Sakura-Con 2018: OKAMOTO's Interview

OKAMOTO's are Sho (Vocals), Kouki (Guitar), Hama (Bass), and Reiji (Drums). Sho answered the majority of the questions, half of them in English as well. The other band members often piped in as well, starting off with a further explanation of the band's name.


A (Sho): Okamoto is a Japanese last name and is supposed to be like, The Ramones. We’re inspired by them. The last name Okamoto, itself, came from a Japanese Avant-Garde Artist named Taro Okamoto who’s really famous in Japan as well as outside of Japan. We wanted to play around the world which is why we chose to name ourselves OKAMOTOs, like The Ramones.

Q: Would you say it has a special meaning for each of you?

A (Sho): It does, but we named ourselves when we were 14 or something so its not really super serious, but its more like 14 year old kids think that's cool so, but we kept the name.

Q: You've performed in a lot of countries already, but to perform at a festival like SXSW, what was that like?

A (Sho): That was when we were 19 years old, huge festival, how many... how huge was it..... anyway, we played a good gig and did a good job that night for a festival and an entire city we didn’t really understand. Somebody told us what's going on in words but we couldn't really feel it, so we hope to go back and enjoy it next time around.

(Kouki): 150,000 people were there.

Everyone: Wow!

A (Sho): Also, well, we walked around, ate pizza, saw some other groups play as well.

Q: As a multi-member group, creative differences can arise, how do you handle that?

A: Fighting! (Laughs). We don't really have a leader in our band so... (talking amongst themselves) um... discussion... yeah discussion.

Q: Has there been a time where you haven't been able to work it out and how were you able to overcome that?

A: (Kouki) Usually what we do is we try something out, and then we go from there. (Hama) Usually the person who wrote the song gets to decide about the song, the direction of the song.


Q: When you're doing a song for an anime series, how does that process work? Do they go to you, do you go to them, how much collaboration is there, how much freedom do you have with the song?

A: So in general we are contacted by the people who want to use the song from us, so when we do a song for an anime we kind of do research for it, from the manga and from the anime that its being written for and try to come up with lyrics that handle parts of the story, and then sometimes they ask to use a song of ours that already exists so in that case we provide it, but in general whether we're making a new song or providing one we try to leave our kind of color in the song, in the music as well.

Q: Does fashion play a role in your daily lives and so do you have any favorite styles or designers?

A: (Reiji) I wear a lot of different styles, I like to try out a lot of different styles. I pick what I'm going to wear based on what it is I'm doing that day, that kind of makes me feel better as well. Hama is different though, he has his own style no matter what he's doing that day. (Laughs).

A: (Sho) So, I don't have a set style but I really like the 1960's musician style, so I look through photos of them. When I was in college I would search for our stage costumes at used clothes stores and what not so for me I don't take inspiration from fashion magazines but from an era like the 60's or if I see a movie or something along those lines.

A: (Kouki) I don't have a specific style, I'm not a stickler for it but I do like Brit-Rock style they wear.

Q: Do you have any favorite brands or designers?

A: (Hama) I like the seditionary style, early Vivienne Westwood. I have a book, photo album of those clothes and every time I look at it I'm like “ahh, so cool”.

A: (Other band members) Hmm, can't think of any..... pass (laughs.)


Q: Other than The Ramones, who are your musical influences?

A: (Sho) The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Stooges, MC5, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, in that vein. (Hama) Those are like the representative bands for us but we each have our own musical influences and if we were to list them all we'd be here forever. (Sho) But I think we like the bands where, every member is a character, and we wish to be like that, a band where you have to know every member's name.

Q: What advice would you have for aspiring musicians?

A: (Reiji) They should try to listen to as much music as possible. In my case I became a musician just because I was listening to a bunch of different music. (Sho) So all four of us are kind of “music otaku”.

Q: When you're in the studio working on a song or an album, what is the process between the four of you?

A: (Sho) Myself or the guitarist, Kohki will write the song, then make a short demo of it and bring it to the rest of the band. As a whole, we’ll play the demo together and that’s the usual starting point. We just try a lot of arrangements, and then we record it. If it's going really well we don't have to try that much, it flows, it comes out fast, but if it doesn't it takes time. Basically we always have songs that we want to try so if it's not working, then we try to change the song, then it works.

Q: What do you wish could be improved in the music industry?

A: (Hama): I'd like the current situation... of people liking music in the music industry to stop getting fired... (Kouki) So currently in the industry more importance is placed on people who know how to market or sell things, they are preferred over people who just seriously love music, that's what we're saying. In the future we hope that there are a lot of music otaku in the future because right now the people that just want to play music are thought of as kind of a pain by the other people.

