After Chinese President Xi Jinping makes the rounds at APEC, Gabriel Dominguez tells us what that means for Japan. At home, NHK has announced its “Kohaku” lineup — with nary a Johnny’s act to be found. Patrick St. Michel discusses the year’s most notable snub.
On this episode:
- Kishida and Xi aim for trade progress despite lingering tensions (Gabriel Dominguez and Gabrielle Ninivaggi, The Japan Times)
- 'Offensive' and 'defensive' diplomacy: Managing ties with China (Hotaka Machida, The Japan Times)
- NHK ditches Johnny's acts for year-end musical bonanza (Patrick St. Michel, The Japan Times)
- Takeshi Kitano, comedian, film director, actor, painter, writer, singer (FCCJ, YouTube)
- Scandal-hit Takarazuka to set up experts panel to improve culture (The Japan Times)
- With ‘Idol,’ Yoasobi pens a new chapter in J-pop’s story (Patrick St. Michel, The Japan Times)
Get in touch: Send us feedback at [email protected]. Support the show by rating, reviewing and sharing the episode with a friend if you’ve enjoyed it. For a transcript of the show, visit japantimes.co.jp, and don’t forget to follow us on X!
Transcript note: Deep Dive is made to be listened to, and we recommend this transcript be used as an accompaniment to the episode. This transcript has been generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription, and may contain errors. Please check its accuracy against the episode.
Shaun McKenna 00:09
Welcome to Deep Dive from The Japan Times, I'm Shaun McKenna. I still have a cold so apologies for my nasally voice, but the news does not stop for colds and neither do we. So we're here today to talk about the recent announcement of the lineup for the end of your music program called Kohaku Uta Gassen. For the first time in decades there are no Johnny and Associates-linked acts taking part in the show, which is a program those acts use to dominate. We'll catch you up on the latest on the Johnny's and the Takarazuka scandals with music writer Patrick St. Michel. But first staff writer Gabriel Dominguez joins us to discuss Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the APEC forum in San Francisco last week, which included a meeting with our own Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The big news in geopolitics circles last week was a long-awaited meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping, a meeting that was said to be a year in the making. It happened on the side of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum that took place in San Francisco between Nov. 11 and 17. Also meeting Xi on the sidelines of the forum, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida. With me to talk more about that relationship is staff writer Gabrielle Dominguez. Hey, Gabrielle.
Gabriel Dominguez 01:25
Shaun McKenna 01:25
So Kishida and Xi met in person and spoke to each other for about an hour. Why was this noteworthy?
Gabriel Dominguez 1:33
Well, while it might not sound like much, let's remember that this has been quite a rocky year for Sino-Japanese ties. There have been a number of issues. For starters, China banned all Japanese seafood imports in August after Tokyo began releasing treated wastewater from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant. This is important because China is the main export market for Japanese seafood. So this has dealt a blow to Japan's marine sector. Tokyo has even threatened to bring the case of the World Trade Organization. So, Japan insists that the water discharge is scientifically safe. This is a view that is also backed by the UN atomic watchdog, the IAEA, but China has referred to the water as nuclear contaminated water repeatedly. And tensions have also continued over territorial disputes, for instance in the East and South China Seas. And there was also Tokyo's decision during the summer to join Washington in imposing export restrictions on chip making tools. The idea is that Washington wants to curb China's ability to produce advanced semiconductors and basically join those efforts. So it hasn't been the best of times for the two countries this year.
Shaun McKenna 02:44
Right. So a dispute over fish, territorial issues and restricting China's ability to produce advanced semiconductors. In the one hour that Xi and Kishida met. Did they resolve all these problems?
Gabriel Dominguez 02:55
No. Despite their ongoing differences, though, the two decided that they want to move the relationship forward, or, as they put it, commit to a mutually beneficial relationship. There wasn't much agreement made on strategic issues such as a territorial spat over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, but some progress was made on the seafood ban. I guess that's good news. Yeah, after the meeting, Kishida said he and she had agreed to try and find a solution through, “science based consultation and dialogue at an expert's level.” It's unclear, though, when these consultations will start but possibly before the end of the year.
