery exhibition in November 2011, it was the culmination of years of work as a foreign photographer working in Japan. The series, titled Forever Young, featured glossy shots of full male nudes, stylized to match his commercial fashion work, but unretouched and presented as art. Last week though, he earned a combination of notoriety and heroism when he was arrested and thrown in jail on charges of obscenity for the second exhibition of the series, again at the Hiromi Yoshii Gallery, which featured similar full-frontal shots of men with erections. BLOUIN ARTINFO Japan sat down with him to discuss his story, and the boundaries of art and pornography.
Dancer Kaori Seki smells good. It’s rare of course, that a dancer performing under bright lights should pay attention to odour. But Seki is not your usual contemporary dancer and since 2010 has won recognition for bringing scents – via aroma oils – into her performances in order to add another level for her audience to interpret. ARTINFO caught up with the performer to discuss her career and the current dance scene in Japan and Asia.
by Robert Michael Poole
Frederic Boulin knows his Hyatts. A graduate of Glion Hotel School in Switzerland, the well-kempt General Manager is effervescent when recalling tales of his times at the luxury hotel’s properties in Shanghai, Sao Paolo, La Manga, and Cairo. Not to mention his stints at the Intercontinental in Buenos Aires, Phnom Penh, Guatemala, and Athens. But perhaps never before has the globe-trotting hotelier been at the reigns of a city’s most prestigious and talked-about hotel at the same time as the city itself has become one of the most vibrant hotspots of international fashion, culture, and entertainment. ARTINFO talks with him about the rise of Gangnam.
by Robert Michael Poole
Built originally for the 2006 Asian Games, the Torch Doha was designed by renowned architects Hadi Simaan and AREP in the shape of a torch with an actual flame alight at its top. Still Qatar’s tallest tower and an iconic landmark, its interior has recently been re-modeled to present a “new era of luxury” as a high-tech hotel in which each guest of 163 guest rooms are equipped with iPads that can control the actual color and mood of the space. BLOUIN ARTINFO went to explore the site, and discovered a tower of flying carpets, revolving restaurants and a swimming pool suspended in the air.
With bare white beaches, transparent waters, unkempt jungles and colorful ethnic villages, the Yaeyama Islands are the best-kept secrets in the East.
Here in Southern Okinawa, Japan, where water buffalo-powered wooden carts meander through historic hamlets, it’s no wonder time is but a breeze to cool the soul of any daydreamer, because at Hoshizuna Beach, the stars are scattered not merely across the sky at night but underfoot as well — in actuality as tiny, five-pointed exoskeletons of marine protozoa scattered in the sands.
‘Draw a Stroke’ reads the plague on the corner of Angukdong crossroad in northern Seoul. Cast in bronze, it sits below the sculpture of a giant calligraphy brush in mid-motion, an apt metaphor for the historic district of Insadong that lay behind it – a leafy avenue where the city’s artistic treasures are preserved in time and a bohemian art scene still remains.
The 11th ‘Newcomer Series’ of the Dance Ga Mitai Festival comes to a close in Nippori, Tokyo, this Tuesday after a fortnight of performances by a wide range of performers that has seen variations of music and visual projections incorporated in to experimental solo and groups routines. Amongst the performances on the penultimate day will be 26-year-old Gyrokinesis trainer Miki Hoei, who studied ballet from an early age. ARTINFO caught up with her before the show.
The fields around Khao Yai, 3 hours north of Bangkok, are for the most part of the year, the playground of cows. Human visitors usually come here to stroll in Thai wineries, ride TGVs around the hills and taste fresh steak. But in early December the landscape is transformed for three days into the only place to be for music fans in Thailand. Now in its fourth year, the Big Mountain Music Festival has already grown in to the largest music event in South East Asia, hosting 60,000 revellers from Friday night December 7th through to its finale on December 9th. ARTINFO caught up with rock band Potato right after their main stage performance.
UK boy band One Direction arrived in Japan to hoards of fans at Narita Airport, and then faced the press, taking the opportunity to announce that the group would return to perform two concerts later in the year to promote their second album, ‘Take Me Home’. The five were presented with flowers from one of Japan’s most popular young actresses, Maki Horikita, 24, before addressing the ensembled media.
Francois Curiel, Christie’s President in Asia, was in high spirits during his latest visit to Japan. And no wonder, the auction house had just announced 2012 sales of US$6.27 billion, up 10% on 2011, and its Japan office has recently moved to a prestigious new location in Marunouchi whilst celebrating its 40th anniversary. ArtInfo sat down with Mr. Curiel to discuss Christie’s strategy in North East Asia in 2013.
A fashion design graduate with a reputation for perfection, Korean actress Kim Tae Hee has won plaudits for her roles in several high profile TV dramas, including “Stairway to Heaven”, “Iris” and “My Princess.” In an interview for ARTINFO, she reveals her top five personal favorite TV dramas from around the world.
At Thailand’s Big Mountain Music Festival in Khao Yai, a few hours north of Bangkok, thousands of locals perch on a hillside at the foot of the enormous Cow Stage. Amongst a lineup of just about every cool rock band in the country, a smattering of international acts are now turning SouthEast Asia’s biggest festival into the Glastonbury of the region. But while Thailand’s music scene is as vibrant as ever, these music fans are here to witness two girls’ attempt to revolutionize a fading cultural phenomenon with a new injection of style, panache and Japanese smarts.
