CharaIn a July 1997 article, the New York Times hailed Japan as the next big thing in the world of pop music, suggesting that its music scene, like England of the early ' was ripe for the taking. Domestically, the waning popularity of imported music compared to the consistent rise of Japanese pop would seem to reinforce this notion. It comes as no surprise that Chara is often mentioned in the same breath as Japan's imminent new wave.

Working under the influence of funk mingled with traces of modern rock, Chara pens tunes that are catchy without being veneered. Granted, she is not working from genius or sometimes even originality, but there is a quality of naked sincerity so appealing in her writing that it makes up for any other deficits. The freshness of her sound gives the impression that she is not seeking to be the newest trend, but simply creates because that is what she knows how to do.

More than a few have characterized her voice as having child-like qualities. This is a precarious distinction as it immediately places her into the cult of kawaii with all of its post-pubescent J-pop idols who are trying so affectedly to stay lodged in childhood. Chara is in a different camp because there is rarely an indication that she is trying to be anything other than, well, Chara. Her singing shifts from pouty whispers to exhilarated shrieks that often capitulate with her voice characteristically cracking.

It may just be this serendipitous fact that led her to be discovered in the first place. Though she had been banging away at the piano since she was old enough to stand, when it came time to get the music out of her head and into the world, she was faced with the problem: Who would sing what she was writing? She didn't want to do it. However, unable to find a vocalist whose voice suited the melodies of her tunes, Chara resigned herself to singing them herself, an act which has in all likelihood made her the name she is today. She released her first album, Heaven, in 1991. Since then, the undercurrent of her writing has matured, but changed little.

Her English crossover album, Montage with Yen Town Band in 1996 is probably her best work, not because she proves that language is really no barrier for her writing and singing solid tunes, but because she adds a new dimension to her style, vacillating easily between more somber numbers and in-your-face rockers. The highlight is her masterful reinterpretation of "My Way," in which she makes you think that "my way" may not be the best way after all. Despite the artistic success of the album, nothing was done with it overseas, which was an opportunity missed for both listeners and Sony/Epic.

Her most recent album Junior Sweet was a further musical step forward with songwriting that was powerful in its simplicity and rawness. Two of its tracks were written for her husband, Tadanobu Asano, and according to Chara are about the joy that the depth of understanding and love can bring.

Since getting married and giving birth to a baby girl, Chara's world of music has come to blend with that of her family, something her fans have embraced. When she opened her show last March with three-year-old Sumide in her arms, the crowd erupted in squeals of delight. Chara has said that making music along with having her own family has long been one of her dreams, and this is the tone of Junior Sweet. Never mind that this is unusual for a celebrity, especially a rock musician. Chara definitely does things her way.

David Schneer

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

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