On September 3rd, 2018, Seishun Youth Academy, Canadian sister group of Seishun Gakuen, had their first solo concert performing alongside Seishun Gakuen producer, SHUN, at Pandora’s Box in Vancouver, British Columbia!
Yes Tiger! had the opportunity to attend the live and talk with SHUN and the members of Seishun Youth Academy about the formation of the group, the challenges of introducing idol culture to an audience outside of Japan, the preparation required for their first ever solo performance, and more!
“Could you please introduce and tell us an interesting fact or secret about yourselves?”
Everyone: Hello! We’re Seishun Youth Academy! It’s nice to meet you! Piko!
Ally: Hello, my name is Ally. I’m Seishun Youth Academy’s sub-leader, a current member of Seishun Gakuen, and also Sally’s older twin sister! A secret about me is that I can eat ten Pon-de-Ring donuts in ten minutes!
Jessica: Always energetic and curious, I’m the Sagittarius girl, Jessica Lin! It’s not much of a secret, but I have three chinchillas!
Yayoi: Doki doki oki doki Yayoi doki! I’m Yayoi, I have a smiley dimple, and I love to eat spicy foods!
Stella: Your smile’s what makes me shine! Hello everyone, my name is Stella Han and one special thing about me is that I like to play FPS games. My favorite is Overwatch!
Emily: Hey! I’m everyone’s super sweet berry patch girl, Emily Campbell! I’m generally known as more of the cute one and SHUN-san said that I resemble a Sanrio character. A little known fact about me is that I can kick surprisingly high!
Sally: Hi, I’m Seishun Youth Academy’s class representative, a current member of Seishun Gakuen, and Ally’s younger twin sister, Sally! I guarantee I can eat more than ten Pon-de-Rings in ten minutes!
SHUN: My name is SHUN! I’m a singer, composer, producer, and radio DJ. I’ve worked with various idol units and artists, and I am the producer of Seishun Gakuen. I’ve done the music for the AKB48 movie, “Nine Windows” and the song “The Dandy Sheep Butler” for NHK’s Minna no Uta. Thank you for working with us!
“Ally and Sally, not too long ago you were living in Tokyo and performing as members of Seishun Gakuen. At what point in your idol career did you decide you would like to come back to Canada and pursue a future as idols here in Vancouver?”
Ally: To begin with, we did some activities here in Vancouver before we went to Tokyo, so we had a bit of experience here. Once we joined Seishun Gakuen, we thought of the idea of making a group here but it was just an, “Oh, it would be nice” kind of thing. One night, Sally was like, “Okay, I’m gonna translate ‘Tegami.’ into English” and then she did that. She told all of the other members, but never got any reaction. Nobody responded to it.
Sally: I put it in the Seishun Gakuen group chat and no one responded to it at all. I was surprised and a bit sad. I recorded it and everything and there was no response, so I thought I did something bad! We apologized a couple days later and still didn’t get any response, but then one day, we were going to perform at one of Seishun Gakuen’s live parties at Ueno Oto-Yokocho, I think in May?
Ally: Yeah, probably around that time. At that time, Sally and I were performing with Kaigai Jigyou-Bu and we thought, “Okay, let’s perform ‘Tegami.’ in English”, but we didn’t have any accompaniment, so we just did it acapella.
(Note: At that time, Seishun Gakuen was split into “Ensei Jigyou-bu” and “Kaigai Jigyo-bu”. The former was formed of regular, formal “seiki” members who traveled and performed across Japan while the latter consisted of the trainee members who stayed in Tokyo. Three of the trainee group members happened to be foreign, which led to the “Kaigai” name.)
We had said before that it’d be nice if we had a group in Canada like Seishun Gakuen, a really warm environment that wants girls to grow, shine more, and find their dreams. It was at that time that SHUN-san suddenly came on stage and was like, “I give you guys permission to make a Seishun Gakuen Canada”. We had only made light comments, but once SHUN-san gave us permission, we realized we had to do this.