Shaun McKenna 03:36
OK, I guess agreeing to try to resolve the issue is a somewhat positive step. In your piece, though, you mentioned that China and Hong Kong represented the two largest markets for Japanese seafood in 2022,wWith exports amounting to 42% of total sales overseas. That's a considerable amount, is there any reason to hope that she could resolve this sooner rather than later?
Gabriel Dominguez 03:57
I think that's difficult to say. So the way I see it is that the main reason for this is that this is mainly a political issue for China. And Beijing doesn't tend to reverse trade decisions quite so quickly. You see, Japanese marine products make up a surprisingly small portion of China's total seafood imports. So while this is important for the Japanese fishing industry, it's less important for Beijing as a whole. So Beijing can theoretically decide to buy seafood from somewhere else important, say from Russia or from Norway, until it feels that it has some sort of concession from Japan in return. At the heart of the matter, I think, are the unresolved strategic issues affecting the relationship, especially those that irk China very much. We're talking about Japan's efforts to boost military partnerships to deter China, but also about statements made by Tokyo that the security of Taiwan is critical to the security of the wider region and the world. Obviously Beijing disagrees with this because Beijing sees Taiwan as part of China, so this is an internal issue.
Shaun McKenna 05:07
A lot was made of Xi’s meeting with Biden, do we have reason to believe that the one hour discussion with Kishida offered much to Japan?
Gabriel Dominguez 5:14
I think it's important to mention that the two countries have shown that they're willing to put aside some of their disagreements, at least temporarily. They want to focus on getting their economic and trade relations back on track. So I think that's very important. We saw this already before the summit when the two countries' economy ministers agreed to set up a framework to discuss export controls. They also agreed to set up a working group to improve what they call the business environment. Among other things, this involves efforts to ensure the safety of Japanese business people in China. This is an important issue for Tokyo, particularly after a Japanese executive was sentenced to 12 years and a Chinese person on espionage charges.
Shaun McKenna 05:59
Actually, this sounds somewhat similar to the approach China's taking with the United States, just on a smaller scale. So we've been hearing a lot about the increasingly assertive China over the past few years. Why is Beijing softening its stance now?
Gabriel Dominguez 06:15
I think the main factor has been China's economic slowdown. You know, let's keep in mind that the country has recently been facing economic difficulties, a situation that is definitely not good for the Communist Party. A slowing economy not only affects social stability in China, but also the Communist Party's legitimacy as the country's ruler. Chinese leaders understand this. So they seem more eager than before to improve relations with countries that are important to its economy, for instance, Japan, Australia, and others. But this also makes sense from Tokyo's perspective. Let's not forget that Japanese policymakers cannot really afford to be complacent. Japanese GDP contracted at an annualized 2.1% over the summer, so looking at it from this perspective, this could be a win-win approach, if both sides managed to find common ground.
Shaun McKenna 07:07
And Kishida needs a win. Our colleague Gabriele Ninivaggi was on the podcast two weeks ago talking about Kishida’s tanking popularity, which has a lot to do with the state of the economy. And this week, polls in three major Japanese newspapers put his support at new lows. Only 21% in the Mainichi. So what's next? Where do we go from here?
Gabriel Dominguez 7:29
It's difficult to say, as any major geopolitical incident might derail the momentum that has been going on between the two sides in recent weeks.
Shaun McKenna 07:38
So let's hope there are no spy balloons.
Gabriel Dominguez 07:42
Right, right. However, as I mentioned before, the important thing is that China continues to engage other countries in the region. In fact, efforts are currently underway to resume regular high-level talks. We are looking at the potential first meeting between Chinese, Japanese and South Korean foreign ministers later this month to try and find more common ground and hopefully to get relations back on track.
Shaun McKenna 08:07
OK, look into your crystal ball. Is 2024 going to be a year of continued regional tension barring any surprises?
