Breakaway: A Personal Essay
Graduate School of Creativity and Culture, Aichi Shukutoku University
@@@@@@@ gMake a wish, take a chance, make a change, and break awayh—these are lyrics from the song gBreakawayh performed by Kelly Clarkson. They suggest how I want to act. I always want to try to believe that I must be the strong one although I do not look so. Sometimes I still wonder how I can truly be strong. I have tried to gmake a changeh by jumping into Japanese pop culture. I might also need to make a change in myself, and notice what is going on inside myself a bit again.
Last March and April, there was a big television advertisement for KAT-TUN, a new singing group of boys from the well-known Japanese show business agency, Johnnyfs Entertainment, Inc. Over those two months, every time I turned on the television, there was that group of boys. Somehow, such boys from Johnnyfs have been my obsessive enemy for a long time—is it because they are the most appealing representation of Japanese kawaii culture, I wonder? Although I have been anti-Johnnyfs boys in a sense, I dared to approach them in my last essay. However, every time I see their performances on television shows, something still feels awkward. Why do they look awkward to me? And what does it mean to consider boys rather than girls?
Ongoing Problems from the Past
@@@@@@@ gWho is your favorite among Johnnyfs boys?h was a frequently asked question in my junior high school days. My answer was always, gI donft have a favorite.h All my classmates who heard my answer looked uncomfortable, and I guess that they regarded it as quite natural that any teenaged Japanese girl would be a fan of Johnnyfs boys. As I recall those days in my junior high school, I feel it was a crazy time in life. When I was thirteen or fourteen, girls around me suddenly tried to become different. They looked like they were competing and in a hurry to become gmature.h They crazily watched Johnnyfs boys on television and magazines, and worried about how they were looked at by boys. I did not care about how boys thought about me, at all. I realized that these were girls in a hurry to make the transformation from gjust a kawaii girlh to ga kawaii and bit sexy woman.h
Sometimes I wonder where I belong, when I watch these types of ga bit sexyh young women. I have not considered myself in terms of what kind of gwomanh I am and it might be unusual since most girls and women around me seem to have a certain image of what kind of women they want to be, such as coquettish or independent.
Comparing Japanese girlsf ambitions of image transformation with American girls, I generally feel the latter are motivated by being sexy, rather than Japanese notion of kawaii. For example, the music video of gStupid Girlsh performed by Pink who is obviously a feminist, ironically represents gsexy.h The lyrics of gStupid Girlsh speak of outsider girlsf feelings, which are just like mine:
Maybe if I act like that, that guy will call me back
Porno paparazzi girl, I don't want to be a stupid girl
Baby if I act like that, flipping my blond hair back
Push up my bra like that, I don't want to be a stupid girl
The lyrics of Pinkfs song might sound harsh, but, to me, the girls in my junior high school days undoubtedly were responding to something related to gbeing sexy.h Japanese girls do not tend to focus on gbeing sexy,h although nowadays there is a female singer Kumi Koda who dares to perform sexy songs and girls seem to feel attracted to her. In fact, most Japanese female singers sell coquetry and I feel quite wary of watching them on television, although I think Hikaru Utada and Angela Aki, who are my favorite singers, do not.
One of my questions about being a girl or a woman has been, gIs it necessary for girls to be sexy or coquettish? In this world, there has been a borderline between gmenh and gwomenh, but also there are distinctions among women. Being sexy or kawaii [cute]: which had I better choose?h I have observed girls around me including my friends, and I have secretly been concluding that every girl has something coquettish in there somewhere in themselves. Something coquettish in communicating with someone. The question, whether or not I also have something coquettish in communicating with someone, haunts me. And gindependenceh which my feminist self sets as a goal—even though I try to believe that I am strong, sometimes I am unable to believe in my strength and occasionally I might have felt that gindependenceh sounds empty. Emptiness and sadness are quite human emotions, I think, and my question has been how feminists deal with these feelings. The fact that I have these questions might however prove that I am immature as a feminist.