Sally: Yeah, we realized we had to do this. We also had a meeting with SHUN-san and the other members where we talked about what we wanted to do in our lives and we thought that this was something we really wanted to do. We wanted to be able to make this kind of place for other girls in Canada too.
“SHUN, in the beginning, how did you feel about the idea of a Seishun Gakuen sister group here in Canada? Why did you decide to allow them to start a group here in Vancouver?”
SHUN: To start off, Ally and Sally loved Japan and decided to come to Japan to study at a university. I was very happy that they were able to join Seishun Gakuen during that time. The two of them came to Japan to study, so they eventually had to go back home to Canada. It felt like a waste after the time we’d spent together, to have them only do activities in Japan; so I thought that if Ally and Sally were okay with it, I wanted them to bring this culture home with them to Canada. I think it’s really great that Ally and Sally have been able to start Seishun Youth Academy, gather members, pursue entertainment activities and perform at live events as idols. I told Ally and Sally that they are starting something that no one has done before and that there will be hurdles, but I want them to do their best as if they were producers. That’s one reason.
Another reason is that Seishun Gakuen has performed in Taiwan and China, and in these places, they felt the warmth of the world, the fans were lively, and things that were supposed to be fun, were fun. Things that weren’t, were not. We felt really positive reactions from the audiences and the performances were definitely a positive experience in our lives. In Japan, the “idol sengoku jidai” has settled down and with the state of the idol industry, of course Seishun Gakuen will continue with activities in Japan; but there are more and more people around the world who are waiting to experience this culture and we want to go see them. With Seishun Gakuen in Japan, Seishun Youth Academy in Canada, and Kuyumi-chan, a Seishun Gakuen member from Hong Kong, we want to spread idol culture worldwide. I think it would be great if we could act as a bridge between Japan, Canada, China, and the rest of the world.
“Jessica, Yayoi, Stella, and Emily, what made you all decide to audition for Seishun Youth Academy and what has been the most challenging part about being an idol and performing with Seishun Youth Academy?”
Jessica: I wanted to audition for Seishun Youth Academy initially because I really love dancing and being on stage. I started to learn more about idol culture in high school and I did dance covers before Seishun Youth Academy. It was my dream to dance and be on stage, so when I saw the audition, I thought, “I have to do this”. I really enjoy that part of being an idol and seeing everyone’s smiles after watching the show.
I think the most difficult part of being an idol right now is scheduling. It’s kind of hard to balance school work together with idol activities, but I believe everyone here is getting better with that as we gain experience.
Stella: I’ve dreamed of being an idol since I was young because I love J-Pop and dancing. When I first found out about the audition, I was a little afraid to try, because becoming an idol isn’t easy, especially in Canada. I looked up Seishun Gakuen’s live videos and saw a group of young girls and a rock artist performing together, interacting with the audience, and having fun. I really loved their energy, so that’s why I auditioned.
One thing that is challenging for me is that I’m still a bit shy, so I’m doing my best to learn more from other members and be more confident.
Yayoi: I used to live in Japan and I was an idol there four years ago. After that, I was an actress in Tokyo. I did that for a year or so and I really enjoy acting, but I also missed expressing myself outside of acting roles. I constantly thought about how great it would be one day to go back to the stage to sing, dance, and express myself. I came to Vancouver recently; Ally and Sally found out that I was here and they contacted me, so we went to have tea together. I knew about Seishun Youth Academy, but I wasn’t really thinking about joining. However, they told me about the group and I was impressed by how hard they were working on it and how much work they were putting into it. I was inspired, so that’s why I decided to audition.
The most difficult part is that people here aren’t familiar with idol culture, so I think there are still misunderstandings. In addition, not everyone welcomes idol culture yet. I think that’s the hardest part for us, but it’s also something we can work on.