Amiaya, 22 year-old twin models from Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, prance on stage like they’ve beamed in from another dimension. They are hear to pronounce that J-Pop is dead – long live Tokyo Pop!
Imagine a music landscape dominated by just one individual—an all-powerful Svengali who, for more than 45 years, has held a virtual monopoly on male pop groups, producing a world-record-holding 289 No. 1 hits, 35 chart-topping acts, and, in the past decade alone, 8,419 concerts. He rarely appears in media, and yet his power over the press has left them kowtowing to his demands for decades. His reclusive character is revered and feared in equal parts by an entire Japanese music industry. Welcome to the world of Johnny Kitagawa.
Standing in the centre of the city is never usually this peaceful and I find myself peering down into a tiny patch of still water, protected by a hefty, 800-year-old, tiered, black-lead roof. This is Kinjo Reitaku, a well which sits in a small secluded corner of one of Japan’s most revered gardens.
“Immortal,” the new Michael Jackson-themed Cirque du Soleil show touring North America may sound grandiose but the self-proclaimed “King of Pop” was undoubtedly a larger-than-life character. While immortality was out of Jackson’s reach, the singer’s family are doing their best to keep his memory alive with musical extravaganzas. Two “Michael Jackson Tribute Live” concerts will take place Dec. 13 and 14 at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo.
Until just a few decades ago, the 794AD Bongeun Temple, focal point of Korean zen from 1551 until 1936, stood gracefully and isolated on the banks of the Han, south of the river, Gang Nam. Entombed inside this outpost of the ancient city of Seoul, time worn woodblock carvings of the Buddhist Flower Garland Sutra describe the interdependency of all phenomena in a cosmos of infinite realms upon realms.
by Robert Michael Poole
When bustling Tokyo becomes bitterly cold and grey in winter, it’s time to head for the hills for some warm water refreshment.
Every so often, a vibrant new city emerges on the world scene, stepping out from its history to modernize with entrepreneurial optimism and financial clout. When that coincides with a cultural rebirth that sets it on the cutting-edge of the world’s trends, the city swirls in its own perfect storm. Think London’s Swinging Sixties, New York’s Yuppie Eighties or Bubble-era Tokyo. The rise of Seoul, capital of South Korea, has even led to a whole new flashy district south of Seoul’s Han River… Gangnam.
THE NISSAN LEAF IS QUIET. It’s so quiet, in fact, that it has to play a little tune to let you know it’s awake. I step inside a light-blue SL model outside its place of birth, Nissan’s Yokohama HQ, and push a button that illuminates the deep-blue LED dashboard, which alerts me that I have 84 miles’ worth of charge and cues a musical snippet reminiscent of “The Jetsons.” And after that, silence: the sound of the automotive future.
It’s only fitting that Korea’s attitudinal pop princess was the subject of PSY’s seduction in “Gangham Style”. Rapper-dancer Kim Hyun-a stands out from the super-clean K-Pop crowd, having controversially left one group (Wonder Girls) and then joining another, electro-pop unit 4Minute, and setting the tone for the more edgy side of K-Pop with songs. Her solo singles have been even more incendiary—the music video for “Change” was flagged for 19+ viewers for her pelvic thrusting dance moves. “Bubble Pop!”, meanwhile, placed an impressive #9 on SPIN Magazine’s “Best 20 songs of 2011.”
by Robert Michael Poole
Japan's capital is a place of unfathomable size, endless variety and constant movement, but just below the surface of this futuristic megalopolis is a surprising and delightful sense of calm.
In May, Tokyo became home to the world’s tallest freestanding broadcasting tower, the minaret like Skytree, atop which people gather to look out over this vast, teeming metropolis. It’s a collective hobby here, gazing out from on high, because of the peace, perhaps, the sense that one is removed from the crush of daily life.
It’s a meeting of the memes. Inside one of Shibuya’s biggest clubs, Japan’s happy-go-luckiest talent perches eagerly and wide-eyed on her high stool awaiting the arrival of Canada’s most cheerful pop star. After bounding into the room gleefully, Carly Rae Jepsen doesn’t disappoint. A nonstop frenzy of interviews and appearances in Tokyo has only seemed to energize her — the perfect counterpart to omnipresent idol of the moment, the eminently chirpy Rola.
by Robert Michael Poole
At twilight, Japan’s capital morphs into a neon wrapped playground, with bizarre juxtapositions and an incomparable aura illuminating the streets.
Robert Michael Poole shines the light on 20 must-try Tokyo activities to keep you busy after dark.
Tatsuya Kawagoe’s self-titled restaurant in Tokyo’s trendy Daikanyama district showcases the 39-year-old chef’s own Japanese take on Italian food. Case in point: His nama-fu meunière dish, which combines a Buddhist vegetarian ingredient—wheat gluten—with Western techniques.
After studying French cuisine at Osaka’s Tsuji Culinary Institute, Mr. Kawagoe worked in Kobe before heading to Tokyo in 2000 to focus on Italian cuisine, opening Tiara K Ristorante, then moving to his current restaurant in 2006. “Now people think I’m an Italian chef, but I don’t consider myself so. I’d rather create a new genre,” said the boyish-looking native of Miyazaki, a city on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu.
by Robert Michael Poole
The Palace Hotel Tokyo first opened its doors by the Imperial Palace’s moat in 1961, when buildings were forbidden to rise above 30 meters. Reopened in May after a $1.2 billion overhaul, the property has a new, 23-story design that towers over the home of the country’s figurehead, though it avoids overlooking it thanks to an ingeniously curved facade.
