J-Pop Sunday: Perfume

Last time I promised you something “The complete opposite of serious stuff for grown-ups.” Sadly, that original plan fell through when I struggled to find sufficient info/samples of “Machikado Keiki Japan” – an idol group whose gimmick is that their skirts get shorter as the Japanese economy improves. With a deadline approaching I decided to chuck that idea in the bin and dived into my emergency artist reserve. So here’s J-Pop Sunday: The Inevitable Perfume Edition – three lovely ladies from Hiroshima who delight with their dance moves and electropop anthems. Whom I love. A lot.

Especially Nocchi.

Perfume: Left to Right: A~Chan, Nocchi, and Kashiyuka.
Quick Guide:
Act Name: Perfume
Ayaka Nishiwaki (西脇 綾香). A.K.A. “A~chan” (あ~ちゃん)
Ayano Ōmoto (大本 彩乃). A.K.A. “Nocchi” (のっち)
Yuka Kashino (樫野 有香). A.K.A. “Kashiyuka” (かしゆか)
Years Active: 2001-Present
Genre: Electro Pop
Kaito’s Choice Tracks: ポリリズム (Polyrhythm) (2007), Dream Fighter (2008), Magic of Love (2013), Spring of Life (2012)

Our story starts in the year 2000, at a talent school in Hiroshima. Three girls – Ayaka Nishiwaka (A~chan), Yuka Kashino (Kashiyuka), and Yuuka Kawashima (Kawayuka) formed a group together and decided to call themselves “Perfume”.  The name was chosen due to each of them having the kanji香 (“Ka”) in their names, which can translate into English as “Perfume”. However, before the group were able to debut, Kawashima dropped out to focus on her studies and Ayano Ōmoto (Nocchi) joined to replace her. In 2002 the girls made their debut locally and released two singles in the Hiroshima area. It was during these early days that they met a choreographer, Mikiko, who has been with them ever since. In 2003 the girls moved to Tokyo where they joined a national talent agency and also met their producer – our old friend Yasutaka Nakata. (You remember him, don’t you?) However, it wouldn’t be until 2007 with the release of the single “Polyrhythm” when Perfume would hit the big time. And hit it big.

Crikey, they look young there… It’s weird, man!

“Polyrhythm” entered the public conciseness when it was used as part of a nationwide recycling campaign by Japan’s national broadcaster NHK; this gave the girls a new level of exposure. Following this, exposure continued thanks to “Polyrhythm” appearing elsewhere, including in a number of music video games (such as “Dance Dance Revolution”, “Pop’n Music”, and “Taiko no Tatsujin”), the soundtrack for Disney Pixar’s film “Cars 2”, and was later covered by former “Megadeath” guitarist Marty Friedman. Following “Polyrhythm”, with pretty much everyone in Japan aware of Perfume, the girls haven’t since failed to debut a single within the top 3 of the charts. And the album featuring “Polyrhythm” – “Game” – was the first by an electronic group to reach number one in the charts since the Yellow Magic Orchestra in 1983.

Although Perfume captured Japan’s hearts with “Polyrhythm” it was “Dream Fighter” that caused them to capture mine. An evening Youtube session caused me stumble across them accidentally and within the hour I had listened to the song 10 times and placed an order to import the album it featured on – “Triangle”.

That awkward moment when you realise you’ve nicked POLYSICS’ colour scheme…

From an objective standpoint I don’t believe that there is much that makes “Dream Fighter” stand out from the rest of Perfume’s back catalogue. However, nostalgia held a gun to my head and made me include it as one of my choice tracks. Having said that, just because it doesn’t “stand out” it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad song. Perfume’s repertoire is filled with fantastic tracks after all, with this one being no exception; placing at number 2 in the charts on release.

Speaking of fantastic tracks, here’s “Spring of Life!” A personal favourite, right from the start “Spring of Life” grabs you with its’ intro, gives you a catchy chorus and an joyful melody before a seamless switch to a cracking, house-like, bridge two thirds of the way through. Finally, it switches back to J-Pop mode to finish off.

The luminous clothing idea was also used by Austria’s 2012 Eurovision Song Contest entrant.