Emily: I liked idols for a long time, particularly AKB48 and Hello! Project, which I still enjoy. My love of idols kept growing and I thought I’d be fine just watching them from afar and being a fan, but eventually I was like, “No, I really want to perform! I think I might be into that!” Sadly, there weren’t really any opportunities that I was into at the time. There are a lot of cosplay groups here and that interested me, but I preferred real idols to anime idols. Then, I saw the audition for Seishun Youth Academy and felt that it was my once in a lifetime chance. Even if it didn’t end up working out, I told myself it was better to audition than to later regret not trying. In the end, I was chosen and my life completely changed. Everything is different now.
Scheduling is definitely the most difficult part of being an idol. Idol activities take up a lot of time. I love being an idol, but I’m busy with other things too, like school.
Other difficulties I experience as an idol are staying confident on stage, not being too stressed, and trying not to worry too much. I’m a bit of a worrywart.
“Emily kind of touched on this earlier when she said there are a large amount cosplay groups here in Vancouver, which leads to my next question for everybody. What are some general observations you’ve made about idol culture in Canada? Do you find it to be different than the way it is in Japan? What are some hurdles you all have had to face when trying to introduce idol culture to a Western audience?”
Ally: At first glance, when we perform at an event, you’ll see that all of our fans wave penlights and cheer, so it’s not that different from Japan; but I guess the calls can be a bit different sometimes. Compared to the ones in Japan, our performances are significantly longer. Most here are at least half an hour. Our audience is about 90% normal Canadian people, so we have to work tremendously hard to introduce the concept of idols to this particular audience. Often, we’ll say “We’re a Japanese idol group’s Canadian sister group!” and people will be like, “What’s an idol?” So then we try to explain that we’re like a girls band, but we don’t have instruments, we just sing and dance. It’s definitely a hurdle that we’re trying to get over. There have been a lot of people that have been like, “Oh wow, this is our first time seeing Japanese idols. Please take a photo with my daughter!” We are always happy when this happens.
Emily: One thing that I noticed is that there are not as many fans doing furicopy. You don’t really see that here, so that’s a big difference.
(Note: Furicopy is when you copy the dance moves (mostly the arm movements) of the members.)
Sally: I would like to see more furicopy!
Yayoi: I agree with what Ally said, most people here don’t know idol culture. I might have a different experience than Ally and Sally when it comes to performing in Japan because I was a local idol. I performed at local events in Japan, so the reaction of the audience was a bit similar to what it is like here. When people saw us, they were like, “Huh, what are they?” because they also don’t know idols in the countryside. In Japan, we were able to interest them through our performances, so I’m not really worried about that here. I’m sure everyone can enjoy our performances regardless of whether or not they understand idol culture.
Jessica: I agree with Ally and Sally that idol culture is still new to the West, so there are not a lot of people who know about it, which makes it a little bit difficult for us to introduce it to them and have them accept it. It’s a big cultural difference. I can’t really comment on how it’s different from Japan because I haven’t been to an idol live in Japan. I really want to be able to experience that, so hopefully, I’ll be able to tell you the answer to this question someday.
Stella: I guess from the perspective of a long-term idol fan, I think that idol culture in Canada and Japan are completely different. I think forcing the audience to cheer us on isn’t important, the most important thing is to show them that we are enjoying ourselves and we hope that they enjoy themselves too.
“SHUN, you’ve performed outside of Japan before, right? Is this your first time visiting the West? How is Canada? Did you experience any sort of culture shock when you arrived?”