Johnnyfs Boys versus Myself, Round 1: A Song Negotiates
@@@@@@@ As I have mentioned, there is something about Johnnyfs boys and their representation of cuteness that always strikes me as awkward. Yet, I have come to start watching Johnnyfs boys more and found some interesting things. I decided to explore@ them, to attempt to reconcile this tension.
@@@@@@@ In the spring of 2006, SMAP, arguably the most famous group among Johnnyfs boys, performed a song called gDear Womanh and in the lyrics of the song, every Japanese woman is praised for being beautiful:
Welcome yokoso [gwelcomeh] to Japan, to our epoch
The coincidental encounter with you, I heartily appreciate it
You, being yourself, are beautiful indeed
My goal as a feminist has been exactly this. Being just myself and thinking of myself as beautiful.
From a feminist view, it is difficult to reconcile this feminist recognition of beauty with the construction of Johnnyfs boys and their kawaii look. Any born-good-looking-person makes me feel inferior. It is difficult to approach them, and even if I do, there is still a distance between us. When I consider the lyrics of gDear Woman,h I wonder if this song is Johnnyfs boysf attempt to approach feminists? If so, do I have to respond in kind? It seems difficult to try to love what up till now I did not care about. Probably I am feeling like the character Charlie (Nicholas Cage) in Spike Jonzesf film Adaptation (2002), as he struggles to adapt a book about orchids for the screen. In one scene of the film, Charlie gets a hint about how to remedy his writerfs block: gFind one thing that you care passionately about and then write about that.h Exactly. If I can find one thing about Johnnyfs boys that I really care about, then I can approach them in writing and this battle can be begun.@
Johnnyfs Boys versus Myself Round 2: A Lyricist of the Songs for Johnnyfs Boys Negotiates
@@@@@@@ My brother and mother are big fans of Johnnyfs boy Tomohisa Yamashita, who starred in Nobuta wo Produce (2005) and Kurosagi (2006) and performs the song gDaite Senoritah which recorded 600 000 sales. gIsnft he just too cute?h my brother and my mother ask me. I know how important the Johnnyfs boy look on the outside is. Is it because he is etoo cutef that the song Yamashita sings has enjoyed such success?
@@@@@@@ The lyrics of the song gDaite Senoritah were written by zopp, who is also responsible for the lyrics of gSeishun Amigo,h the song I mentioned in my last essay. I have been keeping my eye on zoppfs blog since I started wondering what kind of person would write lyrics for a song performed by Johnnyfs boys. Something inside the lyrics of gSeishun Amigoh fascinated me and I longed to know why. I browsed zoppfs entries in the blog and some of his thoughts caught my attention:
h¢ª é©çAK¹Æ¢¤¾tª éñ¾µ
I worry about many things, but life goes on the way it does.
People say various opinions to me, but I am myself
There is pain and therefore there is a word, ghappinessh
There is the word gfailureh and thatfs why the word gsuccessh exists
I believe in myself
This is how I act
I tend to love people whose writing style is like this, who can forthrightly say, gI am myselfh and gI believe in myself.h Reading the blog entries, I figured out what caught me inside his lyrics — a passion to lead a life with hope and strength. This stance can also be distinguished in his latest lyrics for the song gDaite Senorita.h
@@@@@@@ Last May, zopp set up a temporary e-mail form on his blog which allowed anyone to send e-mail to him. I sent a message to him telling that I was a big fan of his lyrics and looked forward to his new works. Within a week, I received an answer from him. Whenever I succeed in making contact with people I admire—in e-mail I have interviewed a director of my favorite film, Anastasia (1997) and an author of a book about Anastasia—I passionately feel a joy in life. I still remember how deeply I felt that the world I am in is amazing since there are these wonderful people in it. This amazing world, however, is not peaceful in terms of gender relations or political consciousness, and I know itfs not something I can think about in a thoroughly optimistic way.
Zoppfs answer to my email was humorous. He wrote that he loves film very much and will continue to write lyrics with various themes. I have heard that zoppfs lyrics are inspired by films; for example, the lyrics of gSeishun Amigoh were inspired by Luc Bessonfs Le Grand Bleu (1988) especially the beautiful blue sky in the film. As I am also a film freak, zoppfs answer seemed special and convinced me that I might be able to relate, and even love, Johnnyfs boysf songs. That made me think I should take a closer look at them.
