JAPANESE CHRONICLES | How music connects people in Japan

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It was December 25th 2013 in Shinjuku. After the final epic date of Perfume’s LEVEL3 Dome Tour, I decided to go alone for dinner and then chill at the hotel for a while, to relax a moment and decide what to do later. But time passed, and right before I was going to sleep, I received a message from a friend of mine that asked to join him in a Perfume party in Shinjuku, just near my hotel. Of course I accepted immediately, and in a minute I was out in the cold of the wonderful Tokyo night. Once I met with him, we reached the place where the party already started: It was an underground place in one of the main streets near Studio Alta, and after we entered and walked down the stairs, we reached a room with a bar, a small dance floor, and about fifteen people: There was a DJ playing Perfume’s songs and also videos on all the walls, for a pretty calm but cool atmosphere. In just half an hour, though, the situation got way hotter as more DJs joined the party and the volume started to rise, and so I ended up half drunk dancing with people I had never met before, laughing and singing like there was no tomorrow, and as grand finale, everyone took positions and started dancing to Akihabalove all together in perfect synchronization; It was an incredible sight, and seeing them having so much fun and sharing the same passion and love for this group has been exciting and wonderful. It was pure and genuine fun, and yes, everything was full of love.

Another funny episode happened with some friends in a rock bar in Shibuya called Rockaholic, where you can sit down, have a drink, and request songs to the DJ while rock and metal music blasts your ears. It was a Saturday night, so around 11pm all the people inside the bar was so drunk that madness took over the place and everyone started to jump, scream and hug (?) each other to tracks of groups like Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. It was kinda sudden, really, but so beautiful that I didn’t even wondered why: I just enjoyed it. I went back there alone once and still had a blast, chatted with a girl for a while and failed in getting her contact, literally drank and screamed like a mad man with the guys at the bar (that broke three bottles in ten minutes) and met an US army dude outside the bar, where we talked about life and our futures.

I’ll never see all those people again, but instead of being sad about it, I believe that’s what makes these experiences so special. Because while I’m here miles away from them writing alone in this room and aware they all probably forgot about me, they’re still part of the reason why I travel to Japan and love its music and people so much. Little experiences make great memories, and music is the bond that creates and keeps them together, and music is everywhere in Japan: Like a world inside a world, a secret place where to share our passion and have fun, while the entire city outside keeps its eyes on everyone and takes care of us at the same time.

You don’t only listen to music in Japan. You live it.

– Alex

Five songs to listen to while walking in the Tokyo night

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As a huge lover of Tokyo and Japan since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the variousness and unique environment of Japan’s capital: From the contrast between tradition and technology to the magic atmosphere surrounding the streets, this beautiful city is a place where anyone can find something to love whatever your passion is, and more than anyone, passion is something Japanese people care to cultivate and keep close in their lives. This means there are many ways to enjoy Tokyo, and while today Music is the main engine behind my passion towards this city and country, it is also the art form that keeps me closer to the city I had the luck to visit twice. Music is the most powerful art form there is, its sound can create images and visions in our minds, and when this power is combined with the magic and particular aspect of Tokyo, the result is unique and magical. When I wasn’t strolling around or attending concerts with my friends, I loved to walk alone by night in Shinjuku, because there’s nothing more hypnotizing than Tokyo by night, and during my neon-bathed long walks in one of the biggest districts of Tokyo I always had my headphones on, emphasizing what I was experiencing one second after another with Music.

And so, these are the five tracks I listened to the most while I was walking surrounded by lights, skyscrapers and thousands of people. When I listen to them today I can visualize and feel the magic of that place inside me, and I hope you’ll feel the same wether you’ve been to the Japanese capital or not. Pur your headphones on and enjoy these tunes.


5. Ayumi Hamasaki – Monochrome (Remo-con Classic Trance Remix)

Sadly, only the instrumental version is available online. Try to get the normal ver. though, it’s awesome!

Even though I appreciate some of her earlier works, I can’t really say I’m a fan of Ayu. Still, the Trance remixes of many of her songs are a total blast, and the fact that I’ve always had a soft spot for this atmospheric genre (even in my metalhead days) helps a lot, and the compilations composed by DJs and producers that gave a different perspective on Ayu’s tracks are absolutely worth listening if you’re a fan of the genre. And what other than Trance can represent the neon-lights, Blade Runner-like streets of the Tokyo night the best? This revisitation of Ayumi Hamasaki‘s classic Monochrome is atmospheric trance at its best and a track that summons lots of images in my mind, particularly of Odaiba and the ride on the Yurikamome Line to reach it through the stunning Rainbow Bridge. That hook halfway the track kills me everytime.

4. Sakanaction – Eureka

While Trance is a genre that suits the Tokyo night atmosphere perfectly, that doesn’t mean other genres can’t reach the same level of emotionality, and Sakanaction‘s beautiful Eureka is a great example. This track and its wonderful video (the band’s artistic peak in visuals) is itself a tribute to Tokyo, and it fits the atmosphere of the city in a more emotional and moving way, but not any less powerful. The hook at the end makes my cry a little bit every time: I see it as an hymn to this city, a declaration of love to its streets and majestic buildings and to all the people walking and giving life to it. The lovely Nippori and its little side streets full of shops are what comes to my mind the most when listening to this wonderful track.

