AX 2022: Interview with Travis Japan

Travis Japan became the first Johnny & Associates group to perform at Anime Expo 2022. After an explosive performance at Rising Japan Music Festival, they returned onstage to give the crowd another set at the event’s closing ceremony with all seven members. Chaka, Umi, Shime, Noel, Shizu, Genta, and Machu were excited to be the first to represent their company at North America’s largest anime convention.

Although the Johnny’s groups are popular in East Asia, they aren’t as widely known in North America. Travis Japan is part of Johnny’s Jr unit, a trainee program, which are made up of idols who have not officially debuted as a soloist or part of a unit. Other groups under Johnny & Associates include SixTONES, Snow Man, and Johnny’s WEST. Travis Japan is focused primarily on dance performances, but they also receive vocal lessons. Unlike other Japanese pop groups, they have moved abroad for a short period to study English and performing arts in Los Angeles.

During Anime Expo, APA sat with Travis Japan to talk about their adventures in LA, their favorite anime, as well as their upcoming projects.

APA: Could you please give a short introduction and share what you’ve been doing since we last saw you at Rising Music Japan?

Chaka: Hello, my name is Chaka and I’m the leader of our group. Nice to meet you. This is the first time I’ve been here. Anime Expo is a fantastic event, and it’s the pride of Japanese anime. There are many interesting things here.

Machu: I’m Machu, like Machu Picchu. Nice to meet you. We performed at Rising Music Japan, which was our first time at a festival. It was exciting and a great experience. We were very happy to be able to introduce ourselves to many people who might not know us.

Shime: My name is Ryuya Shimekake, but please call me Shime. Recently, I watched Stranger Things, and it was really scary but exciting. Also, I watched Attack on Titan on Netflix. My favorite character is Armin because seeing him gives me courage. Thank you so much.

Shizu: I’m Shizu, nice to meet you. I’ve been watching a lot of our own YouTube videos and I enjoyed them a lot. It kept me going, and I laughed a lot.

Genta: I’m Genta, nice to meet you. I can’t think of anything. But yesterday, I drank alcohol with Chaka and Machu.

APA: I hear American hard liquor is a bit stronger than Japanese liquor.

Genta: Yes, but I like it. Especially whiskey.

Umi: Hello, I’m Umi and I’m 25. Just today, I ordered Korean BBQ through Uber Eats. When the driver brought the boxed lunches, I saw him bring four boxes. I can’t really eat that much, so I’m really full right now. I did share with Machu, but he didn’t eat that much. I like Korean food, but I might need a break after that.

Noel: I’m Noel, which means Christmas in French. About one month ago, I bought a bike for transportation. For now, I don’t have to walk. When I went to a park, I saw a lot of people with a volleyball. But they didn’t play volleyball. They played tennis with a volleyball. Isn’t that strange? But maybe it’s a new sport and looked exciting. It’s a new experience for us.

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APA: Anime Expo is a very special event in Los Angeles. In Japan, there’s Akihabara where people can enjoy anime but Anime Expo is a one-year event. What has been your impression of anime in the US?

Umi: One thing that I was very struck by was the sheer amount of love that Americans have for anime. Coming here yesterday, I was fascinated by just being able to see everyone getting really into the spirit of anime. We heard a lot of Japanese songs playing in people’s cars as we passed by. Normally, we tend to hear American songs over the car radio but walking here and hearing Japanese music that we know resonated with us. One day, we hope to become big enough for our songs to be played in the same way one day.

APA: To follow up, is there an anime that you would like to sing or perform for? For example, Johnny’s West sang an ending song for the Phoenix Wright anime a couple years ago. Is there an anime you’d like to perform for now or in the future?

Noel: Shizu is a big fan of One Piece. As you said, Johnny’s West, and other seniors of ours have also participated in various anime titles. There’s a lot of precedence for Johnny’s to be able to be in there, and if we have the opportunity to do something like that, we would be honored to.

APA: Shizu, did you take a picture with the One Piece boat downstairs?

Shizu: Yeah, I saw that but not yet.

APA: What are some of your favorite anime series? What do you like to watch?

Noel: My Hero Academia.

Umi: Evangelion and Haikyu!!

Genta: (Pointing at Chaka) Doraemon!

Machu: Dragon Ball.

Genta: Spirited Away.

Shime: Beastars.

APA: What has been your favorite thing to do so far at Anime Expo? Has there been anything that has struck your interest?

Chaka: One thing that I was really struck by is all the people wearing cosplay. It’s not something you see every day and it’s out of the ordinary. Walking around and recognizing characters has a nostalgic appeal to us, especially as a Japanese person who grew up with anime. To see so many Americans enjoying it as well is a treat. It’s like going to a theme park and seeing Mickey Mouse.

