The Power of Music and Anime

Ito Kashitaro’s Manila Show Moves Fans, Transcends Barriers

words by Ica Hontiveros-Cheng 

photos by Roxy Nebres 

I’ve been an anime fan since I was nine years old (give or take). Back then, being an anime fan wasn’t as accepted as it is today.  Or maybe, we just didn’t know that there were many of us fans of anime out there. There was no internet during this time (Gasp! Can you imagine?!) unlike today, where it’s easy to find like minded individuals who share the same love and passion for Japanese culture. Going back to the 1990’s ~my mom would say that I was either exchanged in the hospital (and that I’m really Japanese) or that I was a reincarnation of a Japanese girl. 

Whatever the reason was, at around nine years old I was already buying anime cassette tapes (What’s a cassette tape? You may ask. Well, Google is your friend). I remember even being bullied because I was such an anime nerd back then. But I didn’t let that deter me, instead I flew my otaku flag higher, I was defiant, I was stubborn. By the time I was in high school, I was already listening to JPop artists like Namie Amuro, Hikaru Utada, and Ayumi Hamasaki. I found my small circle of friends, who also shared the same love of Japanese culture I had. We were small, but we were happy, because we were true to ourselves.    

Time passed, and being a geek, being an otaku was slowly accepted, suddenly cosplay was cool, owning anime figures was a hobby that celebrities got into. Manga is now being sold in bookstores. Anime news is featured in major publications. Suddenly everyone is watching the latest anime craze.  

I’m nearing forty now, so obsessing over a new Japanese artist or anime series is an ordinary occurrence. One of my latest obsessions is ‘My Happy Marriage’ -the first season is already complete and streaming on Netflix. 

The live action movie, based on the series, which was renamed ‘As Long As We Both Shall Live’ starring Meguro Ren and Mio Imada was recently distributed in local cinemas by Pioneer Films (Viewer’s Choice Philippines). See? Even Japanese films and anime titles are getting released more often in our cinemas. No need to beg distributors to bring Japanese films here, they have recognized the potential of the earnings of Japanese films in the local box office, remember the live action Rurouni Kenshin movies? But that’s another discussion for another day. 

Going back to the anime ‘My Happy Marriage’  the ending song ‘Vita Philosophica’ -a power ballad that will move you with its sweeping melody and impressive vocal performance, slowly grew on me.

When I found out that the singer of ‘Vita Philosophica’ – Ito Kashitaro will be coming to perform in Manila I immediately began researching about the artist, and started listening to his songs, and you can say that I fell into the proverbial rabbit-err-in this case fox hole.

Meet Ito Kashitaro!

Known for his use of a kitsune or fox mask to hide his features during public appearances and performances, his fans and followers have also adopted the fox mask, wearing them during his concerts and shows. It is not uncommon for Japanese singers to hide their features from the public. Much like how Sia hides her face under big wigs and bows.  This is so that these artists can still live a private life away from the glare of the public. 

Ito Kashitaro-which is not even his real name, but the name of his favorite shinsengumi samurai; so, don’t be confused if you look him up and get links to the Edo period, started as an utaite. An utaite is a Japanese term for people who upload covers of songs on YouTube or more specifically on Nico Nico Douga. 

Kashitaro gained popularity with his covers, and eventually crossed over to become an anisong artist (anime song artist).I didn’t realize it then but he also sang the ending theme to Mushikaburi Hime (Bibliophile Princess) – ‘Kawabyoushi’. I already knew two songs from him before going into my deep dive. 

Bridging the Gap 

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of ASEAN – Japan Friendship and Cooperation, Ito Kashitaro went on an ASEAN tour, with two stops, the Philippines and Vietnam. The shows were presented by the Japan Foundation and tickets were free! In the Philippines where anime is popular it was no surprise that tickets were immediately sold out! 

Slated for Friday, the 27th of October in Brooklyn Warehouse in the heart of Manila, Ito Kashitaro was expected to perform to an audience of around six hundred fans. 

Beneath the Kitsune Mask 

Through a series of fortunate events I found myself in an intimate press conference with the man of the hour-unmasked! Gasp! And I got to know him a little better. 

In my research (I always make sure to do ample research whenever I will be doing an interview) I read  that YuYu Hakusho (Ghost Fighter) is one of Ito Kashitaro’s favorite manga, and I asked him which of the four lead characters does he relate with the most. 

Through a translator, he answered that he likes plants and animals, so his answer would be Kurama. Kuruma is a demon fox in the manga. The anime series known locally as Ghost Fighter is popular among Filipinos.As the otaku and geek that I am, I then had a follow up question: 

“Is that why your mask is a kitsune (fox)? Because you love animals?  

Kashitaro laughs “You would think that.” He answered through the translator. “But I actually just searched for masks in online shops and that was the first thing that came out.”  Who would have thought that through such a mundane and common task Kashitaro would forever be associated with the enigmatic kitsune mask? 

