bless4 is a group who came from Japan to AWA2013. With their high energy performance, it was something I must admit I was not expecting. Covering mostly rock groups, it was definitely an interesting and new experience for me being able to cover a pop group. I didn’t know what to expect, and knowing that this is something a little new here at jrockrevolution.com, I welcomed the experience with open arms and sat down with the group of siblings to be welcomed so openly in return.
First, could we do an introduction?
AKINO: Hello, we’re a sibling chorus dance group called bless4.
AKASHI: I’m the oldest, my name is AKASHI.
KANASA: I come second, I’m KANASA.
AKINO: I come third, I’m AKINO.
AIKI: And I’m the youngest, I’m AIKI.
All: Yoroshiku onegai shimasu!
AKASHI: We’re Japanese, but we lived in the states for a pretty long time. That’s why we speak English. We’re originally from Okinawa, which is a small island.
At the southern part.
AKASHI: Yes, but we live in Tokyo right now.
AKINO: A busy place.
I read somewhere that you lived in Phoenix for a while.
AKASHI: The last place we lived was Arizona.
KANASA: A very hot place.
I’ve heard that it’s very dry, compared to here where it is always humid.
AKASHI: It is very dry!
What are some of your influences? Individually and as a group.
AKINO: Music wise or…
AKASHI: Or anything?
Let’s start with musically first.
AKASHI: Musically, one of my favorite artists is Richard Marx. The way he makes melodies, his voice, and the way he mixes them together is just so beautiful. He’s not as popular as he was in the 80′s, but I still respect him a lot for the way he makes his music and the way he is down to earth. I really respect him.
AKINO: I like Kelly Clarkson. She’s a really good singer, and the lyrics that she has are really uplifting and all. I also like Beyonce. She has so much passion!
A very high drive I think.
AKINO: Yes. And I think the messages she has are good. It hits home.
KANASA I’m going to go way back, to when I was younger. Britney Spears was like one of the biggest performers. I liked the way she performed and presented herself at the time before she…changed her image…[laughs]
KANASA: Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were like one of my biggest influences.
They have those power vocals, too.
All: Yeah, they do.
AIKI: Let me think…
AKASHI: It can be just recently..
AIKI: Well if it’s recently, then I like Bruno Mars a lot! I like the way he sings. His lyrics are really good and..
AKINO: Just the way you are~♪
AIKI: But, yeah [laughs]
KANASA: That’s a good song.
AIKI: When we made our debut, I was about 11 years old. The image that our company, well, record label, had was a Jackson 5 image. So I think in a way, Michael Jackson, well…(when he was a kid), entertaining as Jackson 5, he probably influenced me a lot. We sang songs that were kind of similar to their songs.
AKINO: At that tie, he actually sounded kind of like Michael Jackson…. Jackson 5.
Do you have any recordings of that?
AKASHI: Yeah, our first album is called ‘All 4 One’ and he(AIKI) was like the main [vocalist] for a lot of the songs, so you can hear his voice. He sings pretty high. If you look it up on youtube, you might be able to find it.
That’s really cool.
AKASHI: And as bless4, we kind of started out, not really know music much at the beginning. We did martial arts at first, and when we came back to Okinawa, Japan, we started music. We were asked to harmonize, so we started learning from what was popular in Japan at the time, which was the Backstreet Boys.
I think that was popular here, too.
AKASHI: Exactly, it was like when ‘I Want It That Way’ was out.
That was like, 2000?
AKASHI: Something like that. Kind of a long time ago, but that really influenced us to do harmony. Of course there were a lot of other groups but at that time, that was very popular. We would watch them and were like ‘Woah’. And then we’d kind of start to practice harmony.
AKINO: We covered their songs..
AIKI: Dance wise, it was probably N’sync.
KANASA: N’sync, Britney Spears..
AKASHI: Now-a-days, we listen to all sorts of music. Right now, K-pop is becoming very well known all over the world, and the way they put their performances together is pretty cool. So there’s things that we like from K-pop, as well as from lots of different genres. We like rock too. We listen to music that we like and try to mix it all together.
I think that kind of ties into the next question. How did you guys first get into music? What made you interested in music?
AKASHI: KANASA liked music from the very beginning. She liked to sing. I couldn’t even carry a tune at first. [laughs]
How did you master that?
AKASHI: A lot of practice. I wanted to become a martial artist, an action star, when I was younger. So I always trained these kids [motions to AKINO, KANASA, and AIKI] to become more…
AIKI and AKINO: …back hand springs…
AKASHI: I’ve trained them since they were like four to do back hand springs.