APA: Tomorrow you’ll be performing at the closing ceremony, and Travis Japan will be the first Johnny’s group to be performing at Anime Expo. What are you preparing for the crowd to make that moment special since your seniors have not performed here before?

Machu: We want people to have fun and bring that spirit to show people what we are and what kind of entertainers we are.

APA: Will your songs be different from the setlist at Rising Music Japan?

Noel: Three songs will be the same, but the last one be different.

APA: Have you been here the entire time since Rising Japan or did you go back to Japan and come once again for Anime Expo?

Chaka: We’ve actually been here since March.

APA: So that’s why Noel bought a bike! What other activities have you done so far? We only know of Anime Expo and RMJ but we’re very curious to see what else you’ve all been working on.

Chaka: In addition to AX and RMJ, we’ve participated in various dance contests. In fact, the very next day after we arrived on March 27th, we participated in The World Dance Championship in Orange County, where we took third place. We’ll be participating in the finals at the end of July.

APA: Oh, congratulations!

Chaka: In May, we also participated in another dance competition in Las Vegas called Prelude Dance Competition. But, we unfortunately did not rank there. We had a wonderful time and had a great experience there. Overall, we were able to try new things that we wouldn’t have been able to do, or even considered doing, if we had stayed in Japan. During all these things, we took English classes and voice training classes, and dance classes in order to improve our skills with the overall ambition to just improve ourselves.

One of the biggest things we want to do is bring back these new skills to our fans. Especially our fans who have supported us since the early days, and who are waiting for us back in Japan. When we go back to Japan, we want to be able to take back our growth and bring a new and improved version of ourselves to our fans. We want to show off what exactly constitutes a Travis Japan performance and style of entertainment. In addition to succeeding at everything here, we want to develop and grow so that everyone who supported us would be proud of the fact that they supported Travis Japan.

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APA: I could see from RMJ festival that Travis Japan has a lot of loyal fans who came all the way to see you. I think they’re very proud of you. In terms of American culture, what have you learned about, in America, that you all have enjoyed so far?

Genta: I’ve always been touched by the greetings culture here. In America, there’s so many different styles. For example: shaking hands, hugging, and kissing someone on the cheek. That kind of kinship is something I’ve always seen on Netflix TV shows, but to see it in real life and played out between Americans is something that touches my heart.

APA: Since Travis Japan has performed at so many dance competitions, what has been interesting in terms of dance style? For example, in America, dance styles can range from hip-hop or street dancing. Has there been anything that you’ve been very impressed by?

Chaka: In terms of the difference between Japanese and American styles of dance, I don’t feel that there’s that much of a difference when it comes to the genres. One thing that impressed me is the level of interpretation of how they’re actually played out. Like the way that the kind of dance style was brought up and interpreted by different people. For example, a style that was born in the US but is now popular in Japan but comes off very differently from one culture to the other and vice versa, is street dancing.

Also, the physical attributes of dancing. When we do a particular style of dance versus when we see someone else who is much bigger or taller than us perform that same dance. Or the way the movement is then executed and the way it’s imposed on the person. To actually see and sample that in the classes that we take, where we’re with so many people from around the world, and being able to experience that firsthand and imbue that in our own practice has always been something very interesting to me.

APA: Johnny’s is very well known in Japan and Asia in general. But in terms of America, I think there’s still like a growing curiosity around Johnny’s.  What do you want American fans to know about Travis Japan?

Noel: I don’t feel the same amount of pressure that’s imposed by being kind of the first Johnny’s group to do this thing. Or even as a representative of what Johnny’s can or cannot be outside of Asia. Our group is able to have this experience because of the efforts that were born out of a 60-year-old company and being able to take all of that overseas. Not necessarily focusing on just a single culture, but we strive to bring that throughout the world and impart the fun of entertainment.

We’re studying music and dance, which is something that can be enjoyed by anyone. We’re able to share what makes us special, and we’re interested in being able to have that exchange of cultures. Part of it is also wanting to show the world what we are in terms of what Japanese culture is. A lot of people know anime, but there’s so much more than that to Japan like idol culture.

This is what we come from and represent. This shows us as individuals and humans coming from a unique country and being able to share the unique spirit of Japan to the world. It’s something that we’re very interested in. I wouldn’t want the pressure of needing to represent anything like that, but rather, just show that we’re trying our best to be able to make the most of this time that we’re here, and be part of that larger movement to share Japanese culture.

Click on the photo below to see all our photos from Travis Japan at Anime Expo 2022 on Facebook!

Kalai Chik

Pop culture writer focusing on animation, music, and games. Los Angeles native, USC alumni, and contributor for Asia Pacific Arts since 2015. Follow me on Twitter, @kalai_chik.

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