SHUN: Up until now, the places I’ve been and the places Seishun Gakuen have been have mostly been in Asia. Other Japanese idol groups also travel to Asian countries frequently, not just Seishun Gakuen; Tokyo Idol Festival Thailand has recently started, everyone goes to Taiwan often, and some groups go to Malaysia. I believe most idol groups choose to go to other Asian countries due to the fact that Idol culture is easier to introduce to an Asian audience than a Western one. Other Asian countries have the same feeling of warmth, getting lively as a group, and trying to create a sense of oneness together. However, at live performances in Canada, it’s more like watching a movie or theater performance. There’s no culture of cheering as a group, waving penlights, or running from side to side together at all. I think other idols and artists that have come to Canada, like Haruko Momoi, have felt it too. I initially thought the people here wouldn’t really join the performance, so that was a culture shock for me. However, when Seishun Youth Academy’s dedicated fans cheer for the group and support them, normal Canadian people realize, “Ah, this is how you’re supposed to cheer, ah, this is how you’re supposed to clap” and try to participate. Seeing that made me really happy. I think Seishun Youth Academy has the power to make this a normal occurrence.
“Personally, my favorite part about Seishun Youth Academy is being able to hear my favorite Seishun Gakuen’s songs in English; for example, “Seishun Joshi Gakuen” (in English, “Seishun Youth Academy”) and “Tegami.” (in English, “Message”). How has it been adapting these songs to English and are there any other Seishun Gakuen songs you’d like to perform in English?”
Sally: It’s very interesting trying to adapt them into English.
Ally: Sally and I adapt the songs into English. Mainly Sally, it’s like 60/40.
Ally and Sally: We find that it varies from song to song, so sometimes we can get one song done in a night and sometimes it’ll take a week or so. One thing that we focus on is not necessarily having a direct translation, but more so capturing the feeling and the message of the song and putting that into the lyrics. Some of the songs have a lot of Japanese cultural references that we don’t have here and it’s difficult to understand and connect to those, so we really try to think of it from our Canadian, Western perspectives as well. In the past, we’ve been worried about having an influence on the songs ourselves, because we still want it to be SHUN’s message and his song, but SHUN-san said that it’s okay for us to localize his songs and make them a bit more Seishun Youth Academy’s style. When we heard that from SHUN-san, we were really surprised because we know that each song is kind of like his child. So we wanted to keep them as close to the original as possible. For SHUN-san to basically be like, “Take my child and you can change what you want with it” was very surprising for us.
Another difficult thing about translating the songs from Japanese to English is that in Japanese, you can get a lot more of your message across in very few syllables. Once we put it into English, we either don’t have enough syllables or way too many syllables. For example, there’s one line in a song that’s “isshun ichibyou”, which means “one moment, one second”, but if you try to put that in English, you can’t make it work with the song. There’s a lot of interesting snags like that. Recently, we’ve been working on it all together as a group. Once we have something, we ask everyone, “How does this sound? Does this need to be changed?”
Yayoi: We recently did “Kira Kira☆Mermaid“ here in Japanese and we really enjoyed performing it. We found that the audience really enjoyed it as well. We’re definitely looking forward to doing it in English.
Emily: I want to see “Owaranai Uta” translated into English because I think it has a really good message and not all of our fans speak Japanese, so it’s really important to convey that message in English.
Ally: The message of SHUN’s songs is really important, so whenever we do a new song with Seishun Youth Academy, Sally and I always make sure beforehand to translate it into English so that the members who may not have a firm grasp on the Japanese language at least have a rough understanding of what the song means. That way everyone knows what they’re singing about. It’s really important to be able to not just go up on stage and be like “Oh, well it kind of sounds like a fun song” and not know the meaning. Taking the meaning to heart is important for Seishun Gakuen and Seishun Youth Academy.
Jessica: One song that I really want to see translated into English is “Dear my friend”. I really like the song because it’s very genki and I want to convey its message to the audience here too. I also want to see “No Make”, but I don’t know if we’ll be able to perform it here without SHUN-san.
Stella: I’d like to hear English versions of all of Seishun Gakuen’s songs. One of the songs that I really want to hear is “Kimi ga Kureta Omoi”. It is the very first song that we performed and it means a lot to us, so I can’t wait to sing it in English.
