A photo of three members of Hitsuji Bungaku lined up.
A photo of three members of Hitsuji Bungaku lined up.

Hitsujibungaku’s Present and Future - Strumming Out Alternative Rock at the Center of J-pop [Part 2 of 2]


  • Share this page on X (open in new tab)
  • Share this page on Facebook (open in new tab)
  • Share this page on LINE (open in new tab)
  • Share this page on Hatena Bookmark (open in new tab)
  • Share this page on Pocket (open in new tab)

This episode of Artist Profile, which focuses on an up and coming artist each time, features Hitsujibungaku, an alternative rock band comprised of Moeka Shiotsuka on vocals and guitar, Yurika Kasai on bass and Hiroa Fukuda on drums.

The band made a major debut from Sony Music Labels Inc.’s F.C.L.S. label in 2020. Soon it attracted music fans’ attention for its music that is both artistic and pop, and its profile was boosted further after its tunes were used in TV anime serials “The Heike Story” and “Jujutsu Kaisen.” With their popularity surging, the tickets to their upcoming solo concert at the Yokohama Arena in this next April were instantly sold out.

What makes Hitsujibungaku, which is poised to take on the international market, so attractive? I closed in on the source of their creativity in this interview.

In Part 2, Hitsujibungaku members discuss what forms the core of their music and what makes their unique lyrics so attractive, as well as their plans going forward.

※The original Japanese article appeared on March 5 and 6, 2024.

Hitsujibungaku Profile Image


Hitsujibungaku is an alternative rock band comprised of Hiroa Fukuda (drums), Moeka Shiotsuka (vocals and guitar) and Yurika Kasai (bass), from left to right in the photo. The current members were formed in 2017. The band has released four EPs, a full album and a single, “1999” coupled with “Ningendatta.” The band made a major debut on Aug. 19, 2020 with the release of a single, “Sabaku No Kimi E,” coupled with “Girls,” on Sony Music Labels Inc.’s F.C.L.S. label. In December 2023, they released their third album, “12 hugs (like butterflies).” They are going to perform a solo concert entitled, “Hitsujibungaku LIVE 2024 III” at the Yokohama Arena on April 21, 2024, and will kick off an Asian tour in March.

Turning point in each juncture

(Continued from Part 1
Now, let us look back on Hitsujibungaku’s history and the style of their music. The band was formed in 2012, and the current members were formed in 2017. It has been four years since their major debut in 2020. Asked what the turning point in the band’s history was, Shiotsuka said:

“I’ve been doing this band for more than a decade, and...well, looking back, we’ve always had a turning point at each juncture. For example, when the view count increased for the video clip of ‘1999,’ it may have been our first turning point. When we were playing at small live music clubs, we never knew we had so many listeners. And then, we had our first tie-up deal and the deal to record anime theme songs. So many things happened. No two years were the same in our past.”

After listening to this comment, Yuri Furukawa, Sony Music Labels Inc.’s A&R representative who has known Hitsujibungaku since their indie days, said:

“When the band settled on the current member lineup in 2017, they suddenly became cool and really incredible. No doubt it was the turning point.”

The three members of the band appear to share similar taste for music, but they say their taste actually differs slightly from each other.

“As I said earlier, I listen to a lot of shoegaze and dream pop genres. I also listen to Japanese indie bands,” Fukuda said.

“I tend to be attracted to the type of rock music that’s a little more mainstream,” Kasai said.

“In my case, I’m not very sure what kind of music I like,” Shiotsuka said. “I like some things Fukuda listens to, and I listen to a lot of J-pop. I also listen to techno and something like electronic music as well.”

Yurika in black costume

Perfect balance between art and pop

In their sound, Hitsujibungaku has taken in elements of a broad range of music, both Japanese and Western. For listeners who were enamored with post-rock in the 1990s, their sound may evoke nostalgia. But theirs is not just copycat music or a revival. Their music features edgy sound with a large dose of distorted sound of electric guitar being strummed, but it is never too far away from being poppish. The perfect balance between art and pop is what makes Hitsujibungaku’s music so attractive.

“Art and pop...well, I always thought I wanted to do both since when the band was formed,” Shiotsuka said. “I thought maybe if I write upbeat songs, fans may tolerate it if we also played dark songs. So, I may have been trying to maintain the balance between the two types. So, I was like, ‘Hmm, what should I do to make my fans listen to this dark song? Maybe I should draw an auxiliary line with upbeat songs. This way, I’m going to drag people who have come to know Hitsujibungaku with our catchy songs into the dark side!’”

“That said, when I listen to different songs, I find songs with lyrics that convey the message more comfortable to listen to, rather than songs with lyrics I don’t understand. And I can enjoy such songs for longer,” she continued. “And when I write songs, I find it easier to write poppish songs. But there is a part of me that wants to feel like an artist. So that’s how I think I’m trying to strike the right balance.”

Moeka Shiotsuka smiles as she talks about the music of sheep literature

Furukawa, who had been in charge of Western music at Sony Music Labels, understands Hitsujibungaku’s music well.

“What makes Hitsujibungaku great is that it’s slightly off the center of Japan’s music scene,” she said. “What’s interesting is that they have an element that may make you may say, ‘No, not that!’ at the core of their activity.”

