Asian News 7/6

Festival season arrives, Mayuko Kamio wins violin award, Toshiba EMI name change, Bon Jovi breaks record, Playboy club in Macau, Hong Kong celebrates handover to China, …


Japan Festival Season Arrives

The summer festival season in Japan kicked off June 30 with the hastily organized CUE Music Jam-Boree, which took place in the small town of Yubari on the northern island of Hokkaido.

About 6,500 people attended the festival, which was held at a ski resort. Some of Japan’s most popular acts performed, including Puffy AmiYumi, the Okinawan reggae group Begin, and Glay, a pop metal band that is so huge it usually foregoes festival appearances and just tours baseball stadiums by itself.

Yubari has attracted a great deal of media attention for the past year as it was one of the first of many projected Japanese towns to declare bankruptcy.

Once the home of a very profitable coal mine, the town has struggled in vain since the 1980s to find another source of economic support.

As more and more manufacturing jobs have gone overseas or to concentrated industrial areas near Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka, young people have departed Yubari, leaving only the elderly and a dwindling tax base.

The festival successfully filled all the hotel and inn rooms in Yubari and the surrounding area, but its main positive effect will be in keeping the town’s name in the minds of the Japanese public.

Tourism seems the only viable means of keeping such towns alive.

Despite Japan’s reputation as an expensive tourist destination, Hokkaido has seen some success in recent years attracting visitors from Taiwan who come for the snow, and from Australia, buying up cheap condominiums near popular ski resorts.


Kamio Wins Violin Contest

Japanese musician Mayuko Kamio won first prize in the violin category of the International Tchaikovsky Competition, which is held in Moscow.

The 21-year-old Osaka prefecture native is the second Japanese violinist to win the prestigious award after Akiko Suwanai walked off with it at the 1990 competition. Two other Japanese have won awards at the festival in other categories.

Kamio made her concert debut at the age of 10 with a concerto performance conducted by Charles Dutoit. She learned her instrument under the tutelage of Koichiro Harada in Japan before moving to New York and studying under Dorothy DeLay at Juilliard.

She graduated from Tokyo’s Toho Gakuen, Japan’s most famous high school for classical musicians, and lived in Switzerland where she worked with Zakhar Bron.

The Tchaikovsky Competition is held once every four years.


Toshiba EMI Name Change

Toshiba EMI, one of Japan’s major record labels, officially changed its name June 30 to EMI Music Japan Inc.

The change reflects Toshiba Corporation’s stake transferal in the record company to EMI Group.

Toshiba EMI was established in 1960 as a joint venture between the electronics giant Toshiba and the British-based EMI Group. Originally it was called Toshiba Ongaku Kogyo (Toshiba Music Industries).

The label’s biggest-selling artists over the years have been singer/songwriter Yumi Matsutoya, who emerged in the early ’70s, and R&B diva Hikaru Utada, who still holds the record for the biggest-selling album in Japan.


Bon Jovi Breaks Record

Bon Jovi made history again in Japan last month. The New Jersey band’s latest album, Lost Highway, debuted at No. 1 on the Oricon album chart on June 25.

It is the fourth time a Bon Jovi album has debuted at the top, thus breaking the previous record of three No. 1 debuts for a non-Japanese act.

That record was jointly held by The Beatles and The Bay City Rollers. To put it into perspective, all the No. 1 Bay City Rollers albums were released in 1976-77, while the three No. 1 Beatles albums were released after the group had broken up.

Queen and Oasis are runners-up with two No. 1 debuts each.


Playboy Club In Macau

Hugh Hefner has decided to follow up his Las Vegas venture with another Playboy-themed club for the gambling set, this one in Macau.

Hefner’s daughter Christie, the chief executive of Playboy Enterprises Inc., told reporters in Hong Kong the company would open a Playboy Mansion in Asia’s fastest-growing gaming resort by late 2009.

The Playboy Mansion Macau will cover 3,600 square meters and feature a pool and grotto, restaurants, several dozen gaming tables and a villa-style hotel.

Like the Playboy Mansion that opened last October at the Palms Resort in Las Vegas, the Macau club is modeled after the original Playboy Mansion, where the elder Hefner throws his world-famous parties.


HK Celebrates

Many of Hong Kong’s most popular singing stars performed at a special stage gala to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the former British territory’s handover to China. The two-hour July 1 blowout was broadcast live on Chinese television.

Because Chinese President Hu Jintao attended the event, it’s not surprising that many of the songs had a patriotic tone.

Local superstar Andy Lau sang "The Chinese," a nationalist tune, in Mandarin. A group of singers from Hong Kong and the mainland, including Alan Tam and Paula Tsui, sang "Under the Lion Rock," a Cantonese song about the struggles of the working class.

Hu himself led all the performers in a rendition of the song, "Sing the Motherland," which is about the greatness of China.

Some artists managed a more secular tone. Miriam Young performed a spirited hip-hop dance routine, the pop duo Twins showed off some skin, and Kelly Chen did a Broadway-style number.


Billboard Clubs Open In August

Billboard Live, the string of new nightclubs run by Hanshin Contents Link Corp., which also manages the Blue Note jazz club in Osaka, will open for business in August.

Last month, HCL launched a Web site for all three clubs – one in Osaka, one in Fukuoka, and the main club in the new Tokyo Midtown office building complex in Tokyo’s upscale Roppongi district.

Steely Dan will open the Tokyo club with a six-night stand starting August 18.

They’ll be followed by Joe, Keith Sweat, Maceo Parker, Patti Austin, Michael Franks, Rickie Lee Jones, Babyface and Amerie.

The clubs’ relative intimacy, combined with the value of the real estate, at least in Tokyo (Midtown sits about three blocks from the most expensive piece of land in Japan), translates to ticket prices that will be out of reach for the average fan.

Steely Dan tickets start at $160, with Babyface’s at $140. In fact, most of the major R&B acts who are coming to Japan this fall will either be playing at the Billboards or the equally pricey Blue Notes.