J-pop songstress JUJU spoke to Billboard Japan for its latest Women in Music interview featuring trailblazing women in the Japanese music industry. The initiative launched this year in the same spirit of Billboard’s annual Women in Music issue that began in 2007, with a mission to produce interviews, live performances and panel discussions focusing on women who continue to break new ground in Japan’s music business.
The 19-year veteran of Japanese showbiz continues to make great strides this year, including her new song “Hana” (Flowers) written as the theme for the movie Motherhood, which hit Japanese theaters in November. The pop star who has inspired legions of fans with her powerful vocals throughout her music career shared her thoughts on self-acceptance and celebrating individuality in this latest interview.
Have you ever felt that being a woman was an obstacle in your career?
At the moment, not at all. This year marks the 19th anniversary of my debut as a singer, but I don’t think I’ve experienced anything where I felt that it was difficult to accomplish because I’m a woman. When I look around me, however, I do feel the need to change the system. The way society works was mostly established more than 60 years ago during the period of economic growth in Japan, and is out of step with the times. Even the systems that were created specifically for women need to be updated by assessing what we really need. For example, a blanket rule for maternity leave isn’t enough, don’t you think? People have completely different potentials whether they’re a woman or a man, in terms of physical strength and family environment and such, but the disadvantages may be greater if everyone is bound by a set of rules that aren’t flexible.
Since you mentioned maternity leave… Your latest song “Hana” is the theme of Ryuichi Hiroki’s new movie Motherhood, which depicts the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.
The movie is a story that revolves around women, but the title of the theme song “Hana” expresses the idea of respecting all individuals as we live our lives as people, including being women. We all grow up knowing that there are many different kinds of flowers, right? From the kinds we don’t know the names of that bloom on the roadside to the ones in a magnificent bouquet made at a florist, flowers bloom at different times and in different ways, but they’re all splendid. The spirit of the lyrics is, “Wouldn’t it be great if we each could bloom in the place of our choice, in the way we decided, and in the color we want to be?” I hope this song inspires listeners to reflect on whether they’re being true to themselves. I’d like people to remember that it’s OK for you to be who you are.
I get the impression that you firmly believe that people are diverse in their own ways. When did you start thinking this way?
Ever since I was a child, I think. There were a lot of weird adults around me growing up. My family and the other grown-ups around me didn’t care that there were children around and never hid anything from me. Even topics that people would normally be like, “Don’t let kids hear that!” would be openly discussed. Maybe they figured, “If she’s going to eventually hear about it elsewhere, she might as well hear it from us.” Like, “If she doesn’t understand something, she can ask an adult around her on the spot. That way, she won’t end up misunderstanding.” People would come to our parents’ gatherings crying and asking for advice about their problems. Because I grew up in such an environment, I was able to imagine that even those who normally seem happy can have such problems, and I came to think, as a kid, that being a grown-up can be hard.
I spent some time in New York later on, a place where people of different races and languages gather, but I realized that in the sense that people have various worries and problems even if they don’t show it on the outside, the world is no different from the one I’d seen growing up.
How have you dealt with your own worries and problems?
Whenever I’m in a difficult situation, I think back to a letter a friend sent me long ago. It said, “A day is a day, no matter how you spend it.” Things happen as you live your life and sometimes it can be hard. Still, the days go on, and no matter how you spend it, the same amount of time will pass. Then let’s try to not take it too seriously, so that we don’t spend all our time on the hard things. That’s the message I got from the letter. I mean, today is the youngest day of our lives. And tomorrow we’ll be a day older and maybe wiser. So I’m not afraid of getting older, and it’s never too late to start something. After all, a day is a day no matter how you spend it. That’s why I try to think that things will work out no matter how I do it. Though sometimes it’s not good enough even when I do try to think like that.
You know it, but sometimes it’s not good enough. Is there a way to cope when you can’t bring yourself to think, “A day is a day no matter how I spend it?”
I’m the type who doesn’t know when to give up, so I can’t give up on myself when I’m in a bad situation. What inspires me when I want to pull myself up again is a line from Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”: “I decided long ago / Never to walk in anyone’s shadows / If I fail, if I succeed / At least I’ll live as I believe / No matter what they take from me / They can’t take away my dignity.” I sing this verse out loud when I want to fire myself up.
I’m sure there are many people who are inspired by the way you motivate yourself to perform on stage and by hearing your voice.
I’d be happy if that were so. Even if we have to go through some painful experiences, it’d be nice if we could learn a lot from them. I’ve loved to sing since I was a child and always wanted to be a singer and was lucky enough to make that dream come true. Still, there are times when I feel bad or sad, but each time I think, “Oh, now I have one more thing I can sing about,” so I’m able to continue without breaking down. I think everyone has their own way of putting things into perspective like that, even if they’re not singers.
—This interview by Rio Hirai (SOW SWEET PUBLISHING) first appeared on Billboard Japan.