A day-long city music festival ended in Dalian the day before the National Day. Masahiro Kajiura, the drummer of Japanese rock band THE MODS, pop singer Alli, JPOP group SPICE CONTROL, and special guest DJ Crazy.Funky.TOMY.
In addition to musical performances, the festival is also a big Japanese Commodity Fair, the largest annual Japan-related event in Dalian. While the performances were taking place, companies from Wakayama Ken sold local specialties such as soy sauce flavored ice-cream and soy sauce cocktail.
Li Fangming, general manager of Shanghai Bengosoft Software Co., Ltd., and founder of the Nijigen Japanese pop culture community, told CMBN that the 1,000 limited edition ice creams were sold out in three days.
Nijigen is a subsidiary of Shanghai Bengosoft Software Co., Ltd. It’s a platform centered around its WeChat official account with businesses in artist management and event promotion.
The current strategy of Nijigen is to be a “laboratory” for Japanese artists and specialty product companies to test the Chinese market. Mainly through organizing music festivals, the company brings Japanese performing art, products, and culture into China. Besides, Nijigen coordinates intergovernmental exchange visits.
Not too long ago, Li Fangming went to Japan for two weeks. During the visit, he visited Yamanashi Prefecture near Mt. Fuji and Wakayama Prefecture in Kansai. He also communicated with Kumamoto Prefecture and talked with relevant parties about the introduction of the mascot Kumamon into China.
Getting in touch with Japan
When he was a child, Li Fangming traveled to Japan with his mother a lot, so he was able to get in touch with Sino-Japanese cultural exchange earlier than most of his peers. At the beginning of 2009, he went to Japan to study. During his time studying in Japan, Li began helping the local and central government with cultural and tourism-related work in Japan and built up a close relationship with several local governments. Now, Nijigen is the publicity liaison in China, including Wakayama, Yamanashi, and Fukuoka counties.
Coincidentally, Li Fangming undertook the overseas shooting of the CCTV documentary Salt of Life.
Before entering the music market in 2016, Li Fangming used to focused on obtaining TV shows and anime licenses from Japanese TV stations and publishing houses. But he soon found out that the Chinese market has a low demand for Japanese film IP or actors. Japanese shows rarely get introduced to China. However, the need for Japanese music production is enormous. People in the music industry seem to believe that if a Japanese musician does a TV production’s soundtrack, the whole show will look sophisticated.
Now, music has grown to be an essential part of Nijigen’s business.
Creating the Right Context
Nijigen started as an artist management agency and arranged activities for several Japanese idol groups in China. At that time, Produce 101 has yet to go viral, and the Chinese idol market was still in infancy.
Li Fangming pointed out that the most central role of local idol groups is to bring prosperity and vitality to its hometown. These young Japanese girls sing and dance to cheer up otakus. Most well-run idol groups have ties with local advertising companies and sports teams. That’s why we often hear upbeat idol group songs in sports stadiums or local advertisements.
There’s a severe mismatch between the Chinese and Japanese idol market. Chinese people generally prefer spending money on live streamers than idol groups. Therefore, creating the right context in which people are willing to spend money is vital.
For the most part, music promotion in Japan and China are very similar. Promoting artists to people who don’t know them in an offline setting is more effective than in an online environment.
Li Fangming said that most Japanese independent musicians make a decent living. Those who make good quality music but don’t get much recognition in their home market are more likely to seek opportunities abroad. However, China is a very tough market for them. Even well-known musicians in Japan don’t do very well in China, except the older ones Chinese audiences already know.
∧Nijigen team with a Japanese artist
So Li carefully picks artists who fit into these three categories.
The first category is artists with strong characteristics, an excellent example of which is Takaaki Kishida. He spent his entire childhood training as an athlete. Knowing his background, people would expect him to sing hardcore pop or rock songs, but his songs are soft and gentle.
The second type of artist would fit nicely into Japan related contexts. For example, there’s a genre in Japanese pop music called “Japanese drama style.” Every song in this genre sounds like it came straight out of a Japanese drama series. Because it sounds familiar to audiences, it’s straightforward to promote. Li believes this is the genre that’s most likely to succeed without offline promotion.
The third group is made of artists in their 50s and 60s. Many successful bands came out of the 80s and 90s. For these musicians, their biggest dreams were to tour Europe of North America. Now China’s economic development has gone beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and they long to come to China as well.
∧Japanese Pop band Neo Ballad
First-tier cities like Shanghai, according to Li Fangming, has on average, one Japan-related performance every week. The market is flooded with cultural content. However, many second, third-tier cities with strong economies have a vacuum of such content. People there have disposable income that they would much rather spend on seeing exciting new things from abroad than regular, everyday traditional performances. Nijigen starts with small events and then expand according to the audience’s feedback.
This mode of operation provides Japanese artists with a relatively high-quality setting for communicating with the audience.
In 2020, Nijigen will start hosting another round of city music festivals as part of a promotion effort for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and the Osaka World Expo 2025.
Li has decided on Wuhan and Chengdu because Wuhan has lovely cherry blossoms, and Chengdu will be celebrating the 35th anniversary of its friendship with the city of Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture.
In 2020, the priority of Nijigen is to have more events across the country. Li Fangming will continue to seek local partners in each city, and introduce Japanese culture using forms of music + tourism, music + education or music + local specialties, music festivals + city exchanges, etc.
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