J-Pop, anime and building a career in Europe – an interview with MION
Mion is a Japanese singer-songwriter who started her career in Japan, playing pop-rock songs, but during the last few years, she spends most of her time in UK and Europe with a Global Talent Visa, performing major anime conventions all over the continent. One of these events was Mondocon in Hungary and before here show there we arranged this email interview where I asked her about her music, her career and her time in Europe.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself? Where were you born and how did you get in contact with music?
I was born in Matsusaka City, Mie Prefecture, but grew up in Aichi Prefecture.
I was exposed to music from a very early age as my father runs a music school and my mother is a piano teacher.
The first instrument that I started to play was the drums when I was 6 years old after I saw my older brother playing and it looked like so much fun.
Shortly after that, I started performing on stage at recitals, singing and playing the piano.
When I was 14, I started learning how to play the guitar and began composing and writing my own music.
When did you decide to pursue a career as a singer-songwriter?
As I mentioned previously, I began writing my own music at 14. Then I released my first single when I was 15. When I was 16, I entered a national music competition called YAMAHA Music Revolution with a song I composed.
I won the Local and Regional finals and progressed to the National finals representing Nagoya. At the JAPAN finals, the judges awarded me with the Outstanding Performance Award and it was this success that launched my professional music career. I have been a full-time professional singer-songwriter ever since.
Japan is known for its many female solo singers, from mainstream pop icons like Namie Amuro and Ayumi Hamasaki to singer-songwriters like Shena Ringo or Yaida Hitomi. Did they serve as a role model for you?
The names you mentioned are incredible singers and household names in Japan, but the singer-songwriter who influenced me the most was YUI.
I remember when I was in my very early teens, I watched a documentary on YUI and how she was writing all of her own music as well as being a mainstream success. This may sound silly, but at the time I believed all popular music was created by older people, but to see a teenager such as YUI writing songs was really inspiring. It gave me the confidence to try it myself too.
Other than them, who and what music styles were your main inspirations?
I create J-Pop, J-Rock and ballads. When it comes to my J-Pop, I take a lot of inspiration from Nishino Kana and TWICE. Their music and lyrics are often positive and uplifting, which inspires young girls and I try my best to capture that magic in my J-Pop compositions.
My J-Rock inspirations are of course YUI, but also LiSA who I think is simply incredible. There’s a tone and energy that her songs have, especially those associated with certain anime that I seeked to capture in some of my songs like Alive and SOS Soul of Steven.
How did your recording career start in Japan and were you signed to a label or released your music independently?
My first 6 singles were released independently, but I did have the support of big music labels like YAMAHA, SONY and Victor Music at various points throughout my indie journey.
In 2016, I released my first nationally distributed single called Summer Magic under the Mix Juice Records label, it ranked #1 on the Oricon Singles Daily Chart and it took my career to another level. After that I released 3 other nationally distributed singles, all of which ranked in the Oricon Singles Charts and held four national tours.
What do you consider to be your biggest achievement as a singer in Japan?
It’s difficult to say because there were achievements at different points in my career that took me to the next level. I would say either winning the Outstanding Performance Award at YAMAHA MUSIC REVOLUTION or ranking #1 with Summer Magic on the Oricon Singles Chart.
How did your international career start?
I first performed overseas in Canada in 2013 and then South Korea in 2018. These two performances inspired me to challenge myself and try to do an extended tour overseas. I felt Europe was a great place to move to because it has an incredible history with diverse cultures and people. My goal was to share my Japanese music in Europe, challenge myself in front of a new audience and try to learn more from European musicians so I can create a new single inspired by my fresh experiences.
I started researching how I could make a Europe tour work. I discovered a working holiday visa called ‘Youth Mobility Scheme’ which lasts 2 years in the UK. After applying, I was fortunate enough to obtain it in 2020. I was really excited to spend the next 2 years performing in Europe, but the day I landed in the UK, lockdown was announced due to COVID. All events were cancelled, music venues were closed and it looked like my plans were over. It took 18 months or so before events started happening again and unfortunately my visa was expiring.
It was then that I discovered something called ‘Global Talent Visa’. It’s a 5 year visa that if I could obtain, would allow me to seriously pursue an international career. I had to gather evidence of my career so far and three executives in the music industry had to write letters supporting why I deserve to be granted this visa.
Thankfully, after a lot of hard work I managed to obtain it and I could finally focus on my Europe tour post-COVID.
My first year with the new visa was spent focusing on the UK, especially as there were still a lot of restrictions with overseas travel due to COVID, but this year I’ve moved into mainland Europe performing in over 10 countries.
Since you moved to the UK you have performed at some of the biggest European conventions, including Japan Expo and HyperJapan. What were some of the most memorable convention performances so far?
I’ve performed in 15 countries so far, but everyone from each country has been so kind and welcoming to me.
I think each concert overseas has something special about it. Many people at the European events say to me that I am the first J-Pop artist they’ve seen live. It means a lot to create a memory like that for people and if I can provide a gateway for them to discover and enjoy Japanese music, then that really warms my heart.
I think the big turning point for me as a performer was Hyper Japan in London in 2022. There were a lot of people there who loved Japanese music, and they gave me a lot of energy. It allowed us to have fun together! Up until that point, I had been trying to figure out how to communicate with the audience at concerts overseas, but that concert gave me a hint on how to approach a European audience.
You mostly play at anime convetions, which brings me to the question… Are you a fan of anime and manga? And if yes, which are your favorite series?
Of course I love it! I have so many favourite anime and manga that I can’t choose just one! Hopeless love, which is a song from my 2nd single, is a song about my feelings of falling in love with a two-dimensional character, and that person was Gin-san from one of my favorite mangas, Gintama. There are many others like Hetalia, Cardcaptor Sakura, Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, etc.
Is there any noticeable difference between Japanese and European audiences?
It depends on the event, but when I performed solo as a singer-songwriter in Japan, there are many people in the audience who want to listen to the songs and lyrics carefully, so there are many people who enjoy themselves without raising their voices.
However, at events in Europe, I feel that many people liked to sing, vocalize, and dance together! So I always try to have fun with the audience.
However idol events in Japan, everyone chants during live performances, and there are various techniques for using light sticks. It’s been fun seeing this part of Japanese culture evolve in Europe at concerts too.
Besides music, do you have any special hobbies or interests?
I like playing tennis! When I was in junior high school, I belonged to the tennis club! One of the things I look forward to even now is playing tennis with my friends! I love tennis player Roger Federer!
When I lived in Japan, I also loved traveling abroad for sightseeing! It’s funny because since meeting a lot of people in Europe who love travelling in Japan, I now feel inspired to visit more places I’ve never been in my home country.
Thank you for the interview!
Mion Live @ Mondocon, 2023 Oct 14.