The Nation March 23, 2013 6:19 pm
Stars from Japan's acting and music scene head to Bangkok to promote their country's popular culture
Proving that Japan is still hot with Thai fans, singer and actor Taguchi Junnosuke, a member of Japan's popular boy band Kat-Tun, actress Kanno Miho, singer Piko and girl group Tokyo Girls' Style drew thousands of fans to the recent J Series Festival at Siam Pavalai Theatre.
Junnosuke wasn't in town to sing but to promote his drama "Legal High". Miho presented 2003's "Ooku" ("The Inner Palace") and the more recent "Saka no Ue no Kubo" ("Cloud Above the Slope"). Piko and Tokyo Girls both stuck to music with the former showcasing tracks "Yumehana" and "Kotonoha" from his new album "Hitokoe" while the teens performed "Futarikiri" and "Onnaji Kimochi".
All eight of them were happy to answer a few questions, so we started by asking Junnosuke and Miho if this was their first time in Thailand.
"It's actually my third trip. I was here 10 years ago for the Pattaya Music Festival. Now, I can eat 'phak chee' (coriander)," Junnosuke says.
"I don't remember how many times I've come here but probably five or six times with my family. We went to Phuket," says Miho, adding her favourite destination in Bangkok is khao san Road.
Junnosuke plays Kaga Ranmarua in the TV drama "Legal High".
"Kaga is a spy and dresses in several disguises so that nobody really knows what he's up to. For me, the most challenging scene was the one where I was supposed to be eating a meal. We had three takes and each time I had to eat a lot of food so by the time we got to the last time, I was having trouble swallowing! As the series is a comedy, the atmosphere on the set was fun."
Miho says she enjoyed filming "'Ooku', the story of the lives of the women living in the hidden, maze-like inner structure of Edo Castle. "I was working with an older actress and she was very kind to me," she says. "I'm 36 now and have much more experience and would love to have a go at dubbing an anime film."
Asked how he stays in shape for the filming, Junnosuke laughs and explains that he doesn't like to sleep before a shoot as his "waking up" eyes always look too small. Miho adds that she keeps fit by doing yoga.
Both are keen for Thai viewers to see their series.
"I hope Thai people will learn about Japanese culture through the series," says Junnosuke. Miho agrees, adding that while shooting a series can be tiring, the results are always worth the effort.
Signed to Sony Music Entertainment's sub-label Ki/oon Music in 2010, 25-year-old pop singer Piko is also called "Ryouseirui", a fan-made word that describes his wide vocal range, which includes notes typical of both male and female voice types. He released his debut album, "1Piko" in 2011 and followed up last year with "2Piko". He also provided the voice library for "Utatane Piko", the first Vocaloid (singing voice synthesiser) from Sony Music Distribution.
"I have gone just about everywhere in Thailand and to Pattaya several times. I love the country' it's very liveable," says Piko, whose latest album, "Hitokoe" sees him working together with fellow Vocaloid artists Hatsune Miku & Gumi."
His single "Emiiro Refrain" was produced by L'arc-en-Ciel bassist Tetsuya.
"Emiiro is an expression of feeling. Blue means sadness while orange or green depict enjoyment," he says.
Piko, who was discovered by Japan's music industry through his Internet uploads, stays in touch with his Thai fans through Twitter.
"They write to me in Japanese," he says. "And it's really great to see so many of them at this festival. I'm at my happiest when the audience participates in my concerts."
A five-member female Japanese pop vocal and dance group signed to Avex Trax, Tokyo Girls' Style features teenagers Miyu Yamabe, Yuri Nakae, Ayano Konishi, Mei Shyoji and Hitomi Arai. Their debut album "Kodou no Himitsu" was released in 2011 and included their previous hit singles "Kirari" and "Onnaji Kimochi". The Japanese idol group broke into the Asian market with a re-recording of "Onnaji Kimochi" in Mandarin Chinese.
All five say this is their first visit to Thailand and they're already looking forward to coming back.
"We were really surprised that Thai fans knew about us and the warm welcome was great," says Yamabe. We've tried tom yum koong and we loved it. I'd like to try Thai-style sukiyaki."
Shyoji answers the question about the girls' music style, saying "it's fresh and joyful and everybody can dance to it.
Arai, who turns 15 next month, says she doesn't have problems balancing work and studying. "I'm the youngest and so I'm always asking for help from the others," she giggles.
