A-To-J Connections was lucky enough to catch up to RAION 雷音 at Japan Expo LA 2015. A unique group that mixes rock, pop and enka into something that is sure to delight fans around the world!
RAION is made up of SHINOBU the "Japanese Princess Beauty", ICHIBAN the "Kabuki Beast of Rock 'n' Roll", and NEGI the "Electrifying Sanshin Punk".
All members of the band are extraordinary musicians in their own right. Shinobu debuted as an enka singer after serving for six years as the first live-in apprentice of Saburou Kitajima, an influential figure in the enka world. UJIGAMI ICHIBAN is the leader and vocalist for the band KABUKI-ROCKS, a band who dresses as Kabuki actors from the Genroku Era and are best known for the song "OEDO" a re-working of the song "TOKIO" originally by Kenji Sawada (Links to both videos at the end of the article). NEGI is a professional bassist who is also an accomplished Sanshin player, a stringed instrument from Okinawa. Together they form the Japanese Supergroup, RAION, creating a completely new sound in music, Enka Rock!
A-To-J: How are you liking it in America so far?
ICHIBAN: It felt hot because I walked around a lot. It’s also more spacious than Japan.
SHINOBU: Since we’re here to work, we don’t have much time to relax. We’re also all sleep deprived! (Laughs)
A-To-J: Did you walk around with or without the makeup? (To ICHIBAN)
ICHIBAN: Oh, no, I didn’t walk around with my makeup on. I think I should work at Hollywood where they have those people that dress as Spiderman and other characters!
A-To-J: Have you been to America before?
ICHIBAN: I came here 25 years ago for KABUKI-ROCKS. It was to shoot a promotion video.
A-To-J: Has anyone else come to America before?
SHINOBU: For me, it’s my first time being here in America, but I’ve gone to Guam before.
NEGI: It’s my first time as well.
A-To-J: Besides Hollywood, have you been able to do anything here that was fun? Or was it all work?
ICHIBAN: No, not at all. We have to go back tomorrow as well. We came straight from Japan, then we went to Little Tokyo and had a Japanese meal combo.
SHINOBU: A sashimi set!
ICHIBAN: We came here to enjoy America but...
A-To-J: You had time to find souvenirs though right?
SHINOBU: At Hollywood, I bought a t-shirt and a hat. I also got American chocolate.
ICHIBAN: At the 5 dollar shop! Because we’re poor artists….
A-To-J: About yesterday’s live show, how did you feel about the fan’s reactions?
SHINOBU: The reaction from the crowd was great.
A-To-J: It was an interesting style, what inspired the synthesis of your musical sound?
SHINOBU: The ninja that was on stage, Jack, was originally my friend and he liked my “enka” style songs. He then told me that he wanted to debut my “enka” style rock songs here in America. If I was alone, I thought it would look weak, visually and would look too bland. So I called up my friends (ICHIBAN and NEGI) and asked if they wanted to join me. They wholeheartedly said okay and we ended up doing this style together.
A-To-J: How was it like moving from “KABUKI-ROCKS” to this style? (To ICHIBAN)
ICHIBAN: KABUKI-ROCKS is more like rock and roll, or KISS with a Japanese flair. But RAION’s style represents lightning and we do different styles of music not just rock. We put in Japanese sounds in the music.
SHINOBU: We put in various Japanese instruments such as “shamisen” and “taiko” to make the Japanese style music which makes us a very Japanese group.
ICHIBAN: We try to get a fusion with the Japanese instruments.
A-To-J: Who are some of the music artists that inspire you?
ICHIBAN: I really like KISS, especially Gene Simmons.
SHINOBU: My inspiration is my “enka” teacher, Saburou Kitajima.
NEGI: I like jazz music so I like the person who arranges our (RAION’s) music.
A-To-J: How would you describe your sound to someone who has never listened to it before?
SHINOBU: Music comes from the heart and I just want that conveyed to them.
A-To-J: Are there any differences between doing live shows in Japan and in America?
ICHIBAN: There’s differences in our cultures. Our culture has been around for a long time, maybe not as long as China, but things like kimonos have been around for a while. “Omotenashi!” (Hospitality)
A-To-J: I know many people want to know, what are your plans for KABUKI-ROCKS? Any news? (To ICHIBAN)
ICHIBAN: I’ve been doing doing KABUKI-ROCKS for 25 years. We’re all getting old now so we can’t do as many live shows anymore! (Laughs) It's hard rock style so it’s too intense for us. RAION is slower so I can still perform. I want to do Japanese style songs with styles other than just rock music.
A-To-J: Why were you interested in kabuki-style?
ICHIBAN: My mother was the master of Japanese style dancing and kabuki.
A-To-J: But Kabuki doesn’t involve any women, how did she become a master for it?
ICHIBAN: Women can participate in Japanese dance; as for Kabuki, since it has dancing, women can teach Kabuki dancing [they just can't perform on stage.]
A-To-J: Where would you like to perform overseas next?
ICHIBAN: I want to go to Europe; France and Italy. I also want to go to Asia, we have gone to Shanghai before but we’re going to Taiwan next year in the summer.
A-To-J: Is there any funny stories while performing you want to share?
ICHIBAN: Did you see us throw spider webs at the crowd? We did a live show in Indonesia, and it got on the old woman that was in the front! (Laughs) The old woman was the first lady of Indonesia!
SHINOBU: They didn’t do “harakiri”? (Cutting of the stomach)
ICHIBAN: Oh, no, it was all okay!
A-To-J: What are some of your plans for the near future for your music?
SHINOBU: I like music no matter what genre; enka, rock, jazz, classic, everything! I want our arranger, NEGI, to arrange our music in various genres in the future.
ICHIBAN: That is “wa no kokoro” (Japanese heart or spirit)
A-To-J: Any last message for the fans?
SHINOBU: RAION might become an anime soon! How the story goes is that from the top of the clouds, we come down with the roar of thunder to the earth and we spread our music!
Thanks so much to RAION for taking the time to interview with us. As SHINOBU mentioned, keep an eye out for the RAION Anime! In the meantime, if you use LINE messenger app download the UJIGAMI ICHIBAN LINE stickers!!!
UJIGAMI ICHIBAN Line Stickers: https://store.line.me/stickershop/product/1173541/zh-Hant
RAION Official Facebook: facebook.com/RaionJapan
RAION Official Site: raionjapan.com
UJIGAMI ICHIBAN Official Site: ujigamiichiban.net
UJIGAMI ICHIBAN Twitter: twitter.com/ujigamiichiban
The above interview was conducted by Darice Chang (Who also provided on-site translation) with direction by Manuel Figueroa and filming by Eunice Wang. Post translation provided by Tiffany Fujii.
KABUKI ROCKS - O-EDO
Kenji Sawada - TOKIO