Gabriel Dominguez 08:17
Well, that's another one tough to predict. My gut feeling tells me, “No.” In fact, there are many indications that 2024 is likely to be a bumpy geopolitical year for the Asia Pacific as a whole. There are several events in the coming year that could set back the progress made both in this meeting and I'm the one that took place between Xi and President Joe Biden. These include escalating territorial disputes in the South China Sea, for instance between Beijing and the Philippines. We also have more economic derisking measures by Washington and its allies. We’re talking here about export controls, fewer investments in China and investment elsewhere. There's also going to be increased competition over so-called Global South countries. Right now, for instance the U.S. and China are vying for influence in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.
Shaun McKenna 09:11
And I heard there's going to be an election in the States.
Gabriel Dominguez 09:15
And one in Taiwan too, the result of which could have big implications for Sino-U.S. ties, actually. But I mean, the same could apply also for the upcoming U.S. election. You see, with both Republicans and Democrats agreeing to get tougher on China, I expect their electoral campaigns to be filled with anti-China rhetoric and this could damage ties. For instance, just talk of increasingly arming Taiwan or, say, ignoring the One China policy or of elevating Taiwan to the status of a U.S. military ally, would certainly upset Beijing.
Shaun McKenna 09:52
Right. So I guess while Biden and Xi kind of agreed to resume high-level communications at their latest meeting...
Gabriel Dominguez 09:59
Well, if I didn't really tackle any of the major issues between the two countries. So this means that the era of deep Sino-U.S. engagement, as we've seen it in past decades, is unlikely to return anytime soon. This will also affect Japan and other U.S. allies and other partners in the region. So if I actually look into my crystal ball, the security situation in the Asia Pacific is likely to remain tense for the foreseeable future.
Shaun McKenna 10:27
All right. Thanks very much, Gabriel.
Gabriel Dominguez 10:28
Shaun McKenna 10:37
Hey, Patrick, welcome back to Deep Dive. First, I just want to get your thoughts on Beat Takeshi’s press conference last week. Takeshi Kitano, the 76-year-old comedian, actor and award-winning film director was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan promoting his new film “Kubi.” And he was asked a few questions about entertainment world-related scandals that have been unfolding recently.
So that answer was in response to a question on the sexual abuse scandal at the Johnny & Associates talent agency this year.
Patrick St. Michel 11:43
Right, so he came out of the gate really hot, you know, he introduced himself as a “Johnny Kitano.” Probably because he knew that a question would probably be coming his way about Johnny Kitagawa, the disgraced founder of Johnny & Associates talent agency. And also because he was at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, which kind of famously earlier this year hosted a very noteworthy press conference focused on Kitagawa, right. I guess like, before we get too deep into this, we should probably catch everyone up just in case. One of the biggest entertainment-slash-crime stories of the year in Japan has been the reckoning with the aforementioned Kitagawa, who founded Johnny & Associates, a very famous talent agency that over the last few decades has been home to J-pop superstars such as SMAP, Arashi, so on and so forth — these omnipresent names and Japanese entertainment. There have always been rumors about him sexually assaulting young men in his company. But this year following the release of a BBC documentary focused on this history, coupled with more former Johnny's performers coming forward with their stories, the scandal actually snowballed into a big discussion and resulted in the agency acknowledging that this happened for the first time and massive shifts, not just with this agency itself, but also Japanese entertainment at large.
Shaun McKenna 13:21
Yeah, I think it's arguably, actually I think it is the biggest entertainment world story of the year
Patrick St. Michel 13:27
So Kitano, besides being Kitano himself and opening with, you know, a joke that I don't think anyone else could get away with. But hey, when you can do it, go for it. You know, he was eventually asked questions about the Johnny's scandal. He's kind of an elder statesman of Japanese entertainment, this globally recognized superstar. And so of course, the biggest entertainment story, you're going to ask one of its biggest characters about it. And he talked a bit about, you know, his experience in the Japanese entertainment industry, talking about how it's not, you know, not that Japan is unique in this way, but you know, the entertainment industry can be a pretty sleazy place, and full of all kinds of bad stuff when you dig into it. I mean, we saw this come into the spotlight over the last few years in America with the #MeToo movement. And now in 2023, with the entire Johnny's thing and a few other recent developments, we're kind of seeing a larger reckoning within Japanese entertainment as well. And him just acknowledging it, even if he's not, you know, shedding light on anything, to see one of the biggest names underline that point is still very important.
