Joji Hirota & Kanon Wakeshima
Olympia Centre
22nd - 24th July 2011
Written by Rachel Yarwood
Photography by Paul Yarwood

Joji Hirota:

1. Susei-Hanabi
2. Chidosetsu
3. Soranbushi
4. Harvest

Kanon Wakeshima:

1. Still Doll
2. Kajitsu no Keikoku
3. Suna no Oshiro
4. Lolitawork Libretto Storytelling By Solita
5. Marmalade Sky
6. Princess Charleston

Hyper Japan; a convention educating attendees on the various aspects of Japanese culture, and also feeding the minds of those already inspired by the country and it's people, from travelling, to cuisine, music to the gaming industry and so much more.

Whilst one section of the Olympia Centre was dedicated entirely to the March earthquake and tsunami, with stories, statistics and a prayer wall for visitors to write their own messages to the people of Japan, the rest of the two floors hosted numerous stalls including traditional and current art, clothing, manga and tutorials on martial arts.

Hyper Japan 2011 also invited two special guest musicians to perform; Joji Hirota and Kanon Wakeshima.

Joji Hirota

It took less than ten minutes to set the stage on the Friday of the event before the event's announcer was calling for the gathering of onlookers, already filling almost every seat, some standing closer to the stage, to welcome Joji and his drummers for their second charity performance of the day.

There was no hesitation as they took their positions, leading us straight into "Susei-Hanabi" and instantly, with the sound that had erupted, they had the audience stunned into silence.

Already what was beginning to unfold was simply jaw dropping to witness, with such precision and energy in each move and hit from the drummers, in complete synchronisation that only practise, tremendous effort and hard work could accomplish.

There was a slight break after the second piece as Joji Hirota took to the centre of the stage. He took the opportunity to speak to the audience properly, introducing himself and his troop, and also in a rather enthusiastic endeavour to have the audience participate, he encouraged everybody to join in the next part of the performance.

After a few amusing attempts from the audience at repeating the "easy" parts of the chorus that Joji Hirota, with so much effort tried to teach to the onlookers, the song "Soranbushi" (traditional style fisherman song from Hokkaido, Joji Hirota's birth place) began and the attention in the room increased dramatically as we all waited for his prompting to sing our part.

This song led a dramatically different setting from the first two pieces, certainly for those on the front couple of rows their ringing ears could now take a short break, as "Soranbushi" introduced us now to a more mellow piece, with subtle beats, and a beautiful accompanying melody from the Shakuhachi flute between the vocals from Joji Hirota.

By the fourth piece, "Harvest", the stamina of each of the drummers by this point is only too clear. Feet firmly apart, torso's as straight as can be, but arms moving at such a speed that you'd be too afraid to blink in case of missing something.

"Harvest" really brought the performance to a great crescendo, the sound lessening and then rising again to tremendous levels with a sheer level of solidarity and power.

There was even a solo from one of the drummers, who taking the opportunity for a bit of sole attention from the audience, entertained with colossal skill and charisma.

Joji Hirota and his accompanying Taiko drummers' performance today was educating, spirited and simply amazing to behold. Even taking the effort to explain various aspects of Taiko, the instruments, the way that the "whole body expresses", in "body and soul", the meanings behind each piece, held the audience completely from beginning to end.

It was a wonderful experience to behold, something that you really need to see for yourself to truly feel because words can only describe a part of the art that is Taiko Drumming.

Kanon Wakeshima

The doors to Hyper Japan opened at eleven in the morning on the Saturday. The queue was astonishing, even more so for the innocent people passing, gazing at the array of characters in Anime, Lolita and even Geisha fashion that stretched right around the Olympia building.

Unlike Joji Hirota's performance the day before, the section of the hall where Kanon Wakeshima was ready to make her UK debut, was devoid of most of the lighting save for the natural light from the windows opposite. This made the atmosphere all the better for this performance, giving it more of concert feel about it.

The amount of people that had come to watch Kanon Wakeshima today was no less than immense, so much so that if you really wanted to get a look, you would have had to have grabbed your seat pretty early in the day or risked stepping over the numerous bodies that were sat nearly too close for comfort in an attempt to get a good view.

Kanon entered the stage, backed by the introduction instrumental of "Still Doll" which would be her first song for the afternoon.

The atmosphere was nearing eerie level as a smoke machine was actioned, Kanon slowly walking on, dressed in pure white Lolita fashion. The cheers, and screams from her obvious fan base that had specifically journeyed to see her today, rose to a remarkable level before Kanon took her place centre stage and began the first verse.

After the subtle, slow rhythm and slightly gothic mood of "Still Doll", we are blown away by Kanon's second piece "Kajitsu no Keikoku" which is more upbeat instrumentally and lyrically. The audience are captivated as she combines her movements around the stage to the music, with her faultless vocals, hitting the high notes during the chorus with absolute precision, and incredible cello playing.

It is near impossible to draw your eyes away from the stage by this point, so early in the performance, but the astonishing ability of the blend of vocals and cello from Kanon, and more so for the powerful cello solo, is fantastic to watch.

The mood shifts again as the next song "Suna no Oshiro" begins, the backing cello quite fast for the opening but as Kanon opens with the first verse, her vocals are slower and more serene giving the song an unusual but beautiful balance. There is also a backing drum beat, almost mirroring a heart beat, and an accompanying violin, which brings the atmosphere back to a slightly more gothic feel again.

Kanon's vocals however, rise for the chorus with captivating and near perfect melodies, though still keeping with that ballad style.

Towards the latter part of her performance, Kanon Wakeshima livens things up even further with more elaborate dance moves with some of her more catchier, upbeat, songs such as "Marmalade Sky" and "Princess Charleston" both of which are on her album "Shoujo Shikake no Libretto".

"Princess Charleston" especially was a highly fun and entertaining piece to end the afternoon performance with. Near enough the entire audience partook enthusiastically with dancing and clapping along to the funky and extremely catchy song, which wrapped things up on a high note and with an admirable lasting impression.

Kanon Wakeshima performed with sheer professionalism, playing to the audience and encouraging them with great success to take an active part with her. There were definitely some keen fans already there to watch her show, but it is highly probably that she will have made some new fans with her superb debut appearance at Hyper Japan 2011.