Slow wave returning
The Nation March 23, 2013 6:16 pm
Japanese popular culture makes a move to once again conquer the hearts of Thai fans
Once a thriving trend that turned Thais into serious manga readers and cosplay freaks, Japan's popular culture was almost washed away during the past decade by the Korean wave.
But now J-pop is back, perhaps not as a surge, but gradually lapping Thai shores through music and television dramas.
The last 18 months alone have seen major concert promoter BEC-Tero bringing in such J-rock acts as X Japan, L'Arc-en-Ciel, Luna Sea, Scandal and Depapepe.
Avalon Live has focused on J-pop artists with concerts by Yamashita "Yamapi" Tomohisa and Hey! Say! Jump and is still hoping to rebook the boy band Kat-Tun, who have cancelled twice, first because of 2010's political unrest here and then due to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
"The Japanese trend is coming though slowly but I don't think it will be as strong as the Korean wave," says Avalon Live's CEO Kittiwat Manosuthi, who is planning to bring in two Japanese artists this year.
"It's worth noting though that total ticket sales for the Korean concerts have reduced by half compared to a couple of years ago. So, I think it's fair to say that the demand for K-pop is down."
Other entertainment promoters have noticed the trend and stepped in to bridge the gap. Japanese TV stations, among them NHK, NTV, TBS, Fuji TV, TV Asashi and TV Tokyo, joined the recent J Series Festival, the biggest collaboration between Thai and Japanese TV networks to date and supported by Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.
"Thai and Japanese people have enjoyed a close relationship for a very long time," says Japanese ambassador Shigekazu Sato. "There are plenty of Japanese restaurants, companies and cartoons around Thailand but Japanese dramas and movies are rarely shown on screen. I asked my daughter why the Korean series are so very popular and she said it's because they are easier to understand than the complicated Japanese series. I would like J-series to be an alternative for Thai people because they are important representatives of our culture. On behalf of the Japanese government, I will officially support the policy of importing J series to several countries in Asia."
Eleven Japanese TV series were presented during the festival's press conference at Siam Paragon's Siam Pavalai Theatre with excerpts from "Seigi no Mikata" ("Ally of Justice"), "Nobuta wo Produce", "The Solitary Gourmet", "Love Strikes", "Teppei", "Legal High", "Rinjou: The Voice of the Death", "Antarctica", "Cloud Above the Slope", "Taira no Kiyomori" and "Ooku" ("The Inner Palace") all shown on screen.
The copyright of some of the series is already held by Thai stations.
"Antarctica", the true story of a team of Japanese explorers and the dogs they were forced to leave behind, finished its run on Thai PBS last night.
Modernine has the rights to "Ooku" while Workpoint TV hold the lawyers-in-love drama "Legal High". And Bang Channel has two - "Seigi no Mikata" and "Nobuta wo Produce."
The festival also saw the participation of Kat-Tun's Taguchi Junnosuke, who stars in "Legal High", actress Kanno Miho from "Ooku", singer Piko and idol group Tokyo Girls' Style.
"When I came to Thailand 10 years ago, there were no Japanese series being shown on any Thai channels. Admittedly, the copyright payment used to be rather expensive. Later, with the TV network arrangement, it became cheaper. But even with lower prices, the series didn't become popular. That's why we've organised this festival. Thailand is our first stop but we will also be going to other countries in Asia," says Hajime Shigemura, chairman of Nippon Broadcasting System and the festival's producer.
"Korean dramas are very interesting and have a large fan base in Thailand, so we are working hard to compete," he adds. "But the Korean wave washed ashore in Japan before it came to Thailand but it's now receding. We anticipate that J-pop will replace K-pop in the next year.
However, Hajime has taken note of the comment by the ambassador's daughter about Japanese series being more complicated than their Korean peers.
"We have easy-to-understand series too," he insists. "And that's what we are promoting here. We also produce 10 times more dramas than the South Koreans."
Festival organiser Yupharet Eakturapakal, who is vice president of Mainichi Academic Group and Mainichi Japanese Language School, is confident the Japanese push will succeed. "The TV dramas and comedies are really targeted at those aged 35 an over, most of whom have a fascination with Japan," she says.
Hajime, meanwhile, says he's planning promote Japanese series in Thailand every year.
"And we'll be back again this year too. As a regular visitor to Thailand, I believe that Thais will want to know more about J series," he says.
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