Stephen Taylor / Special to The Daily Yomiuri
Kanon Wakeshaima at Hyper Japan in London on July 23, 2011
LONDON--The "home" of Hello Kitty (her official profile says she lives in suburban London) is rapidly embracing Japanese pop culture as enthusiastically as countries, such as France and the United States, with London's recent carnival of cute, Hyper Japan, showcasing the British debut of Kanon Wakeshima, a singer/cellist and Gothic Lolita fashion icon.
Wakeshima's two charity performances for the Great East Japan Earthquake were among the highlights of the second staging of the annual festival, with the 23-year-old pleasantly surprised at the turnout.
"It was lovely. There were a lot more people than I expected and I had a great time," Wakeshima told The Daily Yomiuri shortly after finishing her first set at the three-day event.
Tokyo-born Wakeshima has developed a musical style that combines her love of pop tunes with a passion for classical music, the latter a calling that grabbed her from an early age.
"I started playing the cello when I was 3," Wakeshima said, adding that her bow-wielding future had been determined when she was a mere twinkle in her parents' eyes.
"My mother and father are big music fans and, even before I was born, they'd decided that if they had a girl, they'd like her to play the cello, because that would be quite cool for a girl," she said.
In primary school, Wakeshima's focus was on classical music, but as her teenage years approached, she was introduced to exciting new sounds.
"When I was at middle school, I discovered J-pop and thought, 'Well, what would happen if I applied my musical interpretation to J-pop?' And that's how I've gotten to where I am today," she recalled, adding that at about the same time she also found her look.
"I really liked Lolita fashion when I was in middle school, but I didn't have any money so I couldn't buy the clothes. So, when I started high school and got a part-time job, I could save some money and start buying some clothes."
These days, she can afford slightly more expensive threads, such as the outfit she was modeling during our interview. "I had this specially made by [clothing company] Baby, The Stars Shine Bright," she said.
Wakeshima's fusion of music genres might not appeal to everyone, yet the results are surprisingly effective, with the shrill cry of J-pop complemented by her subtle cello accompaniment. Wakeshima's debut album, Shinshoku Dolce, came out in 2009, with Shojo Jikake no Libretto: Lolitawork Libretto released the following year. When asked about last year's album, Wakeshima was keen to expand on her vision for the project.
"The whole concept is that there's a girl who really likes pop-up picture books, and in the book there's a girl. That's where the title and central concept behind the album came from," she said.
On stage, Wakeshima is a confident performer, with the audience at Hyper Japan treated to a few sentences in English between numbers. Though she used a backing track, she wasn't completely alone on stage.
"The red cello that I used today is called Nanachie," she said, explaining the names she has given to each of her instruments.
"Each of the cellos' names represent numbers in kanji. The brown one that I've been playing since I was at middle school, which I use for recording and rehearsals, is called Yaehauru, while the other ones--the white and the silver ones that are used for live performances and promotional appearances--are named Mikazuki and Momotose, respectively."
Her next series of live shows to be performed in Tokyo, billed as The Strange Treat!, is a trio of concerts that will be held on three separate nights in September, which has already sold out, October and November, each with slightly different themes. So what can audiences expect to see?
"Rather than songs that I've played previously, I'm going to be performing new material. Also, I'll be using a live band, so there'll be a lot of people on stage. I'm considering various arrangements for my songs, so the makeup of the band depends on what arrangements I decide upon for individual songs," she said.
As for the future, Wakeshima is keeping a refreshingly open mind for somebody with one foot in the J-pop camp.
"Whether it's fashion or music, I don't want to stick with one particular style. For example, in my live performances, I'll have different kinds of musical arrangements, such as jazz or pop. Be it music or fashion, I like to do lots of different things as they come, and see where they take me in the future."
Kanon Wakeshima will play concerts, collectively named "The Strange Treat!," at Shibuya 7th Floor in Tokyo at 7 p.m. on Oct. 29 and Nov. 26. For more information, call (03) 3462-4466 or visit http://7th-floor.net.
(Sep. 16, 2011)