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Happy birthday, Hatsune Miku!: Japanese pop culture icon still inspires 10 years on

ill. by iXima, piapro users

Part of a 23-meter-long picture scroll featuring various illustrations of Hatsune Miku, which is currently on display at the MIKU10 exhibition at The Yomiuri Shimbun head office in Otemachi, Tokyo

By Jin Kiyokawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterIn the 10 years since she debuted, Hatsune Miku has become a Japanese pop culture icon. The virtual singer, one of the prominent users of Vocaloid voice synthesizer software, is popular both at home and abroad — inspiring many professionals and amateurs to create their own works themed on the character. She has also expanded into other, more conventional art forms.

Hatsune Miku was created by Crypton Future Media, Inc. in Sapporo. Established in 1995, the company provides various sources to music creators, such as sound effects and the sounds of musical instruments.

“Generally speaking, humans are born to create things,” President Hiroyuki Ito said. “I believe Hatsune Miku has been accepted over the past decade for inspiring creativity.”

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  • The Japan News

    A statue of Hatsune Miku on display at the MIKU10 exhibition

  • Yomiuri Shimbun file photo

    A composite work featuring Miku with Ogata Korin’s renowned byobu folding screen “Irises” is shown at the Kyoto International Manga Museum in 2015.

  • The Japan News

    Visitors at MIKU10

Vocaloid, developed by Yamaha Corp. in 2003, has enabled human singing voices to be manipulated just like other musical instruments. Technically, Hatsune Miku is a musical instrument that started as a form of computer music.

Yamaha’s DX7 synthesizer made its mark on music in the 1980s, and design elements from the instrument were used to create Hatsune Miku — such as her outfits and the turquoise color of her hair.

Hatsune Miku was released in August 2007, when more and more people began posting videos on the internet. After Crypton made three illustrations of the character available, the company was surprised to find that the images had inspired quite a number of people to create their own illustrations, music and videos themed on Miku.

“We thought we should provide more new images,” Ito recalled thinking before the boom.

Three months later, Crypton set up piapro, a website for people to post works and collaborate with others, allowing them to create things without copyright restrictions under certain conditions.

As internet culture emerged, so did Vocalo-Ps — music producers using Vocaloid — and illustrators called “eshi” who draw superb works. This resulted in a series of collaborations.

“Senbonzakura” (1,000 cherry trees), a song released in 2011 by a Vocalo-P named Kurousa-P, became popular enough to be a standard karaoke piece. The work was later sung by enka singer Sachiko Kobayashi at NHK’s Kohaku Utagassen (Red and White Year-end Song Festival). WagakkiBand, an eight-member rock group playing Japanese traditional instruments, also did a cover that became hugely popular around the world.

Miku went on to become a smash hit, with the virtual singer’s CD releases often ranking high in the Oricon music charts. With her popularity now established, she has entered a new stage — expanding into more conventional art forms.

For example, she performed with ballet dancers in “Dr. Coppelius” last year, and appeared with members of the Kodo wadaiko drum group earlier this year. She has also performed with popular kabuki actor Nakamura Shido for two consecutive years since 2016 at Niconico Chokaigi, an annual offline event by the popular video website Niconico.

Composite works featuring Miku and traditional Japanese paintings — such as the byobu folding screen “Irises” by Ogata Korin, a renowned master from the Edo period (1603-1867) — are another example.

“We don’t want Hatsune Miku to get stuck in a rut by just being a beautiful girl character,” Ito said. “So, we’ve taken up many new, high-level challenges.”

Miku can be described as representing Japan’s internet culture, while also being part of its wider youth culture. She could also be considered an evolving form of traditional Japanese ningyo joruri puppet theater and other artistic expressions in which life is breathed into inanimate objects.

Hatsune Miku has performed concerts beyond Japan’s borders, starting with her first solo performance in the United States in 2011. She has since performed in China, Canada, Indonesia and many other places, and is set to sing in Malaysia in December.

Anniversary event

To celebrate Hatsune Miku’s 10th anniversary, an exhibition titled “MIKU10” is being held on the third floor of The Yomiuri Shimbun head office in Otemachi, Tokyo, until Nov. 5. Features include Yomi-Miku Shimbun panel displays chronicling the character’s past decade, while a 23-meter-long picture scroll bears 217 illustrations of Miku.

The event is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and closed on Oct. 22. Admission is free. Visit piapro.net for details.

Hatsune Miku timeline

Aug. 2007

Debuts

Aug. 2008

Vocalo-P makes major label debut

Aug. 2009

1st concert

July 2011

1st solo concert overseas, held in Los Angeles

Nov. 2012

Premiere of “Symphony Ihatov,” featuring Isao Tomita as composer and Miku as singer

Aug. 2013

1st English version released

May 2014

Opens for Lady Gaga’s North American tour

April 2016

Performs with kabuki actor Nakamura Shido

Nov. 2016

Premier of ballet “Dr. Coppelius,” featuring Miku

March 2017

Performs with Kodo wadaiko drum groupSpeech

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