3. Ayami Muto – Symphony N. 1 in B flat Major

This track from nostalgic Idol singer Ayami Muto is a masterpiece of synth-pop and one of my favorites of this year. Flawless composition with every single element at the right place, Symphony N.1 in B Flat Major‘s revolutionary and magic vibe makes this upbeat and exciting track a must when walking around in the Tokyo night, especially in the shining streets of Shibuya and Shinjuku. Pure excitement and energy, you need this pop masterpiece in your life.

2. Oomori Seiko – Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu

We all know this girl is as crazy as talented, and this track from her amazing second album Zettai Shoujo is the best showcase of her rebel yet lovely attitude. Midnight Seijun Isei Kouyuu is one of her best – if not the best – track of her vast musical portfolio: Its got a revolutionary vibe to it,  and the dreamy melodies and Seiko’s heartfelt interpretation make this piece one of the best things you could ever hear when walking around Tokyo, especially if you’re in a “I’m looking for a relationship” mood.

1. capsule – Never Let Me Go

This track is probably the least complex from a mere technical and annoying-music-journalist point of view, yet it’s the one that hits me right in the feels the most for a reason I can barely describe. It’s a song that summons images of Shinjuku’s Studio Alta, of Kabuki-cho, of water reflecting the neon lights, of a girl that will never come back. It’s probably due to a strong emotional bond that capsule’s Never Let Me Go is the track that almost brings me to tears and makes me feel the distance between me and Tokyo the most. It’s sad, but also good in a way, because it holds the power of memories that makes us go forward in life. Nakata’s fresh synths and the hypnotizing voice of Toshiko here represent the Tokyo night at its best to me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I do.


What do you think about these tracks? Do they make you travel with your mind to the shiny lights of Tokyo, or reminisce your time in Japan? Let me know down here in the comments!

– Alex

Japanese labels, Music Videos and Singles: The nonsense marketing that will unavoidably end

I could spend all day listing all the things I love about Japanese music, and thankfully they represent a good 80% of the overall opinion I have on the world’s second biggest music market. The annoying facts representing the remaining percentage still come to bother me from time to time though, one of these represented by the controversial method of the Short Music Videos and all the nonsense marketing behind videos promoting Singles, a type of release still alive and pretty well in the Land of the Rising Sun.

If you’re familiar with Japanese music, you probably know the pattern used by pretty much most of the artists and labels: One or two weeks prior the release of a new single, a Short MV that usually varies from thirty seconds to two minutes is uploaded on the group’s YouTube channel in order to give the fans a sneak peek and “promote” the upcoming release, an uncommon method that rarely gets adopted in other music markets. While anticipations are always welcomed by fans, a question still automatically raises from everyone: Why not just upload the Full Music Video?

The answer is to search in the release itself. Most singles in the Japanese market come in two editions, Regular and Limited, the latter usually featuring a bonus DVD with the Full Music Video for the A-side track, and here’s where the problem lies. By uploading short MVs on the web, labels keep the Full videos exclusive (or so they think) to the above mentioned DVD, in the hope to boost sales for the most expensive version of the single. Now, let me ask you: how on earth is a low quality Music Video on DVD, an almost dead format created twenty years ago, the selling point of a release? Simply, it’s not. Yet labels are convinced this is a legit commercial method, and as a huge Perfume fan owning all their Limited Edition singles, I can tell you that I’ve never ever put one of those useless DVDs in a… oh wait, I don’t have a DVD reader since 2009.

It’s pretty clear that this dead format is a counter-productive choice for labels and an useless addition for fans. They just don’t need to be there anymore, except to make the price of a Limited Edition higher, or, more precisely, to be the Limited Edition. Singles are still a strong entity in Japan, so wouldn’t it just better for anyone to drop this DVD ridiculousness and for the sake of technology adopt Blu-Rays with real exclusive content and upload the Full videos on YouTube to gather new fans? Certain artists (mainly from the Idol world) started to feature Blu-Ray discs in singles with HD quality footage, while others are slowly starting to upload Full music videos to their channels (making the Limited DVDs absolutely useless) but still, it’s clear that the difficult relationship between Japanese labels and video quality and this thing called Internet is an actual problem afflicting way too many artists. There are still many official Music Videos released in low quality, and groups that heavily rely on visuals like Sakanaction and Perfume made the jump to high definition only in the last few months. Again, this year some niche artists like pop singer Ayami Muto released Live shows exclusively on DVD format shamelessly sold at the price of a Blu-Ray, for the will of labels milking money as much as possible without investing on the quality, which is unacceptable and also disrespectful other than being a commercial suicide. Fans are not stupid as labels like to think. Who on earth would pay 8,000 Yen for a 360p video in 2015? No one. So I hope they’ll realize that video quality is not a selling point for releases, where legit content in an acceptable video quality (for our times) is the only thing that matters if you really want to keep it old school and sell physical copies of singles.

I’d really love to see labels in Japan shifting away from this prehistoric method and start treating fans with more respect, a necessary move to make a step forward that would benefit for both sides. And even though they’ll keep going on with this ridiculous trend made of short Music Videos, 360p footage and DVDs, the Japanese industry will see itself shrinking in no time together with their “World’s second biggest music industry” title if they don’t start keeping up with times. This old school approach is a comfortable guarantee for easy cash, but people is not stupid, and no matter what, times will change in Japan too.