AKINO: Oh, he loved Jackie Chan at the time. He was 14 and always said, “If I can do it, then the younger kids can too”. So he made us do back hand springs after school..
Kind of ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’
AKASHI: Exactly! But music was always a part of our life. We’d always perform martial arts with music in the background. So it’s… not a dance, but kind of. Our father really loved music, and we’d always listen to Japanese music at home. He would actually sing while we did performances with martial arts. When we moved to Japan, that’s when we actually started music. My dad dreamed of family entertainment, so he would give us a couple of options when we were young: “What do you want to do when you grow up? Mow the lawn, or do music together?” I mean, mowing the lawn is a respectful job, but in our case, we just wanted to sing more.
AKINO: We’re also Okinawan, so when we moved back, we went to Okinawa where, everyone would play the shamisen and sing, including our grandma.
Okinawa is very..kind of like folk music..kind of traditional music.
AKASHI: Yes, traditional music.
AKINO: They would always play music and it really influenced us.
AKASHI: And they would always dance! It’s not the dance you would see [normally], they use their hands a lot. They would do that for weddings, for anything.
KANASA: For parties..
AKASHI: Okinawa is a very musical place.
How is it being siblings and being in a group? Because I know with some of our rock bands, we see them disband a lot. So I’m wondering, obviously you’re siblings, so you have that bond, but what do you do when you get into a fight?
AKASHI: We use our fists…
AKINO: Yeah right…
KANASA: Well, growing up, we’ve been in a group since he [Aiki] was like five. And at that time we worked with a lot of other people doing martial arts performances. When we moved to Japan and it became just the four of us, they were really young, so everything kind of went smoothly, and as we grew older, we had our disputes. I mean like, in your everyday life, who doesn’t fight with their siblings?
KANASA: So it’s just the same thing, you kind of kiss and make up. It wasn’t a big deal. Just, in our teenage years, we didn’t want to be around each other as much as we were. So that was kind of hard.
Are there any other challenges you face as a group?
AKINO: There is, especially before a live, or performace. If we fight, our harmony doesn’t sound bad on stage.
AKASHI: It doesn’t sound bad!? Then we should fight all the time! [laughs]
AKINO: [laughs] I mean…it sounds bad.
Maybe not bad, but off?
AKINO: Yeah, like even if we’re on the right note..
KANASA: Our notes don’t fit exactly together.
AKINO: It doesn’t sound as good as it should.
AKASHI: The puzzle doesn’t fit.
AKINO: and even when we talk on stage, it doesn’t…our communication doesn’t go too well. Things just don’t go well.
AKASHI: It’s kind of strange. If somebody is a little down, for some reason, everyone’s feelings kind of goes down.
AIKI: That’s the one thing about a sibling group. If one person is…it’s called really ‘genki.’ like, full of energy, then everybody…it’s kind of contagious, become like that. But if one person is like, kind of down, it influences all of us.
AKASHI: That’s one hard part. But we have our mom with us, so she always slaps us on the back.
AKINO, You’re also a solo artist. How is that different from being in a group?
AKINO: When I was 14, the company gave me this offer, saying that if you accept, you’re going to go solo. At that time, I was pretty shy and I didn’t have confidence in myself. I thought I couldn’t do it and was pretty negative about it. My family said that I should give it a try, ‘you should believe in yourself’, and ‘this might really help you out.’ I was able to get courage from that. Sometimes I would get interviewed on my own, and it was really different! I couldn’t speak at all. The other three would usually talk, while I would just a little bit, so it really was different. But through this experience, through the solo, I think I was able to change a lot, and I was able to meet a lot of good friends.
And maybe build up confidence?
AKINO: Confidence too. And hearing that a lot of people, love my music…that really helped me out a lot. Although I went solo, my family is always with me wherever I go, so that is big. I really like it a lot.
That’s great. Have any other members done anything as far as solo work?
AKASHI: AIKI has gone solo.
AIKI: Yeah, I’ve done kind of a…it’s more of a single. But… I actually published a book. And so with that book I made a song to go with it. The book is basically the main thing, and the song was a song to help with the “Stop Drugs Campaign. I would go around and do campaigns, sing, and kind of talk about, what drugs are, how it’s bad for you, what id does, and how it damages families.
What is the book called?
AIKI: It’s called ‘Heart Prints〜命の花〜’ (Flower of Life). It’s a story about my friend that passed away when he was 15 years old from a drug overdose. I wrote about him and our friendship. We devoted a couple of years for the “Stop Drugs Campaign”. It was pretty nerve wracking talking alone, but it was also a really good experience. And that’s part of my dream too, as bless4, to be together, since we’re a family, until we die. [laugh] Maybe not dancing quite that long…but maybe we could start using instruments or something. My own personal goal is to publish some more books.
