Travis Japan, A J-Pop Group, Reflects On Their ‘America’s Got Talent’ Experience And Plans Their Future From Los Angeles.


Travis Japan’s seven 20-something members made a lot of good memories during their recent appearance on America’s Got Talent. They value criticism the most, however.


“We were able to recognise our limits, and we hope to break through those barriers and progress to the next level in the future.” member Noel Kawashima tells Billboard via video chat from the band’s current home in Los Angeles, flanked on both sides by his partners.

The significance, however, extends further. Travis Japan’s appearance was a rare instance of a contemporary J-pop group appearing on US network television, possibly the first artist to do so since Babymetal appeared on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert in 2016. More importantly, it represents a shift in attitude toward the music market outside of Japan for one of the country’s largest entertainment companies, a behemoth at home but historically wary of venturing abroad.


Travis Japan is owned by Johnny & Associates, a talent agency founded in 1962 and named after American choreographer Travis Payne, who helped put the group together in 2012. Since then, they’ve formed some of the most popular pop groups in Japanese music history, including SMAP, Arashi, and Kinki Kids. Many people outside of Japan have long been interested in their groups, and their idol training system — which includes a developmental department called Johnny’s Jr., to which Travis Japan has belonged since their formation — has influenced how pop acts form and debut in South Korea.

Johnny’s, on the other hand, has long avoided the internet in favour of physical media and the ability to control how their acts are presented to the world, to the point where artwork for physical releases cannot be displayed on online retailers such as Amazon. Johnny’s — and J-pop — remained grounded as pop embraced the internet and expanded globally.


“As Johnny’s acts, we have this feeling that we are always supported and protected by a whole network, and the agency goes to great lengths to create this idol image where there’s never really a chance for an idol to show their bad side,” Kawashima says, adding that they have nothing but love for the judges. “We could break free from that bubble and put our skills to the test.”

The web has been embraced by Johnny’s and J-pop in general, with streaming increasing in the country and a wider range of artists making their music available internationally. While Johnny’s acts have yet to embrace subscription streaming, more have turned to YouTube, with young acts such as SixTONES and Snow Man demonstrating greater global ambitions.

Travis Japan has spent the majority of the year in Los Angeles. What do you enjoy most about the city?

KAWASHIMA: The city’s personality and the way it allows us to open ourselves and our minds. We don’t have to keep anything hidden. We can share our emotions with others, such as our friends or other students at the dance studio. Oh, and the weather! The weather is fantastic.

SHIZUYA YOSHIZAWA: I’m a big basketball fan, and I discovered a nearby court. When I have the opportunity, I like to go there and shoot hoops. I’ve also met a lot of people on the courts, which has been a great way for me to learn more about L.A.

What about difficulties in acclimating to Los Angeles?

MATSUKURA: I was taken aback by the way people introduced themselves to one another. It’s not like in Japan, where people stare each other down and hug. That took some getting used to.

MIYACHIKA: There isn’t much public transportation around here. Japan has far more than we do.

What were some of your memorable experiences prior to appearing on America’s Got Talent?

MATSUKURA: The World Of Dance competition piqued my interest. The Orange County leg took place the day after we arrived in the United States. We spent one day in the country before competing in this competition. It was also very special to be able to advance to the championships. We all contributed to the choreography, so it was a collaborative effort. We were able to showcase our individual talents while also working as a team.

KAWASHIMA: America’s Got Talent producer saw us perform at World Of Dance in Orange County. He then contacted us and asked, “Do you want to be on the show?” Of course, absolutely, and why not!?

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