– Alex

The mysteries behind Perfume’s “Spending all my Time”

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Sometimes I need a break from all the new music my ears absorb everyday, and despite being one of the things I love the most in my work, I think our “favorite artists” perfectly fit in this need of laying down with familiar sounds, which is basically the reason why yesterday I found myself watching the entire Perfume videography. I didn’t watch some of these Music Videos for years, and looking at them again I still feel that unique sensation you get when discovering something special, representing a pleasant and much needed revisitation imposed by the fact that my favorite artists are the ones I listen to the less. While this may surely sound like a contradictory statement, I’m convinced that an artist permanently looped every single day kinda loses its charm, at least in the way we perceive it once our ears get overly used to it.

And so, while browsing Perfume’s YouTube channel to watch their most recent videos, I stumbled upon 2012’s hit Spending all my Time, second single under Universal Music and the one that divided the entire fandom for its western sound and notorious repetitiveness. Despite loving overly repetitive compositions (‘sup Daft Punk) at first I couldn’t enjoy this track as I was failing in finding a real meaning in it, but once I listened to a decent quality of it (e.g not a radio rip) and finally watched the Music Video, I totally fell in love with it.

The video in particular is the main reason why the artistic value behind Spending all my Time was and still is so stuck in my head today: It’s hypnotizing, cryptic, mysterious, all qualities that are a magnet for the fans eager to understand the concepts behind a group. Just trying to grasp the several meanings and messages both these girls and their artistic team tried to convey blows your mind, and shows not only the talent of Team Perfume, but also the artistic power of visuals applied to music, a field where the three girls from Hiroshima represent Japan’s finest.

This song and its music video were released shortly after Perfume announced their label shift and finally opened to the world, releasing their singles globally other than finally being present in Social Networks, all basic actions denied after years under a label that helped them be the huge act they are today but also clipped their wings when they tried to avoid the stagnant routine of Japanese groups.

The Spending all my Time music video is (probably) the representation of their pre-Universal situation, and it’s made in such a cryptic and detailed way that after three years fans still haven’t completely figured out all the meanings behind this greatly shot video. Several interpretations of these looped (but slightly different every time) scenes have surfaced over the years, though: A-chan knocking and trying to open a locked door is seen as a metaphor of the girls’ will of spreading their music to the world yet finding themselves trapped inside a room, where the room itself is a metaphor of the dangerous stagnation of the artists’ routine in the Japanese market, that sees several acts struggling to spread their works overseas due to some labels’ rigidness. A-chan and Nocchi joining their hands can be interpreted as the will of getting in touch with their fans outside Japan, while Nocchi and Kashiyuka doing cryptic gestures with their hands to each other is seen as the impossibility to communicate with foreign realities due to language barriers. Kashiyuka’s hands movements destroying objects (pointing several times to her head) translate into the power of their music and love tearing down the barriers between different cultures, while her hand movements on the table and the consequent oppressive look at an imposing figure in front of her implies the will of “flying away” and adventuring into new territories denied by someone higher and more powerful than her (that can be interpreted as their previous label). Lastly, the scene where A-chan is making objects fly while staring at them is particularly interesting: I see these objects (the flower in particular) representing the identity of Perfume as one of the biggest and most influential groups in Japanese music, manipulated by A-chan as the founder of the group: In a particular scene, she’s sitting down with the flower floating in front of her while she’s looking the other way, a metaphor of A-chan acknowledging the power of what she created in her country yet still looking somewhere else (overseas) to then look back at the flower, showing the desire of expanding the project she created abroad.

There are more and more details to be analyzed in this video (the numbers on their arms, Nocchi’s powers, and so on) and yes, trying to find the real meaning behind this cryptic music video it’s genuinely funny. When music and visuals are merged with such synchronicity and offer a wide interpretation of an artistic output it’s not only pleasant and satisfying, but also a great representation of the group’s personality, conveying feelings in an indirect way to let the fans use their imagination and consequentially making them feel closer to the artist. It’s pretty fantastic.

Oh, and I’m glad they finally unlocked that door in the end.

– Alex

The controversy of Music journalism in Japan

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I wrote my first review when I was thirteen. Back then my main passion were Videogames, a medium I still keep very close to myself today that now finds itself at the second place of the most influent art forms in my life, where Music now steadily holds the top of my personal list. I still remember those times clearly: I used to write the draft on paper to then rewrite the final review on my father’s Pentium 133mhz. At first I didn’t work for any website, so the only reason why I was doing it was to express my opinions on certain works and let my passion flow through words, where the impossibility of sharing my point of views in a small italian town where no one cared about this medium was weighing on me as much as today.

Fifteen years later, I’m writing articles and reviews in english about Japanese music. Since I discovered this industry five years ago, my point of view on this medium has changed drastically, formerly tied to the stereotypes that too often lurk in the Western markets. I found an open minded approach to this important form of art and a never-ending series of valid artists that gave new life to my passion for music and for a country I always loved since I was a child. After the initial period full of excitement and great discoveries, though, some controversies came to light, and as a passionate writer the first thing that I couldn’t avoid to notice was the worrying lack of information on music. I’m talking about the way Japanese music headlines cover music, a controversial scenario where every information seems to be available for everyone, but lacks in consistence and relevant content.

