Japanese virtual pop sensation Hatsune Miku has toured the world, performing “live” on stages from Singapore to Los Angeles and even opening for Lady Gaga.
But despite legions of adoring fans and worldwide recognition, the computer-generated star, who made her first concert appearance overseas in 2009, had not been able to crack the Chinese market.
That all changed Wednesday night when the digital diva performed a sold-out show in Beijing before an audience of 1,700 at an event co-organized by the Chinese government.
Countless more viewers across China watched along on Chinese streaming site LeTV.
Before the show, Chinese fans, wearing costumes inspired by Japanese school uniforms and anime, streamed into the venue, taking pictures in front of a still photo of the star.
The concert was an alluring demonstration of Japan’s “soft power,” combining Miku’s anime-style song-and-dance skills with the ethereal melodies of Japanese composer Isao Tomita, best known for his electronic compositions.
The synthetic star, who was created by Japanese company Crypton Future Media, pairs perfectly with the talents of Tomita, widely regarded as the father of Japanese synthesizer music.
The Chinese EOS Repertoire Orchestra performed Tomita’s haunting score, which was inspired by Ihatov, a fictional utopia created by Japanese writer Kenji Miyazawa, famous for his novel “Night on the Galactic Railroad.”
The concert in China may have been a first for Miku, but it was a homecoming of sorts for Tomita. The musician spent his early years in China.
“Being here is incredibly nostalgic,” Tomita, 83, said at a press conference before the concert. “(As a child) the sounds I heard … left a very deep impression on me.”
The performance was part of the annual Meet in Beijing Arts Festival — run by China’s Ministry of Culture, the Beijing municipal government and the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television.
It seemed to signal a growing Chinese acceptance of the pull of Japanese “soft power,” a diplomatic asset the country has pushed through its “Cool Japan” initiative.
Japanese comic art culture is enormously popular in China, which hosts numerous annual conventions dedicated to anime and manga.
But the genre’s success has been met with some push-back in recent years by the Chinese government.
Earlier this year, local news reports said the Ministry of Culture planned to ban several popular Japanese cartoons, including worldwide mega-hits “Sailor Moon” and “Naruto.”
Ultimately, it settled on a handful of lesser known shows, such as horror comedy “High School of the Dead,” citing their “vulgar” and “violent” content.
Communist officials nixed an attempt last year to bring Hatsune Miku’s act to the mainland, according to a person familiar with the arrangements, although the reason for the decision was unclear.
The change of heart, the person said, was the result of improving bilateral ties between the neighbors, who have long been at odds over wartime history and territorial disagreements.
The relationship has shown signs of warming in recent months, including a meeting between the countries’ leaders on the sidelines of a conference in Indonesia last month.
The thaw is welcome news for Miku’s many Chinese fans, who had feared they might never have a chance to see their idol in the “flesh.”
The digital diva has a devoted fan base in China, including over 360,000 followers on the Chinese micro-blog Weibo, and has even inspired a fast food restaurant in southern Guangxi Province.
Li Xiaolei, an avid 24-year-old fan, took an eight-hour train ride to see the performance. He had long wanted to see Miku in Japan, but “getting a visa is a pain” so he was ecstatic when he heard about the Beijing concert.
“When I hear her songs, they ease my loneliness,” he said, cradling a large doll of the singer. “I feel like I’ve been saved.”