Q: What differences have you noticed between the music industry in Japan vs. in America, or just outside Japan in general?

A: (Kouki) In America, Hip Hop is mainstream where as in Japan, it hasn’t really expanded to the extent that it has in America. So in Japan, people who like Hip-Hop are like real nerds. (Hama) So in general Rap isn't really seen as an art form, its more of like a skill, like something people “can do.” (Sho) Another difference is that in America, they tend to view music as an art form and people who do music are finding this artistic way of expressing themselves and the amount of risk they take to become a musician and live that lifestyle, that's seen as a positive thing and they're praised for being successful. But in Japan its not seen as an art form so much, only a minority of people think that. It's a really hard thing to explain.

Q: So it was really a hard thing to feel successful in that way?

A: (Sho) Yeah, well I won’t say we wouldn’t be successful if we were US-based, but in Japan people who listen to music…are real freaks who really understand music…it gets harder to explain but…


Q: What would you consider your most memorable show at this point?

A: (Sho) When we were performing in Australia I broke my leg. And that was like the 2nd song of the show and we had like 6 or 7 songs still to play so, my band members didn't realize I had broken bones so I guess I was pretty professional....

Q: So you continued the show? (Kouki) How did it break?

A: (Sho) Yeah of course, its not like I jumped down from really high or something I was on like a platform and then I slipped and then it was broken so.

A: (Reiji) My most memorable moment was at Fuji Rock Festival, when we played there for the first time. Kohki, the guitarist, missed the cue for one of the songs so we ended up not playing it and ended our set five minutes earlier… (Kouki) That's also my favorite memory. (Hama) When we played in Chicago, Sho whistled or hummed the tune to “Chicago Blues” and the audience reacted real strongly so I'm like “wow, this is the place where that's from”, so... (Kouki) Anime Boston was another one, when we went last year, we were wondering how it was gonna be like at an anime festival but when we actually played the audience had a super good reaction and everyone was into it so that was a really good memory.

Q: What's next for the OKAMOTO's?

A: (Reiji) Because it's our 10th anniversary next year I want to do my best. (Hama) Instead of single live events I want to do a proper tour, especially since it's the 10th anniversary as well.

Q: Have you noticed differences in the crowds as well, especially between Japanese and American crowds?

A: (Kouki) In general in America the fan's response is very direct, if they're not enjoying it you can tell, if they are enjoying it they'll be having a lot of fun, so there's not so much of a “everyone else is having a good time and being rowdy so now I have to” kinda thing going on, or “I have to do the same thing as the person next to me”, which kinda goes on in Japan. So in that sense you're kinda tested more when you're playing in the States because the people respond to how well you're doing, so its very interesting in that sense.

Q: Last question, what's your favorite anime or manga series?

A: (Sho) I have a lot that I like... Furi Kuri (FLCL)... I forgot how popular that was in America, I just bought a book of it downstairs (In the vendor's room).

Q: Are you excited for the new season coming out?

A: (Sho) What? I didn't know that? Really? When?

Q: In the summer I believe...

A: (Sho) I'll have to look that up later...

A: (Reiji) It's not an anime or manga but I like Mortal Kombat. I was looking around the vendor's hall looking for Mortal Kombat stuff because in Japan it's not widely known so I'm always buying stuff off ebay but since Sakura-Con is more about Japanese stuff than American stuff I guess they didn't have any.

A: (Kouki) One that I found particularly impressive was Neo Yokio on Netflix, the one the vocalist of Vampire Weekend is producing. It's kinda weird everything in it is kinda crazy, I was kinda shocked by how new it was.

A: (Hama) The Simpsons. (Reiji) Tom and Jerry. (Sho) Ahh a classic.

At this point each of the band members started listing of a number of different titles of anything animated.

A: Disney movies are pretty good. Coco was good. Also Ghost in the Shell.... Paprika was really good as well, Satoshi Kon is really good. We could go on all night we could keep listing them. (Laughs)

Q: Thank you very much for your time.

A: Thank you!


The Okamoto's concert took place the following evening with the crowd anticipating a good show. The crowd really got into the swing of things at around the midway point Headhunt from Durarara was played which was then followed up by Beautiful Days from Gintama. The crowd got progressively louder and rowdier as the night went on, asking for an encore from the band, which they eventually got with en encore performance of Headhunt. Overall The Okamoto's put on a good show but surprisingly didn't play any of the songs they did from the Naruto/Naruto Shippuden.


OKAMOTO's Sakura-Con 18' Live Setlist

3. Burning Love
4. Border Line
7. Beautiful Days