Bridging The Gap Between Japan and The UK’s Music Scene: An Interview with MION

Born into a music background in Mie prefecture, Japan, and raised in Aichi, the award winning singer-songwriter, MION, has over 10 years of experience behind her, and a catalogue of songs to entertain fans both old and new. Now based in the UK in order to deepen her knowledge of music, MION is growing even more as a performer as she sets her sights on becoming the bridge between Japan and the UK, with a hope to see artists from both countries to collaborate and perform music together.

With her guitar in hand and a passion for music that could rival the British heatwave of ’22, MION has been taking the UK convention scene by storm since the beginning of the year, and shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Now with her first and most recent appearance at Hyper Japan Festival all wrapped up, the Beyond Senpai team are happy to present our first (of hopefully many) interview with the lovely MION, taken just before the event via e-mail. So please sit back, grab a snack, and join us in finding out a little more about MION, her inspiration for becoming a singer-songwriter, and why she chose the UK for her most recent music venture…

MION promoting her UK release of Alive (2022 special edition)

Welcome to Beyond Senpai! Thank you for joining us today for an interview. To start, please can you introduce yourself and share a fun fact with the readers?

Hello! My name is MION, I’m a Japanese singer-songwriter currently based in the UK on a Global Talent Visa. I’ve been a professional singer-songwriter for over 10 years in Japan. I came to the UK because it’s a country steeped in music history and talent, and I wanted to further develop myself as an artist. I also really wanted to challenge myself by performing in front of new audiences. 

For a fun fact… the kanji used for my first name ‘Mion’ means ‘success in music’, so I guess it’s kind of funny how I’ve ended up becoming a musician.  

The link between your name and music is really cool! Did you always want to pursue the path of a musician, or did you have another dream at one stage in your life?

I remember when I was a small child in school and the teacher asked us what we wanted to be when we grew up, and I answered that I wanted to be an astronaut! Based on my young age, though, I wouldn’t consider that a serious dream.

For me, music has always been a big part of my life. My father runs a music school in my hometown and my mother is a piano teacher, so my three brothers and I grew up around instruments. The first instrument I learned to play was the drums, which I started when I was 6 years old. That being said, I didn’t think about becoming a musician or a singer-songwriter for my career until I was a teenager. It wasn’t until I saw a documentary about YUI, a very famous Japanese singer-songwriter probably best known outside of Japan for performing opening songs for Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood and Bleach. The documentary covered her creative process when she was starting out as a teenager, and showed that she was writing all of her own songs. Now, this might sound silly, but at that time I believed all songs were written by adults, but seeing how YUI was writing her own songs in the documentary at a similar age to what I was, it gave me the confidence that I could do it as well. This was the moment that I decided I wanted to be a singer-songwriter for my career.

YUI’s music always resonated with me too, and I realised that this was because the lyrics were her own personal feelings, and there is something organic and personal about that which I wanted to also express in my music moving forward. As a teenager, I would often keep a lot of my feelings and emotions bottled up, but being able to write music was a great outlet for me and it allowed me to express how I felt about life in a way that was comfortable. I think being able to communicate your feelings through music is amazing.

MION promoting her 10th single, S.O.S – Soul of Steven –

Music is truly an incredible thing, and can inspire and empower others in different ways. Despite the language barrier, do you think that your music has been able to resonate with your UK audience, like YUI’s music did for you?

What resonated about YUI’s music with me were her lyrics, but I hope that even though the UK audience can’t understand the majority of my songs, they can still feel the emotion in my performance and I hope that it can resonate with them in a similar way. 

I have written a Merry Christmas song, a Happy Birthday song and a wedding song called Dear…, all with transcending the language barrier in mind. Many people celebrate Christmas either as a religious occasion or just as a festive event, everyone has a birthday and many people get married, so they’re songs that people outside of Japanese culture can relate to. I’ve sung my Happy Birthday song at nearly every event that I’ve performed at in the UK, and as long as I prep the audience about the chorus before I begin the song, a lot of people will sing along which makes me very happy. It really melts my heart when I see young girls singing along at events, so I hope that I can release a song in the future entirely with English lyrics. Maybe I could release a song similar to how some K-pop stars do where they release a single in multiple languages. That could be fun!

Also, how are you finding the UK so far? Living in and performing around the country is very different to visiting, after all.

When I came to the UK, it was actually my first time living alone. It was a really humbling experience and made me realise how challenging it is to be independent. Also, the day I arrived in the UK was when the first lockdown was announced. It was a surreal experience, but I noticed quickly that I need to change what my original plans were. Venues were closed, events were cancelled, socialising was against the law, and I didn’t speak English very well so it was incredibly difficult. There were honestly times when I felt really lonely, but I knew I still had to make the most of my time here.

Things began to pick up after the lockdowns started to ease though. I was able to meet new people and I was surprised by how different people were from the people I meet in Japan. Even meeting Japanese people who live in the UK, they’re different. The UK is really multicultural, especially when compared to Japan, so meeting new people was a lot of fun. I think I’ve been most surprised with how free-spirited people are and how those that I’ve met are able to express themselves confidently.
 
Another cool thing was once restrictions had been lifted completely, I was able to start travelling around the UK. When I first arrived, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I didn’t really know many places. Now that I have been able to go to many places within England, Wales and Scotland, I’ve tried my best to share these experiences with my Japanese fans on social media and on my broadcasts on SHOWROOM (a Japanese streaming app). The UK is so much more than the big cities and there are so many beautiful places to see, steeped in history and culture. It’s been amazing to visit the places that I have.

