The Japanese music talk show J-MELO on NHK World features a unique, charismatic, multitalented celebrity with a relatively uncommon background: May J., a/k/a Mary Jamileh Hashimoto, is a young Japanese singer and performer who has been hosting the show for years, celebrating her 500th episode back in December. May J. also happens to be of Iranian descent on her mother’s side, and is herself a member of a fairly scant demographic of Iranian-Japanese.
Aside from being a pop singer and established celebrity (her Twitter account has over 300,000 followers at present), May J. is a polyglot, able to speak four languages fluently. Active since the mid-2000s and entering the music biz in 2006 with her record All My Girls, May J. has a diverse catalog of content, and her multilingual talents afford her a level of agency and reach that has led to some interesting opportunities for a Japanese pop icon, such as a heralded visit to Washington, D.C. this year, where she performed at the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Since J-MELO is produced entirely in English—featuring subtitles for their Japanese-only musical guests—May J. broadcasts to audiences abroad who can watch live streams of the program, all able to discover the many fresh musical talents which are a hallmark of the show. Additionally, the number of languages she speaks means that she is able to sing and record alongside a variety of guest performers; her record Best of Duets features Canadian singer Daniel Powter, best-selling Taiwanese artist SHOW, and African-American J-Pop singer Chris Hart.
One of May J.’s most well known and recognizable performances might be her official recording of “Let it Go” from Disney’s Frozen, which closed out the film’s credits upon its Japanese distribution in 2014. In keeping line with her capabilities, there are versions recorded in both English and Japanese, and one sample YouTube video has tracked almost five million views at time of this writing. It’s a significant release which charted in the Japan Hot 100 at number 8, an impressive climb considering that May J.’s version is secondary to the one used in the main film, which was sung by Takako Matsu who also played the part of Elsa.
Growing up, the singer was not clued into her Iranian roots, as her mother kept this part of her heritage relatively hidden from her daughter. While having opened up about her background in several interviews—including mention of her affinity for Persian music, having discovered vocalist/actress Googoosh and pop star Afshin on the internet—May J. has yet to record or produce a Farsi-language song. That being said, she did travel to Iran for the first time back in 2014, specifically to connect with the her mother’s homeland.
Japan has a complicated history in relation to its Iranian population, whose census numbers haven’t even been adequately updated since 2000. Most figures point to significant growth in migration in the years following the Iran-Iraq War, which would align with May J.’s parents and her date of birth (the singer is 29 years old), though this is purely conjecture. Overall, Iranians comprise what appear to be a statistically insignificant portion of Japan’s already very small immigrant population, making May J.’s success and hefty fan base all the more prominent.
J-MELO airs weekly on Sundays, and can be found at the NHK World website.
Photos of May J.