Hopes and Fears of Jpop in 2015

Since the year’s ending, I thought of writing something like this. Feel free to comment below and give your thoughts too.

What are your hopes and fears for Jpop in 2015?

HOPES

- indie bands get more exposure and continue to expand. We’ve seen a surge this year and that’s good.
– Japanese music industry to reduce blockage towards international fans, instead promote them further
– Solo artists like Namie Amuro to continue making great music
– Ayumi Hamasaki to take a much needed hiatus and reconsider her direction, then makes a comeback with a hit song, a legitimate one and not her Utada Hikaru cover.
– One or two male and female solo artist to make it big. As of now, we only have Namie Amuro making a name for herself. There are abundant of groups already so now I’m just craving for a solid solo artist who can compete with the idol groups.
– Speaking of idol groups, as much as I like them, I wish there aren’t so many of them that dominates the charts (yes, Oricon, looking at you). This gives a somewhat unbalanced view or perception to international listeners thinking that that’s all Japan has to offer. I’m not talking about the veteran Jpop fans, they know where to find their favorite genre already and seasoned enough to know there’s a huge variety in Jpop if you look deeper. But for a casual listener or someone who’s new to the scene, may have a look at the charts just to see who to listen to and all they get are the male and female idol groups dominating half of the chart, leaving the rest obscured. Seriously, there are gems if you do a bit of research. But how much time do you think these newbies would spend. This turns off most of them, in my opinion. There are quality idol songs out there, but let’s be honest, most of them are too generic and doesn’t quite measure to those underrated real artists. I’m not bashing on idol groups, I love Momusu (a huge fan indeed and do follow quite a few others as well, including AKB). As someone who views Jpop as a whole, I’m just worried about how the charts would give wrong signals globally. Then again, Japan can still survive without international support lol
-Oricon to create a separate chart system for Idol groups alone
– Appeal to more international fans as a whole, yes, I wish more people can actually appreciate the diversity Jpop can offer us

 FEARS
– Idol boom will continue, maybe even bigger, dominating Oricon
-My favorite artists stay stagnant and release mediocre singles/albums or none at all
– Japanese music company continue to block us international fans (Sony especially) and give us those short version PVs, and overall this again, turns off any hope for gaining new Jpop fans.
– Hearing any of the artists I’m following going into hiatus
– Hearing any artists who succumbed to any form of sickness/disease
– 48G expand again to other countries, I heard rumors of them planning to go Phillipines and Okinawa a while ago. Just no more, Aki-P. I don’t see the purpose of creating new groups in other countries when all they do is sing the exact same song (even if sung in their own language) and not getting as much attention as the flagship group itself. I mean, do the Japanese fans even care about those sister groups abroad? I don’t think so.

Not just your typical idol

 

I did say I wanted to dedicate a post for Michishige Sayumi, leader of Morning Musume ’14. Actually, ex-leader and ex-member of Momusu. I still find it a bit hard to accept that she’s no longer in MM. Anyways, to keep this short, I’ll make it brief.

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Last night was her graduation concert and I didn’t think it’d make me feel so depressed until I actually sat down and watched the stream. Or at least, tried to because it was lagging so terribly. I blame it on my slowpoke line. But the glimpses of what I could watch, I was in awe. The venue as we all know is Yokohoma Arena and it’s not the usual tight-spaced venues for MM. Budoukan was awesome of course but this was really on a whole different level of awesomeness. I can’t wait for the DVD to be out. The whole area was filled with sea of pink and fans chanting Sayumi’s name. It was overwhelming and when it finally kicked off, I felt an enormous sense of regret. Yes, REGRET.

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Why didn’t I make an effort to attend this? Well to be honest, Sayumi has never been my favorite member but I really like and respect her as a leader and an idol. She spent 12 years of her life in the group she loved so much and still does, of course even if she’s no longer a member. She joined not because she wanted to be famous, she’s not particularly good in singing or dancing either. She joined purely because she loves the group and wanted to be apart of it. By now you’d think what’s so special about her? Well, I normally prefer my favs to be at least good in singing or dancing. For example my favorite current member is Ishida Ayumi who’s really talented in dancing.

