photography by TAKASHI HOMMA
featuring KANA, MANA, YUNA, and YUUKI of CHAI
style by MEGUMI YOSHIDA
interview by JOHNNY LE
naoshima, a small art island in japan’s seto inland sea, surrounded by around 3,000 mostly uninhabited islands, is home to the prestigious benesse art site designed by tadao ando, with installations by major artists including james turrell, walter de maria, and richard long, as well as yayoi kusama’s iconic giant pumpkins.
the perfect setting for berluti’s arty new collection, worn by the tokyo post-punk girl band, chai.
JOHNNY LE — What inspired the name?
MANA — Russian chai tea. The way they drink it is really cute.
KANA — I studied Russian literature at school and discovered they put jam in their chai tea, which I found really sweet. It stuck with me, and so now we’re CHAI.
YUUKI — And you can drink chai in a lot of countries.
YUNA — We found it cute!
JOHNNY LE — How has life in Japan been for the band in the current context?
MANA — Since we can’t perform live shows, I’ve been singing at home a lot more.
KANA — There hasn’t been a drastic change. More people are working from home, but the economy is still moving, so personally I haven’t been affected that much.
YUUKI — I’ve felt the need to create more at home. I’ve been painting, knitting rugs, doing embroidery and a lot of music.
YUNA — Our usual routine of doing live shows came to a halt, so I’ve been spending more time at home. This period has reminded me that life can change in an instant. I see it as a positive thing, though, because I was able to look at myself and grow from this.
JOHNNY LE — What’s the best thing about Japan being an island?
MANA — The ocean is nearby, and the fish is delicious.
KANA — The food.
YUUKI — The uniqueness of the culture — it’s a good mix of East and West.
YUNA — Japanese cuisine, the hot springs, and the fact that we’re surrounded by oceans and mountains, the variety of nature.
JOHNNY LE — What else is special about Japan?
MANA — We have a deep history. Then there’s our jet-black hair, culture, yummy food, manga, anime, and video games.
KANA — Our jet-black hair, the food, and the culture.
YUNA — The historical structures such as temples, shrines, and castles.
JOHNNY LE — What’s the music scene like in Japan?
MANA — I don’t think it’s changed that much recently.
KANA — It doesn’t evolve much.
YUUKI — Not getting to hear more music from around the world is sometimes a bummer.
JOHNNY LE — Is there still an underground culture?
MANA — Yes, there are still loads of underground venues in Shimokitazawa and Koenji.
YUUKI — And they’re pretty cool.
YUNA — Tons of underground culture.
JOHNNY LE — What are your favorite neighborhoods, places to go, and stores?
MANA — Kinuta Park, Koenji, Nakano. I love thrift stores!
KANA — I love eating curry at the Kanda-Jinbocho train station. There’s a curry shop there called Curry Bondy that’s so good! I also love window shopping at the thrift stores in Shimokitazawa, going to the beach in Yokohama, and even going to Kamakura.
YUUKI — Tokyo has everything. The coffee at Cafe Luigi in Harajuku is amazing.
YUNA — Okutama and Yurakucho. In Okutama, you’re surrounded by this vast scenery, and the air is so crisp — it makes you feel amazing. One of my favorite conveyor-belt sushi spots is in Yurakucho.
JOHNNY LE — How did you meet, and how did the idea of forming a band come about?
MANA — We were friends to begin with. Minus Kana [her twin sister], of course! I gathered everyone together and said, “Let’s start a band!”
KANA — We were all friends, and all had similar taste in music, so we started the band.
YUUKI — I just happened to get invited to join. I’d never played the bass before, but after giving it a go, I realized I could do it.
YUNA — I met Mana and Kana at our school music club, and we’d play around doing jam sessions. After a few years, Mana reached out to me and told me she wanted to start a band. That’s when I first met Yuuki, and we formed CHAI!
JOHNNY LE — Which artists inspired you to play music?
MANA — There are tons. TLC, Mac Miller, Brockhampton, The Internet, Yaeji, and Tyler, The Creator, to name but a few.
KANA — Recently, Brockhampton, Mac Miller, Billie Eilish, Anna of the North, Yaeji, and Kanye!
YUUKI — I’ve been into Remi Wolf a lot lately, but as an artist, Devo, Gorillaz, Tom Tom Club, Marvin Gaye, and more.
YUNA — M.I.A., CSS, soooo many! Recently, I’ve been inspired by Atomic Drum Assembly and Red Hearse.
JOHNNY LE — If CHAI were an island, how would you picture it?
MANA — Tons of green, and an island of freedom! No time constraints, no stress, an island full of smiles!
KANA — Coexisting with nature and animals. With art pieces scattered everywhere.
YUUKI — An island of open-minded, free-spirited people. An artistic island full of ideas.
YUNA — Animals roaming free, with people doing as they please.
JOHNNY LE — On top of releasing music and mini segments, you’re teaching your fans how to cook. What do you like about cooking?
MANA — It makes me and my tummy happy.
KANA — The happiness it brings.
YUUKI — It makes me feel energized.
YUNA — It’s also relaxing.
JOHNNY LE — If you were to host your own traveling TV cooking show, which are the top five chefs you’d invite?
MANA — Chef Jay Fai!
KANA — Chef Hitoshi Sugiura! YouTube star Era-san.
YUUKI — I’d love to invite Chef Remi Hirano!
YUNA — Chef Shima Tassin and Kentetsu Koh.
JOHNNY LE — Tell us about the new album you’re working on with the American record label Sub Pop. What’s the sound going to be like?
MANA — It’s something new, cool, and cute! We want to act up, win, relax, love. A sound packed with these kinds of CHAI!
KANA — It’s a super new CHAI.
YUUKI — A super cool, fun sound.
JOHNNY LE — What is your message for young generations in Japan and for the world?
MANA — Self-love! To see yourself as cute. Your insecurities are your art, it’s the power that only you possess, it makes you a confident you — these kinds of messages.
KANA — Let’s live more freely! Let’s hold our individuality near and dear!
YUUKI — Music is art, and it’s endlessly free. You can control how you live.
YUNA — There’s no need to underestimate yourself.
JOHNNY LE — How do you want life to change for girls in Japan?
KANA — I hope girls in Japan can know they’re fine the way they are, and to not get wrapped up in a specific image.
YUUKI — For them to be free. And that goes for girls in every country.
YUNA — To do whatever they want, without caring about what people think.
JOHNNY LE — What do you think should change in the world?
MANA — I think if people appreciated things more, asked more questions, and listened to their emotions, the world would be a better place.
KANA — To accept a new set of values.
YUNA — If people stopped comparing themselves to the next person, they would be more willing to understand differences, to keep an open mind.
JOHNNY LE — As a post-punk band, do you believe in the future? Is there still “no future”?
KANA — I do! We are genre-less!
YUNA — The future is up to you and how you think, no matter the direction you take.
[Table of contents]
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