Shaun McKenna 14:38
I thought it was interesting how he actually spoke more about the dynamics that are particular to Japan. So he used the opportunity to kind of explain this kind of master... it's, in Japan it's like senpai-kohai, like, senior-junior relationship that a lot of entertainers go into and how that was replaced at some point with the schools. So instead of doing this one on one, you would kind of have these like, kind of maybe one on several, like kind of subjects who were kind of learning the craft of whether it be rakugo or manzai, or even Takarazuka, what they do.
Patrick St. Michel 15:18
Yeah, you mentioned that. And he also spoke to a reporter’s question on Takarazuka, where one of its rising stars reportedly killed themselves.
Shaun McKenna 15:27
Right, Takarazuka is the all-female musical theater review in which the cast will perform stories adapted from film or manga. And it's notable for the fact that women play male roles, which has led them to sometimes being seen as sex symbols among their female fan base.
Patrick St. Michel 15:44
Yeah. And it seems like recently Takarazuka is undergoing its own kind of investigation, which looks very similar to what we saw play out with Johnny & Associates, looking at allegations of power harassment, on top of really grueling working conditions based on what's being reported.
Shaun McKenna 16:04
Right, Takarazuka set up a panel to investigate this young woman's death. But a report that was released last week drew criticism from her family and so there will be a new panel setup before year-end, that includes outside individuals. Are we seeing kind of a similar process to what Johnny's went through? Do we have a template for handling this kind of like, complaint now?
Patrick St. Michel 16:25
I think we could be? I mean with Johnny's earlier this year, once all of this kind of boiled over, and they were forced to stare it down. They initially just did an in company investigation, but owing to pressure from the media and other observers, they ultimately brought in a panel from outside the company to also investigate and share their findings. I'm speculating here, but if I were the victims’ lawyers, I'd look at the success that the Johnny's victims have seen in recent months and try my best to replicate that. And that was also the catalyst for the company first acknowledging Kitagawa’s crimes in the past. And then also, based on their recommendations that led to them changing the corporate structure and, a bit more symbolically, the name of the company.
Shaun McKenna 17:25
What's going on with the name of the company?
Patrick St. Michel 17:27
Everyone wants to know. So they had a press conference in September, where they said they would change the name, but they also split the company into two companies. So they initially said that one company would be called Smile-Up. But that's not the company that deals with the talent and entertainment. I have the formerly Johnny's English Twitter account open, the current name is: New Name Coming Soon, @Temp_HelloWorld. It's like they're trying to be Muji out here with no branding. But, yeah, right now they don't have a name. So when we talk, when we say Johnny's, we mean the agency formerly known as Johnny's that does not actually have a name. So like, TBD. So yeah, that's where we're at with that question marks all around. But in theory, they are changing it, and we're just awaiting the moment they unveil it. But anyway, names aside, Kitano was speaking to that. And he acknowledged the dark side of Japan's entertainment world. Kitano, he's never held back when it comes to his opinions on the entertainment industry or anything. But it's still really important that someone of his stature continues to comment on it, you know, it keeps the issue in the headlines and it allows people to sort of not let the pressure off, you know?
Shaun McKenna 18:52
Right. So also keeping within this kind of like realm of news, we should mention that last week, a man who is allegedly sexually abused by Johnny Kitagawa was found dead of a possible suicide. He was in his 40s and part of an association of Kitagawa victims, and that association has reportedly been receiving a lot of harassment online.
Patrick St. Michel 19:13
Yeah, Johnny's fans are very passionate about it very lightly, as many, many pop fans are. And like with all pop fandoms, there's always going to be a minority of fans who sort of take things too far. And this is a great example of that. And we've seen it all year. Honestly, there's a certain subset of the Johnnies fandom that has just been very angry about any accusations and now admitted-to claims aimed at the company and its talent, right. So, you know, the death of this man who is a former member of Johnny's is obviously very upsetting. I would say though, not as dark as cyber bullying, but I've seen a lot of varying responses online to last makes Kohaku announcement too.
