Akiko Yano Discusses How the Music Industry, and Its Treatment of Women, Have Changed During Her 40 Years in the Industry

On Mother’s Day, New York City held its 10th annual Japan Day. Akiko Yano, who is currently celebrating her 40th anniversary, headlined the festival. I sat down with her for The Japan Times after her performance to discuss several topics, including her career, the music industry, and its treatment of women. I’ve really wanted to interview a female artist for a while, and who better than one who has been in the industry for 40 years?

Yano first started touring the world, as a support member for Yellow Magic Orchestra, the band of her future husband Ryuichi Sakamoto. This era was a boom time for the Japanese economy and Yano thinks that the economy and the music industry are linked. “The music industry goes along with the economy,” she says. “Once the bubble popped, the music industry followed. People are not really interested in Japan now, but in China and other rising economies. However, there are still many venues to connect to Japanese culture.”

Japan Day is one such venue, but another are anime conventions. Yano isn’t really a fan of them because they tend to promote an image of Japan that isn’t representative of the many artists that are currently working there. “The anime and cartoonish things are mainstream now, I’m not really pleased about that. There are so many more serious, different things.” During this part, I brought up acts that are frequently promoted overseas, such as BABYMETAL and Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who fall into the narrative she spoke of. I then mentioned “more serious and different” acts who aren’t promoted as much overseas, such as Shiina Ringo and Sakanaction, and she agreed.

But promotion of Japanese music isn’t just a problem overseas, but in Japan as well. “There’s really good quality music, but people (in Japan) don’t have access to it,” she says. When I bring up the repetitiveness of the acts featured on music shows such as “Music Station,” saying that they should feature more innovative acts, Yano agrees.

We then talked discussed the status of women in the industry since her debut. Japan isn’t known for its gender equality, so I really wanted to get her perspective on things. She says things have greatly improved, and she’s glad that her talent is no longer questioned like it was in her early days, simply because she’s a woman. Yano was also a working mother for many years. “When I started in 1976, there weren’t many artists who were mothers. I knew just a couple. But now, there are many, and they’re increasing,” she says. “I was a single mother for a while and I had to take care of two kids (son Fuuta Yano and daughter Miu Sakamoto). I had to have babysitters, use a baby hotel, and rely on my staff. For four to five years, I felt like a squirrel in a cage, but I got through it.”

On her album last year, “Welcome to Jupiter”, she worked with many newer acts, such as Seiho and tofubeats. When I asked why, she exclaimed, “Because the older people died!”, followed by a hearty laugh. She then added, “I love to work with new people, and they tend to be younger than me. That’s it.”

My full interview with Akiko Yano can be read here.

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