Fiona Kotur is a native New Yorker whose handbags sell at retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, Harvey Nichols and Harrods. Since 2002, however, she has called Hong Kong home. She spoke with the Journal about beating jet lag with prenatal vitamins (a tip she says works for men, too), balancing airport anonymity with style and making neighborhood discoveries in the dead of night.
by Robert Michael Poole
Nina Uchida returned to her birthplace of Japan after growing up in Seattle, and now recruits students around the globe for Temple University’s downtown Tokyo campus. The 31-year-old spoke to the Journal about sunrise jogs in Switzerland and heavy-metal hotels in Singapore.
Queen Elizabeth’s Jubilee celebrations are never complete without a rock star wielding an axe to inaugurate proceedings. For the Golden Jubilee in 2002 it was Queen’s Brian May atop Buckingham Palace. And for The British Embassy in Japan’s Diamond Jubilee party this month, the sword fell on the broad shoulders of Anglophile Tomoyasu Hotei. Not without good cause either. On his 50th birthday earlier this year, Hotei announced that he was about to embark on a challenge to start a new life in London.
by Robert Michael Poole
Inés Ligron spent 10 years discovering and coaching contestants for the Miss Universe pageant, helping to produce a semi-finalist, two runners-up and one winner, Riyo Mori, in 2007.
The Montpellier, France, native recently released “Ines Secret,” a DVD beauty-tip series in Japan, and previously worked with Tyra Banks and Milla Jovovich as IMG Models’ Asia-Pacific director. She spoke to the Journal about riding Harley-Davidsons in Hawaii, waking up next to strangers midflight and why you should always look great at an airport.
Based in Tokyo, Rosie Edmond travels everywhere from South Korea to Micronesia and the Marshall Islands for EducationUSA, a study-abroad program funded by the U.S. State Department.
The 37-year-old Los Angeles transplant spoke with the Journal about green-tea Kit Kats, color-coordinated packing and why she thinks airlines need professional food critics.
Now in its fourth year, the festival will show 26 films under its dual program categories, “Laugh” and “Peace.” Selections include movies from Hong Kong, India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and China, while guests include Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius from “The Artist”, British director Joe Cornish and actor Nick Frost from “Attack the Block”, and Korean director Kim Jung-Kwan and actress Han Ye-Seul from “Penny Pinchers”.
Mich Dulce, who counts British pop star Adam Ant and Japan Vogue editor Anna Dello Russo among her customers and was named “International Young Creative Entrepreneur” at London’s 2010 fashion week, works in a studio outside Manila but lives and handles marketing from London. Her designs often incorporate aspects of their wearers’ personality, and previous themes include saints and sinners, with references to religious imagery, and fairytale motifs such as kings and princesses.
This Phuket, Thailand, home has the biggest private pool in the area and a 300-foot stretch of beach to itself. The house was designed by Jean-Michel Gathy to fuse traditional Thai and contemporary design.
Tokyo-based American Ray Horacek is constantly on the go, traveling up to 30 times a year for his role as head of footwear creative and design for Puma Japan. He has been designing footwear for nine years, and today leads both Japan-based and global projects for Puma, while maintaining a career as a fine artist.
Here, the 31-year-old, who has also done stints in Europe, shares his thoughts on airline dining, bribery by chocolate and the virtues of colorful luggage.
Want a taste of two-century-old cooking? That’s what Nadaman, originally established in Osaka in 1830, serves up at its restaurant at the Shangri-La Hotel, Tokyo. Takahiko Yoshida stays true to the multi-course kaiseki tradition, offering a seasonal menu that draws its ingredients from across Japan.
“Here in Tokyo, we purchase the products in the height of their season, which other Nadamans may not be able to do,” says Mr. Yoshida. “As our food is very seasonal, this assists us in respecting food that can be eaten at the perfect time.”
Girls’ Generation is performing on CBS’s “The Late Show With David Letterman” tonight, the latest inroad by K-pop into the U.S. market.
The nine-piece pop act, which already plays to packed concert venues around Asia, will sing an English-language version of their male-baiting single “The Boys,” which was co-written by Teddy Riley, famed for his work with Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown and Usher.
Last October, the four-piece girl group 2NE1 debuted in Japan with six live shows in front of 70,000 fans—the latest product of a South Korean music machine that has already surged past the point of being just another East Asian fad. While “K-pop” has gained popularity as the catch-all term for a host of glossy boy and girl bands, 2NE1, with its signature tune, “Ugly,” represents K-hop, a budding movement that backs up its slick pop sheen with true R&B talent.
She only just left one of Japan’s most popular girl groups, but Ai Takahashi hasn’t wasted any time embarking on a solo venture.
Until Dec. 24, the 25-year-old plays the lead female in “Dance of the Vampires” at Tokyo’s Imperial Garden Theater. The play marks the 100th anniversary of the first Western-style theater in Japan and a return to the stage for the 1997 musical production of Roman Polanski’s original 1967 comedy-horror film. In the story, Professor Abronsius and his young sidekick Alfred set off to the Alps to try to prove that vampires exist, but find themselves in trouble when a local girl Alfred falls in love with is visited by a vampire.
by Robert Michael Poole
Scott MacKenzie has worked in television programming in Europe, the U.S. and Asia, and is now channel director at NBCUniversal in Tokyo. The 34-year-old American regularly travels around the region, as well as to his home country, to discover which new shows might work for a Japanese audience.