Shaun McKenna 20:10
One of the results from the Johnny scandal is that the talent from the agency have been removed from various shows and as brand ambassadors. The latest one aspect to this kind of collective punishment is that, this past week, the lineup for national broadcaster NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” program was announced and there were no Johnny's talents included on that roster. We'll get to the ramifications of that in a minute, but Patrick, can you tell us a little bit about “Kohaku” and its significance to the Japanese music and cultural landscape first?
Patrick St. Michel 20:42
“Kohaku” is basically the biggest music show of the year in Japan. It began in 1951, originally as a radio program held by the national broadcaster NHK, and in 1953 shifted to TV, and then in 1959, I think it moved to its permanent residence in NHK Hall in Shibuya. So, the name “Kohaku,” it means “red and white” in English with the full name, “Kohaku Uta Gassen,” that can be translated as the “Red and White Song Contest.” That's because, in theory, this is a singing competition between female performers represented in the red team and male performers in the white team. At the end of the program, they're supposed to like vote and see which team won? But this is maybe the least significant part of the show. Nobody is really keeping track of this. Getting on “Kotaku” is a really big milestone for any performer. And part of that was because for decades, “Kotaku” was seen as one of the only things to do on New Year's Eve. That's because as you are very aware, Shaun, New Year's Eve, and New Years in general in Japan, is not traditionally a raucous holiday. It's more about like staying home with family, in maybe relaxing. And usually you just like watch TV or clean your house, or it's kind of like resetting for the new year. Right. And “Kotaku” was just the biggest music show on New Year's Eve. And still is.
Shaun McKenna 22:23
It's a great thing to have on in the background.
Patrick St. Michel 22:27
Exactly, yeah, it's not, people aren't watching it necessarily to be like, Oh, let me discover music. They're watching it because it's “Kotaku” and it's New Year's Eve. It's like watching Peanuts on Christmas, you know?
Shaun McKenna 22:40
Right. So the Johnny's acts have been a major part of this. Oh, yeah.
Patrick St. Michel 22:45
Oh yeah, they have been a presence on “Kotaku” for over four decades, like consecutively. But I actually want to go back to something you mentioned earlier, Shaun, you had said like, in the fallout of all of this, we've been, you know, there's been a push back against Johnny's entertainers. Yeah, there was a lot of like TV shows saying we're gonna like rethink how we use them, commercial campaigns ditching entertainers. I would say in recent months, though, I have noticed that starting to soften again. I've seen way more Johnny's people on TV recently, and even in a few commercials as well. Also, it is important to stress that like even though all of this has been happening, Johnny's groups’ sales numbers are still like super high. But to me, that's what makes NHK his decision to shy away from them, and to sort of like, still shun them, despite the fact, you know, they are some of the biggest artists of the year. I do think that's actually a stand that they're taking. And also one that could affect their ratings. So yeah.
Shaun McKenna 23:56
OK so those bands are out there out who is on this year's lineup?
Patrick St. Michel 24:01
There's way too many artists to list right now, but let's use this year's theme as a jumping off point? NHK has decided this year's “Kotaku” theme is “borderless,” like all “Kotaku” themes, it's extremely vague what they mean. But when we look at the actual lineup, you do pick up on the inclusion of more non-Japanese groups.
Shaun McKenna 24:27
So when we did a previous podcast about the Johnny’s scandal, I spoke to my hairdresser who's a big Johnny's fan, and I asked him for his take on this year's “Kotaku.” Like I knew you were coming on the show this week, so I scheduled a haircut and asked him
Patrick St. Michel 24:41
Very sweet of you to get a haircut.
Shaun McKenna 24:43
I asked him who he was looking forward to seeing on this year's show. And the first act he mentioned was Stray Kids.
Patrick St. Michel 24:41
Oh, really? Why was that?
Shaun McKenna 24:43
He really likes Stray Kids.
