On the Road With Three1989: The Playful Pop Trio Takes Music, Love and Travel Very Seriously

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The Latin expression “omne trium perfectum” states that everything that comes in threes is perfect, or is at least, a complete set. Charlie had three angels, d’Artagnan had three musketeers and now, Japan has Three1989. Often shortened to Three, the ’80s soul pop trio skyrocketed to worldwide fame in part thanks to vocalist Shohey Uemura’s appearance on Netflix’s 2018-2019 season of Terrace House Opening New Doors set in Karuizawa. TW met with Shohey Uemura (vocals), Yutaka “Shimo” Shimomura (keyboard) and Hideaki “Datch” Adachi (DJ) on a sunny morning in Shibuya for some candid talk about love, life and solo travel gone wrong.

Three1989 had a busy 2019. With an average of two shows a week across two nationwide tours and a studio album release, they didn’t have much down time. 2020 looks like it will serve up much of the same, so we wondered how they’re dealing with all that traveling…

Staying fit on the road must be a challenge. How do you cope with this?

Shohey: The hardest part about going on tour is the travel time. Lugging gear from Tokyo to Osaka takes about eight hours and that alone is pretty rough. So before a show, I head to a sauna to reset. I’ve loved saunas since I was little so I go a lot. And lately I’m really into running. I head out for an hour to work up a sweat and increase my metabolism.

Shimo: Yeah, often he’ll be dressed in running gear for rehearsal. [Laughs]

Shohey: That’s right, so I can head out straight after we practice.

Shimo: It takes too long for me to dry my hair so I don’t go to saunas or sento, but everyone else does, right?

Datch: Yeah everyone heads to a sento near the venue. I’ll go before a show, too.

You must have seen a lot of Japan both on tour and off. Any places you’d recommend?

Datch: Any hot spring resort in Japan. For example Kurokawa Onsen in Kumamoto Prefecture, Ginzan Onsen in Yamagata, then close to Tokyo there’s Hakone and Gunma. You can relax because it’s not too crowded – especially if you go on a weekday. You might even have a bath to yourself. A lot of hot spring towns have many traditional buildings so it’s a good way to experience “old” Japan.

Shimo: You’re like a hot spring sommelier!

What would you say was your most memorable trip either in Japan or overseas?

Datch: When I was a student, I went on a road trip around Japan with two friends. We’d sleep in the car and each morning we’d choose where to go, letting our mood guide us. Back then, all the toll roads only cost ¥1,000. Now the Osaka-Tokyo stretch alone is about ¥8,000. It was an amazing trip. I got to experience the variety of cultures, foods and customs in regions across Japan.

Shimo: Ah, to be young again. For me, my most memorable experience was during my time studying abroad in Winnipeg, Canada. We had a break of about 10 days and I decided to make my dream of seeing Niagara Falls a reality. Using my broken English I asked my host family to help me find the cheapest way there. I bought my tickets and set out on a five-day trip on my own. I was so nervous! The train to Toronto was delayed for like eight hours though, so I didn’t get there until 2am. I searched all night for a hotel, but they were all full. I managed to stay awake to board the morning bus and then passed out.  Unfortunately, I missed my stop. I didn’t even realize it until a border control officer asked me for my visa [to the USA]. Confused, I told them I didn’t have one. They led me to a private room, took my fingerprints and put my name on a blacklist. I had to walk back to Niagara Falls and again had trouble finding a hotel. I finally checked in somewhere around midnight and passed out for the night, not waking up until the middle of the next day. I’d already used up half my vacation and didn’t even know how to get back to Winnipeg, so
I spent the rest of the day asking around for advice. In the end, I only spent an hour at the actual falls.

If you were to go on a romantic getaway, where would you go?

Shohey: Lately, I like the idea of staying at an inn, maybe at a hot spring resort. Hakone, maybe, or Kusatsu. Somewhere that’s not too far and you can easily get to by car.

Shimo: I’d take some time off and head to Europe. I went to Spain for the first time in 2018, as well as the Netherlands. I’d love to travel around and explore more. Also, Iceland. There’s that famous hot spring in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon? I’d like to go there.

Datch: Living in Tokyo, sometimes I feel – even on a day off – there are so many people around so I can’t really relax. I’d like to go somewhere quiet with few people, like an island or something. I’d like to watch the sunset and just chill, where I can just exist. I guess I’m just an old man at heart.

Shohey: I think when we were younger we would have suggested places like Universal Studios Japan but now we just want to relax. And I’d like someone I could relax with, too. Someone who’s like a close friend. You know, someone you don’t have to talk to for them
to understand you.

Shimo: I think we all feel the same! [Laughs]

Datch: I think mutual respect and not having to vocalize everything is important, yeah.

With White Day happening this month, do you have any first-date spot recommendations in Tokyo?

Shimo: There’s a place where you can make chocolate in Nakameguro. It’s like a chocolate factory? A chocolate factory date.

Shohey: I like the idea of making something together. Experiences are good.

Datch: Attending an event could be good, too. A first date can be pretty nerve-wracking so if something’s going on, it’ll give you something to talk about.

Datch: Having said that, I feel like I only ever go on dinner dates.