So you’ve thought about performing with instruments? Or do any of you play any instruments?
KANASA: We have on a couple of occasions… VERY special occasions. [laugh] We would practice for just one song.
AKASHI: I use the piano to make music, not really to perform in front of people, but…KANASA is probably going to do a solo next year, And AIKI will release something next year, as well. It’s going to be a fun year.
How do you come up with your choreography? Does it take from martial arts as we were talking about previously?
AKASHI: That’s the way it started out. The older two used to make the dance choreography, when we were younger, but now, since AIKI is the best dancer of the group, he takes over. He creates all the cool moves, so it’s probably better if AIKI answers this one.
AIKI: Well, we used to do Taekwondo (a Korean martial art). We started from there, and then started performing. As AKASHI said, the older two first made the choreography. Ours is … not hip-hop, not jazz, but it’s kind of more a martial art, kind of mixed inside with hip-hop and jazz and other genres together. So a lot of people, when they see our dance for the first time, say it’s kind of weird. [laugh] But that’s our style, and we like it. What I always think is, we always try to incorporate…I’m not sure how to say ‘kirekire’..sharp movements? Into the dance so that the audience can feel energy when they see our performance. That’s what I usually try to think about and kind of put in our choreography.
AKASHI What we’re recently trying to change too, is that, we’re trying to add in more simple movements. Simple, but it looks dynamic at the same time. Why simple? so people can copy us and we can all do it together.
Kind of interactive.
AKASHI: Yeah, so we used to try to go for cooler moves, but we feel interacting with the audience may be the best thing to do, and that’s our concept now.
AKINO: The most recent song that we made is ‘Let’s Have a Party♪” like you know everyone is doing the simple thing, that’s when we know that it’s really fun. It’s cool to get along with the audience. We just connect more.
I really enjoyed that. And I had some friends in the back and they were enjoying it as well.
All: Thank you
What is the one ritual you have before a live?
AKINO: Well we do this all the time…
AKASHI: We usually give a prayer, and after that, we put our pinkies and thumbs together and we’ll say…
All: Fle Fle bless4 Fle Fle bless4 Fle Fle bless4 yay! [laughs]
AKASHI: I don’t know how to explain that, but it’s a ritual that we do every single time.
Kanasa: It’s basically cheering us on, Fle Fle bless4, before we go on stage. So yeah, it’s like..
All: go go bless4! [laughs]
KANASA: And then our mom, if she’s there, she’ll slap our backs. When she’s not there, we’ll slap each other’s back.
AIKI: Sometimes we do this thing call the Oogashaka dance.
AKASHI: That’s only sometimes!
AIKI: Yeah…sometimes we do that.
KANASA:…that’s an odd ritual…
AIKI: It is.
That sounds fun! Lets see..next, as vocalist, how do you keep your voices intact? I know a lot of vocalist have vocal problems, how do you prevent that?
AKASHI: AKINO, her voice comes out better when she sings more.
AKINO: So…lets see…like when I don’t sing at all, it doesn’t come out. Like it starts to get rusty. But when I sing for hours and hours, it comes out more and more.
AKASHI: How many hours is it?
AKINO: I don’t know. 3 or 4 hours, maybe 5?
AKASHI: Yeah, like when we have recordings, she’d always be okay at the beginning, but her voice starts to come out more powerful, more clear, stronger towards the end of the recording.
AKINO: It might seem a little weird, because usually when you record, your voice would get…
AKASHI: Get tired.
AKINO: Yeah, your voice gets tired and it won’t come out after a couple of hours. The people that’s in charge of the songs would say ‘Your voice is so weird! Your voice starts to come out more in the end after hours of singing!’ and ‘we just want you to sing more and more… your voice is so weird.’ I didn’t notice it at first, but now I know that my voice is a little strange in the sense, but I think that’s good about my voice. I like it that way.
AKASHI: And I think AIKI’s too.
AIKI: Well, I was 11 years old with a high voice when we debuted as a group. But after about a year, my voice started to change. It took me about three years to finish my voice changing process. At the time, I was the lead vocal, and so, I had to sing a lot. The company didn’t want to change the lead because they wanted that Jackson 5 image, so even if my voice wouldn’t come out at all, they wanted me to sing the lead vocal. So I’d continue to sing and my voice got really bad. It wouldn’t come out at all during those three years, but my voice and throat got tough and strong because of that. So now, if I don’t sing for a while, of course my voice starts becoming rusty and it doesn’t come out as much. But if I practice a LOT one day… it’ll … how do you say..karasu?
