Asian News 4/26

Janet Surprises Dance Students

Students at the Zeal Dance Studio in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district were excited to hear that Janet Jackson’s choreographer would pay them a visit. That excitement turned to hysteria when Jackson herself showed up at the studio.

The American singer was in town to promote her new album, Discipline.

Jackson watched 23 of the students, ranging from ages 10 to 26, perform a dance routine they learned based on the video for "Rock With You," which is from the new album.

Jackson posed for photos with the students and promised they could all come backstage and visit her when she returned to Japan for a concert tour, which is tentatively scheduled to take place in September.


Enka Icons Die

The world of enka (traditional Japanese ballads) lost two of its veterans this month: Kohan Kawauchi and Kazuyoshi Nakamura.

Kawauchi, one of the genre’s most prolific and successful lyricists, died April 6 apparently from lung cancer.

Originally and more famously a television scriptwriter, Kawauchi also dabbled in songwriting. Some of his creations have become standards in the enka repertoire, so much so that he was considered for many years to be a starmaker, not to mention a star-breaker.

Many enka singers get their starts as apprentices to songwriters. Kawauchi’s most famous acolyte was Shinichi Mori, a superstar who had a falling out with his mentor several years ago when he changed some of the lines to Kawauchi’s most famous song, "Ofukuro-san" (Mother). Kawauchi was so angry that he forbade Mori from singing any of his songs in public. The estrangement was still in effect at the time of Kawauchi’s death.

Nakamura, another behind-the-scenes giant in the enka business, reportedly committed suicide at his Tokyo apartment April 4.

Nakamura was the manager of Harumi Miyako, certainly the most popular and perhaps greatest female enka singer still working.

He was also Miyako’s partner, having lived with her since the early 1980s when he was a director at her record company. The arrangement was something of an underground scandal, as Nakamura was married with children at the time he started living with Miyako. She retired from the stage in the late ’80s to mentor new singers and produce their records with Nakamura.

However, following the death of Hibari Misora, who was considered the greatest Japanese singer of the postwar era, Miyako launched a comeback and has since reigned as enka’s greatest star, her career shrewdly piloted by her partner, whom she never married. At the time of Nakamura’s death, Miyako was in the midst of a series of concerts to celebrate her 45th year in show business


EMI Closing Asian Offices?

EMI is thinking of closing more offices in Asia, according to Web-based newsletter Music 2.0.

The EMI offices in Thailand and Singapore have already been effectively closed, but those in Japan, India, Australia, and China remain open with "some level" of direct EMI involvement.

The U.K.-based company is supposedly planning to license a partner to manage the label’s catalogue in Asia, and the rumor is that Warner Music is the most likely candidate.

It is well known that EMI head Guy Hands is looking to jettison as much deadwood as possible and is mainly targeting overpaid executives in underproducing markets.

One Two Music has reported on EMI’s troubles in Asia. The label’s international roster accounts for only 15,000 units sold per month in Indonesia, one of the world’s most populous countries.

However, Music 2.0 says that EMI might be judging the situation incorrectly if they base it on a Western model, especially if they blame the problem on digital music piracy.

Western paranoia about piracy has mostly led to restrictions on local labels’ exploitation of new business models centered on mobile opportunities. Japan has shown how profitable the mobile market can be.

Consequently, many label executives in Asia made deals quietly so that their bosses back in L.A. or London didn’t hear about them. Ringtones are a good example of a technology that Asia "got" before the West did.


Strategizing Tokyo Disney

Tokyo Disneyland celebrated its 25th anniversary April 15 with a special ceremony attended by Walt Disney President Bob Iger and Toshio Kagami, the chairman of Oriental Land, which operates the popular theme park.

Needless to say, all the classic Disney characters were also on hand for the fete.

The occasion sparked a number of media reports on the park’s future, which may not be as rosy as some think.

Tokyo Disneyland remains a gold mine, with about 25 million visitors a year. Last year it reported ¥320 billion in revenue ($3.2 billion). However, the park is largely a domestic draw, with 96 percent of its visitors being Japanese, and 84 percent being younger than 40 years old.

Japan’s population is famously getting older, very quickly. As of last year, the country’s population is shrinking.

Consequently, Oriental Land says it will try to attract more tourists from abroad, which might be more difficult.

The Tokyo park signs are in Japanese and English only, though maps are available in Chinese and Korean.

A Reuters reporter talked to foreign visitors at the park and found them to be frustrated with the long lines that Japanese are accustomed to.

Not coincidentally, Hong Kong Disneyland has been far less successful since its opening several years ago, largely because of such non-user-friendly attributes.

Moreover, Japanese travel agents and tour operators have had increased success in the burgeoning Chinese tourist market for packages that take in Japan’s more traditional sites.

Nevertheless, Oriental Land announced to reporters at the anniversary celebration that it is now exploring the possibility of opening a facility "using Disney characters" somewhere in Southeast Asia.