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No Business Like Japanese Show Business


No Business Like Japanese Show Business

U.S. singer-songwriter Natalie Emmons, now the face of Trivago Japan, shares her adventures while navigating the J-entertainment world.

If you live in Japan and spend enough time on YouTube, you may have noticed a charismatic, blonde American girl with an impeccable Japanese accent advertising the latest and greatest for travel company Trivago. That girl is singer-songwriter Natalie Emmons, and yes, it is her voice!

Hailing from San Diego, California, Natalie has taken a road less travelled to living and working in Japan. A far cry from the life of any English teacher, bar owner, or businessperson, she began a three-year stint in Osaka upon graduating from Theater Arts at Azusa Pacific University in Los Angeles, after landing her first gig in the country as a dancer and singer at Universal Studios Japan.

“There was something called The Universal Rainbow Circus and it was on this giant stage called the Globe Stage … they made it into a sphere-shaped circus tent. They hired a bunch of American circus performers, and there were about 40 dancers. It was a huge production … I was the MC, so speaking in Japanese and then singing, and that was just an awesome show.”

Before long she was dressed up in purple and pink, hosting USJ’s Hello Kitty show, winning the hearts and smiles of throngs of young Japanese girls.

She went from the stage to the small screen at the end of 2012 on finishing her contract with USJ, after winning a spot as a contestant on the national television show Nodojiman THE World!. Nodojiman means “proud of my voice,” and the show features amateur singers from countries all over the world singing songs in Japanese.

Living here (in Japan) I felt like I found my voice … I felt like I came back to the States so much more confident. I felt braver and more excited to just be myself.

“It was a pretty funny experience. They’ve got people from all different countries so they’re trying to, I don’t want to say stereotype you, but you know, make you more American than you are in a way.

“So they said, ‘We don’t really want you to speak Japanese,’ and ‘Could you wear cowboy boots?’ I don’t even own cowboy boots! They said, ‘We can pay for them,’ and so they took me shopping and I was just thinking ‘Oh my gosh, these are Japanese-made cowboy boots that I’m wearing right now,’ and I had some sort of western off-the-shoulder thing, and cutoffs!”

Natalie made three appearances on Nodojiman THE World!, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Nakai Masahiro from SMAP, who was the show’s host.

“When I got there it was like one of those Japanese game shows – all the bright lights and like ‘NA-TA-RI EM-MON-ZUUU!!!’ and a huge American flag behind me.

“A lot of celebrities were there sitting on this little celebrity couch to watch it. And then there were of course the judges who are producers and songwriters … And the audience, which was just a bunch of beautiful people that they hired,” she laughed.

Natalie returned to the United States in 2013 a more confident performer than ever after her showbiz experience in Japan. She subsequently recorded and released Therapy, an EP of original songs in English and Japanese. She credits her time in Japan and at USJ for helping her develop her unique skill sets, bridging between Japanese and Western culture, and developing her own identity as a performer.

“Living here (in Japan) I felt like I found my voice … I felt like I came back to the States so much more confident. I felt braver and more excited to just be myself.” Her single Call of the Wild was released on February 24 this year as a free download, and she is currently working on her debut full-length album.

Lately, she has been turning heads on TV and online as the face of Trivago Japan, and has found herself flying between the U.S., Japan, and Europe for work. The springboard for the European chapter was her job offer at Trivago, an opportunity that came about as a result of her connections at Universal Studios.

The creative director assigned to the Trivago commercials, a British guy who once lived in Japan as an English teacher, wanted to localize the company’s commercials.

Photo: Jason Haidar

Photo: Jason Haidar

“Instead of doing the same commercial and just dubbing it over, they’re actually hiring people from respective countries,” Natalie explained. “They thought it would be really cool to use a foreigner who speaks Japanese well.

“So it was really exciting, and they knew it was kind of a risk because they didn’t know how it would be accepted by a Japanese audience … no one had done it, so it was cool to be a part of it. I didn’t think that something like that would be possible in Japan without having some sort of assurance that it would succeed.”
Before she knew it, she was bouncing between Berlin and Barcelona shooting Trivago commercials, and caught up at times in an amusing whirlwind of cultural differences and mixed messages.

“With the one (commercial) that’s available to see now, the way that I walk was a huge issue! First they wanted me to kind of walk sexy, and then the Japanese girls, they didn’t like it at all! So it was just back and forth between, ‘No, she needs to look more confident, she looks too shy,’ and they (the Japanese staff) were saying, ‘No, this is how we want her to look, she looks proper and polite that’s what we see,’ and so I’m just standing there and I’m like, ‘All right, just let me know when you decide,’” she laughed.

But despite the very flexible, go-with-the flow approach she is able to have to her work, Natalie has her principles, and makes a concerted effort to have a certain amount of control over the direction of her career. According to her, the two main challenges of working inside the J-entertainment machine are keeping control of what you want to do, and the fact that people are often hesitant to do something new.

“I get the feeling a lot, like Japanese people are impressed by what I’ve been able to do on my own. However, there was a lot of encouragement, at least at the beginning, to do nothing – to let everyone else handle it for me. And it really scared me a lot because they kept saying, ‘We’re gonna take care of it for you. Please don’t promote, please don’t post anything. Don’t do this, don’t do that,’” she explained.

“I had to decide, you know, do I want to trust these people who may or may not come through for me … I basically just decided to do it my own way, and maybe that’s the American in me, you know, but I just didn’t trust it.”

Whether she remains self-managed, or eventually signs with a label, there’s no doubt Japan will be seeing more of this vivacious blonde bombshell. She has more commercials in the works, and this month, a newly released J-pop ballad Arrival Gate, (Touchaku Kuchi).

When she’s not in Japan, she can be found on stages and TV screens around California. Natalie was recently nominated for the San Diego Music Awards for best singer-songwriter, to be announced early this month.

To find out what she’s up to, visit or check out her YouTube channel



文:シーリア・ポーキンホーン • 写真:ジェイソン・ハイダー • 翻訳:遠藤 建






Photo: Jason Haidar

Photo: Jason Haidar







今年2月24日にはシングル「Call of the Wild」を無料ダウンロードでリリースし、現在はデビュー作となるフルアルバムの制作に取り組んでいる。













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