@@@@@@@ If I am able to love their songs, then am I able to love the performers? I took a look at the two boys who performed gSeishun Amigoh on a TV show. The two of them are good looking, Ifd say I can love them for their cute looks. Two other songs with lyrics by these two boys are included on the CD of gSeishun Amigoh and I listened to them. One of the songs, gColorful,h which was written by Tomohisa Yamashita, somehow caught me just like gSeishun Amigoh had. gColorfulh begins with@ N©³¦Ä@Ç±És¯Î¢¢?@N©³¦Ä@lÉÅ«é±Æ [Tell me someone, where I should go, tell me someone, what I can do] and ends with@ ¢ÉFéæ¤É@ð©ã°ÄÝé@JtÈ¢EÖ [Like praying for the future, I look up the moon, I move on to a ecolorfulf world].
The world should be colorful, indeed. Part of the reason why this song grabs me is because my first name, gayah in Japanese kanji means gcolorfulh. Most people say that I have a beautiful name. But my mother gave me this ebeautifulf name which mocks my own relationship with beautiful. Since the relationship between my mother and me is complicated, sometimes I hated my name. However, in Japan it is believed that a name shows the self. Wryly thinking of the promise of my name, I have set one of the goals to accomplish in my lifetime—to be a person with gcolorfulh views.
My brother told me that Yamashita is a unique Johnnyfs boy and warned me that I must not define him as just kawaii. In fact, Yamashitafs biography is interesting. He joined Johnnyfs gby himself when he was 11 years old since he dreamed of becoming an actor when watching a young boy from the agency on televisionh (Asahi Graph Person 33; my translation). In contrast with Yamashita, Kazuya Kamenashi, his partner of Yamashita in gSeishun Amigo,h joined the agency following a suggestion by a female relative (Clip from HEY! HEY! HEY! MUSIC CHAMP). As far as I know, most boys enter this agency with the encouragement of their mothers, sisters, or aunts – that is, the women around them. I wonder if women, rather than men, are responsible for intuiting potential kawaii boys. On the other hand, Hiromu Kitagawa, the founder of Johnnyfs agency is a man who had a yearning for Hollywood style show business after being inspired by the musical West Side Story (Janiizu Kitagawa-san wo Shitteimasuka? 30, 40-41). Once a boy enters the agency, he has to survive some competitive moments since not everyone in this agency can gloriously debut in the show business world. The boys begin their careers as stage dancers behind Johnnyfs currently popular boys and then wait for the audience to spot their potential talents or aura, which allows them a chance to also become a popular Johnnyfs boy.
Whatfs So Appealing? The Battle is Over and Breakaway
Considering that Yamashita succeeded in his career as an actor at quite an early stage raises the question about what makes him appealing to audiences besides his cute looks? In fact, it has been said that it is the gpersonality that a Johnnyfs boys has that sells and is the most appealing point]h (Matsumoto 186; my translation). As I browsed interview articles on magazines and clips from television shows I felt something quite embarrassing and funny about my research. My conscience inquired, gAm I stalking this guy?h
Yamashita seems to have big ambitions to succeed in show business and his stance sounds quite earnest. In television clips he sometimes looks like a straight-A student; that is he does not laugh but just smiles. This may also suggest he has a talent for comedy. I was impressed by the fact that he is currently a university student. Yamashita comments:
Universities might be the place where you look for what you long to do in your future. If you donft look for it and if you just waste time after graduation, itfs not good. (Monthly TV Navi 45)
As far as I know, the popular Johnnyfs boys of earlier generation, such as SMAP, did not go to university and it seemed plausible that Johnnyfs boys were more interested in being cherished show business stars than in cherishing education. My research so far indicates that Yamashita is the only one to start his career so early and to try to have both show business career and get a university education at the same time.
