Gaijins of Japan: Foreigner's Japanese Album Hits Number 4 on the Oricon Chart in Japan
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
Written by: Abbey Kruska
Publish Date: December 13th, 2019
From the 3-time winner of Japanese singing competition Nodo Jiman: The World at 18 years old, to writing, producing, and distributing his own music In Japan with big names such as Warner Music, Pony Canyon, and now Universal Music Japan, small-town American Nicholas Edwards has made big waves in the Japanese entertainment industry.
Table of Contents
1. Becoming an Artist: becoming a musician in Japan
2. Not All Roses: struggles in the industry
3. What Comes Next?: plans moving forward
4. Word of Advice: the keys to success in Japan
The day after Nicholas Edwards, officially known as Nyk, graduated high school, he boarded a flight to Japan and never looked back.
Growing up in rural Oregon, USA, Nyk always longed for something different. He chose Japanese simply because it “was the only option that wasn’t a European language,” and he “just wanted to do something different.” He had always thought the language sounded and looked pretty, but his teachers, who knew him as a slacking and rebellious student, discouraged him.
“They didn’t believe it. My teacher told me I couldn’t possibly learn Japanese. I thought, ‘well I’ll show them’.”
When Nyk had been studying Japanese for no more than a few months, he befriended an exchange student from Shizuoka (who he is still friends with today) who showed him Japanese music. Nyk started singing in Japanese as a means of studying, but found himself falling in love with the music and the sound of the language. At 17 years old, the day after his high school graduation, Nyk hopped on a plane to Japan.
“I’m very dramatic! It’s why I’m in this line of work.”
-Nyk on his decision to come to Japan
Becoming an Artist
While in Japan, Nyk began posting covers of Japanese songs on Youtube. After a while, he was contacted by a producer asking him to appear on a new television program soon to be released.
“It seemed sketchy. It was just a message on youtube from someone claiming to be a producer for Nihon Terebi and asking if I wanted to be on this new show “Nodo Jiman: The World”. I thought it was spam and ignored it, but I kept getting more messages.”
He eventually responded and met with the producer at karaoke outside Nerima Station.
Nodo Jiman: The World is a program that showcases the singing talents of foreigners who love Japanese music. The special program airs two to three times a year, and has recently finished its 18th season. Nyk was the second winner in the show’s history, and reappeared to be the only competitor to win the competition 3 more times, and perform as a special guest. After his first win in October of 2011, Nyk was immediately signed to a label and starred in a Nihon Terebi film called Hinomaru Dream, a story in which he played a foreigner pursuing a music career in Japan, but was marketed as a girl due to his pretty face. Now 27, Nyk laughs recalling the memories, “At the time, I was probably 60 kilograms soaking wet and like 184 cm tall so I mean I looked like a 15 year old [female] Russian model.”
Following his television success, Nyk signed with Warner Music Japan, releasing his official debut album on his 21st birthday.
After switching labels twice more and producing several indie albums, Nyk settled with his new record label Universal Music. His most recent album was released just 5 days before our interview. The album’s title track, “Tears” is being used as the ending theme of a morning news program, and is the first of Nyk’s songs to reach the top 5 on the Oricon charts on the day of release.
Nyk also participates in events that promote Japan worldwide, including his home country, USA. He has participated in Japan Day in New York City, and visits the states once or twice every year.
“It’s always been about the journey for me. If I could be a part of making someone else’s life as colorful as I feel like learning Japanese and coming to Japan has made mine, that’s all I could hope for.”
Nyk’s new album Tears was released this month and reached number 4 on the Oricon Chart
Not All Roses
“People in this industry are either just really good people, or really good liars!’
Being a 184cm tall, blue-eyed American in Japan is hard enough. On top of that, becoming a professional recording artist came with its own unique set of challenges. Nyk told us a bit about his personal struggle with trying to fit in in the Japanese entertainment industry, and finding that the best thing you can be is yourself.
“For Americans, it’s really important that everything is real and you’re not “fake”, whereas Japanese people don’t think like that. Being in the industry, you’ll have to hold your tongue sometimes, and accept that sometimes it’s not always beneficial to let everything out.
"It’s not about your education or your credentials, it’s about how many people enjoy being around you and seeing you and hearing about you.”
Nyk expresses the way Japanese people view people in the entertainment industry in Japan versus in Western countries, how it affected his own image of himself, and how it taught him to appreciate the differences.
“For Americans, it’s really important that everything is real and you’re not “fake”, whereas Japanese people don’t think like that. Being in the industry, you’ll have to hold your tongue sometimes, and accept that sometimes it’s not always beneficial to let everything out. It’s not about your education or your credentials, it’s about how many people enjoy being around you and seeing you and hearing about you.”
As for cultural and language barriers, Nyk tells us people are more similar than you would think. Living in Japan for almost a decade has opened his horizons.
“There are endless things about Japan that can change the way you see the world. Of course there are tons of similarities, and all the important things are the same, but it also seems like there’s a big difference in the way people think. Eventually, you realize that even though what [Japanese people] are saying seems different and even strange, they’re saying it with the same feeling, and speaking from the same place of vulnerability.”
“It’s just the right amount of completely different and yet exactly the same.”
What Comes Next?
“All of my music is an expression of myself. I think people are a lot more similar than they are different. If you get rid of language and the things that people built--if you look at the things we’re born with--we’re all the same.”
When asked about his future plans, Nyk simply laughs.
“I love living here, I love what I do. I can’t promise I’ll live here for another decade, but I’ve been here since I was seventeen. I was a child when I came. I don’t know how to open a bank account in America, I don’t know how to do my tax returns! I can’t imagine my full-time residence being anywhere other than Tokyo.”
As for his career, Nyk plans to keep on making his own music.
“I like the idea that I can bring the fun and wonder that I found in my life through making music in Japan into someone else’s life who was brought into mine by learning Japanese and coming to Japan and hearing my music.”
A Word of Advice
“I think the most important advice I could give is to not let feeling lonely get to you. It’s gonna happen, especially for the first few years you’re here. You can use the loneliness. With time you’re going to make friends, and they’re going to see you for who you are, regardless of whether you’re a foreigner or not.”
Nyk also tells us his secret to happiness, and how it gives him the tough skin required to be in the harsh and unforgiving entertainment industry.
“I do this work not to be happy, but because I am happy. I’m happy in my life even separate from music, and happiness comes with hard times and heartbreak and all that. If you try to look at it in a way that all of the painful memories--anything that hurt you at the time, or made you uncomfortable, or scared you, is what built you. There’s a million things that I could’ve done different or maybe should’ve done different, but even if I could go back and change something--anything--I wouldn’t.”
Nyk’s new album Tears is available on Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services.