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So what about Sayumi? First of all, I respect her for being an idol for 12 years without any scandal. It’s not 5 or 8 years, but 12. That’s a long, long time. I think she really preserves the idol image the best way she can till the end of her graduation. It’s something I look up to. Sure, she had this ‘poison tongue’ image during Platinum Era but we all know that was for the sake of variety and also to promote not only herself but the group as a whole. It worked at least when people still remember her as the member from Morning Musume. Maybe that’s exactly what she wanted? Even if people hated her, people actually googled up Morning Musume so it worked nonetheless.

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Secondly, her being leader was probably the biggest thing that changed my perception towards her. I didn’t really care about her existence before but after she took over as Leader, with a bunch of new generations under her wings, that was when she showed her capabilities to the maximum. I only started following this group as a fan in the last 1 ½ years, so I did notice the amount of effort and struggle they had to go through to rise again. As Leader, she never gave up and persevered. Even though Reina (same gen member) graduated and she was the only senpai left, she stayed on to lead the rest. And in two years time, we witnessed how she pulled them up and I’m not just talking about sales or the 5th consecutive Oricon No.1s. Momusu was starting to get more and more exposure through her leadership (thanks also to Tsunku’s music production), the way she promoted the group and new members any opportunity she got. All in all, she showed a great leadership and the unity is strong in the group. You can just feel it.

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So from the smaller venues to bigger ones like Budoukan and finally Yokohama Arena. I’m truly happy she could make it to Yokohama Arena for her graduation concert. She deserved every bit of it. It was a magnificent sight to behold. My wish is the same as hers. She wants her juniors to be able to perform in big venues like this in the future on their own merit. She wants them to surpass her. That’s a great message. 1233978_10152603791170958_438896163742409853_n

As for the concert, she had a sudden leg cramp halfway through and I did see pain radiating from her face a couple of times. But what a trooper. She continued dancing, less vigorously, but still all smiles after changing to sneakers. This is the first time someone hurt her foot on their own graduation concert. But she was such a trooper till the very end. Kudos to her for all the hard work. Kudos to her juniors too, you can feel this really intense emotion from all of them. Since this was their first time performing in an arena, they really gave it their all. They were really good, all of them, even Haruna surprised me with her solo and of course, Sayumi probably gave her best performance ever in her career.

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Morning Musume without Sayumi is something I will have to get used to. I have no worries for the current 9 members in terms of stage performances because they really improved a lot and are like pros now. They have no problem in terms of lives. I am slightly worried though about the 12th gen members because they’re new and I just hope they do their best when performing later. It’d be interesting to see what kind of formations they come up with for 13 people, instead of 10.

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So that’s the end of an era. What will be in store for us curious minds in 2015?

Credits for some pics:
https://www.facebook.com/notes/up-front-link/en-morning-musume14-sayumi-michishige-sotsugyou-live-yokohama-arena/788028331256086

Things I love about Japanese culture

In the previous post, I’ve touched on the ‘godlike’ customer service I received in Japan. Here, I’ll write about the other random things I noticed about their culture.

