Picture this: in the midst of pitch black, lights begin to twinkle. Projections begin to illuminate three human figures. The three begin to pose, then dance, then sing along to their music with perfectly choreographed moves. This is Perfume, a Japanese idol group, performing at the Cannes Lions film festival in 2013.
It was this performance that grabbed the attention of Yoshiki Chikuma, a Japanese professor at the College of Charleston with a distinct, unique taste in music. His current favorite artists—favorites being the only things he listens to—are Perfume, Sakanaction and Hikaru Utada. But as a young man in Tokyo, his music taste was drastically different.
First, it was all about rock and roll. “Like high school, university era, I listened to rock mainly: Police, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty,” said Chikuma. Living in Tokyo actually instilled a more international music taste, thanks to the range of concerts Chikuma could attend. “I went to rock concerts in Tokyo. I went to see Bruce Springsteen, Queen, Phil Collins, Bryan Adams,” he elaborated.
When asked if attending the concerts of international artists piqued his interest in the United States, Chikuma believes that it provided interesting perspective: “I was very into Bruce Springsteen, and his concert was amazing. He got me curious, because he sang about people who were having a difficult time in life. I think he made me get interested in the U.S.” It was these significant songs and lyrics that, despite a language barrier, impacted his life. “Back then MTV was strictly broadcasting music videos, and then one of them was the song ‘The River’ by Bruce Springsteen, I think that really touched me, and that’s how I got into him,” Chikuma said. It even accelerated his learning process, he explained: “I was drawn to the lyrics very much, so that was part of my learning process. I wanted to learn, understand the lyrics, I wanted to be better at understanding English, so they went together.”
After pursuing his undergraduate degree in the States, he went back to Tokyo and began attending concerts again. But his music taste had changed, and perhaps matured, drastically.
“I expanded from rock to classical music, and jazz, so I kind of stopped listening to rock after a while, in my 20s,” Chikuma said. During this time, he saw greats like Sonny Rollins and Herbie Hancock, and also major orchestra concerts. “Then I came back to the States and I listened to the same thing for a long, long time, decades,” Chikuma said, “then I think I hit this stagnant stage, like, ‘ok, I don’t know, I’m not really interested in listening to music anymore,’” he stated.
It was during this time that Chikuma started using Apple Music, and tried to find some Japanese artists. However, he didn’t find much at the time because the services were so new, and not much Japanese music was available in the U.S. Then, when he started using Spotify, he found the J-Pop group Perfume, and something about the music caught his attention. He then found the their Cannes Lions performance from 2013, and became fascinated with the group. “I was like, ‘really? Am I becoming a fan of an idol? This has never happened,’” Chikuma said. “When I was in Japan, in my teenage years, idols were huge, but I was never interested in them. They’re not ‘good music;’ real music is rock; that’s the attitude I had,” Chikuma laughed.
Initially, Chikuma says he was “dismayed by [him]self,” but eventually “accepted the fact that [he] had become a fan of a Japanese Idol.” While this did not turn him into a fan of J-Pop as a category, he has also been a long time fan of Hikaru Utada: “I knew about [Utada] because when she was trying to make a debut in the States… it was huge because it was very rare for Japanese artists to market themselves in the States back then, before they had streaming services. So I like Utada too, she’s a reader of literature. Her lyrics are very strange phrases, like lines from literary works.”
When Chikuma saw his other favorite band, Sakanaction, for the first time on NHK, it affected him in the same way Bruce Springsteen did decades before. “They played the song ‘Music,’ which is generally about why the band does and creates music. They really touched me,” he said.
Chikuma’s music taste has clearly influenced his life in many ways, and now, it’s positively influencing his two daughters as well. When asked if his daughters like Perfume, Chikuma said “they do. We just went to see their concert. There aren’t too many Asians here, in the Charleston community, so I wanted to show some female role models for them. I like Perfume personally, but it also could be educational. The parent side of me is like ‘ok, maybe this is a way for them to feel proud of their heritage.’”