I also finally started performing in the UK in January this year. My first performance was at Japan Festival in Leamington Spa, and since then I have performed throughout Great Britain. I’ve been really surprised but also overjoyed by how much Japanese culture is loved and appreciated in the UK. It really warms my heart. I think so far this has been the most rewarding part of my choosing to come to the UK. I always get nervous before I perform, but every UK audience has been really kind and welcoming to me. It’s been a real joy for me to perform here and I hope that I can provide British people with a taste of Japanese culture through my music. If I can do that and my music makes them happy, then I’m really happy.

MION’s first UK performance

Do you think that there has been a change in yourself since living here alone?

I think the biggest change has been just how much more independent I am now. As I mentioned earlier, when I moved to the UK it was my first time living alone. It made me realise how dependent I still was, so making this move has really provided me with the opportunity to mature. 

In regards to your UK audience, is there a difference in how we interact during a show, compared to your Japanese audience?

There are differences between the UK audiences I’ve performed in front of and Japanese audiences, but there are also differences based on the locations of those audiences within their respective country as well. 

For example, in Japan when I perform in Hokkaido the audience is always really warm, welcoming and polite. Osaka audiences are lively and love to interact with me when I’m talking to them in-between songs. Audiences from Tokyo often go to many concerts, so they give you a lot of energy, cheer you on and know how to have a good time. In my hometown of Nagoya, the audience always feels more personal, probably because it’s my local city. I’ve noticed that in the UK this is a similar thing as well, where certain cities and audiences will respond differently. 

Talking more specifically about audience differences during a show, Japanese audiences tend to fist bump in the air and chant in sync with the song, but this is something I haven’t seen in the UK (or not unless I’ve tried to encourage people to do it). We also have penlights which are popular at concerts, and something that’s also common is having a towel of a particular artist, tying it into a knot and swinging it in the air in a circular motion during a song. In regards to the UK, one of the things that has stood out for me is that they’re really warm and after a song finishes, they will applaud and sometimes cheer loudly. This happens a bit in Japan, but that aspect is definitely stronger in the UK.

The Japanese Music scene in the UK is still fairly small, but it is there! Have you seen anyone waving a penlight or waving a towel at any of the UK conventions you have attended?

Yes, not a lot, but sometimes people do it, especially at the Japanese cultural events. There’s a small percentage of people that know about Japanese idol culture and do their best to interact in a similar way. When I do see people in the audience doing it, it really warms my heart and gives me confidence in my performance.

MION performing at ReNY Limited in Japan, 2020

You will also be performing at Hyper Japan Festival, which includes various acts from both Japan and other parts of the world. What are your expectations for the event? Are you nervous about performing there?

Hyper Japan is quite well known in Japan and performing at the event has been one of my dreams for a long time. It’s the largest Japanese festival in the UK, and I’m really honoured that I’m getting the opportunity to perform on both Saturday and Sunday. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m definitely nervous, and I’ve been practicing my Hyper Japan set list a lot. Of course I’m really excited to meet so many people who appreciate Japanese culture, and I hope my performance will provide them with a taste of my home country and make them happy.

Before we end the interview, can you tell us one of your favourite things in the UK that you have discovered?

Ahhh, I can’t pick just one thing! I now really love English tea, especially Yorkshire Tea and Welsh Brew! I also discovered these teacakes called Tunnock’s Teacakes and they’re delicious! I have something of a sweet tooth, so I’ve enjoyed a lot of the sweets and chocolates in the UK. 

In regard to places, I really like the quaint villages or towns that I’ve discovered since living here. I absolutely love Shrewsbury, I think it’s a beautiful town and not many Japanese people know about it. Hay-on-Wye was also lovely, it has a castle and so many independent book shops. Bridgenorth is unique in how it has a High Town and Low Town, and you can ride the Castle Hill Railway cart between the two areas. I recently visited Portmeirion in Wales and that was stunning, the architecture there is Italian-inspired, so it’s a unique experience in the UK. I think I could go on all day about some of the beautiful places I’ve discovered in the UK, so I should probably stop now! 

I did want to add, I think one of my favourite things that I’ve noticed about the UK is just how many dog owners there are and how the dogs are allowed off their leads. In Japan, there aren’t as many dog owners and the vast majority of them are always kept on leads, unless indoors. I’ve really enjoyed this part of the UK, going on a walk in nature and being able to interact with so many dogs. There are also so many diverse breeds here, so it’s been really cool to see. 

Finally, please leave a message for everyone reading this, MION!

Thank you to everyone who has read this interview and those that have supported me so far in the UK. It really means the world to me. I’m ever so grateful to be able to be in the UK and have the pleasure of performing for you.

My current performance schedule can be found on my website, www.mionjp.com, and I would love nothing more than to meet you at a future event! I also keep everyone updated on my Twitter and Instagram which is @mion_official. I hope to see you in the near future!

Arigatou Gozaimashita! ありがとうございました!

Thank you very much, MION!

Beyond Senpai would like to thank MION and her team for taking part in this interview, and sharing her experience as a performer in the UK.

To find out more about MION and support her on her quest as a singer-songwriter, be sure to check out her website and social media at the following links:

Official Website: https://www.mionjp.com
Twitterhttps://twitter.com/MION_official
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/MION-JP-official
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mion_official/

Interview by: Kelly
Edited by: Kelly

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