So where is a good place to go for dinner?

Datch: Somewhere where it’s easy to talk, like a standing bar that has tempura or other light dishes. I think somewhere casual would make communicating easier.

Shohey: Yeah, I think a standing bar would be good. If you focus too much on one style, it can work against you. An izakaya has a lot of options to choose from, so that’s good.

While we’re on the topic of love and romance, tell us about your first loves.

Shohey: Wait, now how far back are we talking? Because I’m sure we all had crushes in kindergarten.

Shimo: But you don’t remember your crush’s name, right?

Shohey: Sure I do.

Shimo: Oh, I guess that counts then … I’m pretty sure I was in love with my kindergarten teacher. I don’t remember her name or even what I liked about her! So maybe that doesn’t count … I think for me, my first love was probably when I was in junior high.

Datch: I liked a girl in the same grade in junior high school. Somehow, we ended up becoming a couple. Now, these days this is against the law, but she rode on the back of my bike and stuff like that. It’s totally not romantic but I remember doing trivial things like that together. Those memories tend to stick.

Shohey: Yeah, that sounds about right.

Shimo: We were in different classes at the same school. After classes were over for the day,
I asked her to come out into the hallway.
I confessed my feelings to her and asked her to go out with me. My friends were standing further away silently watching over me. As soon as she gave me a “yes”… normally you’d go somewhere after that, right? Like you’d head out somewhere together as a couple. Instead, I started yelling and running up and down the hallway like a kid shouting “Yesssss!” at the top of my lungs. So embarrassing. We broke up after just two months, though.

Shohey: First loves don’t ever amount to much, do they?

Shimo & Datch: No.

Datch: Things often end up unsaid. I think having the courage to express your feelings for someone else is amazing.

Shimo: Nowadays you have text messages and Line, so you can do it over text.

Shohey: When we were young we didn’t have anything like that. Everything ended with the two of you expressing your feelings for each other. You’d make the call and that was it.

Shimo: That’s true; you didn’t necessarily end up actually dating.

Shohey: [Whispers softly] A lot happened back then…

[Everyone laughs]

And what about the other side of love? The rejections? The heartbreak?

[Everyone turns to look at Shohey]

Shohey: Um, what experience should I talk about?

[Everyone laughs]

Shimo: Surely there’s only one in your case?

[Ed’s note: The members are alluding to Shohey’s now infamous church “proposal” to a fellow housemate in an episode of Terrace House Opening New Doors.]

Shimo: I think you can’t learn to love without having your heart broken at some point.

Shohey: Any specific experiences?

Shimo: Hmm, hang on a minute. There is some trauma involved. [Laughs] When I was in high school, there was a girl I dated for three years. There’s a curious space of time after high school finishes and before university starts. You’re not a student, but you’re not anything else either. At that time you get to meet a lot of people outside your high school bubble and we ended up breaking up during that period. After we graduated from university, we ended up dating again. I was focused on following my dreams with music and wanted to go to Tokyo, while she was ready to settle down in our hometown. Even though we were the same age, our outlook on life was completely different. Obviously we had different goals and ended up breaking up. I think it worked out best for both of us. She got married to a classmate and has three kids and seems happy. I’m glad we broke up, but it’s fascinating to think that our lives are so different even though we’re the same age.

[Awkward pause]

Shimo: I don’t think anyone else wants to share anything! [Laughter]

Datch: The thing about heartbreak is that falling in love and being rejected immediately and dating for a long time then breaking up are different experiences. I dated someone for about two to three years when I was a student. After the breakup, it took me a while to get back on my feet.

Shohey: There are different types of broken hearts and rejection, but I’m thankful for all of it.

Three1989 got a break through Shohey’s appearance on Terrace House Opening New Doors, set in Karuizawa. We wondered how much of an effect that has had on their popularity at home and abroad – and of course if they’re watching the new Tokyo season now. Although Shohey was the star of the show, Shimo is now the resident Terrace House expert.

Are any of you watching Terrace House at the moment?

Shohey: I’m not, no.

Shimo: I am! I’m looking forward to see how things turn out there.

Shohey: I have no idea what’ going on, so I guess I have to start watching.

Shimo: [Laughs] I don’t think that’s necessary!

What impact has Terrace House had for Three1989?

Shohey: Thanks to the show, people outside of Japan know us too. When I first went on the show, I didn’t even think about that – I just wanted more people to know about Three. I think about 30 to 40 percent of my followers on Instagram are abroad. Then people from Taiwan, Spain and other countries contacted us saying they wanted to see us play live – and they have. I’m glad I was on the show. I think our kind of music is pretty niche in Japan, so I’m glad I believed in it enough to share it via Terrace House.

Shimo and Datch, did Shohey’s experience make you want to try out for the show?

[Everyone laughs]

Shimo: Before Shohey was on, I didn’t know anything about the show. Or rather, I didn’t watch it. I opened a Netflix account and started watching. I got hooked. If there was a chance to be on the show … then maybe?

Datch: I prefer watching. If Shimo joins the show then I’ll gladly watch.


Three1989’s new album, Every Week is a Party, is available on iTunes for ¥1,528.

Photographs and video by David Jaskiewicz

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