  1. Cleanliness. I’ve been to Singapore although many many years ago but I still recalled just how clean it was. No rubbish on the streets, in fact there’s a hefty fine if anyone’s caught for littering. I recalled crossing the bridge and immigration into Singapore from Johor and the sky was as if it were cut into two. Heavily polluted in Johor and just fresh air in Singapore. Then, I went to Japan and all I can say is, I’ve not seen a single, not even a tiny rubbish on the streets. Not even in the back alleys. It reminded me of my experience in Singapore. Public toilets are exceptionally clean, no unpleasant smell, and their toilet bowl is really something. They’re mostly automated, and you can try the bidet to wash your butt if you want (I personally felt awkward using it so I didn’t). There’s also a touch sensor for the sanitary disposal which is great because it prevents us from touching the bin in any way at all.
  2. They’re probably taught to be thoughtful and civic-minded from young. Rush hour in Tokyo but no pushing. Just straight lines, two for each train door, on the sides. They also wait until most of the people inside the train already come out before entering. People are expected to use the left side of the escalator whereas the right ones are for those in hurry. It’s common sense but it’s not practiced in my country. I have been personally squashed like a sardine while taking the train to city. It was traumatic and when I think back, why did I even have to suffer like that? I can say for sure that our country is just not civilized enough. People just care about themselves, selfish and wouldn’t think of how they’re troubling others.
  3. Trains are very efficient in Japan. It’s so efficient that I didn’t even have time to snap pictures around the station while lining up. You can see it during rush hour. People are rushing to get to their offices or schools on time. But they’re not desperate till they push themselves inside the train. Often, I noticed that whenever the train seemed full, they’ll just wait for the next one. Afterall, within a minute, the next one will arrive. I’m not sure how many trains they have but they definitely have plenty and they’re trying their best to not let the customers wait or waste time. Time is precious. I often felt like I was wasting my time at train stations, just waiting for them in Malaysia. The trains are often not accurate and even if they’re late, they don’t seem very apologetic about it. They don’t show as much care and respect as they do for their customers compared to Japanese. Needless to say, I’m a very disappointed customer in Malaysia and I often avoid taking trains at all if I can.
  4. Roads are smooth as silk in Tokyo. I’ve not been to the suburbs or other areas. Since I’ve only focused my trip in Tokyo, I noticed that 99% of the roads and small streets are really smooth. Even the manholes are leveled with the roads. It’s not the case in Malaysia. I’d be happy enough to see the city roads to at least be clean of rubbish but even that doesn’t happen so I’m utterly disappointed with the road quality – holes, lots of them. Some roads will also be flooded and have puddles when it rains here, I don’t see that in Tokyo. Maybe when there’s typhoon it might flood but normal rains still keep the roads clean of any puddles.
  5. Crime rate is low in Japan. I think this is something everybody knows. I had one experience whereby I left my phone in the toilet in a departmental store one day. 30 minutes later I realized and went back to the toilet. It was gone but I tried not to panic. I’ve heard of how crime rates are low there so I was hoping someone kind would turn it over at the counter or something. And I was right. I was directed to the Information Counter and there it was, on the table. My phone. The staff lady asked politely whether it was mine, which I happily replied yes. I was beyond relieved. She asked me to fill up a form before handing it over to me while smiling. I guess people just don’t really steal there. I try to think if I left it in the public toilet in Malaysia, I’d be really lucky if it was handed in at Lost and Found but I think there’s 70% chance I might not see my phone ever again. Another case was when me and my friend arrived really late in Ikebukuro. By the time we arrived at the station, it was already midnight so imagine us, two girls walking on the streets past midnight, with luggage, looking for directions. Ikebukuro was still busy even past midnight so there are plenty of people around and there was also a police box nearby. The policeman was very helpful and pointed us to the right direction. To be honest, I won’t feel as safe as this if I were to walk at midnight in KL. But I just don’t feel danger lurking in Japan. Of course, it’s still better not to walk around during midnight anywhere. Another observation was how kids as young as 6-7 years old can be seen taking trains alone to schools (because they’re in uniforms). I mean, can you imagine doing that here in Malaysia? No way.
  1. Recycling can be seen everywhere in Japan. While it was kind of hard to find rubbish bins along the streets (I had trouble looking for one), you’ll most probably find them at stations or stores. And it’s not just one type. As most of you know already, Japan has a strict system of recycling whereby households need to separate their rubbish according to type. If they fail to do so, their rubbish would probably not be collected until they separate them properly. In public places, you’ll notice at least 4 types of rubbish bins, flammable, inflammable, PET bottles and other things. It’s a great practice.

