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Japanese singer-songwriter Junko Yagami reflects on recent hall of fame award

Junko Yagami, right, poses for a photo with the organization's representative, Janice DeLoatch, at the Women Songwriters Hall of Fame award ceremony. (Photo courtesy of the author)

Japanese singer-songwriter Junko Yagami, who recorded a series of pop hits following her debut at age 20, has been active in the United States for over 30 years. Below she reflects on an award she recently received from an American music organization.


    I was the first Japanese to be inducted into the "Women Songwriters Hall of Fame," which is selected by the music organization of the same name based in Washington, D.C.

    This group was founded in 2021 to support women musicians, and although this is only the second year that a woman has been voted into its hall of fame, I was inducted alongside such renowned artists as Roberta Flack last year and Gloria Estefan and Jody Watley this year. I'm so happy.

    But, like all of my readers, I thought, "Why me?" I wanted to ask the reason, but as I have a concert in Miyazaki Prefecture on Aug. 28, the day of the scheduled award ceremony, I would not have been able to attend. So, I contacted the organization's representative, Janice DeLoatch, and she said that if I could come to Washington, D.C., she could give me the award in advance.

    I immediately arranged a flight to Washington, D.C. When I arrived, Janice welcomed me with open arms. At the museum where the award ceremony was held, costumes, instruments, and memorabilia of the previous year's award winners were on display. I also donated two albums and a costume I wore at a concert in the U.S., made from a kimono.

    I received my certificate and glass trophy at my own private awards ceremony, and Janice and I moved to another room. I couldn't leave without finding out why the award was presented to me, so that I could continue to sing for the rest of my life. Janice told me that this year they had decided to choose one female songwriter from Asia, but I was not one of the three finalists. "What? Then why?" I was even more puzzled.

    Then Janice smiled a little and began the following surprising story: One of the selection committee members is Lasse Lehtonen, a professor at the University of Helsinki in Finland, who studies Japanese music. The professor saw your concert in Tokyo in 2018 and recommended you to me, saying that your unique voice, lyrics and songs make you an artist that transcends borders and generations.

    The selection committee members then listened to my music and watched a video of my recent concert. Janice explained to me that the professor was right and I was just like a "fireball" on stage, and everyone agreed to choose me.

    It was America that taught me to live my life with my own identity and the importance of diversity. Since my return (to the music scene) in 2011, I have decided to create and sing songs that only I can do, without chasing after trends. I have tried my best to bring the best of that day to the stage, regardless of whether there were many or few people in the audience. I never thought that would lead to an award. I was more than happy to know that my current song and stage performance were appreciated, not my old hit songs such as "Mizuiro no Ame" or the 80's "city pop" music that is now popular again in the U.S.

    I have always said that I would sing for the rest of my life. I have never intended to say this half-heartedly, but this award has made me feel even more confident that "I have no choice but to do so, and that I can do so."

    (Japanese original by Junko Yagami)


    Junko Yagami is a singer-songwriter who was born in the central Japan city of Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture. Yagami made her professional singing debut on her 20th birthday with a piece titled "Omoide wa Utsukushisugite" (The memories are too beautiful). She has numerous hit songs including "Mizuiro no Ame" (Sky blue rain). She moved to the United States in 1986, and resumed her stage career in Japan in 2011.

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