AKASHI: Make it kind of…
AIKI: Yeah, kind of hoarse sounding. I’ll use it a lot, make it tired, and it’ll be better by the next day. It’ll get strong again. So that’s kind of the way I keep it intact.
AKASHI: I wouldn’t really recommend AIKI’s methods because you can ruin your voice if you use it too much, especially during your voice change, but it worked for AIKI.
AIKI: Yeah, it works for me.
AKASHI: It really depends on the person.
AIKI: When I was going through the voice changing process, I went to the doctor, and my vocal chords…normally, your two vocal chords rub against each other and then your voice comes out. They said that in my case, my vocal chords, used three sections, three different sections instead of one, so even if my voice kind of gets bad, it’ll switch to the next one, then the next. So that might be why it worked for me.
It’s kind of an advantage.
AIKI: Yes. So that’s kind of how I keep my voice.
AKASHI: We don’t really worry too much about our voices, like…some people don’t talk for hours before the live, and some people don’t eat ice cream..
KANASA: Well we don’t eat ice cream before…[laugh]
AKASHI: Well, we try to make sure our voices are kind of warmed up, and we do warm-ups before we sing. There are some things we do to take care of our voices.
Let’s do one adjective about each sibling.
KANASA: An adjective?
Describe your siblings.
AKASHI: KANASA, you go first!
AIKI: And talk about all three of us?
AKASHI Just one word, for all three of us.
KANASA: I don’t know. AIKI’s kind of witty? [laughs]
AKINO: Kind of like a sponge…
AKASHI: Ah…well if we’re all saying something good…then yeah…
AKINO: Something good or something bad? [laughs]
AKASHI: Just whatever we decide! …yeah..yeah…AIKI’s a sponge. He’s like a sponge.
So he takes in a lot of information.
AKASHI: Yeah, he takes in a lot.
AKINO: And not just information.
AKASHI: But he’s the fastest to kind of suck in things. Almost anything.
KANASA: That’s what’s really good about being the youngest. Taking everything in.
AKINO: And he has a huge capacity, so he hasn’t lost anything yet.
AIKI: Not yet. ..I’m not sure about that…but…AKINO is…how do you say this in English..
AKASHI: How do you say ganbariya?
AKASHI You said it yourself, doryokuka. I said ganbariya. [laughs]
Kind of like, ganbare?
AKASHI: Yeah, it’s kind of like ganbare, but it’s a person that..
KANASA: That works hard.
AKASHI: A person that takes a stand..
KANASA: Persistent. I guess you can say.
AKASHI: She has persistence, yeah. Like, she doesn’t get things right away, and it takes her a long time.
KANASA: But she works very hard at it.
AKASHI: She works very hard at it, yes. She keeps doing that thing until she gets it. So that’s AKINO. I don’t know the word for it…
I think persistant works.
KANASA: Yeah, persistent.
AKASHI: And…KANASA…I would say freedom.
AIKI: That’s true. She always wants freedom.
AKASHI: Not that she always wants freedom, she is free…not that she does what she wants, but she has a lot of things that she likes to do and has a lot of passion in things. Like if it’s Halloween in Japan, nobody dresses up for Halloween, but she would dress up.
AKASHI: So she’s free, in a way, she does what she wants but not in a bad way.
AKINO: in a good way.
So it’s like you do what you want, but not in a defiant way.
AKASHI: Not that she does what she wants, it kind of sounds a little bad…but she’s not scared of…
AKASHI: Yeah! Free-spirited sounds better…We usually do this in Japanese, so we usually have the words. Well, the words that we’re thinking about.
KANASA: He’s a comedian
AIKI: Well he is the comedian, he’s so…how do you say majime?
AKASHI: Yeah…sometimes you can’t find the right word…
KANASA: Diligent, serious, honest…
AKASHI: Let’s just go with honest, there we go. [laughs]
AIKI Well he -is- kind of serious, like if he was focusing on music, he would totally get into it, he wouldn’t even notice that he’s hungry. Like unless you bring food to him, he won’t eat. He’ll just work on it the whole time until he gets it finished.
KANASA: And yet, he’s an ad-lib person. So, if you go on stage and you tell him to say these lines, he won’t be able to say those lines.
AKINO: If you give him a script, he can’t like remember anything.
But kind of in his own words, right?
AKASHI: In my own words, yes.
AIKI: But that doesn’t seem like a serious guy though..
KANASA: I guess you could say he’s kind of spontaneous? But not really…
Maybe not while working on something important, but serious when need be.
AKASHI: Just call me dangerous. [laugh]
AKINO: I don’t know about dangerous…
AKASHI: I do a lot of dangerous things.
KANASA: Well he is loaded because you don’t know what’s going to come out next. He would like, say jokes and all of that.
