New York City is the holy grail of international and American music subculture. For every odd stare you may encounter in other American cities for simply being who you are and liking what you like, there is an embrace waiting for you in the city that truly never sleeps; everyone’s just too damn busy being themselves. As an embracer of multiethnic communities, New York is famous for propelling forward the greatest music movements in history, including hip hop (which just celebrated its 47th anniversary, hats off to DJ Kool Herc) and the blues and jazz age of the Harlem Renaissance (shout out to Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk for paving the way). I guess you could say it’s one of the few destinations in the world where you must come as you are to carve out a quality of life.
It’s no surprise then, that veteran J-Pop star Shihori would risk it all to be included in a lifestyle so many can only dream of living. Born in Nagoya, Japan with hearing loss in her left ear, Shihori embarked on a music career at the age of two. With great discipline and devotion, the classical pianist continued on to become one of Japan’s most successful songwriters for anime. She is certified gold in her home country, having worked with the anime industry’s Yoko Kanno (“Ghost in the Shell”) and Kohei Tanaka (“One Piece”). There are more popular songs to credit than one can count. Let’s just say that Shihori (Shihori means “Wabi-Sabi,” or sense of beauty in imperfection) is highly visible in her field, and what she does she does extremely well.
Despite all adversity, Shihori manages to retain an unrelenting shine she is passionate about spreading to others; the philanthropic singer is donating all of the Bandcamp proceeds from her latest single, “Perfect Imperfection,” to the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that helps victims of sexual abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. As if her illustrious recording doesn’t already tell the story of her hard-earned emotion, I spoke with Shihori in cross-cultural conversation about what life in the Big Apple has been like for her so far, what inspired the songwriting behind “Perfect Imperfection,” how recording music is different for someone with a disability, and much more. Her answers may be what inspires you to kickstart your new beginning or finally reach your happy ending.
The recording process was harder than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic. I couldn’t have studio sessions, record vocals… it delayed a lot. But I found Dibs, a music producer on Soundbetter, and his music sounded so good, and his sound matched this song! I sent my demo, which I roughly made with midi, then he immediately understood what I wanted. The process went so easy and quick to get to this shape, but amazingly he expanded the powerful atmosphere even further than I expected. This was a totally happy experience working with him.
Q: I am amazed at your abilities despite your deafness. I read that you do not see deafness as a disability but as a gift. Are you treated differently in the world because of this disability?
Q: Do you feel that more people should view people with disabilities in this light?
One day, when I had a concert in a shopping mall during last year’s Japan tour, one family, which had a small girl with partial deafness, came to see me. The parents asked me for advice about their daughter’s life after my show. She didn’t speak at all, which is super similar to my own childhood, and I immediately sensed they were the same as my parents and I. I told them, “Believe me! You don’t have to feel guilty nor sorry for her. Don’t worry about her future! She has some special mission or unique talent. There will be some inconvenience, but just tell her friends to help her with positivity, then everybody’s going to help her! Just look forward to what she will create in the future!”
I’ve done a lot of studio singer work in Japan, and I saw a lot of this: “Hey, I don’t hear the click,” “Really? It’s on!” “No, I hear nothing!” “Ahhh I found it’s panned to the left!!”, so many times! Also I had been wondering why many singers often listen to the music by just the right ear when I watched TV shows, then I asked about the director and engineer one day and they told me, “Listening by one side of the ear works for getting correct pitch.” I see now and that makes sense! People listen to the pitch by the right ear and the rhythm by the left ear! And the reason why I have perfect pitch may be because I’ve been hearing everything by my right ear!
The first challenge was skill in delivering lyrics. I wasn’t good at recognizing the lyrics as a language because of my ears, which is good at pitch (right), but not good at language (left). Many people told me my singing was very good, but they didn’t hear the lyrics. I wondered how to resolve this, so I started a part-time job as a telephone operator to train myself to listen to conversations as a language. This was super hard…but I got the skill through this hard training.
Q: Can you tell me what the move was like from Japan to New York and was it a bit of a culture shock for you?
Q: You’ve had a successful decade-long J-Pop career in Japan. What are your goals for the US in terms of your music?
Bandcamp (Pre-order) for “Perfect Imperfection” the album can be found here.