Kishitani, Che’Nelle and others shine at Japan Day 2017

Arigato gozaimasu and thank you very much! Japan Day @ Central Park 2017 was an exciting showcase of Japanese culture highlighted by some spectacular performances. The event was on May 14th in New York City.

The J-pop music portion of the festival kicked off with COBU, a taiko drumming group known for their blending of traditional Japanese music with an American hip-hop edge. An especially memorable moment featured the younger member’s mothers taking the stage, drumming in unison with their kids for Mother’s Day.

Following COBU, the J-MUSIC Ensemble played, an orchestral group who specialize in covering anime and video game music. The crowd perked up when they played “Crossing Field,” the opening theme of the popular anime, Sword Art Online.

The highlight of Japan Day @ Central Park was undoubtedly Kaori Kishitani of Princess Princess. During her four song set, the crowd was so attentive that the only other sounds heard were sirens blaring down 5th Avenue.

At age 50, Kishitani’s vocal range is stunning, remaining as strong as it was 30 years ago. She performed favorites “Fly Baby Fly,” “Daddy,” “Diamonds,” and “M.” When introducing “M,” she said, “After all these years, this is still everyone’s favorite song [by Princess Princess].” It was amazing to hear this already stunning  ballad in its stripped-down form, featuring only Kishitani’s voice and her precise piano playing.

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Kaori Kishitani thanking the crowd after her performance of “M.”

Another highlight was Che’Nelle, an artist spotted on MySpace by Virgin Records a decade ago. She dazzled the crowd with her angelic vocals and natural stage presence. Performing her new single “Destiny,” a menacing rain cloud was cast away by her powerful voice.

Other great acts included J-rock pioneer Shinji Harada’s “Hiroshima, the Place to Start,” a moving song with a message of peace, and Alan Merrill’s “I Love Rock and Roll,” a song he co-wrote in 1975, later made famous by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Harada became a musical sensation at age 18 in 1977 and Merril introduced glam rock to Japan in the early 1970’s. It was a treat to see both play at the same venue.

In between sets, guests waited in line up to 45 minutes for Japanese dishes such as onigiri and gyoza. Both the food and music were worth the wait. At its best moments, Japan Day’s performers were strong enough to stop the rain. I look forward to returning next year!

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