I only recently discovered the music of Angela Aki, a Japanese pop singer, but I am including her on my list of “wondrous women” because her music has helped me understand some subtleties of Japanese culture.
Aki’s father is Japanese and her mother is Italian-American. She was born in Japan but spent several years in the United States and went to university there as well.
Aki has said that she was inspired to become a singer after going to a Sarah McLachlan concert. She spent a few years in America after graduation playing small gigs before finding her niche in Japan, which has one of the largest music industries in the world.
The scope of music you can find here is as diverse as the States, but unfortunately much of the industry is also awash in dreaded J-Pop, which I find completely unappealing and scary sometimes.
Many of my students obsess over the boy-band Arashi and the girl-group AKB48. I am pretty sure all of the singers in AKB48 have no idea how to play instruments or write songs. They prance around in short skirts singing about who knows what.
Aki, though classified under J-Pop, is completely different.
She favors black-framed glasses, jeans and Converse shoes. She isn’t banking on sex appeal. She is relying on her music and work ethic.
From the videos I have seen of her, she looks like she plays the piano as if it were an extension of her body. Although I find some of her music a little too predictable, I also truly believe that she refuses to conform or sing anything that isn’t heartfelt. Feminism is still an unfamiliar concept in Japan, but I think Aki is a good role model to show young girls how to be “womanly” and independent.
One of her most popular songs is “Tegami haikei juugo no kimi,” (手紙 ～拝啓 十五の君へ～) which roughly translates to “Letter to my 15-year-old self.” This video shows the nerve that Aki strikes with some of her fans. I only hope my junior high students listen to her more.