Chicago Japan Festival has been a local Chicago area tradition since 1981, with a mission to introduce Japanese culture to local residents in order to improve and promote unity among the various cultures that comprise the community in the Chicagoland area. They’ve been bringing great Japanese entertainment, food, activities, and technologies to show at the festival every year since it’s inception so many years ago, and this year was no different. Here’s a breakdown of the experience from the show.

Arriving at the show, I first noticed all the traditional Japanese decorations adorning the main hallway and industry show area, making for a warm welcome. The area was already full of movement with people almost shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the whole area trying to see all the interesting displays that were set up in the main show area. Here’s a few shots from the main area:

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After spending around an hour seeing the main show area, I headed over to the artist room and a few other side areas to see what kind of things were on display outside the main show. I discovered several more areas full of tables featuring more Japanese artists and industry. The tables ranged from artists, charities and organizations to science & technology companies, traditional Japanese matsuri games, and much more. Here’s a few shots from the side areas of the festival:

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Aside from all the great local artists and companies showcased in the festival this year, they also brought some very high-profile entertainment in the form of the human beatbox named Daichi and popular anime/game singer, Ayane, both straight from Japan. They performed a joint concert with a packed house of almost 500 people and blew away the audience with their performance. Here’s a recap and some highlights from the performance.

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Daichi took the stage first, and I didn’t really know what to expect after seeing and hearing a little bit of him before the show. I knew he did beatbox and acappella work, but nothing prepared me for when he actually got on the mic. His voice had so much power coming through the stage speakers that it literally enveloped you in sound and using his mouth alone, he was able to get an audience on their feet and dancing to the music he created with that one sole instrument. It was quite a show to witness and I was very impressed with the talent and power he had.

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After Daichi’s show, J-pop and anime/game songstress Ayane took the stage. I’ve known Ayane’s career since her beginnings in 2004 and this was a pretty exciting event to finally get to see her live. Ayane has done songs for anime TV shows and video games for the last decade, lending her voice to literally dozens of projects including “Steins:Gate,” “11 eyes,” “Memories Off,” “Taiko no Tatsujin,” “W Wish,” and many more.

Seeing Ayane live was no disappointment, as she belted out around a dozen songs from different points in her career, with each one sounding wonderful from start to finish. She brought a few backup dancers to liven up the show for some of her more upbeat songs and also performed a few of the more dramatic songs by herself, with the stage and lighting setup lending itself well to the songs being performed, making for a nice visual show. Here’s a few shots from Ayane’s show:

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After Ayane finished her set, she was joined on stage again by Daichi, where they performed a few songs together, with Daichi creating all the music with his beatbox skills and Ayane singing the leads over his backing. As a surprise to many anime fans in the audience, they collaborated to do a cover version of the popular opening theme song from Neon Genesis Evangelion, “Cruel Angel’s Thesis.” Here’s a few highlight shots from their joint performance as well as a video, to hear their studio version of “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” for yourself:

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After the show, Daichi and Ayane took some time out to meet with fans, who also had an opportunity to buy some official goods from the performers and get some autographs. The lines to meet the performers queued up with hundreds of people, reaching to the other end of the auditorium, where they waited to get their chance at meeting the artists. Here’s some shots from the meeting session:

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Interview:

After the meeting session, I also got a chance to sit down and chat with Ayane to ask her some questions about her work and her career. Here’s the conversation I had with her:

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SH: Is this your first time to the US? How do you like it so far?

A: It’s not exactly my first time to the US, but it’s my first time in Chicago. It’s awesome so far, I’m loving the food. I love red meat foods like steak, hamburger, etc. so I’m in heaven right now!

SH: How did you transition from your early days working on some smaller music game projects into to a major singing career and working with a company like 5pb?

A: There wasn’t much of a transition or a difference, I’ve just been working hard since 2004 and have been fortunate enough to work on a lot of great projects since then and have a great team to work with like those at 5pb.

SH: Who are some of your favorite musicians or performers in the Japanese music industry right now?

A: I see you have an Ikeda Aya sticker on your gear, she is one of my best friends, and I love her music! I look up to her a lot, and we talk all the time. (I explained I got to meet Aya last year as well as in 2009 at Anime Expo in California, she was shocked and delighted that I knew Aya.) I also really like angela, who recently also came to Chicago at Anime Central, I’ve liked them for many years!

SH: Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve performed with?

A: Daichi, who I performed with at the concert tonight, he really has a special talent and it’s a joy to work with him, whether it’s in the studio or at a live performance.

SH: Who other artists would you like to perform with in the future?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, I really like her style and her songs are really fun! That’s really all that comes to mind besides wanting to work more with Daichi in the future.

SH: I know you write some of the lyrics and music for your songs as well as for other artists, where you get the inspiration for those? Is there any kind of theme you like to go with when writing music?

A: Well, if the song is based on an anime or video game, I always work closely with the creators to get an idea of what the project is all about and create the music or lyrics based on the world of that project. When I’m writing for other artists, I always take into consideration that artist’s personality or style and create something that fits them and their style.

SH: Do you have much input on which songs you get to sing, or are you mostly presented songs by your producers?

A: I actually work pretty closely with my sound producer and we always review the many songs that get submitted to us by many different candidates and choose which ones we think would be the best for me to perform. We always talk very in-depth about how I’ll be singing it and putting the music together overall; it’s very collaborative.

SH: How do you approach singing a song that someone else wrote? Do you ever get the feeling that you won’t be able to sing a certain style of song?

A: I haven’t had any major issues where I go to approach a song and something doesn’t work out well. Maybe all the people who submit songs for me actually thought of me and my style during the writing process like I do when I write songs for others? On some of my projects where I was writing the lyrics, I would sometimes change the melody a little bit from the original composition to make it fit the lyrics a little more closely, but that’s some of the only times I’ve had to change things around much.

SH: How was the response to your concert tonight? Was it a good crowd compared to what you’re used to in Japan?

A: The response was amazing, it was the loudest audience I’ve ever had, and I even got a standing ovation! I’ve never had a response that big before, it was probably the most exciting show I’ve ever done, personally, for many reasons.

SH: Would you like to perform in the US again at some point?

A: If it means I can have more experiences like today, I’d definitely come back! Please let me know if you know anyone who’d like me to perform here, I’d love to come back!

SH: Do you have a message you’d like to give for all your fans in the US?

A: Today was very exciting for me as my first time in Chicago. Thank you everyone for attending the show and making me feel welcome here, I hope you enjoyed this as much as I did!

SH: How can overseas fans keep up with all your future work?

A: I have Facebook and Twitter accounts, as well as my official blog, so everyone can follow me on those. I’m not good at English, but you can still follow them for updates on me in Japanese. (You can find these accounts below.)

SH: Thank you for your time and we hope to see you again in the US!

After the interview, Ayane was generous enough to sign some of my favorite goods and chat a little more about random music-related things as well as some general discussion about idols and other music performers she knows. Shortly after, the festival was closing for the night and it was time for everyone to go home.

A big thank you to all staffs of Ayane and Daichi as well as everyone on staff for Chicago Japan Festival 2014 for putting on a great show for a great cause. I suggest anyone in the Chicago area to check out the Festival next year, where I’m sure they’ll put on just as enjoyable of a show.

Related Links:

Ayane’s official Twitter account

Ayane’s management/info Twitter account

Ayane’s official Facebook page

Ayane’s official Blog

Daichi’s official YouTube channel

Daichi’s official Twitter account

Chicago Japan Festival official website