We All Dance to the Same Beat

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☆Taku Takahashi, the world famous DJ, producer and maestro of Japan’s electronic music scene, will team up with Wyatt Bray, the 2015 American World Champion of Japan’s classic sport Kendama, for an evening of collaborative pyrotechnics at Brooklyn’s Verboten on Saturday, August 29th.

☆Takahashi, well known for his multi-sensory DJ extravaganzas back in the Motherland, will bring a taste of Japanese electro house and hip-hop to NYC, while creating a rhythmic soundscape for Bray to showcase his acclaimed Kendama tricks. This is a first for the Japanese DJ and American kendama player, and we can hardly wait for what’s in store.

☆Takahashi embarked his musical career in the late 1990s, as part of the Japanese hip hop group “m-flo”. Founding members DJ ☆Takahashi, emcee Verbal and vocalist Lisa were influenced by Japanese hip hop’s nascent days, adapting the same Old School flow and aesthetic as their 1980s predecessors. Though part of a larger cultural movement that began from the underground—virtually ignored by major record labels—m-flo burgeoned into a critically acclaimed pop sensation, enjoying mainstream success all across Asia.

While m-flo began weaving in pop, jazz, R&B and electronica into their sound throughout the 2000s, ☆Takahashi loosened his full-time activities with the group, focusing on his own side projects – like his self-produced Orthosync events, his record labels Tachytelic Records and TCY Recording, and his own radio station Block.FM, Japan’s first and only radio station dedicated to electronic music. Over the decades, ☆Takahashi has brought sounds, concepts and culture from overseas to eager Japanese audiences.

Wyatt Bray, of Portland, Oregon, picked up his first Kendama on a whim. What started as just a boy with a quirky hobby, turned into a young man with professional-level skill. Kendama may appear to be simple game of catch-the-ball-on the-stick, but with enough dedication and patience, it offers its players boundless creative freedom. Bray found his passion in the Japanese toy—a passion that would bring him half way across the world to compete with the best.

Japanese culture is a mash up of fierce Japanese tradition and nuanced Western imitation. ☆Takahashi and Bray are vehicles of this cultural overlap. Whether it’s ☆Takashashi bringing the sounds of America’s EDM to his loyal electronic music fans, or Bray teaching his Kendama skills to aspiring players across the world, the cultural exchange between the shrinking borders of the East and West is what makes us Waku Waku (excited!). August 29th will be a memorable night for Japanese culture, as two residents of the opposite sides of the globe unite to speak a universal language through music, sport and creativity.

-Kaya Sabo

Waku Waku +NYC is an upcoming Japanese pop culture festival in New York City this August 29th to 30th, celebrating the intersection of Japanese music, anime, manga, food, fashion, art, and more. Tickets are on sale now!

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Wyatt Bray the Kendama World Champion Thanks to J-Pop

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At the Kendama World Cup this past weekend came a moment almost too perfect for fiction. Nervous from being in the spotlight, 19-year-old Wyatt began to flub his routine. It looked like it was the end of the road for the young Oregon native, until the unlikeliest of events transpired. Hearing the opening to Teen Titans—a cartoon from childhood inspired by anime which features a theme by Japanese pop band Puffy AmiYumi—Wyatt reports entering a trance that he has no recollection of otherwise. When he finally came to, he would find himself a world champion and ¥500,000 (approx. $4000) richer.

We caught up with Wyatt and his family to learn about his journey. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Wyatt was a quirky youth. Then, one day, he found something that changed his life: kendama. A Japanese toy dating back centuries, Wyatt quickly learned that performing with kendama was a unique and wonderful experience. His growing passion for the art would lead him years later to Japan, where he would take the 2015 Kendama World Cup this past weekend by storm.

Kendama is the Japanese variation of the “cup-and-ball” toy commonly found throughout the world. Possibly first coming to Japan via the Silk Road in the 18th Century, it was originally used as a drinking game (messing up meant bottoms up), and over the years became a fixture of Japanese youth. Famously, the popular 1978 anime (turned 2009 live-action movie) Yatterman features superheroes who fight using kendama. Much like the yo-yo (which is also very popular in Japan), kendama appear simple yet allow for a wide range of freedom, expression, and athleticism.

