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J-pop starlet May J reveals her Persian heritage

26 Comments
By Robert Michael Poole

Dressed in a light floral ensemble at her record label’s office in the upscale Aoyama district, J-pop starlet May J has a look that can only be described as “free-spirit chic.” Yet she seems more concerned with a side of herself that fans can’t see.

“I have to go to Iran and find my other roots,” she declares. “I want to debut in Iran, if it’s possible. I hope I can be a positive image for Iranians.”

Having spent her whole life in Yokohama, the mixed-race singer has yet to visit her mother’s homeland. But May’s abundant curiosity about Persian culture is evident when discussing her latest album, "For You," and the stewardship of her music TV show "J-Melo."

“The image for the new album is of a garden,” the 21-year-old enthuses. “I like flowery dresses and bright colors, and my songs from this album are really positive—something you’d want to hear in spring.”

"For You" affirms May’s status as one of the leading young stars from urban-contemporary label Rhythm Zone. Promulgating the themes of love, sunshine and peace, the new record embraces a positive message to combat what May believes is a national mood of melancholy.

“A lot of artists around my age sing sad songs about crying together, but I want to make people happy,” she says. “That’s what makes me different.”

The songs on "For You" were inspired by May’s 2009 tour of Japan, a 10-week, 40-show marathon that helped her pick up on the national vibe. One thing her music has yet to reflect, however, is her own unusual life story.

May “Jamileh” Hashimoto was born to a Japanese father and Iranian mother who refused to acknowledge her Persian roots. “My mum didn’t let me speak Farsi,” she explains. “She didn’t want me to because there wasn’t a good image of Iranians in Japanese schools at that time. She didn’t even tell me I was Iranian, so I thought I was American. I didn’t even know what ‘Iranian’ meant until junior high, when I overheard my mum speaking a different language to my grandmother. She said, ‘Oh, that’s our language, we’ve been found out!’”

May only began listening to Persian music in middle school. “We didn’t really have that environment [at home],” she says. “But now we have the internet, so I search for [legendary female vocalist] Googoosh, [pop star] Afshin and other hot Persian artists.”

May’s own career began at a Sony audition at age 14, by which time she had switched allegiances from childhood idols like Christina Aguilera and Whitney Houston to Canadian rock singer Avril Lavigne. “I copied everything, her looks and music,” she recalls. “MTV had a lookalike contest and I won!”

Her tastes changed again—this time to R&B—while studying at The American School in Japan. “I started singing in English because I was so bad at singing in Japanese in high school” she confesses. “But since my debut, I started listening to more Japanese music like Ayaka. Her lyrics capture your heart, and Japanese music lovers care more about lyrics than music, so I put a lot of time into them.”

Besides her own work, May J introduces Japanese music to fans around the world via "J-Melo," a weekly show on NHK World that reaches more than 180 countries.

“I was just 19 [when I started], and I didn’t know about jazz or other genres, only R&B and pop,” she says. “We have all these amazing artists like [jazz fusion guitarist] Kazumi Watanabe that I got to meet and sing with, so I learned many things.”

The show also offers insights into what kinds of Japanese music are popular abroad. “I was surprised that viewers listen to enka!” she says. “I never listen to enka, even living here, but they understand even the deepest meaning… Requests have come from everywhere—Europe, the U.S., UAE, Peru and the UK—but the Philippines is number one.”

Next month, the singer will embark on her first solo tour, culminating in a show May 23 at Tokyo’s Shibuya-AX that she hints will include selections from the whole of her career so far. “It’s my very first tour, and I want to have big fun with my fans,” she says, “but it’s a bit of a secret!”

Might that secret involve including Persian songs in the set? Now that would be novel.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).

© Japan Today

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.


26 Comments
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Um, don't think the Iranians (at least those in power) will look too fondly on you becoming a role model there. But couple that attitude with very little knowledge about the world outside of Japan and it might just work.

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which one did you look-a-like pls...?

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debut in Iran? lol, good luck

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naive..lol!!!

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A lot of artists around my age sing sad songs about crying together, but I want to make people happy,” she says. “That’s what makes me different.”

So why the deadly serious stare in your promo photo?

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Iran is actually a relatively progressive culture, apart from the totalitarian theocrazy that has been there. I'm sure a hottie like her can sell records out there.

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There's always room for pop culture for the younger folk, wherever you are. They may have some strict rules about clothing on stage or in videos and the like, but she could have a meaningful presence, singing about flowers and colours and other things dear to girl's hearts. If nothing else, it could be an inspiration to young Iranians that they can make it on the world stage, or at least the Japanese stage.

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sigh - another j-pop...well let's see. She can sell underground music - but a concert? really? If she can pull that off - both the J & US gov and Hollywood will be hot on her heels as some kind of ambassador.

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They may have some strict rules about clothing on stage or in videos and the like

The head scarf has to be worn the moment you land in that country. When I was travelling, the ladies in the same flight were dressed really sexy (not practical for flight though). I happily went to sleep and when it was time to land, everyone had donned their head covering. I was going to get the scarf at the airport, but to my surprise, an airport officer came running towards me, and gave a piece of cloth and said 'Sorry but please cover" before you enter the airport building.

My boyfreind and I were in a cafe, and some young people inited us to join them for sheesha. That was quite a good experience for us. What really happened to the Persia we knew from history books?

As for this starlet, glad she is talking openly about her identity.Politics aside, it is awful when you have to hide your identity.

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" “I want to debut in Iran, if it’s possible. I hope I can be a positive image for Iranians.” "

LOL! Lets see how long she can prance around like this before the religious police takes notice.

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womanforwoman:

" What really happened to the Persia we knew from history books? "

Islam happened. Read up on the teachings of Khomeini.

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I knew she wasn't 100% Japanese when I see her on J-Melo.

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She didn’t want me to because there wasn’t a good image of Iranians in Japanese schools at that time.

What ethnicity apart from Japanese has a good image in Metropolitan/Ward schools? I wanna know.

It doesn't matter if you are a blue eyed blonde due from western Prussia, a fast talking street wise charmer from the US West Coast or from some tribe in deepest Africa, Japan only recognises two boats: Japan and gaijin. There's no point hiding your ethnic background unless you are a continental Asian.

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She didn’t even tell me I was Iranian, so I thought I was American. I didn’t even know what ‘Iranian’ meant until junior high,

Mary J does look Persian (face,chin, -quite a bit actually). Most people would not know a Persian if they saw one.

When you are Persian it is difficult to explain. Zoroaster or Achaemenid would be a typical start, but in fact most of what we are is Persian. And it always seemed to me the Persians historically been the most persecuted --> for some reason the globalists have always put a huge target on these people's backs???

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3i-jaRz090Q (Persian faces) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aukC8GBEsU (Persian Empire)

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"I copied everything", say no more, another no talent.

As shallow as a worms grave.

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she'll prolly have to cover up her face and all to be in public.

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stevecpfc: You probably haven't heard her sing.

She might not be Mariah Carey, but her voice is as smooth and as cool as Haagen-Dasz.

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I think Iranian's still have a bad image here and it's a shame because I know some amazing characters from Iran. Perhaps she should just stay in Japan to promote a positive image here for the new generation of international kids whether they are from America, Iran or any other country.

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I want to debut in Iran, if it’s possible. I hope I can be a positive image for Iranians

Well, pick up the burqa and do the twist!

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Well, the mullah-approved dress for females in Iran isn´t exactly an Afghan or Saudi style full-body tent, but it is close enough. She would be allowed to show her face, but not much else. Certainly no body shapes, that is way too provocative for the tender mullah sensitivities.

So good luck with her bringing J-pop to the islamic republic...

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Hey, I am half Persian, and I can tell you, in the States it was much worse than Japan. I could barely bring it up. It was almost like saying, "hi, I am a suicide bomber!" And that was in the 90s. I can only imagine what it is like now. Must be much, much worse. I was also in the service, and that was not big deal, but if I was in now, I would be a total suspect.

Having said that I am much more proud of my Persian half than my American half. It is nice to be able to opt out of the American identity and slip into the Persian. I mean, after all, who is the real pariah? I say good for her, and I hope she does go to Iran, learn Farsi and sing in Farsi.

I can relate to her roots thing. I lived there when I was a kid and for me it is a very important part of my identity. I would love to go back too.

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Because of the strict rules in Iran, all their artists, musicinas, writers, painters are so creative (more creative than artists in the west) in finding ways to break the rules without being caught and cesored. I respect these artists the most. They say what they want to say in the most interesting way that makes their audience think. Wish luck to this girl, though it is sad she does not speak her mother tongue, please start from learning the language and visiting Iran, then do the rest.

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No matter what her race, she is hot.

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I feel bad for the girl, to be honest. Her Mum not telling her what her ethnic background was until she was in Junior High School. Harsh.

To be expected when a 3rd worlder marries into Gormenghast though, eh...

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I live in The Netherlands for more than 26 years. I always taught my children about the Persian culture, language, etc... I never cared to think if the Dutch people would like it or not, because the Persian culture is extraordinary rich. Send my regards to your mother who didn't like her Persian heritage :)

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HI. First thanks to you for making us (Persians) brown. I am a Persian boy and I wasted my life in this country for 19 years. As a Persian I should be honest with you about people like you in my ....country. I will be surprised if you debut here and you do not lost your head . every one is looking for a way to escape of here I am wondering why you want debut here!!!!!!!!!!!!! just an advice. iran is a perison . do not make a mistake that will destroy your shining future.

best for the best . hope too see you

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