Sakai-san has another story on his website. The following is an abridged translation.
To Chihiro fans
I (Yoshiki Sakai) am a relative on Chihiro Onitsuka's mother's side. I've kept my eye upon Orienta, a Japanese singer-songwriter who also left Melody Star in 2002. Her sound engineer/producer was Mr. Ataka, who took part in the production of Chihiro's debut single CD "Shine". Orienta and Ataka-san told me about the musical circumstances around the time when Toshiba EMI started the Virgin Tokyo label.
The then Japanese music industry targeted solely on youngsters. Virgin Tokyo was initially for youths, too. In late 1990s, Japanese adults began to strengthen their presence as a major CD buyers group while more and more youngsters get their own mobile phone, which coincides with the slump in the sales of music CDs targeted on the young.
Chihiro's second work, a tie-in with a TV Asahi's program, was created in collaboration with Mr. Haketa. From this work on, a majority of her CD copies were bought by a wide range of adults between their 30's and 60's. A survey conducted later showed that more than half of INSOMNIA CDs, released in March 2001, were purchased by grown-ups.
Meanwhile, Sony's Image series, in which Mr. Haketa participated, were planned with adult music fans in mind. These made a smash hit. Behind such shift toward advanced ages in these days lies the fact: my (Sakai's) generation who were familiar with the (mostly Western) music of 1960s and 1970s in their childhood grew up to make a comfortable income and began to buy music CDs again.
Japan's music industry turned children-oriented around the time when Nippon Television Network Corporation aired "Suta Tanjo" (A Star Is Born) program in 1970s. Momoe Yamaguchi and other teenager singers' music sold well, and the emergence of karaoke in 1980s made Japanese music extremely "young and amateurish". Talented musicians who loved Western music were kicked out of the industry. In the atmosphere of the bubble economy that began in 1980s, even low-quality musicians were able to find their sponsors.
Due to the Japanese music industry's disposition to seek for "young and amateurish" music, the industry, which continually dismissed talented professional musicians, weren't able to cope with the changes in musical trends (e.g. elderly people buying more CDs including Chihiro's). This led to the industry-wide slump in CD sales.
Such shift in CD buying groups was observed in the U.S. prior to Japan. Smooth jazz (which became popular in 1990s in the U.S.) and the New Age music (such as Enya's) were accepted by elderly people. These trends are considered to have reached Japan in late 1990s.
In response to these trends, I started AquarianWave.com in March 2000 to popularize smooth jazz within Japan. This was almost simultaneous with Chihiro's debut in February 2000. Mr. Haketa who joined the production of her second work "Gekko" was also in charge of Sony's artists including Hiromi Ohta. In my opinion, the commercial success of the Image series is attributed to the quick change in target audience to accommodate the adult music CD buyers in the U.S.
To return to Orienta, I happened to have people in the music industry (not related to J-pop) listen to her CDs. Their typical response was, "This is very good and comfortable music. This is not for the children. Probably Toshiba EMI made a mistake in how to promote it."
As for Chihiro's future movement, I assume she opted for Sony because she decided it would be advantageous for her to work with pro-American Sony. I looked into the access log for my English-language Chihiro site and found out that a number of her fans are located in not only the U.S. but also France, Italy, and other countries. If she is going abroad, I think she will target on the U.S. and Europe, not Asia.
Sony caused various problem with its J-pop business. It's because it started too many intracompany venture businesses, and both its entertainment and electronics divisions stuck to its own position. The company has already begun to reorganize some of its J-pop divisions. On the other hand, Sony seems to be planning to reinforce its smooth jazz division. If Onitsuka has an eye on the Asian market, she should have remained in the restructured Toshiba EMI or moved to avex. Given the fact that she moved to Sony, it is probable that she is aiming at Europe and the U.S.
(http://chihiro.aquarianwave.com/m040621.htm; by courtesy of the author)
The message shown below has been moved to SMA's Artist Info page: http://www.sma.co.jp/artist/onitsukachihiro/index.html.
I've been more dead than alive during these six months. I was in confusion, cried in tears, and was swayed by wild sentiment. Since I'm so whimsical, and savage like a beast, I have no idea what my future life will be like. But now I wish to make and sing songs. Those who were anxious about me, I'm sorry. And thank you.
(http://www.sma.co.jp/menu.html ; under "SMA HEADLINE")
Good news! According to Nikkan Sports News (cited by Yahoo! Japan News) and SponichiAnnex, Chihiro has an intention to enter into a management contract with Sony Music Artists Inc. (http://www.sma.co.jp/ ; unavailable until noon, June 17, JST). She also terminates her contract with Toshiba EMI and moves to Sony Music Entertainment Inc. (http://www.sme.co.jp/). Official announcement will be made shortly.
See also: http://www.sonymusic.co.jp/ (unavailable until noon, June 17, JST)
Three video clips were aired without any additional information: "Sign", "Ii Hi...", and the Waltz.
The Asahi Shimbun newspaper carries an interesting article about CCCD. It reports about two singer-songwriters who refused to release CCCDs: Motoharu Sano, who parted from Epic after an antagonism over the choice between CCCD and ordinary CD, and started his own label; and Akiko Yano, who also moved from Epic to Yamaha Music Communications, which withholds crossing over to CCCD.
(The Asahi Shimbun, June 5, evening edition)
Sakai-san, the owner of aquarianwave.com and Chihiro Onitsuka International, has his explanation about the trouble. Here is an abridged translation:
Following the reorganization of the five major labels that took place around the U.S. and Europe, Toshiba EMI was aligned solely with British EMI, which in turn caused the discontinuation of the Virgin Tokyo label (to which Onitsuka belonged) as of the end of March 2004. Melody Star, which was in charge of the management of Virgin Tokyo, practically left the Toshiba EMI group, and the MSR staff temporarily transferred from Toshiba EMI returned to the company....
Japan's music industry is being divided into two groups:
Because Onitsuka is pro-American in terms of musical preference, it is evident that she finds it difficult to pursue her musical career with Toshiba EMI.
(http://www.aquarianwave.com/a-links.htm#chihiro; translated and posted by permission of the author)
Thank you for the in-depth explanation, Sakai-san!
There has been speculation that Chihiro is most likely moving to another company. On some bulletin boards, Sony is mentioned as her new company but I don't know whether it's true or not.
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