Ichiko Aoba takes her seat at an old-fashioned coffee house in Tokyo's Shibuya district, and places a sketchpad and a plump pouch of rolling tobacco on the table. During the hour-long conversation that follows, the tobacco goes untouched, but the sketchpad gets a thorough workout. As she talks, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter reflexively scribbles drawings and kanji characters to elucidate what she's saying, the way a university lecturer might.

"I have a lot of dreams," she says, discussing the inspirations behind her distinctive songwriting. "I'll often have out-of-body experiences." My Japanese lessons never covered the term for "out-of-body," so she draws me a diagram, sketching herself asleep in bed while another Ichiko Aoba roams around the room.

"I don't read many books or watch many movies — I get most of my energy for creating stories from dreams," she explains. "The dreams I have are like movies: They even have opening titles and credits at the end."