Patrick St. Michel 24:52
OK. So for those unfamiliar with Stray Kids, they are a Korean group who have in the past two years gotten pretty big globally, they've had multiple albums, top Billboard America's album ranking and like they've appeared on American TV. They appear on Japanese TV all the time, they're very popular in Japan as well. Like a lot of K-pop groups, they release lots of Japanese versions of their songs too. And they're not the only Korean group appearing on this year's “Kohaku.” There are, I want to say, in total, including Stray Kids for K-pop acts that will be performing on New Year's Eve. And “Kohaku” has always actually made space for K-pop and Korean artists, even if you go into the 1990s, they would have like every once in a while a Korean artist appear. But that was almost more like, let's check in on what's happening in Asia, whereas now it is a real musical force that is super popular in Japan. So in the late 2010s, there was a very noticeable lack of K-pop. But starting from last year, in 2022, NHK has started inviting more K-pop acts back, and that includes both Stray Kids and another male group called Seventeed, who are like just huge boy bands. They are quite similar in makeup to a Johnny's group in that there's like eight to nine guys. The other two K-pop groups that are appearing are female groups. One is Le Sserafim, who actually appeared last year as well. They are interesting because they're actually a mix of Korean performers and Japanese artists. Most notably one of their Japanese members is Sakura Miyawaki, who used to be the most popular member of AKB48, until she jumped over to K-pop. So yeah, they're big and kind of reflect the intermingling of Japanese and Korean talent to form this kind of new, globally local, they call it “Glocal” K-pop. And then the other group actually takes it even further. It's a group called MiSaMo, which is just the three Japanese members of the extremely popular girl group Twice.
Shaun McKenna 27:17
All right, yeah.
Patrick St. Michel 27:18
Yeah, they're basically you have made a sub-unit, its existence is to make even more money in the Japanese market. So even though they're technically part of the K-pop industry, they are all Japanese. And for NHK, it's a chance to, one, potentially make up for the perceived drop in viewers that you're going to get with no Johnny's acts, but it's also a chance for NHK, NHK has been like always highlighting Korean culture. If you stay up late enough, you will start seeing all the NHK like language-learning shows. And their Korean one actually features most of these artists. Like, Seventeen actually used to be the hosts of it a few years ago. Right now it's more of like a rotating cast of groups. Every week, a different group will teach you how to order food at a restaurant in Korean and I think Le Sserafim, Stray Kids, Twice — all of these people have been on it so like there's a natural crossover with what NHK has been doing.
Shaun McKenna 28:18
Just as an aside, the hairdresser told me that he liked “Case 143” by Stray Kids, do you have a favorite Stray Kids song?
Patrick St. Michel 28:25
Do I have a favorite Stray Kids song, I am going to indulge in recency bias and say their latest single, which was released last week called “LaLaLaLa.” I like it because it's them interpreting a style of Eastern European dance music called drift phonk, P-H-O-N-K. I won't bore you dear listener with a description of that other just say it is very aggressive and it's very annoying — almost gabber in construction. I love that they, like, took that and made a song out of it. That's great.
Shaun McKenna 29:03
OK, so the hairdresser which everyone should have guessed by now is my like main go to on current J-pop culture.
Patrick St. Michel 29:08
Deep Dive expanded universe.
Shaun McKenna 29:12
Anyway, he said that he was wondering how Strawberry Prince was going to perform at “Kohaku” this year since they don't tend to show their faces. That’s the same with Ado, if I'm not mistaken, what's going on there?
Patrick St. Michel 29:23
There's a lot of hidden performers this year. Strawberry Prince is another male group, more traditionally like J-pop idol-y, very upbeat. They're kind of a mixed-media group, they're not hidden entirely. If you're a fan and you go to their shows or some of their like meet and greets. You can actually see the members faces right. However, outside of those like sort of sacred fan events, like they present themselves as anime avatars and like all their music videos are just like anime. So nobody's sure what they're gonna do at “Kohaku.” In the past, they've just put paper cutouts of their anime characters over their faces, so, you might see that. Ado, meanwhile, is another shrouded-in-the-shadows J-pop star that we've talked to at The Japan Times, and she actually performed last year, but that was as the character Uta from the “One Piece” movie that came out last summer. So she's technically debuting as Ado this year, but she's been on “Kohaku.” This year, based on how Ado has gone about her live shows over the past year and a half. She'll probably be there, we can presume it's Ado, and she'll probably just be kind of like shadowy. When she performs live, she like performs in a cube, and like the cube changes color so it's harder to see her but you can see the outline of her body moving.
