By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Japanese pop girl group Perfume conquered their native country, branched out to international touring, and became the first J-Pop group ever to be booked at California’s prestigious Coachella Festival. They’re also performing at the Paramount Theatre on April 10.
Perfume is made up of Ayano Omoto, known as Nocchi, Ayaka Nishiwaki, known as a-chan, and Yuka Kashino, known as Kashiyuka — and creeping fame isn’t diverting them far from where they came from. According to the members of Perfume, a lot of their amazing history goes back to a ghost in a lavatory.
Searching for ghosts and finding friends
As a-chan put it, casting back to their childhoods at the Actor’s School Hiroshima, a performing arts school in Hiroshima, “On the day of the talent show, there was a handicap toilet next to our dressing room. We were all saying that there’s a ghost in there. Nocchi and I were there ’til the very end to check out that ghost. I thought, this girl wants to see the ghost like me.”
The Actor’s School Hiroshima, like similar institutions in Japan, was expressly designed as a talent academy to nurture young talent and produce acts tailor-made for the national stage. As the ghost story might tell you, though, the members of Perfume girls had — from the beginning — their own way of looking at life, which informs them to this day.
The original trio was not, unlike many acts from such academies, put together at the command of the talent agencies who work closely with the faculty. They formed the group in 2000 because they were close friends and wanted to express that friendship.
“When I met a-chan…I was really shy and couldn’t really express myself in front of others,” recalled Kashiyuka. “When we found out we were the same age, a-chan came to me and shook my hand. That was shocking because she was so outgoing and exact opposite of me.”
Those two formed the first lineup of Perfume, with a third friend, Yuka Kawashima, known as Kawayuka. She left after about a year, paving the way for Nocchi to join the group.
Nocchi, by her own admission, admired the group even when she wasn’t a member. “Back then, hip hop and diva music were trendy, so everyone tried to perform like grown-ups,” she recalled. “But Perfume tried to be themselves and they were really cute. That was my first impression.”
Nationwide superstardom didn’t happen overnight. But the trio worked hard in their native Hiroshima before moving to Tokyo where they met record producer and songwriter Yasutaka Nakata, who’s masterminded their studio sound, starting in 2003.
Their first four albums all went platinum in Japan, and the two most recent ones, including last year’s “Future Pop,” have gone gold. The band eventually signed with Universal Music Japan to push their presence into global markets.
Their first visit to America coincided with the premiere of the “Cars 2” movie, from 2011, which featured their song, “Polyrhythm.”
Finding success on a new continent, in a different country, presents many challenges.
However, the members of Perfume also stumbled on a lot of perks.
In Nocchi’s words, “The french fries we had at Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel were amazing!”
“I liked that sweet potato ones, too!” a-chan chimed in, laughing. “I would live in the U.S. just for those french fries!”
When asked the obvious ways in which America differs from Japan, all three had strong opinions.
“Everyone’s a lot taller and bigger,” a-chan ventured.
“Americans are full of self-expression,” added Kashiyuka. “Everyone has so much energy, and they’re not afraid of expressing themselves.”
“People say hi to you at the register and when you walk into the store which is very nice,” concluded Nocchi.
The members of Perfume admitted that they’ve never visited Seattle before, but they do know about the Seattle Mariners. And since they do ads for Tully’s Coffee back home, they look forward to a tour of the Mariners headquarters, if they can manage it.
“Everyone here [in Japan] has heard of the city,” summed up Nocchi. “Seattle is famous for coffee.”
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.