One more for you: “Magic of Love” appears on their latest album “Level 3” – which was released last month. Again, “Magic of Love” has all of the hallmarks of a Perfume single; an upbeat electronic tune, catchy (if slightly overly auto-tuned) vocals, and smooth dance moves. Usually I would only feature three tracks in a J-Pop Sunday piece, but I find the video so incredibly charming that I felt I had to share it with you.

Perhaps I’m just a sucker for bright colours and camera trickery?

Now that they’ve taken Japan, Perfume’s current mission is global conquest: Their last two albums “JPN” and “Level 3” were released digitally worldwide within a month of their Japanese release (exact dates varying depending on your region) and earlier this year the girls visited mainland Asia for a second time and they also visited Europe for the first time – during which I desperately tried to get tickets to their show in London, but it sold out within an hour. Much to my dismay.

With their international push I wish Perfume the best of luck. If there’s one J-Pop act deserves to be a true global success then it’s these girls.

More Perfume:
Official Website: http://www.perfume-web.jp/ (Japanese)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Perfume.global (English)
Twitter: https://twitter.com/Perfume_Staff (Japanese)
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/Perfume (English)

J-Pop Sunday – Jero

We’re back from a brief hiatus (I went to Canada, it was lovely, thanks for asking) and today, we have a crash course in the genre of enka! Featuring a rising star in the genre, Jero.

Ladies, I’ve found your new J-Music crush.

Quick Guide:
Stage Name: Jero (ジェロ)
Real Name: Jerome Charles White Jr.
Years Active: 2008 – Present
Genre: Enka
Choice Tracks: 嘘泣き (“Uso Naki”/”Fake Crying”) (2010), 海雪 (“Umi Yuki”/”Ocean Snow”) (2008), ただ・・・涙 (“Tada…Namida”/”Just…Tears.”) (2011)

First, a quick rundown of what this “enka” stuff is. Taking shape in postwar Japan and rising in popularity during the 1960s, modern enka (not to be confused with the original 19th century “enka”) is typically a sentimental ballad littered with throwbacks towards traditional Japanese culture and styles – Female enka singers will typically perform in a kimono and the gents will be dressed sharply – and the music will often feature traditional Japanese instruments such as the shamisen. Not to say that the music is restricted to traditional instruments; modern guitars and synths will make an appearance. Themes in enka often include emotional topics such as love, loneliness, bearing through troubled times, death, and hardship. You can also expect random references and comparisons to nature in the lyrics. Although, it’s perhaps easier for you to listen rather than have me explain. As such, here’s our first track: 嘘泣き. That’s “Uso naki” or “Fake Crying” to you and me.

I couldn’t quite figure out the storyline here…

Now, onto Jero himself. As you might have guessed, he’s not originally from Japan. Shocker, I know. Hailing from Pittsburgh in the USA, the young Jerome discovered the genre thanks to his Japanese grandmother and fell in love with the genre, promising her that he’d one day be a famous enka singer. As he grew up he continued to study Japanese and after graduating from university in the US, Jerome became an English teacher and computer engineer in Japan. Soon, after participating in a number of talent shows and singing competitions, Jerome was spotted by a talent scout and signed by an agency. His first single – 海雪 (“Umi Yuki”/”Ocean Snow”) – released in 2008, reached number 4 in the charts. With hints of hip-hop culture blended seamlessly into the song, “Umi Yuki” brought a new – younger – audience to the world of enka.

“Umi Yuki” – Featuring handy random English subtitles halfway through!

My final choice track is 2011’s ただ・・・涙 (“Tada…Namida”.) “Just…Tears” is a powerful track, in which feelings of sorrow coming straight from the heart can be heard both in the lyrics and in Jero’s voice itself. It highlights just how good a singer Jero is – such emotion flows from his voice with only a piano for accompaniment for the majority of the song. Additionally, it’s a song that allows me to highlight that enka is serious stuff for grown-ups.

As always, filming in black & white means it’s emotional time.

