Redefining Cute with Japanese Punk Band CHAI

CHAI’s message of “neo-kawaii” aims to break open Japan’s culture of cute

By Amy Slocum

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April 14, 2019

Culture

Photographed by Daniel Dorsa for Yes Plz

“Particularly in Japan, pink is a color that is associated with adolescence. You can’t really wear it when you pass a certain age,” they explain with the help of a translator. “People look at you as if you are too old to wear that color, so we turn it around, in kind of a rebellious way, to show that wearing pink is not just a cute color for small kids, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you can wear it at any age. It’s not just a cute color, it’s a cool color. It shows strength. That’s how we compare it to punk.”

After successfully reissuing Pink in the US last Fall with the help of California garage rock label Burger Records and touring the US, the Tokyo quartet recently returned to America to play SXSW in Austin, Texas, and to promote Punk, their ferocious follow-up to the more dance-oriented Pink. We met the band in Bed Stuy two days before they head to the Lone Star State. Earlier that morning they had been shopping at Urban Jungle and L Train Vintage in Williamsburg. After our conversation they will be heading to Peaches HotHouse for chicken and waffles, a new favorite they discovered on their last visit to New York.

CHAI consists of identical twins Mana (keys/vocals) and Kana (guitar), their childhood friend Yuna (drums), and a college friend Yuuki (bass). Mana, Kana, and Yuna learned to play music at high school in their hometown of Nagoya, and in college they recruited Yuuki, who had no prior experience playing bass or being in a band. Within a year she had learned the instrument and is now the band’s main lyricist.

“Yuuki is the most artistic one in the group,” says Mana. “Even though we can write, she is better at making it not feel realistic. She can write metaphorically and that’s why we like Yuuki doing it. Yuuki has the power to make it art and not just sound like words.”

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