What do you do when you’re a member of a phenomenally successful Japanese boyband? If you’re Jin Akanishi, you go solo and tour the United States.
For the past nine years, Akanishi was one-sixth of KAT-TUN, a relatively new song-and-dance group conceived and managed by the institutional idol agency Johnny & Associates, Inc., which has produced some of Japan’s perennial male entertainers, such as SMAP and Arashi. The boyband was so popular it sold out concerts years before officially debuting in 2006. Their singles, sometimes written by industry legends such as Takahiro Matsumoto and Kyosuke Himuro, hit the top of the Oricon charts and made KAT-TUN a household name. Akanishi himself, widely adored for his impeccable looks, was one of two lead singers and an occasional songwriter for the group.
Not long after KAT-TUN legitimately launched, Akanishi began to assert himself as a soloist. He went on hiatus from October 2006 until April 2007 to study English in Los Angeles; during this time, KAT-TUN released records without him. In 2009, he starred in the movie Bandage and sang its titular theme song. This year, he played solo shows in Japan and the United States and subsequently announced his departure from KAT-TUN in July. His first major venture as a solo Johnny’s singer was the Yellow Gold Tour 3010, a brief American outing from Nov. 7 to Nov. 21.
“Everything’s going well,” Akanishi says of the tour on the day prior to his final concert at New York City’s Best Buy Theater. “I already been to San Fran…,” he blanks out and turns to the poster on his left. “Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, and I’m about to have last show in here.”
Akanishi certainly didn’t slack off when he studied English four years ago. Though his accent and grammatical quirks are heavily Japanese, and his body language—palms on his chin, hands brushing across the back of his hair—reveals he’s thinking hard, he speaks readily and with largely correct syntax and pronunciation.
He says living in America did not particularly change him. “ I think I already knew American culture,” he explains. “There is no culture shock.” Nonetheless, he speaks of himself in individualist terms, so it’s not hard to imagine why he’s clicked with America. “I’m just like doing what I want and enjoying what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m just living the moment so I end up in this position.”
The tour’s name derives from one of Akanishi’s song titles. “The composition of my concert is futuristic,” he elaborates. “So like, not 2010—why don’t we say, 3010. People think it’s mistake, but it’s not.”
“I just want share my music with bigger audience,” Akanishi says of his goals for the U.S. tour. “I just want people to know what my music is and who’s Jin Akanishi.”
In multiple interviews before, Akanishi has cited wanting to share his own musical compositions as the reason for going solo. He explains that being solo doesn’t necessarily provide better opportunities to showcase said music than writing for KAT-TUN did, but live performances carry new pressure. “If I’m gonna make a mistake, there’s nobody to cover it up,” he says. “I have to take all the responsibility myself.”
Does he still talk with the remaining KAT-TUN members? “Yeah, if I have a chance,” Akanishi says. “Originally, we don’t talk that much, like just being friends. They’re like co-workers. They’re from same agency. If I see them, I’m like hi, and have conversation a little bit.” He adds, “I went to dinner with one of KAT-TUN member, [Yuichi] Nakamaru. He’s chill.”
Akanishi’s working on an album tentatively set for release early next year. “When I’m composing music, I just make whatever I want,” he says. “I don’t have specific genre or something, but now I already have a lot of hip-hop style, so I try to make more brighter, happier song.”
“I listen to a lot of music,” he says. “There is a lot of singers I like, like Keri Hilson, Lil Wayne, Kanye. I listen to…” struggling for the name, he snaps his fingers frantically. “What’s her name! I mean, not only hip-hop. I listen to rock. I listen to pop.”
Being a good-looking star, Akanishi is frequently chased by fans. But one incident particularly freaked him out. “A really long time ago, I used to live with my parents, and a fan put natto in my mailbox,” he recalls. “And when I open it there’s natto and onions in my mailbox, separately. What does that mean like, should I cook it?”
“If you do that, then cook it, and put it in!” he laughs.
NOTE: An early version of this article said that Akanishi’s article was due late next year. That has since been corrected.