I’ve been an anime fan since I was nine years old (give or take). I’m nearing forty now, so obsessing over a new anime series is an ordinary occurrence.
One of my latest obsessions is ‘My Happy Marriage’ -the first season is already complete and streaming on Netflix. The ending song ‘Vita Philosophica’ -a power ballad that will move you with its sweeping melody and impressive vocal performance, slowly grew on me.
When I found out that the singer of ‘Vita Philosophica’ – Ito Kashitaro was going to perform in Manila I immediately began researching about the artist and listening to his other songs.
You can say that I fell into the proverbial rabbit-err-in this case fox hole.
Meet Ito Kashitaro!
Known for his use of a kitsune or fox mask that hides his features during public appearances and performances, his fans and followers have also adopted the fox mask, wearing them during his concerts and shows. It is not uncommon for Japanese singers to hide their features from the public. Much like how Sia hides her face under big wigs and bows. This is so that these artists can still live a private life away from the glare of the public.
Ito Kashitaro is not even his real name, but the name of his favorite shinsengumi samurai; so, don’t be confused if you look him up and get links to the Edo period, started as an utaite. An utaite is a Japanese term for people who upload covers of songs on YouTube or more specifically on Nico Nico Douga.
Kashitaro gained popularity with his covers, and eventually crossed over to become an anisong artist (anime song artist).I didn’t realize it then but he also sang the ending theme to Mushikaburi Hime (Bibliophile Princess) – ‘Kawabyoushi’. I already knew two songs from him before going into my deep dive.
Bridging the Gap
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of ASEAN- Japan Friendship and Cooperation, Ito Kashitaro went on an ASEAN tour, with two stops, the Philippines and Vietnam. The shows were presented by the Japan Foundation and tickets were free! In the Philippines where anime is popular it was no surprise that tickets were immediately sold out!
Slated for Friday, the 27th of October in Brooklyn Warehouse in the heart of Manila, Ito Kashitaro was expected to perform to an audience of around six hundred fans.
Beneath the Kitsune Mask
Through a series of fortunate events I found myself in an intimate press conference with the man of the hour-unmasked! Gasp! And I got to know him a little better.
During my research, I read that YuYu Hakusho (Ghost Fighter) is one of Ito Kashitaro’s favorite manga, and I asked him which of the four lead characters does he relate with the most.
Through a translator, he answered that he likes plants and animals, so his answer would be Kurama. Kuruma is a demon fox in the manga. The anime series known locally as Ghost Fighter is popular among Filipinos. As the otaku and geek that I am, I then had a follow up question:
“Is that why your mask is a kitsune (fox)? Because you love animals?
Kashitaro laughs “You would think that.” He answered through the translator. “But I actually just searched for masks in online shops and that was the first thing that came out.” Who would have thought that through such a mundane and common task Kashitaro would forever be associated with the enigmatic kitsune mask?
In December, another Japanese artist- ‘yama’, will be performing in Manila. As more and more Japanese artists are performing in the Philippines outside of anime conventions. I asked Ito Kashitaro how it feels to be added to the lineup of artists to have performed here in the Philippines?
Through the translator he answered: “I’m very very happy to be part of the group of artists to have performed here in the Philippines, at the same time, I’m so surprised that anime is accepted this much worldwide. Especially when I go around other countries, including the Philippines. How (anime) it is being loved. It inspires me more (as a performer) with these anime songs which I sing as well. Being able to perform in the Philippines is an honor.”
Among the media present Ito Kashitaro was asked what was his message to his Filipino fans – to which he answered:
“I sing in different countries. And I always realize that music can actually just overcome the language barrier-we don’t have that anymore because of music. Even for today with regard to this live music that I will be singing, I wish that we (with the Philippine audience) can cross that border, we can cross that language barrier, and we can enjoy the music together, and we can also be touched by the music. And it can be a way for the Philippines and Japan to be together as one.”
And indeed, this would be a recurring message throughout the concert which followed shortly after the press conference.
None other than former UDD front woman Armi Millare opened the show. Millare has a new single out entitled ‘Roots’ and teased more new music coming soon.
Finally, for the main event, an audience of about 600 fans cheered and greeted Ito Kashitaro as he ran up the stage, opening the show with a cover of Demon Slayer’s ‘Gurenge’, which is a popular anime song from a popular anime series. So just imagine the whole crowd pumping their fists, some with glow sticks and singing along- yes, in Japanese.
Dressed in a loose white polo shirt over a pair of black pants and wearing his signature kitsune mask, Ito Kashitaro addressed the audience in english reading from a clipboard with a sticker of the Philippine flag in the back.
Out of breath from his energetic performance he addressed the crowd: “It’s so nice to meet you today through the power of music, which is something I believe in. The power of anime and music has formed a connection between me, a Japanese artist and all of you here today. Making us a happy family.”
Like a proper concert there were also a couple of surprises for the audiences, first up was Kashitaro singing an SB19 song! Yes! He brought out a folded piece of paper-his cheat sheet. “I learned there’s a song that’s really cherished in the Philippines and I’ve been practicing it.” Kashitaro said. Before singing SB19’s ‘MAPA’ which surely endeared him to his Filipino fans, who helped him along the way in singing the song.
And that was not the only surprise, Kashitaro invited Armi Millare back on stage to sing a duet with her! The two artists beautifully sang (with harmonies) Kawabyoushi only accompanied by a guitar. After the performance and amidst applause and cheers from the crowd, Kashitaro frantically and breathlessly tells Armi: “Thank you, for sing my song.” To which, Armi was all smiles and bowed her head gracefully, before exiting the stage to more cheers from the crowd.
600 Friends and Magic
The crowd could not get enough of Kashitaro who even asked for an encore after his long song-to which the lanky kitsune-wearing singer obliged. Upon his return to the stage, Kashitaro made sure to take a photo with the crowd.
In a prepared anecdote he shared the story of a samurai who was banished from Japan because of his Christian beliefs, that Samurai went to live in Manila. “If I will be exiled from Japan” -Kashitaro continued to tell the story, reading it from his clipboard in english, “I will go to Manila because now I have 600 friends.”
Stories of religious persecution aside, Kashitaro will certainly be always welcome in Manila, just make sure to prepare sisig and Jollibee for him, on his next visit.
“When my music crosses barriers, it’s like magic!” Kashitaro tells the audience who cheered for him, pumped their fists in the air, and sang to his music, despite it being a different language from theirs. And a nine year old version of myself can certainly agree, there is indeed some unexplained power that must be at work when a crowd can enjoy a song despite not understanding its words. And hey, maybe there’s a bit of magic in there too.