Squeezed between the two central Tokyo hubs of Shinjuku and Harajuku, Yoyogi is rarely a destination for tourists — more of a two-minute halt that breaks up the journey to somewhere else. But this month, ecological troubadour Takeshi Kobayashi, producer of multi-million-selling rock-band Mr. Children, opens the gates to Yoyogi Village, a multi-purpose melange of environmentally friendly stores, organic restaurants, coffee shops and event spaces he hopes will regenerate the overlooked district.
Korean actress Kim Tae Hee has been dubbed “Korea’s most beautiful woman,” and with the increasing success of Korean TV dramas in Japan, has become one of the pin-ups of the “hallyu wave” of Korean culture sweeping the nation.
Starting October 23, 2011, she becomes the first Korean to play a lead role in a Japanese TV drama, alongside Hidetoshi Nishijima, in “99 Days with a Star”. In the show, Kim Tae Hee plays Han Yoo-Na, a character seemingly based on herself. The romantic comedy on Fuji TV sees Yoo-Na, a beautiful and success actress from Korea, fall in love with her bodyguard from Japan as her career takes off in the country. Associated Press met with the lead co-stars to discuss how close to true life the possibility of such an affair could be.
It’s been two years since pop music guru Simon Cowell described her as “phenomenal” following her striking audition on “Britain’s Got Talent.” And for the most recognisable East-Asian to have appeared on the ratings juggernaut, it’s also been a long wait tinged with regret. But now Sue Son, back in Seoul and working on her own terms, is ready to step back into the limelight and prove that Korea isn’t only producing idol pop music, but that it’s a country offering genuine musical talent too.
Liam Gallagher and Beady Eye were self-effacing when describing their efforts to raise funds for the victims of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan. The group were in Japan during the six month anniversary of the disaster after the band’s original tour was postponed due to safety fears.
The band instigated a star studded benefit concert in London on April 3rd featuring Paul Weller, Primal Scream, Richard Ashcroft and Blur’s Graham Coxon to raise funds for the Japanese Red Cross. The earthquake and tsunami killed over 20,000 people after it struck at 2.46pm JST on March 11th, 2011.
Following the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Japan, photographer Leslie Kee, renowned for his celebrity portraits, began to document the aftermath. Six months later, he exhibited the photographs at a gallery in Omotesando Hills, central Tokyo. The exhibition, titled Love & Hope featured prominently a set of images with Japan’s most successful pop star, Ayumi Hamasaki. Joining the exhibition as a guest was actress Erika Sawajiri, Japan’s most talked about celebrity of the year, representing the first ever between meeting the two.
The K-Pop boom in Japan, known as the hallyu wave, seem to peak this summer, with the genre’s most popular group, Girls Generation, being given a headline slot at the largest rock festival in the country.
Summersonic, held over two days in mid-August at Makuhari Messe in Chiba, attracts over 100,000 people each year and is usually headlined by major rock and R&B acts. Nine-piece group Girls Generation prepared to take to the stage as a late addition to the line-up, which ended up as one the most attended shows of the festival. The girls discussed their development and training over many years, and how it has helped them prepare for the big stage across Asia, with upcoming shows in the US ahead.
Heavy metal band X Japan were formed in 1982, and took seven years to make their breakthrough. But after second album “Blue Blood,” they group went on to become one of Japan’s most successful acts of all time, performing regular shows at the 55,000 seater Tokyo Dome. In August 2011 the group, led by Yoshiki, performed at Japan’s largest rock festival, Summersonic. Associated Press spoke with him backstage after his appearance at Summersonic, about his new life in the United States.
Music-lovers attending Japan’s largest music festival, Summer Sonic, have become accustomed to catching sets by the world’s biggest musicians, from headliners Jay-Z and Beyoncé to Coldplay and My Chemical Romance. This year though, a special guest closed the show in Tokyo. Girls’ Generation is the first Korean act to close the Japanese festival, and follows in the footsteps of a previous late-night special guest, Lady Gaga.
Singaporean photographer Leslie Kee may be renowned for nude shots of celebrities, models and artists but when faced with the March 11 earthquake he was quick to turn his camera to the disaster, capturing and publicizing the aftermath, before devising a plan to raise money the best way he knew how. “I spent two days meeting soldiers, children, old people and it changed my life,” Kee said at the launch of “Love & Hope,” a ¥5,250 book containing his shots of the likes of Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Namie Amuro.
Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber met with student victims of the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in Tokyo on Wednesday. Bieber wished the nine students from the hardest hit areas of Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima a brighter future and invited them to his upcoming shows in Japan. Bieber also met with Jonathan T.Fried, the Ambassador of Canada to Japan and John V.Roos, the Ambassador of the U.S. to Japan who thanked Bieber for visiting Japan during difficult times and sending out a message about how special the local people are. Bieber is the biggest pop star to visit Japan since the March 11th disasters as many other acts have cancelled tours due to radiation fears.