There are many examples that can be subject to analysis. Some of the most famous websites are news-only portals, usually tied to labels and companies to support breaking news and announcements of groups. It’s something mostly noticeable with triple A artists: whenever these acts make an announcement live, to make an example, the news is instantly up on these sites, showing an obvious link with labels showcased through brief articles written in a cold and systematic way that unavoidably make these headlines look like support bots to spread and promote artists under particular companies.  Updates are obviously a fundamental aspect in music journalism, and while even such sites are needed to spread basic informations on the industry’s happenings, news and interviews are pretty much the only source of music knowledge fans can get in Japan, except for a few english-written websites based in the country that offer a way more complete coverage. It’s understandable in a way: news take little time and can bring lots of visitors, making the vision of a a big audience gained in little time not far from reality, with the fame gained through this system acting as benefit for the websites that obtain an iconic status that people and artists alike rely to.

But what about articles regarding the many aspects and the state of the Japanese music industry? What about reviews analyzing music? That’s where the worst part kicks in.

Simply put, Japan doesn’t judge nor analyze its music and artists. No headline in the land of the rising sun will tell you if an album is good or bad, leading to the most disheartening scenario I’ve ever seen, which is people not caring about the quality of music. Someone would still buy the last Kyary Pamyu Pamyu single because of her huge popularity and not for the quality of the compositions featured in it, which is very low in this case. Another clear example is the case of Ayumi Hamasaki: one of the most famous and successful singers of Japan has seen a huge decline in popularity during the last years, yet, when asking for opinions about it to the fans, most complaints are aimed towards her age, her tormented sentimental life, her posts on twitter, and so on. Only few mention what actually is the reason behind it, which is overly uninspired music.

This obviously doesn’t mean people in Japan don’t have opinions on the quality of music. Many of them just don’t extern it. The cause of it is to search in the lack of an environment, identity or website that criticizes music and pushes people to discuss and face debates on the subject, probably the most beautiful thing that there is in having a passion. If no one talks about it, if there are no voices praising the artistic value of music, people is not inclined to do so. What’s worse, most headlines mainly use their popularity and iconic status to publish gossips on the artists’ private lives, which is a worrying situation that puts futile and disrespectful content before music: Would an artist be more offended by leaked informations about his/her private life, or by a negative yet fairly critical review?

All of this leads to a final question: Why Japanese headlines don’t care about analyzing music? My opinion here, that’s widely open to discussion as a very personal one, is tied to a particular aspect of the Japanese culture, that sees the individual avoiding harsh confrontations with others to avoid disappointment and incomprehensions. I apply the same concept to Japanese websites, not analyzing the quality of music in order to avoid controversies with labels, fans and artists, yet feasting on gossips to attract a certain part of the audience, a controversial behavior that sees benefit only from the mere commercial standpoint, leaving behind the passion and the art that permeates music.

The truth is, judging music is a weight on a website’s conscience. Reviews can be enormously supportive or brutally truthful, and highly influent on the general public. Japanese headlines don’t want to deal with this uncomfortable burden, creating an environment where journalists as well as the audience don’t care about discussing music quality. And knowing how I always struggled with this issue due to the reality of a hundred inhabitants town, it’s really sad to see the same situation in a huge market full of innovative artists like the Japanese music industry.

– Alex

Never give up girls | The history of Negicco

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There’s still a lot of confusion in recognizing Idol units in the midst of cute girls, shining smiles and sugary melodies: Someone says even Perfume are technically idols, and even though this might be true in a way, I don’t think the three girls from Hiroshima would fully agree with this. But does it even matter in the end? In all honesty, no. Labelling an artist is sometimes useless, as only music and talent is what makes the difference in the end, and Niigata based unit Negicco have lots of good music and passion to deliver, showcased in several of the trio’s discography with their 2013 studio album Melody Palette as the high peak of it and the best proof of what Nao, Kaede and Megu are made of. What makes Negicco so particular and, in a way, special, is their history and never-give-up attitude, and to understand this at the best, it’s necessary to take a few steps back.

Negicco formed in 2003 under contract of the Japan Agricultural Cooperative Group, as young promoters of the local Yawahada Negi, a particular kind of green onion related to Niigata’s typical food. While this may not sound like the most serious or enthralling beginning, the real intentions of these three girls were anything but a joke: Indeed, after the end of their promotional period, Nao, Megu, Kaede and Miku (who left the group in 2006) continued their activities together as an idol unit, keeping the green onion leaks as symbol of their identity.

Produced by their hardcore fan connie and creating the choreographies by themselves, Negicco continued to dance and sing for all the 2000s, and between change of formations and label shifts, in 2010 the three girls won the local idol award U.M.U. , a real turning point for their career. In 2011, after the release of their first Best album, they left their old label to join T-Palette, Tower Records’ indie label, finally getting more attention by the national audience. The three girls then started to release some very good singles, such as Ai no Tower of Love and Idol Bakari Kikanaide, to then release their first original album Melody Palette, a solid and consistent pop album with lots of variety and very good tracks emphasized by valuable collaborations, including tofubeats, Yasuharu Konishi (Pizzicato Five), RAM RIDER and many more, a factor that blessed the album with a very positive recognition in 2013.