Next time! The complete opposite of serious stuff for grown-ups. (Probably!)
More Jero:
Official Website: http://jero.jp/ (Japanese)

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jeroenka (Japanese & English)

J-Pop Sunday: T.M.Revolution

I’m sat here, rubbing my hands in glee: I’ve been waiting for this one! I’ve had this act in reserve until I felt the time is right. This week’s J-Pop Sunday shines the spotlight on another one of my top three Japanese music acts; T.M.Revolution. Expect fangirl-esque gushing. I love this man.

Why was the time right? It was his birthday this week!
Quick Guide:
Act Name: T.M.Revoluton (A.K.A. T.M.R.)
Line-up: Takanori Nishkawa (西川 貴教)
Years Active: 1996 – Present
Genre: (God-Tier) Pop
Kaito’s Choice Tracks: “FLAGS” (2011), “Heart of Sword” (1996), “UTAGE” (宴/”Banquet”)(2011)

After dropping out of high school to pursue a music career, young Takanori joined a Visual Kei band called Luis-Mary in the early 90’s. It was during this time that Daisuke Asakura (Remember him? From Access?) spotted his talent and took him under his wing as a protégé/creative outlet and re-branded our young hero as “Takanori Makes Revolution”. Or “T.M.Revolution” for short. Or simply “T.M.R.” if that’s still too much for you. To this day Daisuke still works closely to T.M.R. Since Takanori’s debut as T.M.R., Takanori has had a number of hit singles, been married, formed a rock band side project (called “Abingdon Boys School”), been divorced, provided theme songs to several popular anime and video game franchises, become a cultural ambassador for his home region of Shiga prefecture, founded the highly successful Inazuma Rock Festival near his hometown, and somehow manage to look 20 years younger than he actually is. I mean, I would. Wouldn’t you?


Here’s a nonsensical music video: It’s called “FLAGS”.
T.M.R’s style of music contains traces of his Access mentor’s roots; unashamedly flamboyant and occasionally silly. Additionally, many of his songs – such as FLAGS – are littered with big, dramatic crescendos, guitar riffs, and various noise that wouldn’t have been possible before a certain Mr. Roland made his first keyboard. In a word, I’d probably describe his sound as “Fun”. Which is why I like it.

Early T.M.R works however are even closer to Access’ style than can be called comfortable. In the video for “Heart of Sword” – a track from T.M.R’s debut year of 1996 – we can practically see Daisuke operating the puppet strings attached to T.M.R. Although not my favourite track from T.M.R’s early days – that would be 1997’s “HOT LIMIT” – it’s worth taking a look at just to see the obvious influences and also to see how far we’ve come in the past 17 years.


“Heart of Sword” or “Access: The Next Generation” as I call it.
Live performance time! It’s “UTAGE”! And it’s being performed at the Inazuma Rock fest! UTAGE is another over the top, flamboyant song that we’ve come to expect from T.M.Revolution, but this one has a slightly epic tone to it and I think it’s a great one to end this week’s column on.


Loving the Sengoku era theme…
Until next time!

More information:

Official Twitter (Japanese & English)

Official Facebook (Japanese & English)

Official Homepage (Mostly Japanese)

J-Pop Sunday: The Mirraz

Time for another J-Pop Sunday! No, wait! Don’t run away, avid TBO reader! These guys are all punk rock-y and that means that this column might actually fit in with the rest of the site for once! That’s right cool kids and kidettes, I can be cool! Check out “The Mirraz”!

…You can’t see it, but right now I’m doing a super-cool double hand finger guns thing to show how cool I am. Oh yes.

Nah, the camera’s over here, lads.

Quick Guide:
Act Name: The Mirraz
Shohei Hatakeyama (畠山 承平) – Vocals/Guitar
Masahika Sato (畠山 承平) – Guitar/Vocals
Keizo Nakajima (中島 ケイゾ) – Bass/Vocals
Rui Sekiguchi (関口 塁) – Drums (Former member, left June 2013)
Years Active: 2006 – Present
Genre: Indie Punk/Rock
Kaito’s Choice Tracks: TOP OF THE FUCK’N WORLD (2010), ハッピーアイスクリーム (Happy Ice Cream)(2010), 真夏の屯田兵 ~yeah! yeah! yeah!~ (Colonizers of Midsummer ~ yeah! yeah! yeah! ~)(2013)

So, The Mirraz! I’ll be brief: The band formed in the September of 2006, got their name from the mistaken belief that “Mirra” was Portuguese for “Mummy” – as in those chaps in Egyptian Tombs – and were influenced primarily by British band “The Arctic Monkeys”.