Shaun McKenna 30:50
OK, so did Ado have the song of the year?
Patrick St. Michel 30:54
Ado did not have the song of the year, I would argue, because the song of the year is undeniably Yoasobi's “Idol.” You've heard that one right, Shaun?
Shaun McKenna 31:02
I think I have.
Patrick St. Michel 31:03
Did your hairdresser tell you about it?
Shaun McKenna 31:06
I think you did! My other go-to!
Patrick St. Michel 31:10
It’s me or the hairdresser. So, Ado’s had some big songs. But yeah, the biggest song of the year, which will absolutely be represented at “Kohaku” is by the duo Yoasobi who have kind of become like flag bearers for this new generation of J-pop. “Idol” was the theme song to a super popular anime “Oshino no Ko” that was like big both in Japan and internationally. And “Idol” is this sort of like shape-shifting J-pop/southern trap influenced, but it's also mixed with this sort of like gospel choir. There's idol fans doing idol chants over it. It's this really like, kind of like, almost to me surreal kind of J-pop song. It's been huge. That's because of the anime, but also because it's a really unique song, and they're gonna be there. And that's I think it'd be one of the biggest moments for sure.
Shaun McKenna 32:04
Which group are you looking forward to most at this year's “Kohaku”?
Patrick St. Michel 32:07
Oh, great question. Actually, you know, for me, the one I'm most interested to see is a group called Atarashi Gakko! They really represent this sort of, to take it back to the theme this borderless evolution of J-pop. This is a four-piece group that's been around since the late 2010s. They're kind of like high-energy social media-first idols. Like they covered the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” at one point ... they’re that kind of idol. They wear schoolgirl uniforms, but not like that way. Not like an AKB48 way. Because they're more like wacky, zany. They're always on TikTok. And they've gotten really big internationally. So they to me really represent J-pop opening up to the world.
Shaun McKenna 32:58
What are the Johnnys people going to do?
Patrick St. Michel 33:00
So that's actually interesting because Snow Man, who I think have the highest selling single of the year in Japan, “Dangerholic,” I think they're the most popular male pop group in Japan going and they announced a few days before “Kohaku” — and this in retrospect feels like kind of a sign of what was to come — that they'll do a special concert that will be live-streamed on YouTube on Dec. 31. Yeah, it's kind of counterprogramming, because Johnny's fans will probably go to that. And in one of the weirder, ironic twists Johnny’s, a company known for being like allergic to the internet for decades, is now actually the one just putting something on YouTube live stream.
Shaun McKenna 33:45
Oh, how the worm has turned.
Patrick St. Michel 33:47
End days I tell you.
Shaun McKenna 33:49
So Patrick, in December, The Japan Times will do wraps of various cultural fields, and I believe you're up first with the music wrap. So listeners should look out for that in the weeks ahead. Thanks for coming back on Deep Dive.
Patrick St. Michel 34:01
Oh, thank you for always having me. I'm glad you didn't bring the hairdresser on in my place.
Shaun McKenna 34:10
Patrick's writing on “Kohaku” is available at japantimes.co.jp, as well as ongoing coverage of the Johnny's and Takarazuka scandals. And of course, Gabriel Dominguez’s thoughtful defense and geopolitics analysis are also there. So we'll put links in the show notes. Elsewhere in the news, Daisaku Ikeda, who helped spread Buddhist thought worldwide through Soka Gakkai, Japan's largest religious organization and an ally of the government, has died from natural causes at the age of 95, the organization announced last week. He was the longtime spiritual leader of the lay Buddhist organization known abroad for its association with celebrities and at home for its influence on politics. Soka Gakkai was founded in 1930, and according to the organization itself has 12 million members worldwide. You may have seen a video of actor Orlando Bloom talking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy about the group recently. To learn more about Ikeda, a very important figure in Japanese politics, head to the Japan Times, again that address is japantimes.co.jp.
Deep Dive is produced by Dave Cortez. Our theme music is by LLLL and the outgoing theme you're hearing right now is by Oscar Boyd. And I'm hoping none of you catch this cold that I have, I'll do my best to get over it for next week. I'm Shaun McKenna, podstukaresama.