After the release of their first original studio album, the girls explored new musical genres, a constant approach that always characterized their thirteen-year career, and started to adopt more acoustic and jazzy sonorities to their sound, with nice results like their classic track Sayonara Music and others like Sunshine Nihonkai and the most recent Hikari no spur, even though the same can’t be said for other tracks. The release of their second studio album Rice & Snow brought mixed feelings: While some tracks like some of the ones mentioned above are good, as well as others exploring new sonorities spacing from Techno-pop to a slightly Shibuya Kei feel, most of the other ones kinda resulted in less attractive compositions, leading to a controversial result represented by disappointment due to some shallow tracks and excitement for the future brought by some interesting and well done compositions exploring different sonorities. After all, this is what happens when an artist dares to explore new influences and constantly renew its sound, something that needs courage and tenacity, which are strong points of Negicco’s personality and something absolutely admirable: “Trying” can result into success or failing, but the will of constantly offering something different with great effort is what makes an artist alive, and that’s why Negicco are still a constant presence in the Idol scene. These girls are tenacious and incredibly passionated, and even now, after more than ten years, they still perform in small stages and put one hundred percent in their performances, something that definitely not all the short-life idol units out there can claim, and you can bet they will be like this for many years to come. Their strong personality is perfectly showcased in live performances where all the charisma of these three girls comes out, dancing and singing tirelessly, and constantly involving the audience: There are no special effects here, only lots of passion and fun, and their down-to-earth personality will make you love them instantly.

Let’s be honest: If they really wanted to, today Negicco could have been one of the most successful Idol acts of the mainstream scene: They have talent, passion, and their production team can craft valuable compositions, sometimes even above the standard of the Idol pop scene. And while all the most famous acts unavoidably move to Tokyo at a certain point of their career, Negicco decided to “protect” their identity and origins by remaining in Niigata, as their wish is still to represent their hometown at the best and with lots of love.

The truth is, Negicco are an anomaly in the Idol scene: in thirteen years they could have reached any milestone a standard Idol group dreams of, but at the same time, as local idols, they reached a national (and also global) fame that no other group in their category ever achieved, dancing, singing, crying and smiling for thirteen years, something that most of the Idol groups out there can only dream of. And despite their conservative, sometimes rebellious approach towards the Idol scene, they probably represent the most natural and human form of it, something that after all these years, judging from the tears they shed everytime they’re in front of their ever growing fanbase, is finally starting to pay off.

– Alex 

Should AKB48 open the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

credits: The Japan Times

credits: The Japan Times

There’s been a lot of fuss in the last days regarding AKB48, the most popular, loved and hated Idol unit of today’s Japanese music industry. Everything started a week ago when Yasushi Akimoto, founder and producer of the group also member of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics executive board, proposed to choose the girls as performers of the opening ceremony for this important event, words that immediately unchained discussions on the web that reached the peak when cross-dressing personality Matsuko Deluxe stated that AKB48 would be an “embarrassment” for Japan, leading to a situation of great confusion between fans defending their favorite group and detractors throwing hate like never before, other than globally famous headlines with big names and small knowledge on the subject speaking nonsense in the middle: Long story short, nothing with a bit of sense is coming out of it.

So, in order to understand the matter at the best, it’s necessary to take a step backwards and ask ourselves a question: Is there any sense behind all the hate towards AKB48?

The answer is no, there’s no sense in it. It’s not about defending the group, it’s about all the people hating these girls for the most futile reasons (how do you hate a music group anyway?). Sure, it’s not like the famous Idol unit avoided controversies in the past, as questionable events stained their image more than once: The most notorious and sad episode is certainly the case of Minegishi Minami, the girl spotted coming out of her partner’s house that later shaved her hair and apologized in tears in a video that went viral. This happened because the girl broke the rule of the group that denies any kind of sentimental relationship (something she definitely knew when she signed her contract, by the way) and self-punished herself for not following it, a kind of gesture that finds its roots deep in the Japanese culture, but that doesn’t justify the brutality of a video that was simply unnecessary. I could also mention the pathetic AKBaby promotion seen in 2011, where fans could upload pictures of their faces online and “merge” it with one of the members’ pic to see what wonderful baby would come out from this “fusion”, something that’s just plain ridiculous. But apparently this only makes part of the past now, as most of the haters already forgot about these episodes and still keep on detesting AKB48 mainly for their generally attractive image, showcased in videos where all the members dance in bikini by the seaside, in photobooks where the undeniable beauty of some members is shown at the best, and in their provocative outfits that tease the thoughts of their fans. Wait a second: Isn’t that exactly what almost all the Idol groups out there do?

The general idea is that this “dirty” and “impure” sexy factor in Idol music that should “embarrass” Japan has been brought by AKB48, which is absolutely wrong: It was like this way before them, and it’ll probably be forever. As usual though, when you’re successful and popular you’re always going to attract all kinds of critics, and my suspect is that people generally don’t accept the fact that Yasushi Akimoto created a perfect cash machine with an impeccable concept fueling it; Like it or not, these people is there for money, or else we wouldn’t call their products “manufactured groups”.