In the middle of her recent Japan tour, pop superstar Kylie Minogue surprised her fans by announcing a new song on YouTube. The song, written by Japanese rapper and producer Verbal, is called “We Are One” and is the pair’s effort to try to raise donations for Unicef following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Verbal opened for Minogue during the Tokyo leg of her tour and the Australian singer found time to squeeze in promotion for their collaboration backstage.
Since holding aloft an Oscar for “Departures” — winner of Best Foreign Language Film in 2009 — Tokyo-based A-list actor Masahiro Motoki has been, in his own words, “a bit lost.” Speaking in an exclusive interview with CNN in trendy Aoyama on March 10, the man known as “Mokkun” revealed that in spite of having two wildly successful entertainment careers already under his belt, the big what-next question turns out to be as puzzling and curious for him as it does to his fans.
On a recent visit to the offices of Japanese public broadcaster NHK, the one-time A-list actress Honami Suzuki gives us her take on making a post-family return to acting at the grand old age of 44. Suzuki, once renowned for her portrayal of Rika Akana in the 1991 drama “Tokyo Love Story” has just made her comeback after 11 years out of the business.
On a chilly December evening, when most adults are getting ready to call it a day, little Seishiro Kato is on location and hard at work. Crowned and wearing a king’s costume, he stands amid a cluster of staff … and his mother. Just nine years old, Kato has fast become one of the most recognizable faces in Japan.
Japanese AV (adult video) actress Sola Aoi has made her debut as a singer — in China. The porn actress, who has built up a sizeable following in China in recent years, released “mai yu” (毛衣/ Sweater) yesterday via Chinese mobile phone networks and PC downloads sites.
Speaking to CNNGo, Aoi said, “I read language textbooks and listened to dialog CDs on my own. As for now, nothing new has been decided, but I’m willing to do something. I think I will visit China.” The song, sung in Mandarin, was recorded over two days with the help of an interpreter.
On February 5, viewers around Asia will get their first view of MTV’s first ever reality show developed in the region. “Shibuhara Girls,” produced in Tokyo, tells the tale of four aspiring young women aiming to make it in Japan’s entertainment industry. Here, two of the stars sit for their first ever interview about their, and the channel’s, tentative first steps into reality TV.
Yoko Ono caused a commotion at the Audi Forum in Harajuku on Friday when she walked in wearing her trademark black shades to announce a new photo exhibition.
Running from December 4, 2010 until January 5, 2011, the Kishin Shinoyama Photo Exhibition brings together intimate original images from the 1980 photo shoot for the cover of album “Double Fantasy,” featuring John Lennon and Yoko Ono kissing in front of The Dakota building in New York.
In Indonesia, the concept of green living is starting to take hold. This archipelago of more than 17,000 islands stretched along the equator is home to Bali, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and it has seen resorts, tourist facilities, ugly hotels, clubs and all the trimmings that go with those developed over the last several decades. Now, the island is not only pushing a trend to create structures that preserve the natural environment, it is also establishing new forms of education.
Tadanobu Asano is relaxed and composed, sitting over a huge desk at his management company’s offices in Harajuku. His hair is neat and trim, his knit jacket and jeans make him the picture of a man calm and content. He looks anything but the roguish bad boy that has filled the lead roles of so many indie Japanese films.
Since debuting in 2001, hip-hop boy band EXILE has slowly grown not only into the most dominant boy-band in Japan today, but also into one of Japan’s independent success stories by running their own management firm. They have increased in numbers too. On March 1, 2009 they merged with boy band J Soul Brothers to become a 14-strong unit. With their dark-tans, slick hair and surly looks, EXILE have stood out from the crowd of usual feminine J-pop boy bands. They have also excelled in dance.
Perched meekly on a sofa in an Omotesando lounge, a dainty Maki Horikita is revealed as a shy but determined character as she prepares for a new challenge in an already award-winning career.
Dressed in vibrant blue, she looks sparkling compared to the intentionally scruffy images of her in the past. She is preparing for her upcoming role as Joan of Arc in a play of the same name at Akasaka Act theater, running from November 30 until December 19. It’ll be the first time Horikita, 22, steps into live performing, having established herself as one of Japan’s most dependable TV drama and film actresses.
The Jacksons, brothers Jackie, Tito, Marlon and Jermaine, will perform on stage next October for a Michael Jackson tribute concert series that starts with two shows in Tokyo. The announcement of the shows was made via a produced video during a special 10th anniversary performance of Japanese R&B star A.I.
A.I. will emcee the shows and sing with the brothers, and spoke exclusively to CNN. She will also be recording new tracks with The Jacksons in early 2011.
Just days before Japan Fashion Week, fashion behemoth Louis Vuitton tried to steal the early limelight with a party in the Lady Gaga-christened Tabloid. Celebrities turned out en masse, with models, singers and actors from around Asia, all dressed in the brand’s designs, treading the green carpet for two hours.
The mafia may be strong, but Tokyo Dandy is also a force to be reckoned with, having emerged as one of the most popular fashion blogs to come from Japan. Tokyo Dandy is equal parts Dan, 29, from York, England, and his Japanese compatriot Joe Kazuaki, 29, from Okinawa.
The two started the site to bilingually showcase their favorite fashion topics and post photos from parties and events that Dan took after sneaking into them. Now they are guests of honor at said receptions and have been invited to blog awards and events in Florence, New York City and New Zealand.