Ally: It’s really hard to choose which songs to do in English because they’re all really good and we want to be able to show their meanings and express them to everyone here.
Sally: As a final note, I would really like to do “Cat Meeting” in English. I want to have a bunch of little kids sing it along with us.
“What has it been like preparing for your upcoming one man? What has been everyone’s thoughts in these days leading up to the live?”
Jessica: We will be performing nineteen songs, so that’s quite a bit and means a lot of practice. We’re meeting each other almost every day starting at about eight in the morning and sometimes we’ll end at about midnight or one in the morning. It takes up a lot of time, but we all have fun together with each other and we really want to make it good for everyone. However, it’s definitely very busy. In the days leading up to the live, I’ve been thinking about the dances, lyrics, and everything that I have to memorize. I’m very nervous about it, but I think we’ll do very well together because we all put in a lot of effort, so no matter what, it’s gonna be good.
Yayoi: I’m the newest member of Seishun Youth Academy, so I had a bunch of new dances that I had to remember. It was a lot to deal with, but everyone helped me learn the dances. I’m really grateful to the other members for the help. We were practicing almost every day, morning to night, and sometimes we were stressed out, but every day, we reminded each other that the number one thing is to have fun. We all care for each other and we’re a good team.
Emily: In the past eight days, we’ve had four shows, which is crazy. We had a conversation with SHUN-san saying that right now is our crunch time, it’s now or never. We also started a broadcasting challenge where we’re trying to stream every day on three different social media platforms, YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Some people might say we’re insane, but this is how we’re going to make our miracle happen, with hard work. We’ve all talked about how we need to work hard to make our dreams come true.
Stella: We’ve been preparing for this live for about a month or so and everyone’s stressed out. Ally and Sally are having trouble translating the lyrics and organizing our schedule. The rest of us are trying to memorize the dances and lyrics. As for me, I try to stay strong.
Jessica: There are definitely a lot of emotions, stress, and complicated feelings.
Stella: I try to stay strong because I have everyone around me and SHUN-san’s here. SHUN is like our energizer, he brought the energy from Seishun Gakuen in Japan and it really means a lot to us.
Ally: It’s been a very trying month for all of us, but I think we’ve all grown a lot. Having our first solo live is definitely a really big opportunity and kind of brought us into a “Super Saiyan” mode, but it also comes along with a lot of pressure. It hasn’t been easy, but we all have each other. We keep on reminding ourselves that no matter what, let’s have fun. If we have fun, then the audience will have fun and if we mess up a bit, that doesn’t matter. We need to remember to keep things in perspective and that whatever it is, it is. Idols aren’t supposed to be perfect, we’re supposed to think, “Let’s do our best today and then tomorrow we’ll do even better”. “Let’s work hard today so that we’ll shine even brighter tomorrow” is Seishun Gakuen and Seishun Youth Academy’s “kakegoe”, the chant we yell before our performances, and it’s in “Kimi ga Kureta Omoi”‘s lyrics. We always keep it in mind.
Sally: One of the things Ally and myself have experienced is the difficulties of trying to arrange the live itself because it’s very different from Japan, especially here in Vancouver. We’ve been trying to expand the group more into the local music scene. The indies music scene here is almost non-existent and any venues that are smaller than 300 seats are not available. Some people have probably noticed, but the venue for the one man live is a large rehearsal studio with a stage. We’re very lucky to be able to use that, but that’s one of our upcoming difficulties as well, trying to find a venue between 30-300 people. Along with that, we’ve had to organize the technical issues, figure out mics and lighting, and learn how to do sales and everything as well. That’s all been difficult for us, because we didn’t have any experience with that back in Japan.
When we first decided to do the solo live, I know we were all really nervous because it was gonna be way over the thirty minutes we’ve done before. The live will be a total of an hour and a half straight of just music and singing and dancing, so I know for us six members, we’re very worried about staying strong and keeping our stamina up. At first, Jessica, you were really concerned about that, right?
