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Go away with ... Kento

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Singer-songwriter-producer Kentö said that growing up in Japan, Canada, Brazil and the United States with his multicultural family (Japanese, French, Canadian, Brazilian) had a positive impact on his music. “I get a lot of inspiration from both Brazilian and Japanese drum beats as well as traditional instruments,” said the "Silhouette" singer, who is based out of New York City. “You can hear these influences a lot in my music wrapped up in a little pop bow, of course. I grew up listening to singers from all over the world like Freddie Mercury, Ivete Sangalo, Ayumi Hamasaki and Sylvie Vartan. (They’re) very different artists, but all iconic voices that I tried to emulate growing up and, in my own way, shaped the style and tone of my voice today.” Kentö stays in touch with fans on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/kentoofficial/), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/kentoofficial) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/kentoofficial).

Q: What was it like growing up in Japan?

A: Japan is an extremely safe place for children. I feel like you really feel a sense of community all around you. I feel really lucky to have had a major part of my life there. As an artistic child, being surrounded by festivals, beautiful landscape, architecture, fashion, art and, of course, food was inspiring every single day.

Q: Did you deal with any kind of prejudice or microaggressions growing up?

A: I definitely did. I try to keep an open mind in understanding the why instead of being upset about it. However, there were definitely times where I found myself feeling like I wasn’t Japanese enough. Constantly being called gaijin (foreigner) and feeling this need to reassure people that I spoke Japanese are just a few examples of what it is like on a daily basis. That being said, Japan is home and I have immense love in my heart for the way I grew up and for my adult years back there. In 2013, I got to compose the opening theme for a documentary film that was shown in major theaters all across the country called “Hafu,” about what it’s like to be a mixed-race person in Japan.

Q: If you had travel plans for these past two years and had to cancel due to the pandemic, where were they to?

A: My 2020 and 2021 were meant to be very different. Right before the pandemic began, I had spent a month in Los Angeles, Calif., writing and recording. The day after I returned to New York, we were going into lockdown. It was all very scary at first. I think we all sort of thought things would just be postponed for a short amount of time. But then after that first month, things got very real. Shows I had lined up, recording sessions and travel and tour dates all over the United States, as well as to Tokyo and London, had to be indefinitely canceled.

Q: What are your hopes for the upcoming years?

A: Definitely being able to make up for lost time is important. However, I’ve also realized that it is very important to be able to let go and make new plans. I am still planning on making trips and also starting to plan my show schedule right now. Will definitely be making those announcements soon. Very grateful we are starting to see things getting to a place where we can travel and do what we love once again.

Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?

A: I spent a month in Taipei and it quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. There are so many interesting shops and people there. I went there to visit the only person I knew there. Within days, I made so many new friends from just exploring and talking to people. I speak Mandarin on a conversational level, so it was nice to be able to communicate in both English and Mandarin. Don’t leave without going to the night markets and visiting some beautiful temples.

Q: What's the most important thing you've learned from your travels?

A: We’re all just people. No matter where you are, there are going to be people with similar interests, tastes and dreams. It’s always nice to visit cultural sites like museums or monuments, but next time you take a trip, don't be afraid to try to make some new friends. They know where all the hidden treasures are and you'll learn so many new things from each other. Go to a movie theater and watch something in the language of the country you’re visiting. Explore nightlife. Go off the tourist guidebook and wander. Try to speak the language as much as you can if you are not a native speaker. And be respectful of the land you are on.

Q: If you could only pick one place to eat, which would you choose?

A: There is a small ramen shop in Nakameguro called Afuri that is my absolute favorite. I could eat the yuzu ramen literally every day. It has a light broth with freshly torched char siu topped with lots of thinly chopped scallions (and) yuzu. It is divine.

Q: Do you speak any foreign languages?

A: I speak Japanese, Portuguese, French, Spanish and English. I’m also conversational in Mandarin. I think because I started learning languages at a young age just being from a diverse family, it’s definitely easier now to pick up languages. My advice for learning a language is to pick up a book of phrases and a dictionary.

Q: What are your five favorite cities?

A: Maringá (Brazil), Kyoto, Saint-Tropez, Taipei and New York City, baby!

Q: What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?

A: We always ate home-cooked meals at home, so I would have to say I’m a sucker for fast food when I’m on the road, because even to this day, I rarely eat it. I’m talking local chain fast food, not the big conglomerates. Like First Kitchen in Japan, or Bob’s Burgers in Brazil. It’s always interesting to see culturally what people eat when they are wanting a quick meal.

(Jae-Ha Kim is a New York Times bestselling author and travel writer. You can respond to this column by visiting her website at www.jaehakim.com. You may also follow “Go Away With…” on Twitter at @GoAwayWithJae where Jae-Ha Kim welcomes your questions and comments.)

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