…And that’s all I’ve got. I’m sorry! I literally only found out about these guys yesterday after buying their third album in a game of “J-Band Album Roulette Chance”. English language information about the band seems to be scarce and my Japanese is just awful. However, I do feel as though I hit the jackpot with my little shopping game and after checking out their music, I’m sure you will feel the same.

Title and opening track from the album I mentioned a moment ago, ‘TOP OF THE FUCK’N WORLD’ oozes a delightful blend of tough and cool which builds to suggest that we’re in for a treat with the rest of the album, yet it doesn’t fall into the trap of being an “intro track”. It’s strong enough to stand on its own feet, even without the album behind it.

How many different Tokyo landmarks can YOU name in the video for “Happy Ice Cream”?

You could argue that Happy Ice Cream is generic and/or repetitive, especially in the guitar riffs, but, it’s still a nice song to chill or drive out to. And it makes me smile.

“Colonizers of Midsummer ~ yeah! yeah! yeah! ~” appears on the band’s latest release.

Another upbeat track, “Colonizers of Midsummer” feels free-spirited while invoking the spirit of classic punk in its’ music. Which, y’know, it’s pretty neat. Those guitar riffs in particular make me think so.

See, cool punk people, Japanese music can be hip too. Sadly, I’ll never be “with it.” Until next time!

More of The Mirraz:
Official Website: http://the-mirraz.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/the_mirraz
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheMirraz

J-Pop Sunday – Super Update Special!

Hello all! Welcome to a slightly different edition of J-Pop Sunday! Today, rather than introduce you to a new artist, we’re instead going to have a quick look back to some of the artists we’ve covered over the past six months and check out what they’ve been up to since they were featured. I swear, this is totally not like when the writing team of a sitcom have run out of ideas and decide to do a clip show episode. Honestly. And the editor lady said it was ok.

First up, remember Kyary Pamyu Pamyu? Of course you do, we mentioned her back in February. The young fashionista has continued her campaign towards global domination by hosting live performances around the world – including here in the UK –appearing in adverts for literally anything back home in Japan – including KFC, Suzuki, and most recently a part time work recruitment agency – and of course she’s still releasing music. A new album “Nanda Collection” was released in June and two singles from the album have also appeared. “Invader Invader” (which – I’ll be honest – I thought was a bit pants) and “Ninjyaribanban” which mixes together Kyary’s familiar style with an old timey Japan theme.

Ahhhh, LiSA. Gosh, she’s still pretty. She’s also released a new single since we last saw her. It’s called “Träumerei” (which translates from German as “Dreaming”) and yet again it’s being used to plug an anime series. Come on LiSA, you don’t need to do this anymore! You’re more than good enough to stand on your own two feet! All it leads to are weird NicoNico (a Japanese video sharing site; it’s like YouTube but full of Miku Hatsune videos) and YouTube comments…

Most surprisingly, BABYMETAL still exist. I wasn’t originally planning on including them in this update round-up…thing, but their newest single “Megitsune” (Female Fox) is actually pretty awesome. They also performed at Japan’s “Summer Sonic” rock festival earlier this month.

90’s throwbacks Access (or AXS if you prefer) have a new single and are on tour once again. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find the video for “JOY TRAIN” – yes ,that really is the name of the single – so we’re going to have to make do with the advert for it which – according to TBO Editor-in-Chief, Robyn – is “like the 80s vomited rainbows onto YouTube”.

In very slightly more sane news POLYSICS and the telephones join forces next month to embark on a joint European tour! (Get hype, people!) The bands will visit France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and the UK this September. POLYSICS’ official English language site had all the info for dates and venues. Under normal circumstances I would be very excited at the prospect of seeing my favourite band performing live, but, as current plans go, I will be out of the country when they are in the UK. This makes me rather angry at myself and at one git who is currently in Canada. As such I think we should leave it there for now.

I need a cup of tea to calm myself down. UNTIL NEXT TIME, PEOPLE! There will be new content. I swear.