South Korean TV and movie star Kim Tae-Hee never thought she’d be so popular. Not for acting anyway. Recently she has been lauded for her fine performances not only in her homeland, but across the waters in Japan where her popularity is rising fast. But without an acting background it’s not been a smooth journey to the top, as she reveals in a rare English language interview.
“Restricting talented people is the biggest problem in the entertainment business in Japan,” says 24-year-old Erika Sawajiri. “This is the 21st century and it has to change.”
The sheer frankness of the enigmatic model, actress and singer is certainly an unusual, and I must say refreshing, occurrence in conservative Japan. She has gained a reputation as a difficult, thorny character. But now, in her first ever English-language interview, Sawajiri simply comes across as honest, direct and passionate about changing how Japanese entertainers are treated by their agencies.
25 years into their career, Norwegian pop trio a-ha recently brought their final tour through Tokyo, with a show at the city’s largest music festival, Summersonic. Speaking at their luxury Shinjuku hotel, the band reminisced at the special treatment and loyalty Western acts receive in Japan.
Miss Universe Japan has been one of the most successful entrants in recent years in the Miss Universe competition, run by Donald Trump since 1996. With one semi-finalist, two runners up and one winner since 2003, it’s no wonder eyes are on this year’s contestant, Maiko Itai, as she prepares for the final on August 23 in Las Vegas, Nevada in the United States.
CNNGo caught up with her during training shortly before the 26-year-old flew out for her final preparations.
Getting time to sit down with celebrity photographer Leslie Kee during his utterly hectic schedule to speak in detail about his career was the easy part: getting him to stop speaking requires a trickier sleight of hand.
The Singapore-born and Tokyo-based Kee has a thick resume, photographing such uber-celebs as Ayumi Hamasaki, Zhang Ziyi, Kumi Koda, Choi Ho Jin and Beyonce among countless others for magazines, books, posters and commercials. Recently, his proclivity for taking photos of subjects unclothed and au naturale has sent shock waves through conservative Asia, but Kee sees it as a revelation and hopefully a revolution in an entertainment and fashion industry that lacks aesthetic diversity.
Japanese actress Meisa Kuroki talks to CNNGo about Jolie’s strong but vulnerable persona, and how the American has provided her with inspiration for her own life and career.
Fast-rising Japanese actress and singer Kuroki spoke to CNNGo seconds after stepping off stage with Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, in Tokyo to promote her latest film, “Salt”. “I first saw her in [1999 psychological drama] ‘Girl Interrupted’ and that is still my favorite film of hers,” reveals Kuroki, who says she has been inspired by Jolie’s background and lifestyle.
This year from July 1 to 4, an estimated 180,000 people visited the Paris Nord Villepinte in Paris, a near 60-fold increase on the 3,200 who came to see the first Paris Japan EXPO in 1999. As the scale of the event has increased, showcasing anime, fashion, cosplay, traditional Japanese ikebana and minyo and live music, so has the level of the guests of honor, this year attracting all-girl pop group Morning Musume.
On March 1st 2010, Japanese R&B singer MISIA was appointed Honorary Ambassador for the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity by the U.N. Secretary General. It was the result and recognition of years of work by the 32-year-old, who remains one the most successful pop singers across Asia in the last 10 years.
Cheerful and playful at their Shibuya studio, the four women of Speed have the energy and excitement of a debutant J-pop girl group. Yet their joviality masks the fact that they’re veterans of the most successful female Japanese group of all time. Between forming in 1996 and splitting up in 2000, Takako Uehara, Eriko Imai, Hitoe Arakaki and Hiroko Shimabukuro sold over 20 million records. Ten years later, as they prepare for a reunion tour, the women of Speed are all still in their 20s.
“We were talking with each other like ordinary 20-something girls over dinner,” says Uehara. “It had been about seven years since we’d stood on stage together, and I knew I needed to remember I was ‘Takako Uehara of Speed.’”
Tibetan singer Alan Dawa Dolma will fulfill a dream when she steps onto the stage on July 23 at Shibuya Bunkamura Orchard Hall. Having studied the traditional erhu at both the Sichuan Conservatory of Music and the Art Academy in Beijing, the fast-rising singer will this time be backed with a symphonic band as she shows off her distinctive Tibetan wail amongst her repertoire of J-Pop, ballads and traditional songs.
It’s the people that make a place, so we’ve selected 20 of the top talents in Japan from the worlds of entertainment, business, sport and more who are shining brightly this year. Topping the list is actress Erika Sawajiri, the name on everyone’s lips. See who else made the rundown.
Halfway through the first-ever Girls Award fashion show at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Stadium last month, 22-year-old Meisa Kuroki strides down the catwalk, glistening in a sleeveless gold dress and black stockings while delivering her pulsing dance tune ‘‘Shock.’’ The face of a hundred magazine covers and countless TV dramas then blasts the 10,000-strong audience with her new single, ‘‘5-Five-,’’ her confidence belying that fact that this is her live debut.
“I’ve always been a fan of MTV,” says 25-year-old ICONIQ. “Living in Korea I watched it every day, and in America I was addicted to ‘America’s Best Dance Crew.’” With her trademark baby-short hair and bold lyrical statements about women going through dramatic changes, ICONIQ leaped into the public’s consciousness in January this year when she became the face of cosmetic giant Shiseido’s Maquillage range of cosmetics only a month after making her professional debut in Japan. After that, her strikingly androgynous appearance soon became ubiquitous on both TV and billboards.
