HIROYUKI ITOH is the CEO of Crypton Future Media, better known for their Vocaloid software and its most famous offspring Hatsune Miku. The phenomenal success of Hatsune Miku has reached beyond Japan and the fan-created content has led to an ever-growing community who continue to innovate and build on the foundations of the virtual star.

Mr Itoh also launched the PIAPRO website, which encourages uses to upload and share Vocaloid music, artwork and videos and also more recently the music aggregation service ROUTER.FM, which has started to transmit more than 1,600 independent labels to the world.

As part of the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation’s series of business seminars, Mr Itoh came to London and graciously spared some time with Paul Browne to discuss the Hatsune Miku phenomenon…

Did you have any concept of how huge the cultural impact of the Vocaloid software, particularly Hatsune Miku would be in Japan?

We developed the Hatsune Miku software – human singing generating software. Hatsune is only a voice. Hatsune Miku is not factual but drawing/illustration. Hatsune Miku herself is very limited. Fortunately there is a big purpose behind Hatsune Miku, not only music, but many illustrators who draw so many figures, many kinds of Hatsune Miku illustrations. Some illustrations looks very cute. Some illustrations look like very spooky or bizarre. So it’s those illustrations that make Hatsune Miku very real. So a big fanbase is very important for the Hatsune Miku phenomenon. Not only music but there is a lot of computer programmers, technical researchers who support Hatsune Miku, to research or develop things like artificial intelligence or robots.

So Hatsune Miku has had a big impact. Not only contents but also the technology side. But it’s not controlled by Crypton. We allow people to use Hatsune Miku, to keep Hatsune Miku a very attractive subject. To produce or compose or illustrate is very important. We don’t want to control such activities.

What were your initial thoughts when fan-created work started to appear through the likes of websites such as Nico Nico Douga?

I was surprised and amazed by the popularity. It wasn’t a sudden shooting up of popularity though.

Have you also been surprised by how popular Hatsune Miku has become outside of Japan?

I’m not quite sure how popular Hatsune Miku is outside of Japan. In the Asian countries like China and Taiwan I met fans who absolutely love Hatsune Miku, but I don’t know how popular Hatsune Miku is the UK for example! I don’t know. Popular? (laughs)

Very, very popular indeed!

Very popular among fans who like Japanese pop music, maybe yes, but how about the general population?

I think she’s become more popular in recent years and she’s become more widely known with articles in the general press. That’s partially down to the publicity about things like the concerts, especially with the concerts in America last year. So the US press covered it and so has the UK press to an extent. The idea of the virtual singer has also become more and more relevant. For instance, the holographic representation of Tupac Shakur on stage – when that was reported in the press, there were comparisons with Hatsune Miku. She’s become the benchmark for virtual singers.

Hastune Miku doesn’t really exist but, like Tupac, is a hologram – generating someone who isn’t really present.

I feel that Hatsune Miku is looked at in a way that is strange, that is uncommon, really strange – not particularly in a nice sense – by the audience outside Japan, especially in America and the UK. In Japan I feel more comfortable that Hatsune Miku is more accepted. But outside of Japan, especially in Western culture, people tend to look at Hatsune Miku as strange.

Do you think that Hatsune Miku is indeed paving the way for other virtual pop stars? Do you believe that virtual singers will become an established part of the music scene in the future?

That might be the case. Technology is continuously advancing.

This software, the Vocaloid, her voice is much closer to a human voice. Her movement will become much more natural, much more human-like. Now it takes so long, but in the future people perhaps will find it much easier to create something like Hatsune Miku because of the advance of technology. But I don’t think actual human singing will be reduced because of the Vocaloid virtual idols.

Do you still plan to release an English version of Hatsune Miku?

Still under development. Not finished yet.

Were you aware of the poll conducted prior to the London Olympics asking for people’s opinions on who they would like to see singing at the opening ceremony? Hatsune Miku was voted at No. 1

I know this story. The website I remember was The Top Tens. The Top Tens had an opinion poll: Who Is The Best Singer For The London Olympics Opening Ceremony? Other people nominated their favourite singers, like Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber – and Hatsune Miku is nominated. But the website removed Hatsune Miku because she was not a real singer, she’s computer generated. But the fans got really annoyed. Even though she doesn’t exist she’s like a real singer, she has a lot of her own songs. Fans complained to the Top Tens website. The website then admitted to nominate her name on the poll. All the Hatsune Miku fans swarmed onto the website. That’s why Hatsune Miku was No. 1! (laughs)

Last years concerts in America appeared to be very successful. Do you think that a Hatsune Miku concert in the UK would be possible in the near future?

We had a concert last week in Taiwan and Hong Kong, so I could tour both cities. So yes I hope to have a concert in the UK. The problem is to have a Hatsune Miku concert is very costly. Hatsune Miku concert costs more than a real human! (laughs)

The problem is the technology. But we know this is a problem we have to solve. So we are working on another technology to make the cost lower. So yes I hope I bring Hatsune Miku for the UK fans.

J-Pop Go extends its warmest thanks to Hiroyuki Itoh. Thanks also to Shihoko Ogawa and the staff at the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation for their kind help and cooperation.


Interview and photos by Paul Browne
11th October 2012