Rising Filipino J-pop star REIKO on coming home, learning from SKY-HI, and giving back to fans

Rising Filipino J-pop star REIKO on coming home, learning from SKY-HI, and giving back to fans

"Kinakabahan ako (I'm nervous)," REIKO confessed as he was waiting to play his first-ever Manila show.

Born in the Philippines and raised in Japan, his visit marked his first time back in the country since he was 7 years old. The rising J-pop act made his official debut in October 2023, amid a colourful journey with BMSG. He had initially participated in talent search THE FIRST and was en route to becoming a member of MAZZEL, but life had different plans for him. 

After featuring on SKY-HI's 'One More Day' and performing at BMSG events, REIKO took his turn in the spotlight with the release of his solo single 'Butterfly' under BE-U.


As a holiday present for his listeners, he dropped the heartwrenching ballad 'Itazura,' alongside its Filipino version 'Hanggang Kailan Pa' in late December. With four original songs under his belt, he flew over to Manila to connect with UMG Philippines, and hold a special showcase for family, friends, and new fans. 

A few hours before his intimate Manila performance playing alongside the likes of Jayda, Ysanygo, and more, we sat down with REIKO to talk about his musical journey, the best advice SKY-HI has given him, and being his true and authentic self.

Hi, REIKO! How's your Manila trip so far?

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It has been so much fun. I went to Intramuros. I had a lot of Filipino food. I stayed at BGC, which was very active, even at night. It was fun. I grew up in Japan, but it really felt like home too.

I also did a few interviews and met with local artists. I met with Jayda, and we rehearsed for today's performance.

Is this your first time to come back since you left?

I came back once when I was in like, grade school. I was like, six or seven [years old].

Was it overwhelming to be back after so long?

Not really. Kasi marunong ako mag-Tagalog. (I know how to speak in Filipino). (laughs)

We wrote about the news that you were coming here, because we saw that you were going to be performing; and a lot of your Japanese fans are so excited for you to be able to perform here. It's gonna be your first time.

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Yeah! I was so emotional last night. I was like, Kakanta ako sa Pinas as a singer! (I'm going to perform in the Philippines!)  I was so emotional. I am too now... I feel like I'm about to cry.

Let's start at the beginning. How did you get into music?

I'm a Filipino. You know, everybody loves music. I was in Japan. But at home, it was Pinas. I ate Filipino food. I listened to what a Pinoy would listen to. So yeah, I grew up loving music. I loved music, but I didn't really do anything with it until I auditioned for a boy band in 2021, and that changed my life. I didn't get in that boy band, honestly. But I signed a contract with my agency and I trained for two years.

I just debuted. My music career is like just literally this past few years. Only three years. I'm just starting out, but I'm really glad that I was really close with music, even though I wasn't doing it as a job or as a career. I think that helped me with my own mission. Being a Filipino... [singing] is just your skill. I'm really grateful for that. 

You mentioned being a trainee under BMSG. So like what you said,  being Filipino, you just naturally have it. But having that training and discipline from your trainee years, how do you think that helps you? You trained to be in a group, but how do you think that helps you now as a soloist?

It has helped me immensely. When I was auditioning what I was thinking on stage was to "do better," to "do good," to "sing good,"  to "dance good." Which shouldn't be the mindset you have onstage. Music isn't about "doing good." It helped me like get my mind out of it – to think of the audience,  to think of what I'm doing right now; and not to "do good," or "sing good," or anything like that.

It also made me become a music lover to a performer. I'm so glad I trained for two years and [that] helped me a lot.

J-pop is such a huge industry. There are so many artists, so many agencies. How do you think you can set yourself apart from the rest, amidst everything that's going on?

For me, there's no language barrier. I can work here in the Philippines and also do it in Japan. I think that's a very, very big advantage for me. I'm Japanese- Filipino, but I was a Filipino growing up in Japan. That really makes me unique. 