AKASHI: I like parkour and stuff like that.
AIKI: Yeah, he likes dangerous things.
AKASHI: And I went to the tumbling gym, the trampoline gyms and stuff around here, like twice a week while I was here.
KANASA: Ah…one word…
KANASA: He’s complex…yet he’s simple.
AKASHI: I’m simple, yeah.
AIKI: He is simple, too.
AKASHI: It’s kind of strange, I go one side to the other side, like, I really can’t lie too much.
AKINO: He’s honest.
AKASHI: No, it’s not that I’m honest…but if I lie, you can tell I’m lying. So…
So you’re a bad liar?
AKASHI: [laugh] right.
Which is a good thing, I think.
AKASHI: It is a good thing. Except when you really want to lie and you can’t.
Well, it’s always important to tell the truth.
AKASHI: That’s true! ..So what are you going to call me?
AIKI I have no idea…
AKINO: I don’t know…
KANASA:…no…he’s loaded [laughs]
AKINO: That’s a pretty hard question…
That’s the first time I’ve ever tried out that question.
AKASHI: In Japan, they would ask that question, but it’s easier in Japanese. For English…it’s just…hard to find the right word…
KANASA: There are so many words.
So, how has your stay been in Atlanta, what is the most interesting thing that you’ve seen? Or have you been able to get out?
AKASHI: Not really that much. We were planning on getting out today, but the most interesting thing that we’ve seen so far is AWA.
KANASA: A lot of quality cosplay.
AKASHI: And everybody going crazy all day and all night.
AKINO: In the middle of the night you can hear screaming.
AIKI: The whole entire time..
AKINO: You can tell how much they’re having fun.
AIKI: Yesterday after the live, when we were autographing, kind of meeting the audience, a lot of people would say they didn’t sleep at all. And they’re not going to sleep tonight either. They won’t sleep for three nights! It just shows how much they look forward to this.
AKINO: And they still have energy.
AKASHI: They can’t stay sane, I don’t think.
AKASHI: But we want to go to the Coca Cola Factory and Atlantic Station. There are a couple of places we’re looking forward to going to, but we actually haven’t been there yet.
AKINO: But we’d like to.
AKASHI: One thing that we noticed was that people are very cool. We haven’t been around, but the people that we’ve met so far, they’re really cool.
AKINO: They have a big smile and it’s really easy talking with them. Also, we heard that the peaches here are really good.
What is your favorite cosplay that you’ve seen?
AIKI: Well, the Shingeki no Kyojin, Attack on Titan cosplays.
AKASHI: There was a bunch of them.
AIKI: A lot of the troops with the megata kyojin the lady titan. That was fun.
AKASHI: There’s a lot of cool ones, but right now, the titans are like the thing.
AKINO: We watch it all the time.
KANASA: We can’t wait until the next show comes out.
AIKI: The next one is the last show!
I still have to catch up! As a last question, Any messages to your fans?
AIKI: We’ve had so much fun here in Atlanta! Every single time we go abroad, we feel that music…that even if you speak a different language, even if you have different colors of skin, that when it comes to music, it doesn’t matter. Everybody can become one, unite, and have a party together through music. So it was really cool that, although there were a lot of people listening to our song ‘Let’s Have a Party♪’ for the first time, that they would all just dance with us, and put their hands up and yell. It was so much fun.
AKINO: The audience makes our day. A lot of people say that we give power and energy, but it’s really the opposite. I think the audience, are the ones that give us love and power. And we can take that, and that’s what we can spread to other people. So I just want to say thank you for really coming and enjoying our music, and saying all those nice things, and seeing your smiles makes us happy too.
KANASA: We’re so grateful for those people who love and listen to our music, because without them, we wouldn’t have been able to come to AWA this time. And it’s our first time in Georgia, and just the love and the spirit they brought, and how fast they caught on to the dance. It was just so great! And the meet and greet afterwards was really nice, to be able to talk and to take pictures with each and every one of them. We’re going to continue to make good music, and so, if you would just keep listening and telling us what you feel about it, we would really appreciate it.
AKASHI: Tell the head people of AWA that you want bless4 back! We want to come back next year! We want to come back every year!
Have you guys thought about maybe going to other conventions?
All: We would love to go!
AKASHI: We went to Kawaii-Con last year, and that’s why we were able to come here. So if we’re able to go to every single place every year it would be so much fun.
KANASA: We would have something to look forward to.
That’s great! It was nice talking with you! This was really great, we really look forward to covering you guys again!
KANASA: Maybe next time we’ll sing that rock song. [laugh]
That would be great!
bless4 may be found here: