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櫻井孝昌(Takamasa Sakurai) のJAPAN! JAPAN! JAPAN!

#9 Idols and Anime. Berryz Kobo Talk Anime and Performing Overseas

Whenever I see idol group Berryz Kobo perform live or meet with the members in person, I’m always reminded of the Yamanote Line in Tokyo.

“Tokyo is amazing. When you get off at a station on the Yamanote Line it has a completely different look and feel to the station before it.”
This is what an overseas visitor on holiday in Japan told me one time and as I listened I thought it was completely true. Shibuya and Harajuku for example are nothing alike. Nor are Akihabara and Kanda. As far as I’m aware Tokyo is the only city in the world where you’ll find neighboring train stations with such diverse characteristics.
And speaking of diversity, there isn’t an idol group in Japan with as much individuality in each member, both in looks and personality, as Berryz Kobo. That seems to be the general feeling from all the fans too, as it was revealed in one of the group’s official notices. It’s because of this individuality that the stations on the Yamanote Line in Tokyo and Berryz Kobo have come to be recognized as symbols of Japan, and what better way of presenting ourselves to the world than through our own individuality.

“Japan is a country that produces things that can only be found in Japan.”
Japanese people should pay more attention to just how people evaluate Japan overseas. I’ve met with fans of Berryz Kobo from all over world – from America, France, Qatar, etc., and they are all captivated by the individuality of these girls.

In June 2012, Berryz Kobo took to the stage in America as guests of the New Jersey anime event, “Anime NEXT.” I attended Anime NEXT as a guest myself in 2011 and I’ve written about the event in my previous publication “J Pop Culture Observations.”
#23 A Lesson on Japanese Originality from some Die-hard Hello!Project Fans in the US
Berryz工房の歌っている写真s.jpg
This was their second time performing in the US.
“Our first time to take part in an American event as a guest was in 2011 at Seattle’s “SAKURA-CON.” I thought there was no way anime could be as big over there as what I’d heard it was, but the rumors were in fact ture and it gave me a new found respect for Japanese anime.” said Berryz Kobo’s Tokunaga Chinami, reflecting on her experiences and speaking of “NARUTO” and “Sailor Moon” cosplay episodes.

“I’ve loved to cosplay ever since I was little. Every birthday I would get given dress-up accessories and costumes of anime characters from shows like “Sailor Moon,” “Ojamajo Doremi” (Magical DoReMi), and “Himitsu no Akko-chan.” So I really understand the fun behind cosplaying. I would like to get into it again and take part in a cosplay event.” Said Natsuyaki Miyabi, having just successfully performed a live concert as a member of her other group, Buono!, in Paris in February this year.

So what do these two think is the reason behind the worldwide popularity of Japanese anime?

“I think it’s the abundance of characters and the variance of all the different stories.” (Tokunaga)
“Anime made overseas is often targeted towards children but in Japan there’s a lot of anime for adults as well. That, and there’s also a certain realism to the style of animation.” (Natsuyaki)
徳永千奈美.jpgI love “Cardcaptor Sakura.” I like how she’s always so weak and helpless but when backed into a corner she fights with everything she has. And her outfit is kawaii too!” (Tokunaga Chinami)
夏焼雅.jpg“When I was little I wanted to be Sailor Moon!” (Natsuyaki Miyabi)
観客の様子s.jpg3000 people going off at the 1 hour concert.
寄せ書きを持った女子の写真s.jpgMessages of support from a whole lot of fans.
Just as these two have pointed out, one of the biggest reasons Japanese anime has come to be recognized throughout the world as being unique is “diversity.”
Japan is portrayed in all its various aspects through anime, and to say that current Japanese fashion was founded on anime would be no lie.
“I really take notice of the seifuku in anime. And I know that it’s because of Japanese anime that seifuku fashion has a following overseas. There are so many variations now too, like ‘seifuku meets rock!’ etc.” (Natsuyaki)
“I like the shape of the characters when they’re wearing a one-piece. I like designs that bring out girl’s kawaii-ness.”
The Buono! autograph session in Paris was packed out and there were that many people at the Berryz Kobo autograph session at Anime NEXT that the scheduled one hour session had to be extended to two hours.
Berryz工房サイン会風景s.jpg
The autograph session was a big hit going on for 2 hours.
“Even if they can’t speak Japanese, we’re just thrilled the way they tell us they like us through their body language and the expressions on their faces. We also received a lot of fan letters written in Japanese.” (Natsuyaki)
During their performance the fans had a big surprise ready for them...
徳永&夏焼.jpg
“We definitely want to perform overseas again.” (Tokunaga & Natsuyaki)
“When you combine C-ute’s (Hello! Project) “Shiawase no Tocchu” with our “Because Happiness” you get the “Cho Happy Song” (Super Happy Song), and when we sang “Because Happiness” this time around, the crowd all started singing “Shiawase no Tochu” in Japanese and it turned into “Cho Happy Song!” (Tokunaga)

“Next time we want to do a song in the language of the country we are in.” (Tokunaga)

“Next time I would like to perform wearing the traditional dress of that country as well.” (Natsuyaki)

Performing overseas. When I was young it was natural for foreign artists to come to Japan to perform but the reverse was almost unheard of. Now times have changed and we’re in a situation where Japanese idols are shortening the gap between Japan and the rest of the world.

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Next time: My first time back in 2 years – report from the world’s largest Japanese pop culture event, Paris’s “Japan Expo”
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Columnist: Sakurai Takamasa

櫻井孝昌.jpgContents Media Producer, author, journalist, managing director of Contents Street Inc. Chief Editor of iPhone magazine “Tokyo Kawaii Magazine” (ASCII Media Works), World Cosplay Summit Executive Advisor, Chief Researcher at Kodansha/Kodansha BC China Management Laboratory.
Cultural diplomat producing events in 102 cities in 24 countries. Books include “Galapagos-ka no susume”(Kodansha), “’Suteru’ de shigoto wa umakuiku”(Diamond-sha), “Nihon wa anime de saiko suru ”(ASCII Shinsho), “Sekai no kawaii kakumei ” (PHP Shinsho), and “Anime bunka gaiko ”(Chikuma Shinsho). Writes regular columns in the weekly magazine “ASCII” and Yomiuri Shimbun.

●twitter http://twitter.com/sakuraitakamasa/

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