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Folk-pop duo Yuzu on saying together for 20 years: Keep close, but not too close

Yugin Kitagawa (left) and Koji Iwasawa of Yuzu have known each other since junior high school.
Yugin Kitagawa (left) and Koji Iwasawa of Yuzu have known each other since junior high school.PHOTO: SENHA & CO

That is how Japanese folk-pop duo Yuzu managed to stay together for 20 years

It was in 1996 that Yujin Kitagawa and Koji Iwasawa came together to form the Japanese folk-pop duo Yuzu and started busking on the streets of Yokohama. This year marks their milestone 20th anniversary, and it has been an eventful year with the release of their 13th album Towa as well as their first Asian tour.

Kitagawa and Iwasawa, both 39, will kick it off in Singapore on July 9 at *Scape The Ground Theatre, followed by dates in Hong Kong, Taipei, Osaka and Tokyo.

Kitagawa says: "Since our last visit to Taiwan for our 10th anniversary in 2007, it has been our dream to embark on an Asian Tour."

The title, Yuzu Asia Tour 2016 Summer Natsuiro, refers to their first single, Natsuiro (Summer Colour), released in 1998. Their long list of hits spans the wistful Itsuka (Some Day) and the breezy Sumire (Violet) to the more recent Owaranai Uta (Song That Doesn't End).

The band are named after the Japanese citrus fruit, and it supposedly came about after Kitagawa ate a yuzu sherbet. He says: "I do like the fruit quite a bit. It's a must in Japanese cuisine. I also like yuzu tea, it's good for the throat."

  • BOOK IT / YUZU ASIA TOUR 2016 SUMMER NATSUIRO

  • WHERE: *Scape, The Ground Theatre

    WHEN: July 9, 7pm

    ADMISSION: $118 and $138 (VIP) from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Iwasawa adds: "In Japan, we use the fruit as a spice or in bath salts most of the time. I don't mind its 'supporting role'."

1.  How did you start making music together?

Kitagawa: We wrote songs together initially, but felt it wasn't going anywhere. So we started writing songs separately. With regards to our voices, well, we were oblivious to how well they went together until people around us told us.

Iwasawa: We simply loved harmonising with each other while singing - the compatibility was really a coincidence.

2. You have known each other since junior high school. What were you like then?

Kitagawa: Iwasawa was the "Gian" in our junior high school - sort of like the boss' right-hand man. (Gian is the big-sized bully in the Doraemon comics.)

Iwasawa: Kitagawa was a part of the student council and spoke at podiums during debate matches - he was quite prominent in school.

3. How did you come up with your first single Natsuiro?

Kitagawa: While we were street busking, we were thinking of how to increase our repertoire of songs and it was also close to summer, so we thought, "We should write a summer song!"

I have memories of making the song like that. It was written in May or June, during the monsoon season.

Iwasawa: It's an ever-evolving song when we perform it live.

4. How have you managed to stay together as a duo for 20 years?

Kitagawa: Keep close, but not too close. When I think he's in a bad mood, I try to keep a distance. There aren't too many times, but through short discussions and playing music, we've managed to resolve our differences.

Iwasawa: We have only each other so when one of us gives in, a conclusion is easily reached because we can't take a majority vote.

5. How do you survive in the tough music industry?

Kitagawa: I think it's because of the love our fans have for our songs. On a personal level, I think it's that I am able to challenge my curiosity for new things continuously.

Iwasawa: It's not by our own effort. We were blessed to meet wonderful friends, seniors and juniors, staff members and fans, that we were able to be active for the last 20 years.

Also, I think it's important I don't forget that I love to sing.

6. What have been some of the highlights and toughest moments over the last 20 years?

Kitagawa: The last performance of our street busking was really memorable as 7,000 people gathered at Isezakicho in Yokohama where we sang. It was a surprise and also touching.

It was tough when we made our debut. Our lifestyle and environment changed completely and we were not able to adapt to those changes then. Also, when we entered our 10th anniversary, it was the first time we experienced a slump and it was difficult not being able to write songs.

Iwasawa: We go on a concert tour every year and I'm touched every single time. I'm very thankful to every fan who specially comes to watch us perform.

I don't really have any tough moments other than when I lose my voice or am unwell physically. But there are mornings when I oversleep while on tour and I feel low about that the whole day.

7. What is your favourite thing about being in Yuzu?

Kitagawa: When a good song is finished, it's exciting to find out how that song would be received by others.

Iwasawa: It would have to be the moment when I realise that people actually listen to the songs we sing.

Kitagawa: I want to continue making music together for as long as my body can take it. Or at least until I'm 60, I want to hold onto a tambourine and jump, while singing Natsuiro.

8. How would you like to be remembered?

Kitagawa: It's our first Asia tour so I hope those who come to watch us will get to know us and think, "So this is Yuzu". Diving back into our roots, we hope to connect with our fans in Asia through music.

Iwasawa: "I want to see them live again" or "I want their CD". I'd be happy if those who come to our concert think this way.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2016, with the headline 'Keep close, but not too close'. Print Edition | Subscribe