Baltimore Sun: “Japanese stars brave U.S. market”

by J.D. Considine
July 30, 1998

Dreams Come True, one of the best-selling groups in Japan, has wanted to try its luck with listeners outside of Japan for years. But the band had a hard time getting its old label, Sony Japan, to consider marketing their music in America or Europe.

“Japan Sony is just Japan Sony,” says King Masa, the band’s bassist and arranger. “They are not interested in worldwide sales. They’re interested in sales in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but not in America.”

Nor could Masa and his bandmates sway the company. “We were asking them for a long time,” he says. “But we couldn’t see any progress.”

So last year, the trio finished its contract with Sony Japan and signed a new deal with Virgin. A worldwide deal. Earlier this week, “Sing or Die” — The band’s first English-language album — was released in the United States, and Dreams Come True embarked on its first American tour. (The band plays the 9:30 Club in Washington tonight.)

That Virgin would show such faith in Dreams Come True isn’t surprising, given the band’s track record. At home, the group’s sweet, soulful sound has sold some 25 million albums in its 10-year career. In 1996, the group kept two albums in the Top 10, while its fifth album, 1992’s “The Swinging Star,” remains one of Japan’s best-selling albums ever. Clearly, the band has commercial potential and would likely appeal to the same listeners who have made Gloria Estefan and Des’ree big sellers in America.

But the Dreamers say their interest in the United States has little to do with wanting to increase sales. “We don’t care [about] sales,” says Masa. “Of course, we are in the music business, where sales is very important. But also, we really want to show our music to the world.”

“Because we love our music,” adds singer Miwa. “And we believe [in] our music.”

Building an international audience from Japan is difficult, though. “In Japan, we can listen to any music from any country,” says Masa. “But in America, and in the Western countries, it’s very difficult to hear Japanese music.” So Masa and Miwa brushed up on their English and moved to New York earlier this year, the better to present Dreams Come True to America.

But the Dreams Come True that Americans will see is a little different from the one fans know in Japan. For one thing, the names have been changed, to protect Americans from too many syllables.

“Because you know, in America, [a] Japanese name is usually very long to remember,” says Masa. “Especially my name is very, too long to remember.” Consequently, Miwa Yoshida became Miwa, while Masato Nakamura was renamed King Masa.

There’s also a third member in Dreams Come True, keyboardist Takahiro Nishikawa. But he stayed behind in Japan, to maintain the band’s public profile there.

Besides simplifying their names, the band also had to translate its lyrics. Unfortunately, going from Japanese to English isn’t always the easiest transition. “We’ve tried to translate exactly the same meaning as the Japanese one,” says Masa. “But the system is very different. For example, if we will say ‘I,’ in Japanese [it’s] watashi.”

“Already three syllables,” says Miwa.

“But in English, just one,” says Masa. “We didn’t want to add extra lyrics to fill the space. So it was very trick, but Miwa did very, very well.”

Even an accurate translation, however, leads to minor changes in the music. “Dandelion Hill,” for example, boasts a chorus of “Fly away!” which neatly complements the soaring melody. But in Japanese, that chorus goes “Tonde’ke!” the sound of which plays off the song’s boom-chiki drum beat. Same meaning, but an entirely different feel.

Masa and Miwa know that making it in America is going to be full of challenges. “We’re feeling like starting over again, from the very, very beginning,” says Miwa. “We are nobody in America. So we just start again.

“This is actually very exciting,” she adds. “But a very, very big challenge.” She laughs. “We are talking to each other like, ‘We can make it, Masa!’ ‘We can make it, Miwa!'”

Well, dreams come true…