Push to boost J-pop culture abroad

J-pop star Tomomi Itano held her first solo fan meet and live showcase here last year.
J-pop star Tomomi Itano held her first solo fan meet and live showcase here last year.PHOTO: KING RECORDS

Singapore could see more fan meets with Japanese artists and live events as the entertainment industry looks to grow audiences overseas

Hidehiro Kawano, producer of new Japanese drama Frankenstein's Love, wants foreigners to watch his new series, which is inspired by the horror classic, English novel Frankenstein, written in 1818.

He says at an interview in Tokyo last month: "We picked a topic which even non-Japanese people could connect with right away. Everyone around the world knows Frankenstein. Hopefully, the popularity of the character will increase viewership globally."

Industry players like him are starting to think global and packaging content to appeal to overseas audiences.

One of the reasons Japanese pop culture fell off the radar of mainstream audiences in Singapore is because the Japanese prioritise the lucrative domestic market, says Mr Shawn Chin, managing director of Sozo, an events company specialising in Japanese entertainment.

Last year, Japan was the world's second largest music market after the United States, according to a report released last month by industry body International Federation of the Phonographic Industry.

But attitudes are changing as the entertainment industry takes its cue from the Japanese government's global strategy. The multibillion-dollar Cool Japan Fund, which is financed mostly by Japan's government, was launched in 2013 to promote Japanese products and culture overseas.

Sozo has been bringing in Japanese acts, holding events such as J-pop star Tomomi Itano's first solo fan meet and live showcase here last year. The former member of mega girl group AKB48 is signed to Japanese agency HoriPro Inc.

Mr Yatabe Yukinobu, assistant manager at the music production department at HoriPro, says: "For a long time, Japanese management companies focused on their business in Japan, but we must try to expose and promote our artists globally as that is where the future is."

He notes how the company has been pushing its artists to pick up multiple languages so they can "connect with audiences" at overseas concerts.

More live Japanese entertainment events could be held here in future.

Japanese venue operator Zepp Hall Network, which is under Sony Music Entertainment Japan, will be setting up concert venues across Asia, including Singapore.

Mega Box Event Hall A at Big Box complex in Jurong East will be renovated, with state-of-the-art stage machinery, lighting and sound systems installed.

Japanese rock band Radwimps will be the first act to perform at the revamped venue on June 4.

Sozo's Mr Chin says: "Japanese artists may be more receptive to working with a Japanese venue operator. They are accustomed to doing things the Japanese way."

Japanese entertainment cable channel Gem brought in actor-chef Mocomichi Hayami to Singapore to meet fans and promote his programme Moco's Kitchen last year.

The operator of the new regional channel, which was launched last year, is learning from the marketing success of Korean entertainment channel One. Last year, channel One organised fan meets with Korean star Kang Ha Neul and Korean-American actor Ricky Kim.

"Compared with the South Koreans, Japanese artists do not participate in as many overseas events. We can leverage on the power of Gem and work directly with artists' managements to bring the talent to South-east Asia," says Ms Virginia Lim, senior vice-president and head of content, production and marketing, and networks for Asia at Sony Pictures Television.

The push to boost Japanese pop culture to relive its heyday in the 1990s and early noughties is good news for fans, such as social services manager Cheryl Phua, 36.

"The number of J-dramas available here has increased over the past few years, yet it is not as big as the number of K-dramas," she says.

"Japanese concerts and fan meets are also not held here often. I'm hoping Japanese artists like rock band Alexandros and actor Go Ayano will come to Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2017, with the headline 'Push to boost J-pop culture abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe