In a recent post, I spoke to Tokyo Interlopers about their gaijin take on Humans of New York, and the importance of foreigners living in Japan being able to celebrate their differences as the nation moves forward and changes. Upon keeping up to date with what they’re doing over at TI, I came across the story of James Collins; a 33 year-old American journalism student at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Political Science.
In much the same way as Tokyo Interlopers are looking to the future at a changing Japan, so too are James and his project, Guy人48 (Guyjin48) (see what he did there..??) looking forward to a Japan where foreigners have something to feel connected to. His approach, however, is quite different.
Guy人48 claims to be “Japan’s first all male idol band consisting entirely of foreign students of all nationalities studying in Japan”. If successful, this could have a real impact on, not only gaijin, but Japanese culture as a whole.
Naturally, I had questions. Luckily, James was kind enough to provide them….
(Yes, they’re currently looking for more members!)
The Guy人48 Backstory?
I just wanted to do something original. I think a lot of people have ideas that they think might be interesting and successful but they never follow through with them. You might tell your friends and get a laugh or be told you thought of something good but most ideas never see the light of day and it’s a shame.
I had no experience in doing something like this at all and really didn’t know where to start. But by mere coincidence, a guy by the name of Michael Bodin from the Philippines was teaching English in the same city I was living in at the time and I had the chance to meet him and tell him about the idea.
He thought it was a great idea and I think that was my first bit of confidence in maybe considering actually putting the idea into action (Michael Bodin went on to win 2016’s Nodojiman The World vocal contest and is now helping out with the project). So after that the idea of putting the band was always in my thoughts.
After about 6 months of teaching English I got into Takushoku University’s Japanese language program and presented the idea there, got good feedback from my teachers, and at that point I was pretty much telling everyone I came in contact with and asking them what they thought. I was even going to the local live house which was about a 30 second walk from my dorm in Koenji and meeting Japanese bands and talking about it.
Most everyone thought the idea would do well. A lot of people even wanted to be a part in some way. So, after I got into Waseda, and after sitting down with my girlfriend at an izakaya and talking about how I want to start the band, she was really excited and wanted to help out (she is from Taiwan and is studying graphic design at Tama Art University and is doing the band’s design – our common language is Japanese). So that night we started designing a logo and working out the details.
What is the goal with Guy人48?
The real goal in creating the group is to make something people can get excited about and be a part of. Since studying in a Japanese language school and being in contact with people from all over the world studying in Japan, I noticed that regardless of the fact that they are in Japan, a lot of people don’t really have that much contact with Japanese people and Japanese culture. After school they go home and talk with their friends in their native language and don’t really have too many Japanese friends they can practice their Japanese with.
So a lot of people don’t really achieve the level of Japanese they might need to get the job they want in Japan, and feeling isolated a lot of people go back to their own countries. Considering the population crisis Japan is having and with their need for foreign labour, this is a big problem.
Japan needs people to stay in the country and work that can function in society i.e. speaks the language properly. So I thought if there could be something people can attach themselves too, something that can give them hope and become maybe a model for them to follow in terms of living in Japan and studying the language, as well as a means to get out of their rooms and make Japanese friends as well as communicate with other students in Japan, it would be very beneficial not only on a fan level, but to the country as a whole.
I also wanted to create something that could introduce Japanese people to different cultures, and seeing as how the members are students of the Japanese language, Japanese people can see real faces of people who are trying their hardest to learn Japanese and be a part of Japan’s society.
Considering the Olympics is coming up and people are really getting interested in internationalism, I thought that if I started the group now that I could really make an impact.
Were you a big fan of the idol scene prior to coming up with the idea?
I actually had close to zero knowledge about even what an idol was when I thought of Guy人48. When I first came to Japan, like I mentioned earlier, I was working as an English teacher and living in Saitama. Pretty much all I was doing was teaching English and coming home but when I wasn’t at work I was trying to study as much Japanese as possible (I quickly learned that trying to study Japanese while teaching English all day was like trying to swim upstream) and learn about the culture. I love music so naturally I did a lot of research on Japanese artists and I came across AKB48. I thought it was interesting and catchy and I started listening to their music as a means to study Japanese.
My undergrad was in Sociology so I was extremely fascinated by the concept of the idol group as a cultural phenomenon as well (I actually studied under professor Shinji Miyadai who is Japan’s top sociologist and expert on subculture after I graduated from Takushoku University). I’m a huge fan of karaoke and was going three times a week singing their songs, trying to get my reading better and of course relieving stress from long days of teaching English.
So yeah, before coming to Japan I really had no clue about Japanese culture at all really so naturally I had no idea about the idol scene. In America I studied Japanese on and off for 2 years because I wanted to learn what is considered one of the hardest languages in the world for an American. Learning about real Japanese culture as well as idol culture only began after I moved here.
Does the fact that the band consists of only foreign male students create challenges in trying to achieve the goal?
Well of course it has made it difficult to find members. Once I put the idea out there looking for help in December of last year the concept got picked up by a number of different web magazines and a bunch of articles translated into multiple languages popped up.
Through that I got a lot of people who applied for the group (a friend of mine from Singapore who is working in Japan got a message from his friends in Singapore asking him if he knew about something called Guy人48 in which he replied, “yeah I know the guy putting it together”. So it went pretty viral).
Out of those people many applied from outside of the country, half of which were from Indonesia. The main article that was written about the concept was first translated into Indonesian, and apparently idol groups are huge there. Probably because of JKT48(Indonesia’s version of AKB48). So most of the people that applied were either living outside of the country, weren’t really idol material, or were unable to find the time to be a part.
Also I put a lot of my help wanted ads out on websites that are usually only used by English speakers so a lot of my applicants were from all the same countries. So getting a lot of ethnic diversity has been really difficult as well. It’s just been pretty difficult in general especially for someone who has never done something like this. I’m really learning as I go along.
Is there any scope for broadening the criteria in the future? Perhaps including females and gaijin in general?
I am thinking of letting people who aren’t students be a part of the group. Trying to find only students has been really difficult and there are a lot of people who want to be a part who are working as well. And yeah I have thought of making a Gal人48 if this project is successful.
In the end what I really want to do is have my own Japanese language school and dance/vocal training space so I can recruit people from outside the country, bring them to Japan, and teach them Japanese while having them be a part of the band. I think that would be really interesting. Right now of course I don’t have the resources to pull something like that off.
What are your thoughts on the need for foreign labor in Japan?
I think it’s of course necessary considering what Japan is currently going through, but bringing foreign labour into any country is always tricky. Everyone expects people from outside of the country to adhere to local custom and practice.
Japan is even trickier in the fact that there is still a pretty strong us and them mentality, so even if you are able to learn the language and adapt to the culture to some extent, you will always be considered an outsider and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons you have your “Little Nepal” or your “Little Korea”. Being in Japan doesn’t necessarily mean you will be immersed in Japanese culture, and cultural exchange is relatively difficult.
I think the idea of multiculturalism is still something Japan needs to work very hard on if they plan on creating a society that means less social strain for both foreigners who come to live in Japan as well as Japanese people themselves. I’m not necessarily saying that all societies should be multicultural societies, but I believe the problems Japan is facing necessitates a change in the social status quo.
The idol world has been pretty much exclusively Japanese since its inception, and although there have been exceptions like Kelsey Kuma or Amina du Jean, non-Japanese who got into the idol industry, they assimilated into an all-Japanese idol scene. I think making Japan’s first multinational idol group could help speed up the process of creating a more multicultural society and make it a little easier for both Japanese and non-Japanese to more easily co-habitat.
On a scale of 1 – 10, how satisfied were you when you came up with the name for the band? (Me: I’d be extremely proud of myself)
It was 4 years ago when I thought of the name but I am assuming I was pretty stoked (laughs). The more solid concept definitely came after. People seem to really latch onto the name so I guess I really stumbled onto something.
Is the “48” bit simply a nod to the famous group AKB48 or is there a deeper meaning?
When people think of the word idol, the first thing that pops into their head is usually AKB48. I guess for some people it would be Morning Musume or Momoiro Clover Z, but for me it is definitely AKB. It’s pretty much a household for Japan and in my opinion embodies the concept of the pop idol.
I want my group to be the all-foreign version of that big of a sensation. I guess in a way I would just like to be the next Yasushi Akimoto (laughs). But honestly it is mostly just paying respect to one of the most successful idol groups in Japan.
Have the guys had any feedback from fellow students?
I really don’t think the guys have had that much feedback yet. We are still a bit a ways away from the debut so we are still very unknown. I think some of the guys have been telling some of their classmates about it but I think most of them want to wait until we have more to show before they start letting people know.
We were doing blog posts and one of my guys was actually recognized on the train recently by a Japanese fan, but I think I am getting most of the feedback from fellow students, since I actively seek to know what people think about the group. I’ve also had a lot of feedback from my teachers and my boss as well (I’m working for a pretty famous Japanese author/editor Masanobu Sugatsuke and even he wants to come to the first show).
I guess in most cases I will just get a reaction rather than real feedback. Everyone is surprised to find out that I am putting together a project like this and most people think it’s really exciting and really want to see it succeed. I actually even surveyed about 400 people myself (Japanese and non-Japanese) about the concept and the results were really high. I guess once the band gets off the ground the guys should start to get a good amount of attention from their peers.
According to your website, you’re looking for more members. Who should apply and how should they go about it?
Yes I am looking for a ton more members. I already have guys from China, Venezuela, America, Korea, and the Philippines, so I am looking for people from lots of other countries. If I can get the group big enough and have the help and resources to handle it, I will definitely be open to having multiple members from the same country but right now I am really looking for as much diversity as possible.
As for what kind of guy I am looking for, someone who can sing and dance with an idol style look. So pretty much anyone with confidence in looking good on stage. Anyone who would like to apply can either contact me by email, through the website, or directly by message through the Guyjin48 Facebook page.
The concept as is calls for only foreign students, but like I said I am thinking of opening up to people who are working as well so if you are thinking of applying and are not a student, please give it a shot.
Click to find out How To Apply