SHANGHAI - Last month, I attended several of Japanese band Alice Nine's concerts in China. I think it's no exaggeration to call the band, which now has a decade under its belt, one of the five most popular Japanese bands overseas. The hundreds of young Chinese women who attended the shows with me are sure to agree.
I started my full-fledged cultural diplomacy activities in China in January 2010. Since then, I've met so many young women there who truly love Japanese anime, music and fashion. I've attended fashion shows and lectures in China, and many of those events wouldn't have materialized without their support.
I feel most young Japanese language learners at China's educational institutions are women. When I give lectures at the Japanese language departments of universities there, the audiences are often made up of mostly female students.
Indeed, some of them have grown up enjoying Japanese anime and manga. Others buy Chinese editions of Japanese women's fashion magazines each month. They are an important bridge between Japan and China. However, the Japanese media seldom report on these women and they are not at all well known in Japan.
I thought it was such a shame that I decided to publish "Nihon ga Sukisugiru Chugokujin Joshi" (Young Chinese women who love Japan too much) in the PHP Shinsho paperback series last year. The women who came to Alice Nine's performances in China were the same type of women as I described in the book.
I'm good friends with the members of Alice Nine, and I've received messages on Twitter from many overseas fans of the band, all telling how they like the band and how they want them to come and perform live.
The band's performances in China were part of its recent Asia tour and probably the first of its kind for major Japanese artists. I went to their Beijing and Shanghai shows and stayed with them from morning to night, seeing what their lives were like.
On June 5, I was in front of a live venue in Beijing where the band was performing. Although it was a few hours before the doors were set to open, I found many local fans already starting to arrive. When I asked my Chinese friend to talk with the fans in Chinese, they told us they were familiar with my name and face. I was surprised. Although I had a similar experience at the overseas live shows of other Japanese artists, the event reminded me that people around the world share information via the Internet. They read my articles and tweets on the Internet all the more enthusiastically because they are reading from outside Japan.
In China, bands have yet to explode the way they have in Japan, Europe and the United States. As a result, facilities in the country's live venues are still developing, including equipment and air conditioning. When standing venues are packed, the temperature on-stage and among the audience can get pretty high. Nevertheless, the band and the Chinese audience remained enthusiastic throughout the shows, even as they lasted nearly two hours.
I also noticed that many Chinese women at the shows understood when band members spoke to them in Japanese. Even though I had anticipated as much, seeing it in person was still truly surprising.
For young people in China, watching Japanese anime is probably the best way to learn the language. Anime voice acting is better developed in Japan than anywhere else. Fans worldwide want to watch the anime with original Japanese voices without dubbing in their own language. And since anime often has more spoken lines than live-action films, it helps greatly to improve the audience's listening comprehension skill.
Returning to Alice Nine's shows in China, however, it seems their audiences are different from those at events featuring voice actors and anime song singers, which still attract the greatest numbers of attendees among Japanese celebrity appearances. My friend, who has organised many events in Beijing featuring Japanese voice actors, said he hadn't seen anyone from the band's audiences before at other events.
It has been said that anime songs act as a major musical bridge between Japan and China. However, there are other types of Japanese music that can also touch people overseas.
I hope many Japanese artists will follow the path that Alice Nine has helped to open in China. It's an important development for the Japanese music industry as well, and just might be a new bridge between the two countries.