“Being slightly off the center means they are free from the tacit rules that typically bind mainstream J-pop artists,” Furukawa added. “Such rules may be the strict limits on song lengths, the requirement to write songs in the A-B-C structure, chorus must be this way or that, guitars should be recorded at a low volume, etc. I’m of the type who tends to think, ‘Why not add more distortion to that guitar and turn up the volume!’”

“This may sound funny, but F.C.L.S. [Hitsujibungaku’s label] is assigned to handle the types of music other parts of Sony Music do not handle. Suchmos and CVLTE are the examples,” she continued. “To me, the fun part of my job is in putting nonmainstream music into the mainstream.”

After hearing this, Shiotsuka said: “After all, a little dose of weirdness makes things more interesting, doesn’t it? It makes things veer off the normal course of things gradually and eventually pushes the world into a different direction. And I always tend to veer off the course. That’s because I get bored quickly when all things are the same.”

Hitsujibungaku group photo

“I’m always thinking about myself”

Along with its sound, what strongly attracts listeners to Hitsujibungaku is its lyrics. In a world that is now full of sad news and people hurting each other, we may ask ourselves, “What should we do?” But in these times of uncertainty, their music embraces us with gentle words and gives us a place where our hearts can rest.

“I have a rather problematic character. I’m always thinking about myself,” Shiotsuka said. “I may watch news on war and say to myself, ‘Gee, I must learn more about history of the world!’ And I may read a book on environmental destruction and get overwhelmed by a sense of crisis, like, ‘God, the Earth is in danger and we must do something!’”

“But the real me is the type who sits on the bed, holding my knees close to the chest in my room and brooding, like, ‘Oh no, I hurt someone else’s feelings today. What can I do to keep myself from hurting anyone or getting hurt myself?’ Or I may be comparing the current me with the me in the past and thinking, ‘What in the past me is causing the current me to think this way?’ And the brooding like this typically ends up in lyrics of my songs.”

“But I imagine there are people who don’t have the time to stop and think about things like that and so I think maybe our music gives them the opportunity to realize something and makes them say, ‘Oh yeah!’,” she continued. “And thinking about yourself and things around you may be what could eventually lead to peace, I think.”

Hitsujibungaku group photo2

Now, what do the other members think about Shiotsuka’s lyrics?

“I always tell her what I think each time I read her new lyrics,” Kasai said. “In the past, her lyrics were often about bad experiences expressed metaphorically or the first person repeatedly asking questions to herself. But in the new album, I felt her lyrics have changed and are more about being positive about yourself, and saying to yourself, ‘You’re okay that way,’ including the part of you that dwells on your worries.”

“As the title,‘12 hugs (like butterflies),’ suggests, this album gives me an image of hugging yourself, which I may call a ‘butterfly hug’,” Fukuda said. “Being positive about yourself can sometimes make people around you be supportive of you, you know. The opening track, ‘Hug.m4a,’ for example, has a strong message expressed in simple words. I love it so much.”

Hiroa dressed in black, sitting and posing on a chair.

Being small but shining brightly

In 2024, Hitsujibungaku will face new challenges in their career. One of them is the tour of Asia to begin with a Seoul show on March 29. As Southeast Asian countries have many fans of onkyokei bands, including those classified in the post-rock and shoegaze genres, Hitsujibungaku’s solo performance in those locations has been successful. And this year, they will be touring the region with a set including the theme songs for smash hit anime series, so the tour is expected to expand local fan base and generate even more excitement.

It will be after experiencing the Asian tour that the band will take the challenge of their first-ever solo performance at the Yokohama Arena on April 21. No doubt they will return to play this venue much more experienced as a band. So, I asked their thoughts on the Yokohama show.

“We recently went and checked out the venue, and I said, ‘What a large place!’” Shiotsuka said. “I guess it will be just three of us standing scattered on the huge stage when we play, so I want to do all I can to make us look great on stage. I am envisioning an image of us on stage and it is us being small but shining brightly. That’s because it’s the image suitable for us.”

“I think it’s going to be a totally new environment for us in terms of sound, but I will play as I always do,” Kasai said. “It’s going to be a really huge stage and it’s going to be a turning point for us, but that’s why I want the audience to see what Hitsujibungaku has always been like.”

Hitsujibungaku group photo3

Lastly, I asked what they may want to try next or what their ambitions are. For a moment, all three of them fell silent as they appeared to be lost in thought.

“At the end of the day, I want to make Hitsujibungaku to be more internationally known,” Furukawa broke the silence. “I want them to go everywhere around the world, appear in many music festivals and collaborate with many other artists. I hope to put Sony Music Group’s network to maximum use to change them into a band so huge they won’t remain in Japan only. Come on, you guys should say what you really have in mind when you are asked a question like this. I know you will realize your dreams if you do!”

Encouraged by Furukawa’s words, Shiotsuka expressed the future image she has for the band:

“I guess if we only work among ourselves to complete my songs, we’ll be eventually making similar things over and over. So, I think it would be interesting to meet different people and discuss with them while making music. The anime projects were very challenging, but it was a form of collaboration. And I learned a lot from the collaboration with LÜCY. So, I think I want to do more of such things.”

“Music from overseas is what has influenced me, so I’m interested in making music with overseas artists,” Fukuda said.

“And I want to play in overseas music festivals!” Kasai said.

Limitless potential of Hitsujibungaku made me excited about their future.

Hitsujibungaku group photo4

Text by Noriko Hara
Photos by Osamu Hoshikawa
Translated by Atsushi Kodera