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

#72 Interview with Takahashi Ai – Part 2 – The Concert That Brought Japan and Thailand Closer Together. Just what did Takahashi Ai do!?

And it was the Japan Festa held at Bangkok’s “Central World” shopping complex on September 1st 2013 that reaffirmed just how popular “Onna ni Sachi Are” is.

Before Takahashi Ai’s mini concert, set to start a little after 3pm, four local cover dance teams put on a dance performance, mostly covering songs by Morning Musume. Cover-dance is big, all over South-east Asia. Put simply, cover-dance refers to emulating the choreography used in songs by a particular artist and often involves dressing up like the artist as well. You could say its an extension of the popular cosplay movement, but it’s probably more like a highly refined form of “idol cosplay.”

At this year’s Japan Festa, the teams were given 20 minutes, in which they each performed 7-8 songs. Of the four teams that performed, three teams covered “Onna ni Sachi Are.”
Ai on stage in Bangkok.
“I guess the melody and the outfits struck a chord with the people in Thailand”

Even Takahashi Ai herself was surprised by the popularity of “Onna ni Sachi Are.”
“Onna ni Sachi Are” is one of the songs that came from the so-called “platinum era,” when Takahashi was leader of the group. Songs from this era in particular are highly popular with fans overseas.
“To be honest though, it was a really difficult period. We were doing a lot of performances overseas but our TV appearances and performances in Japanese media dropped dramatically, so at the time I didn’t really see this period as a particularly remarkable era.”

After the sweeping popularity of the first generation members and the initial era of the Morning Musume social phenomenon, the group just seemed to fade away from my field of view completely. At that time, I would hear about how great Morning Musume are to see live from friends who frequented their shows regularly, and looking back now it certainly makes me a little jealous. But from the point of view of the group members themselves at the time, it would’ve been like walking through the dark not really knowing where the path would take them.

However, it was the overseas fans who realized how spectacular the Takahashi Ai-lead Morning Musume were, long before most Japanese did. I first began my work in cultural diplomacy in 2008, and even then, Morning Musume would often come up in conversation whenever I spoke to young people overseas. At the time, I just thought that they were behind the times, but now I know, it was just the opposite: they were the ones up-to-date – ahead of the times even.
When you’re always in such close proximity to something it’s hard to see just how valuable it is. And it’s all the young people living in far away countries throughout the world who love Japan that taught me this.
“It makes me so happy that songs from the platinum era are so loved by people all over the world.”
This is what Takahashi Ai told me after her performance.

In the middle of her performance there was a segment where the four cover-dance teams broke into two groups and performed a dance while Takahashi Ai sat on the side of the stage and watched.
Takahashi AI cover dancing to her own song.
The song that the first group performed was “Onna ni Sachi Are.” The second group performed “Kimagure Princess” (Fickle Princess). Both platinum era songs. By the second song, Takahashi Ai began to stir and she got up and started dancing to “Kimagure Princess.” This brought everyone’s energy levels up even higher. Towards the end, Ai was invited into the group and she took over the center role. A cover dance featuring both the artist and the fans. Seeing their happy faces and the sheer excitement of the audience – it was deeply moving to watch.

I know just how long the fans and the cover-dance teams in Bangkok have waited for Takahashi Ai to come and perform for them. The dance teams performed just like they always did, but this time, the real thing was right there in the center. It’s something they probably never even dreamed would happen.
Everyone on stage for the finale.
For the final performance, the thirty-odd cover-dance team members joined Takahashi Ai on stage to perform “Love Machine” and platinum era song, “Mikan.”

“I was joined by the dance teams, not even having a single rehearsal. Everyone knew to move to the front of the stage just through eye contact, everything else just seemed to fall into sync naturally.” Their performance together was virtually flawless. Watching this, it became quite obvious just how much love they have for Morning Musume and just how well they know their songs too.
Takahashi Ai’s mini concert at the Japan Festa was open to anyone and everyone. It wasn’t just a gathering of die-hard Morning Musume fans; there would have been people there who had no idea who the girls were too. But what I can say for certain is, Takahashi Ai captured the hearts of the entire audience there.

You probably couldn’t ask for a more successful Japan-focused event held overseas than the likes of that which was achieved with the Japan Festa in Bangkok.
“Ai-chan (Takahashi Ai) is amazing. And so kind too!! Now I know why you like her so much, Sakurai-san.”

These are the kinds of things that I heard from Thai friends after they got to meet the Morning Musume members at a handshake session held in Bangkok last year. For most Thai fans, this was the first time they got to see Takahashi Ai in the flesh, though.
Takahashi Ai has longed to visit Thailand and the fans have long waited for her to visit, so being able to witness Ai and her fans finally meet, as a Japanese, made me extremely happy. And for all the people who were there that day, the distance between Japan and Thailand suddenly seems a whole lot closer.
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Next time: Report on Toronto’s “FAN 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 103 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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