The five young members of 4Minute sit dressed in tight, black leather outfits at a luxury hotel in Ebisu, Tokyo. It’s one day before their Japanese debut, but they show no signs of nerves. The group’s first concert here, at the 1,500-capacity Shibuya AX, turned out to be impressively packed to the rafters with screaming teenage girls. More notably, though, was the large number of music industry representatives also in attendance. This comes despite the fact the girls have not yet released any music in Japan.
“There’s a whole bigger world out there than what we are doing,” says jazz pianist and vocalist Emi Meyer. “Studying roots music and ethnomusicology always kept me open-minded.” Born in Kyoto, but raised in Seattle, 23-year-old Meyer is exploring new musical genres for her sophomore album, “Passport.” She has teamed up with Japanese rapper and producer Shingo Annen, known to his fans as Shing02, for a journey that encompasses bossa nova, reggae and hip-hop. Annen describes the amalgamation as “an organic fusion of culture and styles.”
Dressed in a light floral ensemble at her record label’s office in the upscale Aoyama district, J-pop starlet May J has a look that can only be described as “free-spirit chic.” Yet she seems more concerned with a side of herself that fans can’t see.
“I have to go to Iran and find my other roots,” she declares. “I want to debut in Iran, if it’s possible. I hope I can be a positive image for Iranians.”
“We want to establish our reputation as a rock band rather than a ‘female’ rock band. But I’ve noticed there are big differences in feeling between men and women and it seems to be easier to convey how we feel and get into the rhythm as girls.” So says Eriko Hashimoto, 26, vocalist of melodic-rock trio Chatmonchy, who since 2005 have reached the upper-echelons of the Japan charts with three gritty, emotional, yet vivacious albums.
“Songs these days have become a lot shorter because people don’t seem to have time to listen to whole songs anymore,” laments Takanori Nishikawa, vocalist of Abingdon Boys School. “They just (listen to) their favorite part and then skip to another song.” Nishikawa is hoping the public can get over their collective attention-deficit disorder and give Abingdon Boys School’s newest album, “Abingdon Road,” a proper start-to-finish listen.
“I’m obsessed by soul,” says Emi Tawata. “It’s the sound of a band with human emotions on their sleeves.” And if it’s soul you’re after, the 25-year-old Okinawan singer has got plenty to go around—along with blues, jazz, R&B, and a seriously funky hairstyle. All are very much in evidence on her recently released debut album, Sings, which marks the end of a long ride that started with a street jazz band in Vancouver.
“First of all, I am a Tibetan, 100 percent,” says singer Alan Dawa Zhuoma, more commonly known by her stage name alan. “I’ll never forget the many Chinese teachers and friends who gave me knowledge and encouraged me while I studied in Chengdu and Beijing, but wherever I go, I am Tibetan and I always remember it.” Preparing for this month’s release of her sophomore album, “my life,” the 22-year-old alan says she has discovered herself after living in Tokyo for two years.
“It’s like a meteorite flow” says Verbal of his group’s name. “I spelled it ‘mediarite’ because I thought we would hit with a big impact in the media and surprise the unsuspecting masses with some good music. I think it worked better than I anticipated.” m-flo, the combination of DJ Taku Takahashi and rapper Young-Kee Yu, better known as Verbal, have become one of Japan’s premier hip-hop production teams over the past 10 years. They’re also the go-to collaborators for a string of the nation’s leading pop vocalists.
“There is still some racial thing going on,” claims a mild-mannered Crystal Kay. “Some people can’t accept there are a lot of foreigners out there, even in the industry.” The 23-year-old is the original pioneer for interracial artists in Japan, and with eight top-10 albums under her belt, she is currently celebrating 10 years in the business with her first ‘‘Best of’’ collection and a tour. Effortlessly glamorous in the office of her record company in Nogizaka in the Minato district of Tokyo, she is charming and modest about her impact on a J-pop scene that is increasingly discovering mixed-race acts.
Since 1999, Wyolica has been hailed by critics for its melancholic “folky soul,” crafting a hitherto unknown sound summed up in the title to second album Almost Blues. After a greatest hits compilation in 2004, though, they slipped off the radar, working on various solo projects and collaborations. But 2009 began with a new mini-album, Balcony, and soon the idea of letting the decade pass unnoticed began to prey on vocalist Azumi’s mind.
Opinions on Yoko Ono usually fall into two categories: antipathy or aggressive defense. What many music critics miss is the fact that, unlike most musicians who use songs to convey their emotions, Ono is a conceptual artist who began using the medium as a mere canvas for her imagination. Her music, then, simply doesn’t make sense to those listening for emotive melodies or an angelic voice.
“I find beauty in the dark side or in people’s anger!’” confesses a boisterous Anna Tsuchiya. Surprisingly, Japan’s choice wild-child actress, model and singer did not talk about herself egotistically, but merely justified her love of Chopin over Mozart: ‘‘When I (first) listened to Chopin’s ‘The Revolution’, I thought classical music is rock music’’ she says. ‘‘It was beautiful and I wanted to go into rock!’’ Tsuchiya, 25, is gearing up for her performance at the New Classic Gig, a unique live event that sees unlikely musicians paired with a full orchestra, all as part of a fashion show directed by creator Hideki Matsui.