These people should seriously realize that AKB48 is generally just an Idol group like many others out there, except maybe for a couple of factors: their extremely shallow music, which, guess what, is something you barely hear coming out from the mouths of the detractors (but that’s subjective, really) and what is probably the only real problem with this group, which is the monstrous amount of copies they sell with each release and the impact they have on the industry; We’re talking about a group who can sell a million and half copies of a single in barely a week, thanks to exclusive contents featured in each one of the several editions every release gets, and in this case I think it’s fair to fault charts like Oricon that, while it shouldn’t alter the final results, it should impose some kind of filter on these kind of releases, something that should be applied with Johnny’s groups as well, because when you take a look at the Year End chart results and the first fifty (50) spots are all about 48, Arashi and similar, then you know there’s a problem. Other than that, this is another factor that’s targeted by some people labelling the AKB fans as “obsessive” and “ridiculous” for buying multiple editions of the same product; I don’t like this group’s music and I don’t claim myself a fan, but I have many friends who do, and during my trips to Japan I went with them in some of the famous 48 shops, and while curiously and silently browsing between the shelves of these undoubtedly fascinating places, I’ve seen in my friends the same passion I have for Perfume when looking for old and new releases to add to my collection: I, with my room completely filled with merchandise from the Hiroshima Techno-pop trio, am no different from them. We love our favorite group, and we support it, like anyone else. Simple as that.

But it’s not like something is gonna change, not yet at least, since everything can happen from here to five years. But still, should AKB48 really represent Japan at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics? I believe it depends on the approach and personality of this important event: In terms of performance, spectacularity and talent, there are many groups out there who can definitely do better than these girls. In terms of representing Japan’s music industry and actual culture, though, I think they can fairly find their place in the list of artists to choose for the opening ceremony.

But it’s all a matter of time, really. The situation could drastically change in five years. And after all, if One Direction performed at the London 2012 Olympics, why on earth shouldn’t AKB48 open the Tokyo 2020 Olympics?

– Alex

Why YouTube Red is a threat to Japanese music worldwide

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Yesterday morning I woke up with the sweet thought of a lazy Sunday awaiting for me, ready to enjoy a sunny day in my hometown. As usual when I wake up, I grabbed my phone beside my bed to check new notifications, and noticed I had received an email from YouTube. I thought of the usual “Recommended video” email or of a new user that subscribed to my channel, but alas, the reality was far worse: Five videos I uploaded two years earlier on my channel were blocked in the United States. Reminiscing the old days fighting the YouTube algorithm to avoid copyright strikes, a struggle every Youtuber probably had to deal with at least once, many questions started popping up in my mind: Why only those five videos? And why only in the U.S. ? Then I read the email body, and the portrait of the situation started to take shape.

The email introduced me to YouTube Red, a Premium service with a monthly fee from the world’s biggest streaming website offering several advantages, including ad-free videos, the chance to download videos and play them in the background on your mobile device, and full access to Google Play Music. The message then stated that my videos (that had copyright notifications, but weren’t blocked) were made unavailable because some of the partners “asked for more time to consider and accept the conditions of YouTube Red”, and so, my videos were blocked. This is the absolutely unclear explanation YouTube gave to me.

I reached my desk and turned my laptop on, and as soon as I open my social network accounts, there’s already a battlefield on the web. From people claiming this new service is nothing more than a “Premium” version of YouTube, to those calling it a real disaster, I started looking for concrete informations the world’s biggest streaming service didn’t bother to give me. After a bit of research on various websites, the situation is finally clear. YouTube Red has been created to give its partner creators more income, taken from the price of the monthly subscription ($9.99) instead of gaining from ads displayed at the beginning of videos, that will still be viewable by those that will keep a free account. For those who are not aware, YouTube’s partner creators are users that satisfied certain requirements in terms of subscribers and views and made a request to become partners to start monetize with their videos. So it’s natural that big and popular channels on YouTube are all partners, including music labels promoting their artists by releasing Music Videos on their channels. And, of course, Japanese music labels aren’t an exception.

And here comes the real problem of all this situation: YouTube partners are obliged to accept the conditions of YouTube Red. If they don’t, all their videos will be made private. Basically, if they don’t accept the terms of this new service they will completely disappear from YouTube.

Now it’s all clear: The five videos from my channel YouTube blocked in the U.S. all featured old tracks from the Japanese electronic duo capsule when they were signed to Yamaha Music Communications. This label didn’t agree to the terms of YouTube Red, and so all the videos featuring contents (music, video footage) from the label’s groups have been made private in the U.S. , the only place where YouTube Red is officially launching on October 28. Of course, when this new service will kick off globally as promised by Google, these videos will be made private and impossible to watch worldwide. YouTube claimed that 99% of the partners agreed to these terms, and wether this is true or not, that 1% remaining still translates into lots of channels and partners that didn’t stick to YouTube Red’s conditions. Fans in the U.S. already reported several videos of Japanese artists blocked in their country, a list that includes almost thirty labels and acts, including popular icons such as AKB48 and sister groups, The GazettE, SCANDAL, B’z, tricot, Yamaha Music Communications, Stardust, Flower, and many more.

This disheartening scenario leads to an obvious question: Why aren’t these artists and labels accepting YouTube red’s terms? Because they probably don’t even know about this. Maybe some of them don’t care, or still don’t even noticed this. Or simply they don’t have a clue of what’s happening. Sadly, Japanese labels are well known for their sometimes controversial approach to the international audience and to the internet itself, and the Japanese music industry is generally famous for being way too old-school for certain aspects, first of all digital delivery of music and streaming services. You know, 240p videos, short versions of Music Videos, complete absence of Japanese artists on iTunes… the stuff that makes international fans go mad.

