Brain-Parent of AKB48 Akimoto Yasushi Talks About What He Thinks About Now and Then of Japanese Culture

  April 20, 2012

GQ magazine conducted a long interview with AkiP, which I want every Japanese to read. Since AKB has become so big in music and pop culture scene, many has asked AkiP what AKB will be able to contribute to the recovery of Japan (mostly in terms of Culture and it’s stagnating Economy) in this global internet age. As the group’s popularity fly through the ocean, spreading to Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, most parts of Asia, we may want to think about future of Japanese culture through this iconic pop group in our generation. Also this interview may give you hints of how he thinks about Euro and America, where relatively AKB48 is having less sign of being big, as Japanese youngsters already came to the point where they think Western culture is no longer superior to their own culture and is becoming less and less interested in it to older generations’ eyes.

“Idol who you can meet” is the concept of AKB48, the group which started it’s history in their exclusive small theatre in Akihabara, the sacred place of Otaku communities. Now the group attracts audience all over the Asia as one of the coolest Japanese pop culture contents. At this time, Mr.Akimoto, the brain-parent of the group talks on “AKB=Japan” with us.

It may be the project to speak up “Japanese culture, have a confidence!”

We were at Mr.Akimoto’s office in the center of Tokyo. He came up with a face looks a little sleepy, which he explained these days he only could sleep for 3 to 4 hours. The 20-jo room is bristling with orchid flower pots, celebration gifts for AKB’S Record-Taisyo wins in 2011, and foliage plants. Producer of AKB48 sat down with us in this calm space.

We dare to revive the old word “Japan As Number One” at this time to think about the future of Japan, that’s the concept for this interview. Mr.Akimoto’s works are received as the forefront of what we Japanese call “cool Japan”, the term stands for the contents which can compete in the market of this global age, being created in the context of re-valuation of Japanese export products. So how come this happened?

I think mainly it’s because of the diffusion of internet into general public, which made the world so small or made people from around the world so close to each other. When we were young, most of us admired Western culture. Music, Movie, Fashion, we always admired things from western world and tried to create the same entertainment culture here only to find we couldn’t surpass them if we do the same way.

“Something similar to Western culture” can’t captivate hearts of Western people, we learned. But since the internet has become so popular, we gradually found that things we’d never thought could be a hit in overseas market, or things we never thought we couldn’t surpass them (Western culture) in this way, were actually can be a hit in Western world. I think maybe that is a root of current “Cool Japan” thing. So if you ask me my understanding of “Cool Japan”, I think, in a easy word, it’s a supportive message like “Japanese culture, have confidence in yourself”.

(skip) For example when we export fairy domestic products, we had changed a lot to adapt to fit local taste buds. This thing has been gradually changed over this decade. Because of the internet, through the internet we found we have a culture which people from all around the world want to take a look into.. this is the way I feel (about the creation of the word: cool japan).

So why people from other parts of the world are attracted to “Original Form of Japan or Japanese entertainment culture”?

I think there’s is no particular reasons for them. But it may be because Japan has long been in the state of isolation from the world. Though we never actually did kind of isolation policy and we always have been open to the world, partly because it’s not English-speaking country, except some enthusiasts (日本びいき) or appreciators (親日家) of Japanese culture, most people still had an stereotypical and old image of Japan that we still wear swords and have a Chonmage-hair. As a result of Internet, which shorten the physical distance and time, even when they don’t particularly feel like watching Japanese Anime or Idols, they can easily watch these contents on NicoNico or Youtube etc. by just clicking button. That really made it easy to take a glimpse of real Japanese culture for people.

How did you get the idea and concept of this idol group AKB48? (coming soon)

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Akimoto Yasushi
Songwriter of the greatest hits, including “Kawanonagarenoyouni” by Hibari Misora. All 5 songs ranked in top-5 in Oricon sales chart in 2011 were the songs he wrote for AKB48, and all recorded the million sales, including “Flying Get”, which won “Record Taisyo Award”. Vice president of Kyto Zokei University, Chairman of TV and Radio Writer’s Association of Japan, Director of Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers