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Thursday, Sep. 8, 2011

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Seifuku Kojo Iinkai

Seifuku Kojo Iinkai ditch the idol prattle for an antinuke message


By DAISUKE KIKUCHI
Staff writer

It's the kind of protest song you'd expect from hardened punks or political rappers — not seven high school girls in synchronized dance.

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The peace!: Leader of the all-girl group Seifuku Kojo Iinkai sings at an anti-nuclear power demonstration earlier this year. TAKUMI SUIDU

Seifuku Kojo Iinkai (SKi), which translates to "Uniform Improvement Committee" in English, have caused a bit of a stir on YouTube with its song "Da! Da! Datsugenpatsu" ("Free From Nuclear Power Plant"). On first listen, it's the usual synthesizer-based, straight-to-karaoke pop song you'd expect from any number of Japan's idol groups. Listen to the lyrics, though, and the song tells a different story: "Politicians do not work in (a case like) this, always hanging on to their honor and wealth."

It's a strong message to try and get across to the youth of Japan, but one that isn't unfamiliar in music overseas.

"It is typical for foreign music to have strong messages and expression," says group producer Hiroyuki Takahashi. "SKi sings about issues that matter — or should matter — to teenagers."

Indeed, a look at SKi's repertoire includes songs aimed at teens: "Terebi ni Sayonara" ("Say Goodbye to TV") is about the death of analog television. But a closer look reveals some heavy material as well.

"Some themes for SKi songs include the environment, war and suicide," Takahashi says. "These issues may not easily be accepted (by society), but it is important to express them."

Heavily political songs, however, are not something mainstream J-pop tends to express. While antinuclear demonstrations in Tokyo this summer featured MCs such as Rankin Taxi and Rumi, many major-label acts have refrained from comment. One actor, Taro Yamamoto, parted ways with his management company in a cloud of controversy after a string of antinuclear tweets, which may have scared other celebrities from making similar statements.

Takahashi claims he has been prevented from posting SKi promotional materials at several record stores and in train stations. A tweet from group member Mika Hashimoto's official Twitter account in July also claimed the young women were kicked off the lineup at this year's Fuji Rock Festival, though it's still unclear what actually happened. Fuji Rock founder Masahiro Hidaka had his own harsh words for politicians and the nuclear industry in a July 14 article in The Japan Times.

Regardless of the controversy, Takahashi hopes SKi can be an inspiration to teens wanting to volunteer. The group formed in 1992 (the members rotate, as is the practice in other idol groups) and had promoted civic responsibility even before the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11. Takahashi even took the members to New York where they helped clean up the city's Central Park.

"Through volunteering and attending social activities, the girls could have more confidence," Takahashi says. "They could really understand that even small, weak girls like them have the ability to make a difference."

With the Japanese and English versions of "Da! Da! Datsugenpatsu" chalking up near 140,000 views on YouTube — SKi may finally be making that difference.

Seifuku Kojo Iinkai have a CD available for purchase at their website. For details, visit www.idol-japan-records.net/ski.



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