Not all the Japanese labels care enough about spreading their artists worldwide, and there’s a not-so-remote chance that many of them won’t voluntarily stick to this new terms and conditions, while others simply won’t even care about the matter. And the fact that all of these labels, including very famous ones, are still not taking care of the matter is honestly worrying. What’s even more disturbing, and the biggest problem of all this mess, is that Japanese music will lose a lot of visibility with all of these labels and artists losing their spot on YouTube. I can tell you for sure that many, if not most of the Japanese music fans worldwide, discovered this industry through YouTube. This is the price we’re risking to pay from this hazardous move, which is the disappearance of a way-too-large slice of Japanese music from the world’s biggest video website.

The only thing we fans can do is to hope Japanese labels will care enough and do what’s necessary to make their music available worldwide again. YouTube’s new move is definitely drastic if not absurd, and I understand how annoying it can be, but the price to pay in terms of visibility is too high, so I hope to see a resolution to this situation in the foreseeable future. And to get my video featuring capsule’s Hello back to the U.S.

– Alex


What do you think about all this? Is Japanese music’s visibility at risk with this risky move by YouTube? Be sure to leave a comment down below!

5 Crazy Japanese Music Videos you need to see

Last time we took a look at some of the most beautiful, innovative and stunning Music Videos from Japan, one of the best aspects of this music industry that constantly fascinates both the lovers and the newcomers of it. But now it’s time to list five of the craziest MVsthat are probably (and controversially) the most attractive for the overseas audience that’s still not into Japanese music, and the reason is simple: They can be weird, funny, crazy and unpredictable, factors that, like or not, bring a certain product to be popular and viral, even if it’s just for a short period of time. Someone may take these bizarre songs and videos as introduction to the Japanese industry, others may just laugh and forget about it claiming how Japan is “weird”, but one thing is for sure: It’s hard to ignore them.

So here it is: A list of some of the craziest Japanese Music Videos ever released, all for you. Be sure to be mentally prepared: Some of them are really insane.


5. Charisma.com – HATE

Electronic Rap duo Charisma.com leaded by MC Itsuka and DJ/producer Gonchi made themselves recognizable immediately in the industry thanks to their strong personalities, offering a masterful balance of electronic music and rap coupled by biting lyrics on society and the struggles of being part of it. Their weird, funny and unconventional charisma (!) is well displayed in their first Music Video and track HATEa mix of weird moments that perfectly describes the attitude of these two girls, eating weird living stuff, acting crazy, and killing random figures in the back in the cruelest ways, with an ending that pretty much confirms how crazy (but charismatic, indeed) these girls are. Also, the track is dope. Recommended!


4. Kyary Pamyu Pamyu – PON PON PON

Who doesn’t know Kyary Pamyu Pamyu? If you haven’t been living under a rock in the last four years, you definitely have seen or at least heard of this iconic J-pop act and Harajuku icon. Her debut track PON PON PON, produced by Yasutaka Nakata, is one of the most striking cases of viral sensation from Japan that became popular in all the world, and for good reasons: This song is a great example of J-pop done good and one of the best tunes of the genre from 2011 that shook the entire J-pop scene. Its Music Video is an outstanding cohesion of sounds and images and a showcase of “extreme” Harajuku fashion culture, coupled by a plethora of weird elements and moments, including flying brains, scaring huge eyes, candy bars coming out from ears, as well as Kyary farting a rainbow. This combination of ultra catchy sounds and the stunning visuals are still the best representation of Kyary’s identity and the great sound she once had. I just wish she could have kept it that way for longer.


3. Oomori Seiko – Kyuru Kyuru

I just love Oomori Seiko: the thing that really got me at first about this girl, other than her great songwriting skills, is the passion and all the heart she puts in the music she plays and sings, that consequentially translates into a brutally sincere behavior that sometimes reaches insane levels. It’s something noticeable in both her voice and her image, and wether if it’s by listening their heartfelt songs, or watching one of her out of control live shows where she literally screams her lyrics out to the point of tossing (or kissing a random fan in the crowd) you can’t ignore this girl’s incredibly strong charisma, and when you put this together with her skills as musician the result is just unique. Her entry in the mainstream scene with the major debut single Kyuru Kyuru certainly didn’t change a thing in her personality, and this video is something you’re gonna loop for a while, not only because the track is really enjoyable, but mainly to understand and capture every second of it, that’s just filled with Oomori’s personality, a personality that’s crazy, funny, and even lovable.


2. LADYBABY – Nippon Manju

The latest in the series of the craziest Japanese Music Videos, and generally of the “WTF Japan” phenomenon that people outside the land of the rising sun love: LADYBABY is a new Idol metal unit consisting of singer/wrestler/cross-dressing personaLadybeard and junior idols Rei Kuromiya and Rie Kaneko. While Ladybeard has been floating around the Japanese scene for quite some time gaining attention from the media for its eccentric look, it’s not quite the same for the two underage girls, unless you’re into certain stuff that’s better not to discuss here. In any case, the australian wrestler and the two idols decided to team up and release their first single Nippon Manju, promoted by a Music Video than in barely a month reached six millions of views on YouTube and represented one of the most significant viral phenomenons of the last years: Useless to say, this is mainly due to the image of Ladybeard.