I like how their culture works. It’s something I would love to see implemented in my own country, for example, cleanliness and civilized manner. Everything just seems much more orderly in Japan. People stick to rules and if one doesn’t, he or she gets the frown form others. So I think it creates a kind of fear of being an outcast, hence they try their best to abide by the rules created. And it’s good. I like things to be more systematic too. It makes things more efficient and less space for error. There’s a lot we can learn from them.

Customer service in Japan

The ‘godlike’ customer service in Japan may be something the locals grew up with and thought very little of as nothing more than a norm in their society but to some foreigners like me, I can’t help but be more than amazed by them. Any place I went into, be it a convenient store like 7 eleven or any random shop, I probably was thanked more than I ever was in my entire life here. I’m not exaggerating. If you don’t believe me, fly to Japan now and you’ll understand what I’m trying to convey here. In fact, it is really something to be experienced yourself. And trust me, you’ll love it.

These are the number of things I noticed and personally experienced in my 2 weeks holiday in Tokyo.

  1. It’s customary for them to greet you the moment you stepped inside the store, or even when you’re just passing by. When you leave, you’ll be greeted again with ‘Thank you’, even if you didn’t buy anything. Yes, their eyes are sharp enough to notice when you’re coming in or leaving. They just seem to have the knack for that even if they’re busy preparing food in the kitchen (for example, at a diner).
  2. When you pay, there’s often a tray in front of the cashier for you to put your money (paper or coins). The cashier will then ask you, “Is this amount alright with you?” meaning whether the amount you’ve put in the tray is fine or would you like to add some more. When you said yes or just nod, they’ll take it, count and tell you how much you’re paying. Up to this point, it may still seem normal. But what comes after is quite overwhelming even for me. They will tell you how much is the change and you probably think it’s fine for them to just return the money and be done with it. But no. It doesn’t end there. They will count the money in front of you (flipping the paper money and count one by one for you) and only then, they hand you over your change gently, with care and a soft toned voice. They treat your money with respect. Unlike some of the shops I’ve been to in my own country, they just shove you back the money and can’t wait for you to move aside for the next customer. Sometimes you wonder why all these tedious systematic flow of actions when it involves something as simple as paying. I thought about it for a while after experiencing it for the first time ever in my life. Then it occurred to me that this can avoid any mistake in returning your cash or any misunderstanding later. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before at least once when the cashier returned the wrong amount to you, either more or less. By actually counting it in front of the customer, it can assure that both sides see what was being paid back to the customer and avoid the risk of any miscalculations. Well at least, this is why I think they do it anyway. It’s a tedious system and might be seen as a waste of time but I’d rather waste those few seconds than to come back arguing about the wrong payment later.
  3. Let’s talk about gift-wrapping. Packaging in general is very pretty and attractive over there. Now if you buy ‘omiyage’ or ‘souvenirs’ it comes with better service. I personally bought a traditional cake or ‘youkan’ at a shopping mall, I forgot which one exactly, either Tobu or Seibu departmental store. But I’m sure it’s the same anywhere else. They take their time to wrap your ‘omiyage’ carefully and on top of that, if it’s a rainy day, they will wrap another extra layer of plastic over the paper bag. It shows just how thoughtful they are towards your item. They don’t want your item to be drenched wet in the rain.
  4. Speaking of rainy days, most of the departmental stores prepare plastic wraps for umbrellas before you enter. You’re expected to use it for free. This is so that your dripping wet umbrellas will not cause any inconvenience to others as it might lead to someone tripping over wet floor.
  5. Customer service isn’t only limited to shops or malls, you get them too at railway stations. I noticed that while taking trains and if they suddenly stop midway, the operator will explain why they stopped. I’ve experienced a very much delayed train ride locally and stuck in the middle of the track without knowing the reason. In Japan, that simply does not happen. Even if they stopped to make way for another train to pass, they still explained to you. When they want to start moving, the operator will ask us to be careful and watch our steps because the train will start moving. I know some people do not think much of this. It’s just normal for them to tell us to be careful and whatnot. But I’ve never heard that in our local trains. It just doesn’t happen. Think of the elderly or mothers with children, if the train suddenly moves, they might trip. The screens on the train will show the reasons for delay (even if it’s only a few minutes) and also the exits available once you reach the next station, this is something my friend noticed. So you see, it’s trivial but it’s exactly these little things that make me feel much safer and appreciated, not just as a customer but a human being.