A funny thing happened to me in the process of researching Yamashita. While I was watching his interview on television, my mother suddenly murmured, gThat guy sounds a bit like you: the ambitious stance.h I was surprised to find my own ambitions being reflected by a kawaii boy. Ambition is something found in men and women, certainly, but do men and women achieve their ambitions in specifically gendered ways?
These days, I notice myself changing. Two popular Japanese cultural productions, namely Johnnyfs boys and anime, which I have ignored so far in my life, now seem to be taking on greater significance. I find myself selectively drawn to Johnnyfs boys, and, in terms of @anime, have become a big fan of BLOOD+ (2005- ), which is about a girlfs memory, her past and identity. My feminist self sometimes whispers to me, gDo you think this anime is appropriate for a student of gender studies?h and in fact it is, as Junichi Fujisaku, the director says that he wants to gmake the girl different from the typical girl character in other animesh (Production I.G Magazine 6; my translation). For me, this anime shows the importance of living life with all my strength.
@@@@@@@ Are these changes in my interests in popular culture moves away from feminism? Essayist and feminist Minako Saitou has referred to the phenomenon of feminists becoming anti-feminists because g[c] feminism is not dauntless and it contains imperfect areash and Saitou cynically writes that the only people who completely agree with feminism might be the gexpertsh and the beginners, who are inspired and think, gThis can save me!h However, the high hopes promised by feminism might lead to depression (Saitou 293; my translation).
When I was at the stage of being a beginner, I completely welcomed the situation where my mind asked me the question, gIs this appropriate in terms of gender studies?h Indeed, feminism taught me the strength and joy of the pioneer spirit, which started with questioning myself. Now, feminism partly irritates me mentally because every time and every moment I observe something, questions yell at me and never stop. I continue to have the eexceedingf hope that Saitou mentions, but it makes me want to ignore the questions, at least temporarily, and jump into something I have not cared about so far, like anime or Johnnyfs boys—Ifd love to break away. From now on I will try to consider anything as a potential topic of interest and willingly jump in, sneak a look at it, and if it sounds funny, or has a great appeal, go further. I want to freely think of topics for research in this creative way.
However, I have felt that it might not be easy to break away in the place where I am now. At graduate school where I entered in April, there seems to be a binary between high and popular culture, and also in the power relationship between teachers and students. Some teachers seem proud of their belonging to noble academia, as if it were an exclusive club to which they can only welcome noble studies. Surely they would not welcome what I am doing in this essay as they believe that Hollywood films and other aspects of pop culture are not noble and therefore not worthy of research. At times there seems to be an edict against me jumping into something and speaking with my own voice; instead I am supposed to stick with welcoming famous thinkersf voices and, of course, what the teachers themselves say. I wonder if the binary between teachers and students is similar to that which continues to segregate men and women. Academic research should encourage enquiry, not limit it, and be open to difference and debate. I realize that there might not be a place for me to fit in, and perhaps I had better stop looking for it, and keep on laughing. I long to become talkative, humorous, and ambitious without feeling constrained. I realize that my personality longs to find its own voice—itfs time for my gbreakawayh now.@
Music Show HEY! HEY! HEY! MUSIC CHAMP QXgFCñÆ²@2005N1031úúAtWer
Adaptation. Dir. Spike Jonze. Based on Susan Orleanfs The Orchid Thief. Screenplay by Charlie Kaufman. Perf. Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep, and Chris Cooper. Columbia Pictures (USA), 2002.
Books and Articles (Japanese)
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uÎkwBLOOD+xÄÂE¡ç~ê~LN^[fUCE¢än}vúoBPbNwProduction I.G}KWxÉfÚBúoBusiness Publications ÐA2005NA6ÅB
Kelly Clarkson. gBreakaway.h Breakaway Special Edition. BMG JAPAN INC. 2005.
Pink. gStupid Girls.h Ifm Not Dead. La Face Records. 2006.
SMAP. gDear Woman.h ìE¶NN@ìÈ/ÒÈE½cËêY@rN^[G^eCgA2006N
Zopp. gChuukankanrishoku.h Blog Entry, 5 April 2005. Retrieved 15 July 2006. @
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