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[ICON] Maiko Fukushima - The Young Akihabara Producer that Revolutionized the Idol World(1/2)

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Maiko Fukushima, also known as "Mofuku-chan" is a highly sought-after producer. Starting out her career at the Akihabara live house "Dear Stage" and "MOGRA" as an organizer, she eventually became the producer of the famous Akihabara idol group "Dempagumi.inc". With a strong love for Akihabara - where she grew up - she made it the base of all her activities in hopes of spreading its culture throughout Japan and even overseas. Maiko Fukushima has become something of an icon, having worked at the NHK news as a navigator, she is currently one of the most popular young producers. Why does she have such a commitment to her hometown Akihabara and to idols? Why did she decide to become a producer in the first place? We asked all these questions to her and more at Dear Stage, the live house - her second home.

I started to feel that I wanted to create music that reached everyone in the world from Japan.

――Please tell us some more about the various projects you've worked on.

Maiko Fukushima(Fukushima):Well, let's begin with the live house & bar "Dear Stage." We started it up in December of 2007 at a different place to where we are now and since our customers seemed to really like what we were doing, we eventually moved in September of 2008 to the building we are in now. Right after that was when I first started with the idol unit "Dempagumi.inc" and we released their first single in December 2008. After that in 2010, we opened MOGRA (a DJ bar) at the place where Dear Stage was originally built.

――What lead you to do the kind of work you are doing today?
Fukushima: I was invited by a friend and ended up meeting one of the founding members of "Dear Stage" and we started talking about how cool it would be if we could make a live concert house in Akihabara. I knew someone who had worked in the food industry, and they worked on sorting out the basics while I concentrated on the production aspects, since I had always wanted to work in the production industry by managing idol groups.We initially began as a restaurant-type business and it was from there that we slowly began introducing idols and artists.

――What made you think to do that?

Fukushima: I've always loved music and wanted to find a job related to that industry. Eventually I started to feel that I wanted to create music that reached everyone in the world from Japan. I felt the best way to do that was by making these Dempa songs, anime songs, and idol songs and it was that sort of music that lead me to take an interest in the Akihabara area. For as long as I can remember, I've been interested in idols, and the culture that surrounds. It was later that I began asking myself, "Is there any more that I can do with what I have right now?" and slowly I began to focus my energy in that direction.

――So do you mean to say you weren't interested at all in the so-called "otaku culture" that predominates much of Akihabara?

Fukushima: I'm actually quite interested in that sort of thing. It was actually when I was in university that I slowly began to take interest in otaku-related things and I would go to comic book conventions and M3 (a coterie event that focuses mainly on music and films.) I would also go to music sales and such.

――So after that did you end up fully immersing yourself in Akihabara otaku culture?

Fukushima: I'd say my gateway to becoming fully invested in otaku culture were Maid Cafes. I learned a lot about the subcultures that were present in Akihabara though these Maid Cafes. I was involved with noise music projects when I was a university student but as I began to delve further into the genre, I realized that I liked pop music and from there developed more of an interest in the entertainment world. I continued down that path and eventually ended up in the commercial idol industry. I also began to feel that since noise music has a very small following, it would be hard to make a business out of. Additionally, I wanted to figure out what kind of music would reach millions. That was when I really started to seriously put thought into how to create music. I think it's because I initially took an interest in noise music that I ended up where I am today. For me it was my gateway into the world of music.

Dempagumi.inc is, while it's hard to say, I'd sum it up as "a magnificent experience."

Produced by Maiko Fukushima, the Japanese idol group, Dempagumi.inc's new single, "Chururi Chururira" music video

――You yourself could have been an "expressionist" (performer). Why did you instead choose to be a producer?

Fukushima: From around when I was in high school, I never really a "player," meaning I never felt comfortable on stage and preferred being the person setting up everything in the background. I wanted to try a lot of different things. I find that "players" are usually people that are dedicated to one form of craftsmanship and try to master that one profession over time. I also held an appreciation for art in its entirety, after all that's why I chose to go to Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. The high school I went was affiliated with a music college, so because of that we were not really able to study any other cultural expressions outside of music. I wanted to make something that included a variety of things.

――So, Dempagumi.inc was your first idol project as a producer, correct? What does this group mean to you?

Fukushima: While it's hard to say, I'd sum it up as "a magnificent experience." (lol) Since it was my first time managing an idol group, I fumbled my way through most of it. In the beginning I was just trying out whatever came to mind one after the other. I remember it mostly being just me and the members doing our best to make it work. Like I said before, I really like idols, but there were definitely times when I started to feel irritated at the thought of idol groups. That would be because up until that point idols had been organized and managed by men so a lot of the songs and their lyrics, especially about falling in love weren't really something women could connect to. Same goes for the costumes and sometimes I'd think, "Why these costumes?!" Whenever something like that arose, I'd just try and say to myself, "This is also a chance to make things better." When something is frozen solid, sometimes that makes it easier to break out of. I wanted people to be surprised by what we did and think, "Idol groups like this exist, too!" It was quite a difficult journey.

――As the radius of your job activities widen, do you also feel the environment around you start to change, as well?

Fukushima: Hmm, I guess it has in a way. The other day at the Budokan live I was surprised at the sheer number of staff members and felt stunned at how many there were. Rather than how many people were in the audience I was more focused on how many staff members there were. Above all, however it made me feel that we had only made it this far because of all the people that supported us.

――Do you see any differences in the fans?

Fukushima: Around the time we started our WWD tour (2013), we began performing at big concert venues, such as Zepp and I could see that our audience was not only getting bigger, but we were reaching more and more types of people. Recently, I also feel that we've started to gain a larger female following. I think we've got a lot of girl fans. My hope is that we will continue to grow. To be an idol group that is loved by girls, I feel is very ideal.

――Do you feel Japanese culture-related things have a big following overseas?

Fukushima: Yes, I do. These days Dempagumi.inc's overseas fanbase is growing, mainly across Asia. We can count on everyone, wherever they are from to give us a warm welcome. It doesn't matter if they're European or Asian because you can count on the otaku fans coming dressed in a "Happi" waving their glow sticks and cheering the group on. It's just the universal style of showing support. At the moment, in Yokohama they are PR goodwill ambassadors for East Asia and I hope we continue to find more overseas jobs like these.

⇒What was the "turning point" for Maiko Fukushima?
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