Music | Sound Off

A look at some of Japan's lesser-known idol-pop players

by Christopher Kunody

Contributing Writer

I made my first trip to Japan just over 10 years ago to see concerts by Morning Musume and AKB48, two of the country’s biggest idol-pop groups this century. What struck me most about the experience was the camaraderie among the fans, it was a closeness that was unlike anything I’d seen with Western pop music at the time. I recommend experiencing at least one idol show if you’re a music fan, and here are five acts worth checking out if you can:

Minyo Girls: Formed in 2015, Minyo Girls originated as a preteen enka-idol group whose aim was to represent Japan at the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Their original material sounded like traditional folk music done in a more contemporary style, but recent releases have skewed more pop with hints of enka. Currently a 10-piece, their most interesting point is their use of traditional instruments.

KissBee: With a musical style that’s not too hard, but not too cute, this six-piece has gone through a few lineup changes since I first saw them outside DiverCity Tokyo Plaza in 2017. What caught my eye in this case was the group’s creative costumes. The most popular member, Misaki Tanifuji, appeared alongside Arashi’s Sho Sakurai in the NTV drama “Saki ni Umareta Dake no Boku.”

Festive: This group has come a long way from its international debut in San Francisco in 2015; of the current lineup of six, only one original member remains. Festive is a staple at most idol-pop festivals, perhaps because of the group’s manic songs. However, recent track “Yurayurayurari Koigokoro” deals with more mature themes.

Hissatsu Emomomomo!!: Also known as Emox4, this six-piece is new on the idol scene. There’s no official website, and members rely on Twitter for communicating with fans. The group is fascinating in the way it interacts with an audience, spending as much time in the crowd as on stage. Emox4 also seems to be constantly changing, so don’t expect recent material to completely represent what the group is presently doing.

Misaki Iwasa: The best example of an “enka idol,” Iwasa (aka Wasamin) entered showbiz at 14 as a member of AKB48. She made her enka debut in 2012 with the song “Mujineki,” and in 2016 she left AKB48 to do enka full-time. Recently she has been dabbling in stage acting, and was recently cast as a co-emcee for the TBS show “Uta-Navi.”

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