When I returned to Malaysia, I landed in KLIA2 and that was the first public toilet I went. From the moment I stepped into it, there was already an unpleasant smell and it wasn’t really dirty per se but still worse than any random toilets in Japan. There was a cleaner who sat inside another room in the toilet with some music turned on from her tiny radio. I’m not sure but she probably looked grumpy. Then, the worst experience I ever had riding a taxi followed. He drove like a mad guy and for a moment, I really suspected him of being high on drugs. I’m not exaggerating, he probably thought he was driving a Ferrari and racing on the tracks when it was just a normal locally made car. The way he sped on the road, sudden brakes for multiple times, and there were at least 3 instances which he nearly bumped into the car in front. All these caused me to almost throw up. I was really angry but I was just a girl alone inside with a male driver so I didn’t complain. Who knows what he might do to me? See, that’s how afraid I am in my own country. I’ve not experienced anything close to this in Japan. I had more than a culture shock once I arrived in Malaysia. Sometimes I wonder why can’t we be more civilized and good mannered like the Japanese. Just something to share from a disappointed Malaysian.

Japan Trip Day 8 – Nikko

Nikko is approximately 125 km north of Tokyo and it’s about 543m above sea level. It was pretty chilly by evening and we did a mistake by thinking it was going to be like Tokyo’s evening weather, chilly but still bearable. Nikko is on higher grounds so it turned out to be much colder even when there’s no wind. So my two layers (a shirt and a sweater) weren’t quite enough. I was kind of shivering in the evening.

Still, it was a very pleasant trip out of the bustling city of Tokyo. It took us about 2 hrs and 30 mins by rapid train to Nikko from Asakusa station. You can opt for the limited express trains and it’ll take about 100 mins, but the price will be twice as high as rapid.

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Japan Trip Day 7 – Ueno Park + Shibuya

Ueno Park was quite lovely but we didn’t spend much time there, just to see the famous statue and then we headed off to Shibuya, our main attraction. Later on, we headed back to Shibuya about 3-4 times again lol. Yes, that’s how much we love that place.

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JPop loot from Tokyo trip

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I bought Morning Musume ’14’s new album, Limited A edition so it’s a digipak. Then, AKFG’s 10th anniversary concert, Chatmonchy’s new single and Kimura Kaela’s best album.
DIVA’s single was actually a present from a Japanese Twitter friend. Very nice of her!

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DSC06099She gave me this photo too~

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Momusu’s digipak is a sure collectible. Fans should at least try and save money and get this edition if possible because you get the booklet which features a cool photoshoot of all the current members. This is also Sayumi’s last album so this makes it even more special.

DSC06105Even if not for Ayumi’s top position on the cover of this Limited A, I would’ve gotten it anyway. But her position makes this even more irresistible for me as she’s my favorite member. DSC06106The booklet DSC06108 DSC06109DSC06110 DSC06111I’m not going to show everything. You can find scans of these if you google a bit. It’s a great booklet.DSC06112 DSC06113DSC06114pageDSC06128Went to H!P store at Akihabara and got these. This is my first time purchasing idol photos. It actually made me feel awkward but when I saw a middle aged man who paid before me spent about 10, 000 yen I was like…wow. DSC06136Kimura’s best album. I quite like the cover theme. She also used the same girl who was on the cover of her 5 years best album.DSC06101