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Wyatt at a family gathering

In the beginning, Wyatt was not naturally talented at kendama, and his family lovingly poked fun at his newfound hobby, according to his cousin Damask Schantz. However, his grandfather, law professor and Portland campaign manager for Richard Nixon Dr. William Schantz, believed in pushing his grandchildren to be their best. Within the environment of a hyper-competitive family, kendama became his path towards success. Suddenly, he could be seen carrying the kendama with him everywhere, and every Christmas when Grandpa Schantz would ask his grandchildren to perform (with the generous gift of monetary compensation!), Wyatt could be seen steadily honing his craft from one year to the next. As he grew from boy to man, Wyatt became calm and collected, a product of his training and dedication.

Eventually, Wyatt’s genuine love for kendama led him to being sponsored by Kendama USA, an organization founded in 2006 to promote kendama throughout the country. Competing at events while also creating videos for YouTube, Wyatt would eventually earn the chance to compete at the Kendama. He did not consider himself the favorite, and saw his friend and teammate, Nic Stodd, as far better than himself. In his own words, Wyatt would have been satisfied with 5th place, because it would mean an opportunity to return next year, but more importantly it would mean finally earning the respect of his friends and family. As it turns out, Wyatt would accomplish much more.

Japanese pop culture was the catalyst for Wyatt to bring out his full potential, but the skill and work had to be there in the first place. From a quirky youth to a devoted practitioner, Wyatt’s journey to Japan was as much internal as it was external, the fruits of his labor and love. Now an inspiration himself for eager aspiring kendama-ists, he now has a new challenge to face: the pride and burden of being at the top.

-Carl

Kendama USA will be at Waku Waku +NYC! Whether you’re entirely new to kendama or are already practicing, stop by and learn from the best!

Waku Waku +NYC at AnimeNext!

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Waku Waku +NYC is the hottest new Japanese anime and pop culture festival coming to New York City, so we had to come to the biggest anime convention in New Jersey, AnimeNext. A few members of our team are headed there this weekend, June 12-14, and we even have a booth in Con Row!

If you’re also attending AnimeNext, and you’ve been curious about Waku Waku +NYC, why not stop by our booth? We’ll be happy to answer any questions you’ll have.

We also have a surprise in store for all AnimeNext attendees, so check your goodies bag after you get your badge!

-Carl

PS: My personal recommendation is that you check out the Studio Trigger panel, Saturday from 9pm-11pm in Panel 1, and the FLOW concert, Friday from 8pm-9:30pm in Main Events. YEEART!

Marty Friedman, from MEGADETH to ANIME

To many, former MEGADETH lead guitarist Marty Friedman needs little introduction. However, did you know that he’s fluent in Japanese through self-teaching, lives in Japan, and has composed music for anime?

Friedman challenged himself to learn Japanese, finding a correspondence course at the University of Oklahoma and later forcing himself to only speak Japanese in interviews even if it made him sound foolish to a native Japanese audience.

As anyone who studies a foreign language extensively will tell you, immersion is by far the best way to learn a new language, and even if you can’t move to another country or town, you can find ways to try and produce an immersive environment. For example, artist Felipe Smith (Peepo ChooGhost Rider), in preparation for moving to Japan to become a manga artist, got a job at a karaoke joint so he could be surrounded by Japanese speech at all times. Friedman similarly dived head-first into immersion despite having a reputation to uphold as one of the best guitarists in the world.

In 2003, Friedman moved to Japan. In fact, as someone who’s not as well-versed in metal (though I recall a friend from childhood who breathed the stuff), my first exposure to Marty Friedman was through the late night show, “Rock Fujiyama.” A program dedicated to celebrating metal and rock from around the world, Friedman was a mainstay of the show as they brought out music guests from both inside and outside of Japan and essentially rocked out together.

So, what shows has Friedman composed for? You might think Detroit Metal City, or maybe something super intense and hardcore, like Blood C. In actuality, it’s nothing quite so metal. He’s credited for the following songs:

The Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals first opening, and the ending theme to the third series of Maria Watches Over Us, a yuri anime about a student council at an all girls’ school.

Gokigenyou, Marty Friedman.

-Carl

PS: While we can’t guarantee that Marty Friedman will be there, we’re running a convention this August 29-30 in Brooklyn, NY that will celebrate the intersection of various elements of Japanese popular culture, including music. Check us out at http://wakuwakunyc.com