Michael Jackson’s musical influence reached all corners of the globe — and Japan too. Artists across genres and generations have all spoken about the loss of one of the music industry’s all-time greats.
More than 40,000 people are expected to gather in Los Angeles between July 2 and July 5 for the largest anime, manga and games convention in North America, Anime EXPO. Despite reports suggesting Japan’s most ubiquitous cultural export might have peaked, AX is in it’s 18th year and is expecting another record turnout. According to estimates from the Japan External Trade Organization, the American market for Japanese anime-related products peaked in 2003 at $4.8 billion and has fallen ever since, to just $2.8 billion in 2007.
“I think that you can convey a fact by words, but you can not convey the truth only with those words,” says Misia, taking a break from recording sessions in Tokyo’s Shibuya district. “And I believe music is what can fill it out.” The dreadlocked soul-singer has recently embarked on two trips that have affected her outlook on life, as well as the message of her songs. A live tour last year saw her perform around some of Asia’s other metropolises: Taipei, Shanghai, Singapore, Seoul and Hong Kong. But it was her trips to some of Africa’s most deprived hot spots that left a lasting impression.
“I believe in my voice as a singer,” declares Mika Nakashima, alluding to the three words tattooed in English around her right wrist. ‘Trust your voice,’ in a broad sense, means we should accept everything and believe in many things. I learned this in New York and developed myself in many ways that I don’t want to ever forget.” Her management looks on a little displeased. “I knew I’d be reprimanded for getting tattoes if I told them I was going to do it! But that’s why the tour is called ‘Trust Our Voice.’ “
2009 is seemingly shaping up to be the year when the internet’s threat to sound the death knell for the traditional entertainment industry is finally about to ring true. With each passing month, systems like Veoh, Vuse, Bittorrent and Crunchy Roll have made TV and film available to the masses, while iTunes domination of downloads is now facing the threat of Spotify, which offers streaming that requires no ownership of music at all, just an unlimited jukebox.
Is the digital age the end of an era for popular music and entertainment? Or just another step in its natural evolution as it tries to keep pace with technological development. There seems to be a consensus amongst copyright owners and creators that at no previous time has anyone been so unsure of where we will be ten years from now. But when the history of cinema, music and animation is just a matter of decades old, stability has always been out of reach, no matter how desired.
‘Half of my quarter of a century belongs to music, so I never belonged to anything else,’’ says Welsh songstress Duffy. ‘‘I feel very able and ready!’’ The blonde bombshell was in Tokyo for her first full-length live show in Japan — at Shibuya AX on March 17 — and is still basking in the success of her debut album, ‘‘Rockferry,’’ released in March 2008. Three BRIT awards and one Grammy later, the old-school soul singer is the lady of the moment, with 5.5 million album sales to her name.
“It has always been my dream to debut in America!” BoA announces gleefully. “Every Asian artist has that dream of Hollywood or the Billboard chart, and this is the perfect time to go to America.” This week, South Korean singer BoA becomes the latest Asian star to attempt to make it in the West with the release of her self-titled all-English language album. Having debuted in her homeland aged just 13, the 22-year-old has already come far, becoming the first Korean to hit No. 1 in Japan, where her first six albums reached the top spot, as well as recording in Mandarin Chinese.
Media and its reporters these days are often regarded suspiciously at best, and as vermin at worst. The term ‘paparazzi’ actually comes from the name of a news photographer in Federico Fellini’s classic 1960 film, La Dolce Vita. The character Paparazzo had been supposedly so-named by the director from an Italian dialect meaning ‘mosquito’, describing an annoying noise.
Most artists dream of longevity, but few are afforded significant time in the limelight. The paradox of all-girl group Morning Musume, 12 years since they began, is the enforced time-limit its members face in order for the group to remain forever young. Generation eight of the group, with nine members, is the longest-running incarnation so far, celebrating its two-year anniversary this month. Yet under the tutelage of producer Tsunku, “graduation” is likely never far away.
In the past couple of months I’ve been fortunate to see entertainment in its many guises, from Christmas TV in the UK, to New Year nightlife in Thailand, J-Pop concerts and gypsy theatre in Tokyo, Broadway shows in New York, film studios and the Grammys in LA, and some of the world’s best magic and circus shows in Las Vegas. Entertainment, more than any other time in human history, seems to be everywhere, accessible all the time.
Lush, extravagant and star-studded. From a home sofa, the music industry’s biggest back-slapping event, The Grammy Awards, seems like a glorious red-carpeted affair, a paean to the most talented artists of the year in a reverential atmosphere. In reality though, The Staples Center in Los Angeles, more renowned as a sports arena, is as intimate as an Olympic opening ceremony, and the eulogies to god & inspiration echo fall mostly on deaf ears. The problem with music’s most prestigious event, is that like too much of today’s music product, it’s lost its soul.
“I search for answers a lot in life when I feel like I don’t know which way to go or what’s right or wrong,” says singer-songwriter Angela Aki. “So I turn to the piano and search for the answers through songs, and I figured in the end that the searching process has all the answers you are truly looking for.” Born in Itano, a town of 14,600 in rural Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku Island, to a Japanese father, Kiyoshi Aki, cofounder of the AEON English-school chain, and an Italian-American mother, 31-year-old Aki’s turbulent life story, which took her to the United States and back again, has handed her more questions than most.