In December, another Japanese artist- ‘yama’, will be performing in Manila (Editor’s note: the name is stylized with an uncapitalized “y” and is written in all small caps). As more and more Japanese artists are performing in the Philippines outside of anime conventions. I asked Ito Kashitaro how it feels to be added to the lineup of artists to have performed here in the Philippines? 

Through the translator he answered: “I’m very very happy to be part of the group of artists to have performed here in the Philippines, at the same time, I’m so surprised that anime is accepted this much worldwide. Especially when I go around other countries, including the Philippines. How (anime) it is being loved. It inspires me more (as a performer) with these anime songs which I sing as well. Being able to perform in the Philippines is an honor.”   

Among the media present Ito Kashitaro was asked what was his message to his Filipino fans – to which he answered: 

“I sing in different countries. And I always realize that music can actually just overcome the language barrier-we don’t have that anymore because of music. Even for today with regard to this live music that I will be singing, I wish that we (with the Philippine audience) can cross that border, we can cross that language barrier, and we can enjoy the music together, and we can also be touched by the music. And it can be a way for the Philippines and Japan to be together as one.” 

And indeed, this would be a recurring message throughout the concert which followed shortly after the press conference.

It’s Showtime! 

None other than OPM icon Armi Millare opened the show. Millare has a new single out entitled ‘Roots’ and teased more new music coming soon. 

Finally, for the main event, an audience of about 600 fans cheered and greeted Ito Kashitaro as he ran up the stage, opening the show with a cover of Demon Slayer’s ‘Gurenge’, which is a popular anime song from a popular anime series. So just imagine the whole crowd pumping their fists, some with glow sticks and singing along- yes, in Japanese! 

Dressed in a loose white polo shirt over a pair of black pants and wearing his signature kitsune mask, Ito Kashitaro addressed the audience in english reading from a clipboard with a sticker of the Philippine flag in the back. 

Out of breath from his energetic performance he addressed the crowd: “It’s so nice to meet you today through the power of music, which is something I believe in. The power of anime and music has formed a connection between me, a Japanese artist and all of you here today. Making us a happy family.”

Like a proper concert there were also a couple of surprises for the audiences, first up was Kashitaro singing an SB19 song! Yes! He brought out a folded piece of paper-his cheat sheet. “I learned there’s a song that’s really cherished in the Philippines and I’ve been practicing it.” Kashitaro said. Before singing SB19’s ‘MAPA’ which surely endeared him to his Filipino fans, who helped him along the way in singing the song. 

And that was not the only surprise, Kashitaro invited Armi Millare back on stage to sing a duet with her! The two artists beautifully sang (with harmonies) Kawabyoushi only accompanied by a guitar. After the performance and amidst applause and cheers from the crowd, Kashitaro frantically and breathlessly tells Armi: “Thank you, for sing my song.” To which, Armi was all smiles and bowed her head gracefully, before exiting the stage to more cheers from the crowd. 


600 Friends and Magic 

The crowd could not get enough of Kashitaro who even asked for an encore after his long performance-to which the lanky kitsune-wearing singer obliged. Upon his return to the stage, Kashitaro made sure to take a photo with the crowd. In a prepared anecdote he shared the story of a samurai who was banished from Japan because of his Christian beliefs, that Samurai went to live in Manila. “If I will be exiled from Japan” -Kashitaro continued to tell the story, reading it from his clipboard in english, “I will go to Manila because now I have 600 friends.” 

Stories of religious persecution aside, Kashitaro will certainly be always welcome in Manila, just make sure to prepare some sisig and a Jollibee chicken sandwich for him, on his next visit.

“When my music crosses barriers, it’s like magic!” Kashitaro tells the audience who cheered for him, pumped their fists in the air, and sang to his music, despite it being a different language from theirs. And a nine year old version of myself can certainly agree, there is indeed some unexplained power that must be at work when a crowd can enjoy a song despite not understanding its words. And hey, maybe there’s a bit of magic in there too. 


Which is why I always feel emotional when I’m in big gatherings celebrating anime, Japanese music, or Japanese culture here. There is a sort of vindication that I feel, that bullied nine year-old wasn’t so weird after all. Maybe we were ahead of our time. Who knows? All that matters now is we can come together in a community where we are accepted and we can celebrate a shared love, a shared passion. It may have taken some time but at least we are here now. And as they say, better late than never eh? 

About the Author

Ica Hontiveros-Cheng

Ica is a geek mom who loves anime, movies, music, books, and binging whatever series strikes her curiosity. She juggles her Real Time Analyst job with creating pop culture content, you can often find her in events and movie premieres. When she’s not busy with work, or completing to-do lists she spends time with her family; her photographer- husband Paul and son Luke.

Follow/Connect with Ica here

Writer’s Note:

A shorter version of this article was originally published on The Business Mirror last 12 November 2023

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