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An Englishman in Japan - J-Pop

Date Posted: 2002-02-21

In England singers sing, actors act, models model and chat show hosts chat. Although, there are a few exceptions, like Bowie and Sting, the general rule is that English entertainers have just the one job.

Japan is a little harder to understand. Take Katori Shingo for example. Over a twenty-four hour period, Shingo has more personas than Barbie. There is the singing and dancing boy band Shingo, TV Shingo (where he hosts the show SMAP SMAP), comedian Shingo, quiz-show contestant Shingo and English teacher Shingo. After that, you have to add Shingo’s alter ego Shingo Mama, the apronned housewife who sings, solves world problems and taught Japan how to sign “O – Ha.”

Then there is Morning Musume, the biggest girl group in Japan. The members of the band seem to change from week to week as girls arrive and leave. Just like Shingo the girls have other roles as TV actors, models, solo singers, mini-group singers, game show contestants, and representatives for “Pocky” and air conditioners. It makes you wonder how they ever have time to write songs or practice singing. This may be the reason that, before I came to Japan, I hadn’t heard of one Japanese pop group.

Things seem to be changing. In December 2001, Time magazine had a “music goes global” special. On the front cover was Utada Hikaru. Although, she juggles her career with being a student at Colombia University, she does write most of her own material. The Rush hour 2 soundtrack included one of her songs, which means that it may not be long until she breaks into the American market. In the same magazine, Japan’s “Brilliant Green” was listed as one of the ten best bands on planet Earth. (England’s Radiohead and Portishead also made the list.) Recently, Matsumoto, the lead guitarist of B’z, was given the honor of having a Gibson signature guitar named after him.

One day Japanese pop music may spread across the world. English people will turn on their radio and listen to the likes of Ayumi Hamasaki and Da Pump. It wouldn’t even surprise me if the radio show host turned out to be D.J. Katori Shingo.

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