Jessica: Yeah, because I run out of breath easily. I’m the first one to become short of breath.
Sally: Ally and I both have experience with a one man live. We had one at Kichijoji CLUB SEATA back before we left Tokyo. Even though it was a long live, we didn’t really worry about our stamina because we know that it just sort of goes by in such a flash that we don’t really have the time to think about it. We want the other members to be able to enjoy the upcoming live and not have to worry about stamina and what not. One other concern we had was that when we first told Yuu Tachibana, a Seishun Gakuen member who often helps us with checking our choreography and our moves for accuracy, that we were doing nineteen songs and which songs we had chosen, she was like, “…Good luck! Make sure you ask Jessica and the other members to help you guys a lot with your dancing” because we’re known for not being good dancers. We were a bit concerned, but SHUN-san was watching our practice the other day and said that we’ve grown a lot, so we’re really happy.
SHUN: Ally and Sally always said, “It’d be great if you could come to Canada!” and I always said, “It would be great if I could go!”, but when I bought the ticket, it suddenly became real and I realized, “Wow, I’m actually going to go to Canada”. At first, I was just going to go to Canada for recording, but since I was coming all the way from Japan, Seishun Youth Academy wanted to be able to perform with me. However, they were worried because it’s not easy to get events in Vancouver and they have to work really hard. They knew that they had Nikkei Matsuri and recently learned that they’d be able to perform at the Night Market, but they really wanted to be able to do something themselves, so that’s when they decided they wanted to be able to do a solo concert.
Ally and Sally asked for something impossible because they wanted to hear SHUN’s songs that don’t get done a lot in Japan, like EGOIST and No Make. The songs mean a lot to them and they thought this live was a very important time for them. It’s a huge step for Seishun Youth Academy and even though it’s not a huge venue and there won’t be a massive audience, I will do my best as if it’s Tokyo Dome or Budokan because it means a lot and it’s really important for everyone. Ally and Sally make the Seishun Youth Academy setlists themselves and always submit them to me and ask me for advice and approval. They did that for the setlist for this solo live and even though Ally and Sally hadn’t performed a lot of the songs in Japan, I gave them an “all OK”. This is because the president of No Make and I believe in Ally and Sally’s vision and that Seishun Youth Academy can rise to the challenge.
“Any final messages for your fans?”
Ally: Please support Seishun Youth Academy and Seishun Gakuen! Right now, we’re still working really hard to get our name out there, but we want to be able to perform all around the world and spread idol culture to many different places. Right now, we’re still just working small in Canada, but please let everyone around you know about Seishun Youth Academy, especially event organizers, because we would love to be able to go to your hometowns, meet you all there, and have fun.
Jessica: To all the fans who have already been with us for a while, thank you for supporting us and watching over us as we grow. We promise that we’re going to make it better for you guys in the future because we know that you put a lot of effort in supporting us. Let’s have lots of fun and have the best live performances together, someday, maybe in your hometown! For people who might join us in the future, we look forward to being able to have really fun interactions with you at our lives! Hopefully we’ll be able to meet you all soon!
Sally: We really hope you will continue to support us and continue to watch our activities. We guarantee that we always have lots of surprises in store. Maybe you’ll see some of them soon!
Emily: I feel like during this interview, we talked about how hard we’re working to make all of this possible, but it’s also impossible without our fans’ support. We really need their support to continue our activities and I want them to know that we appreciate everything they do for us. Thank you so much, guys!
SHUN: If you believe in yourself and are proud of the path you’ve walked, it’s like a mirror and that will reflect in us. Let’s walk this path together!
Thank you for taking the time to read the interview!
Interested in learning more about Seishun Youth Academy and Seishun Gakuen?
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Seishun Youth Academy’s next solo performance will take place at Pandora’s Box in Vancouver, British Columbia on November 10th! Tickets can be purchased here!
Hurry though, the tickets are limited!