The video is definitely bizarre, and you may even find it funny, just don’t expect a masterpiece of track and you’ll be fine.


1. MAXIMUM THE HORMONE – ALIEN

This is without a shade of doubt one of the craziest Music Videos ever released. Seriously.

As typical of MAXIMUM THE HORMONE, the song blasts brutal metal riffs fused with the speed of hardcore genres with a touch of funk, coupled by screams and growls that border on schizophrenia, all reasons that makes this band so loved in Japan and overseas as well. But these four guys are also known for including sudden and unpredictable influences in their tracks, and this video is the proof of it: The first part of it is pure madness, featuring the guys playing in what it looks like an underground club, destroying everything with brutal and powerful sounds in front of an insane (almost violent) crowd. Then, for some reason, heads start popping up on the guys’ bodies. Then they moltiplicate. Then they make a weird dance, show atomic explosions, and… yes, it’s really weird. But not as weird as the second part of the MV, that pretty much changes everything: I’m not gonna  unveil anything, you just have to see it for yourself.

This video shows what happens when craziness and geniality meet, and no one can do it better than MAXIMUM THE HORMONE. And it’s highly probable you’re gonna love it. But first, please stop the damn Winny upload.

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These were only five of the craziest Music Videos the Japanese music scene can offer, and more will come in my next TOP 5 articles.

What do you think about these videos? Did you like them? Did you have fun? Be sure to leave a comment down below with your impressions!
– Alex

5 Beautiful Japanese Music Videos you need to watch

The Japanese Music industry can distinguish itself from the rest of the world for several reasons: Its huge dimensions (it’s the second biggest music market in the world), its variety, the innovative concepts several groups can deliver, and much more. One factor that should’t be ignored as well is the quality of these groups’ videographies, which averagely sets on high levels if compared to the rest of the world, and several Music Videos bring so much innovation and creativity within that you’ll be surprised and overwhelmed by all kinds of feeling, wether it’s happiness, melancholy or simply fun.

Here’s a list of five music videos that rank among the best the industry has seen in the last years, and I will post even more in future articles. Be sure to stay tuned, and enjoy these beautiful MVs and songs!


5. Sakanaction – Aruku Around

One of the classics from the band that conquered the Oricon charts and shown the world how to fuse J-rock and Electronic Music with elegance and mastery. Not only Sakanaction‘s music is accessible and elaborated, their music videos are all up to the quality of their tracks, and with Aruku Around the band from Sapporo enriched their videography with a one-shot video (meaning there isn’t any kind of montage or cut) that’s a continuous stream of surprising moments, where lyrics are emphasized by the interaction of frontman Ichiro Yamaguchi with everything that surrounds him. Joyful, funny and breathtaking, a must watch and a great song to get into this particular band.


4. toe – Goodbye

A beautiful, melancholic track and trademark tune from this excellent Japanese indie math rock band, the one that all their fans eagerly wait for when attending their concerts in Japan and around the world: Goodbye is a perfect representation of the toe sound, coupled by one of the very few Music Videos the band ever released, an impressive showcase of the stop-motion technique that’s second to no one, fitting the melancholic mood of the track greatly other than being one of the most particular videos you’ll ever have the pleasure to watch.


3. m-flo – All I want is you

While the Hip Hop scene in Japan is still waiting for its moment to truly come out and become accepted in the mainstream industry,m-flo are one of the rare exceptions that made this genre accessible to anyone thanks to the inclusion of electronic elements and female vocals, and one of their most famous tracks All I want is you brings one of the most fascinating Music Videos of the last years, whose message is clear: Despite being only one of billions of people in this world, we are all connected, and our life can change from one moment to another. An amazing video that will entertain you from the beginning to the end, every single second: A must watch!


2. Perfume – VOICE

The Techno-pop trio from Hiroshima is not only one of the most influent mainstream acts of the Japanese music scene, but also a quality guarantee when it comes to Music Videos: Bringing innovation, creativity and plain joy, Perfume‘s discography is one of the richest and most valid in the industry, and with VOICE the three lovely girls expose not only their cuteness and adorable personalities, but also the talent of the team of artists working behind the scenes that made A-chan, Nocchi and Kashiyuka’s talents reach stellar levels: A lovely and pleasant watch that will brighten your day!


1. Utada Hikaru – Sakura Nagashi

Utada Hikaru is an amazing singer and artist, and with the beautiful masterpiece that is Sakura Nagashi, she proved once again to Japan and to the world what she’s capable of, what stream of emotions her voice can still unleash inside of us despite the distance she voluntarily took from the music industry years ago. The emotions this song deliver are enormously emphasized by the Music Video, a beautiful montage of shots taken in nature and in other different places, focusing on heartbreaking moments in a crescendo of emotions that follows the vibe of the track perfectly, to the point you’ll find yourself in tears and realize how fragile we humans are. This is audiovisual art at its best, and no one other than Hikki could have delivered these strong emotions with such delicacy. Absolutely brilliant.

These were only five of the must-see Music Videos the Japanese music scene can offer, and more will come in my next article dedicated to this particular aspect of the industry.

What do you think about these videos? Did you like them? What are the MVs that deserve to be in this list? Be sure to leave a comment down below!
– Alex