JAPAN NIGHT is a newly-launched event that is aimed to promote Japanese pop culture to the world. Of course it’s not only about the pop culture; Japan as a nation has experienced many hardships but like they always do, they are now building towards the future. And there’s a fixed date for the rebirth – the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. JAPAN NIGHT is an attempt to make the world understand Japan and her culture better, using music as the medium.
The first phase of JAPAN NIGHT was held for two days in Kokuritsu Kyogijo, or the National Olympic Stadium, and doubled as a farewell ceremony for the legendary stadium. Completed in 1958, and having witnessed various events such as the 1958 Asian Games, 1964 Summer Olympics, and the record-breaking L’Arc-en-ciel’s 2014 concerts, it’s time for the stadium to be redeveloped and rebuilt. The stadium would close its doors from May 31, 2014, and Japanese citizens had the chance to bid her goodbye during the two days of JAPAN NIGHT (May 28 & May 29).
Day 1 saw the performance of 9 Japanese artistes from different genres, showcasing the richness of Japanese popular music. Waves of people eagerly entered the stadium when the gates were opened at 16.30. At the entrance, each was given a lightstick. The colours of the lightsticks were remotely, centrally controlled, and the colours were changed according to the song or the rhythm of the music.
Casting its glow over the venue and colouring the sky in warm hues, the grand architecture of the National Olympic Stadium against the crimson setting sun was a beautiful sight to behold. Even though the cool breeze could barely suppress the temperature of the crowd, the stadium of about 50,000 patiently waited as the minutes ticked by.
At 18:30, the chattering gave way to loud cheers as the 3 gigantic screens at the mammoth-sized stage lighted up with a video showcasing the history of the National Olympic Stadium, a place seen as the holy ground for sports and music. It was also a special place in the hearts of many of its people who grew up with it as it was the yearly venue for the Emperor’s Cup final on New Year’s Day and the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament in January. It was an extraordinary moment to witness the igniting of the Olympic cauldron. Dancing in the wind, the flames seemed to be saying, “Party People! Let Day 1: Yell for JAPAN begin!”
Led by Seiji Kameda and his 18-member ‘Yell for JAPAN’ special band, they kicked off the event with the first performing artiste of the night – Sukima Switch. A jazz fusion duo, consisting of Takuya Ohashi and Shintaro Tokita, opened JAPAN NIGHT with their uplifting hit song Zenryoku Shonen (Boys with Might). With a performance befitting the song title, Ohashi gave his all as he sang and ran along the 100m runway to interact with the audience. Audience participation was equally active as they moved their hands and sang along to the chorus. Hundreds of red balloons were released from the ground during the song, lending a visual dimension to the song lyrics as they soared into the evening sky, lifting the spirits of all those present. Sukima Switch managed to warm up audience very well!
After the grand opening, FUNKY KATO was next with the popular 2010 single Ato Hitotsu (After One More) from his disbanded Funky Monkey Babys. The audience was really excited to be able to hear a solo version of the song. KATO was also excited as he said in his emcee, “I have always wanted to be able to jam with a live band. Are you ready?!” Jumping around and swinging his arms, the energy vibe he emitted was infectious.At one point, he got off the stage, causing ripples of excitement as he moved into the crowd, spurring them to extend their hands in the hope that they could make contact with him! Thereafter, he performed his new solo single Kagayake (Shine) during which the remotely-controlled light-sticks were suddenly switched on and changed colours on their own. The entire stadium reverberated with gasps of surprise and amazement. KATO made audience feel even hotter under the hot May sun.
The energy level was taken another notch higher with Naoto Inti Raymi, a singer/song-writer whose musical style is influenced by various music and cultures. Coming on stage with 4 dancers, he got the stadium grooving in no time with his funky dance moves and catchy song Brave. Recounting his experiences with the National Olympic Stadium, Naoto was emotional as he declared, “I am honoured to be able to stand on this stage as a singer. Thank you and goodbye Kokuritsu. Until we meet again!” The next song created much commotion as it was the Japanese version of The World is Ours!, the 2014 FIFA World Cup anthem. The rhythm of samba had the audience tapping their feet and dancing away while singing the chorus enthusiastically and swinging their light-sticks to the beats.
Kaori Kishitani then took over with the 1989 song Diamonds which she wrote during her time as part of a female band Princess Princess. It was number 1 on the Oricon chart and also the first CD single to be a ‘million seller’ in Japan. “I will sing with lots of love!” exclaimed Kishitani before performing the song with her unique voice and big smiles. At the same time, the whole stadium was awash in pink. Evidently it was a massive hit song as audience across age groups seemed to know the lyrics by heart, singing and moving in unison with her. Her bright and cheerful personality on stage ended the performance with a feel-good vibe, just like old times.