I think, just like what the agency's CEO, SKY-HI, says is, "Just be yourself. That's literally our agency's name! Be MySelf Group. I think just being myself, being a Japanese-Filipino, makes me special.

I was just going to ask. What's the best advice that SKY-HI has given you?

SKY-HI has given me so much wisdom. I can't even pick one. Right now, I'm about to do a show at Balcony Music House. And I'm actually very nervous. Kinakabahan ako. But what is saving me right now are SKY-HI's words. He said "Kinchou wa reigi (緊張は礼儀 ) (Nervousness is courtesy)" which means being nervous is a respect to the craft itself. He always tells us it's the audience who comes to see you, they use their time and their money to come see you. Which means a lot because that's very valuable. You're not taking it away from them, you are giving something back. You're still getting something. So being nervous means you care about your craft, you care about being a performer to to entertain them.

Whew, that felt really good. Kinakabahan ako kanina (I was nervous earlier), but now, thinking about it – Oh, it's a good thing. That's one of the things that he said to me that's really helping me right now.

Are you more nervous about this show than when you performed with SKY-HI?

I am. (laughs) And that was 20,000 people. But this is the Philippines. Pilipinas. Everybody is so good!

Is it because it means so much to you to be able to perform here?

It does. My family is coming. My siblings and parents are in Japan... but mga tito, tita ko. My cousins, tsaka si Lola! (My aunts and uncles are here. My grandmother too!) She lives in Japan, but coincidentally she's here. So they said, "Punta kami! (We will come and watch you perform!)"

How did you prepare for this gig? It's quite an intimate show.

I didn't really prepare. Well, of course, I rehearsed the songs. What I want is to be honest about what I'm feeling on stage. You can see the audience, there's no barrier. Yeah, I want to communicate with them in that way. Because when I do performances in Japan, it's different. Yeah. Like, you don't really see their faces in detail. I just wanted to be honest with myself and be vulnerable. To have a good time and relax. When I perform in Japan, I always think of MC, in between songs – what I want to say, what I want to tell them. There's a time that you're given. But for tonight, it's about being in the moment and communicating with the audience. So yeah, I just want to go with the flow. 

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You're a Filipino Japanese artist who's based in Japan. What does it mean for you to be a debuted artist, in terms of representation?

I feel like Baby REIKO would be happy. I think he would be very happy and proud of himself if he saw me right now (holds back tears). It's my dream. And I'm doing well, apparently. That makes me really happy and very proud. During my trainee days, I had a lot of ups and downs. There were times when I felt like I didn't matter. It was my teenage years. Dramatic. (laughs) I became a trainee when I was 18. I was still in my teens, and I moved out of my home. It was a very big leap for me. I had a lot of rough days, and now that I'm here, I feel very proud of myself.

What advice would you give to aspiring idols?

To believe in themselves. Because that's what I did. I believed in myself, like, no matter what. And eventually, people started to believe me too. I think that's how it works. I believed in myself, and I think that's why SKY-HI believed in me too.

You mentioned that you met with Jayda. Do you have other musical discoveries that you learned about or are you still searching for them?

I am actually discovering a lot.  I knew some Filipino music. Like songs by Moira dela Torre, Zack Tabudlo... but  I only know a few of them. Tonight, I can meet other artists. I was asking Jayda about the other artists, and to actually hear and see them live. It feels so new to me.  I'm very excited to discover more when I come back again. 

So you're coming back again?

Of course, I am!

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What's next for REIKO?

I get asked about that a lot. I don't really know how to answer it. Because what we're doing right now, my team and I are just writing a bunch of songs. I've only put out three songs. So I just want to write and write, and search for myself in that process. Once I've written enough and my team and I decide that I'm ready, we're gonna fan it out.

We're still looking for my path, you know? I'm just going with the flow. But I can promise you that I'll work harder. I will make my dreams come true. I think my dreams, for my Japanese fans, I think their dreams for me are the same as my dreams. I think I can make their dreams come true too. I'm very excited.

I think you're on your way.