Following after, the whole stadium was left in the dark with only the Olympic flame burning brightly and minimal lighting on stage. A sense of calm swept over the venue. Next was a-cappella group, The Gospellers, made up of Tetsuya Murakami, Kaoru Kurosawa, Yuji Sakai, Yoichi Kitayama and Yutaka Yasuoka. Their harmonizing vocals to Hitori (Alone) brought chills to the stadium, transfixing the audience to their performance. Surrounded by a beautiful sea of blue and stars in the night sky, their soulful voices brought the first half of JAPAN NIGHT to a climatic finish with a captivating performance of Towa Ni (Forever).
It’s still far from over!
By now, the whole stadium was hyped up for more. Yuzu, a very popular folk/pop rock duo of Yujin Kitagawa and Koji Iwasawa kicked off the second half of JAPAN NIGHT with the highly-anticipated Eiko no Kakehashi (Bridge of Glory). This song could not have been more appropriate as they wrote this NHK theme song for the athletes competing in the 2004 Athens Olympics. The music video was also filmed on the grounds of the National Olympic Stadium itself.
Kitagawa then teased the crowd, “Thank you all for coming! We are supposed to leave after 1 song. But this is our first time playing at Kokuritsu and also our last. Is it ok for us to do one more song? (Audience screamed “YES!”) Natsuiro! (Colours of Summer)” Overflowing with adrenaline, he jumped and ran along the runway, spurring the crowd to shout “1, 2, 123 Hey!” and “Kokuritsu!” with him. The light-sticks alternated between light blue and yuzu yellow, ending with a bang with fireworks on stage. “One more time! One more time!” shouted the crowd. Cheeky Kitagawa mock-scolded the audience, “This is not our concert you know? This is an event. You cannot do this.” before repeating the chorus, much to the delight of the audience who sang with even more enthusiasm.
The stage and entire stadium were bathed in red as veteran singer/song-writer Kazuyoshi Saito stepped onto the stage. The crowd went wild at his electrifying guitar intro to his song Yasashiku Naritai (I Want to Be Kind). This was also the award-winning theme song to the highest-watched drama in 2011 – ‘Kaisefu no Mita’ (Mita the Housekeeper). After the song, Saito could not hide his curiosity and asked, “How did all of you change the colours in sync together?” The audience was tickled. As the colours changed according to his commands, he commented coolly, “I see.” Images of clouds appeared on screen and the crowd cheered. It was the groovy 1994 hit song Aruite Kaero (Let’s Walk Home). With a “See ya”, Saito waved and left in his endearing casual manner.
Kameda then introduced the next artiste as a “rookie unit with no release yet”. Screams rang out as Kazutoshi Sakurai (of Mr. Children) and GAKU-MC came onto stage as UKASUKA-G. GAKU-MC saw what Saito did and said, “This is our support song for our Japan soccer representatives. Blue please!” The audience laughed as the stadium coloured in blue upon his command. Sakurai took over the microphone and enthralled all those present with his a-cappella intro to Shori No Emi Wo Kimi To (The Smile of Victory with You), their song for MIFA (Music Interact Football for All). Soon after, giant soccer balls were thrown into the arena during the performance, sparking off excitement among the crowd as they bounced off the balls. UKASUKA-G also had a ball of a time on stage as seen by their ecstatic faces as they ran up and down the runway, cheering on the audience with the song while the audience did likewise with loud rendition of the chorus.
Sakurai then enthused, “Next is our unreleased track Mi-chi. We would love to do this song with your voices. Let’s practice!” Lalalalala~ as the audience sang along to the chorus. After which, the 2 soccer-lovers kicked real soccer balls into the crowd which 6 lucky members had something unique to remember the night by.
The last performing artiste was IKIMONOGAKARI, a pop-rock trio of guitarists Yoshiki Mizuno, Hotaka Yamashita and vocalist Kiyoe Yoshioka. Singing their hit song Arigatou (Thank You), Yoshioka’s crystal-clear voice was beautifully complemented by her band mates’ guitar strumming and the ‘Yell for JAPAN’ band. Drawing the curtain on JAPAN NIGHT Day 1 was Kaze Ga Fuiteiru (The Wind Is Blowing), the NHK theme song to 2012 London Olympics. Singing with gusto, Yoshioka transported the audience to a future of positivity and hope where dreams can be made, a vision the new National Olympic Stadium embodies. Towards the end of the song, all the artistes gathered on stage and sang as one with the audience. This finale moment ended with an astounding display of colours as the stadium sparkled with the varied light-sticks illumination while fireworks burst in the sky overhead.
Day 1 had finished, but the fun was not over yet! Next: Day 2!
Picture source: OFFICIAL
With additional reporting from eefie.chan