Steve Aoki wants you to travel to Japan -- and he's launched a podcast to help you get there
Steve Aoki is taking on a new kind of entertainment.
The celebrated DJ may be most known for his electric performances at the biggest music festivals around the world or for his various hits like "Can't Go Home Without You" and "Just Hold On," but the 41-year-old artist is now venturing into the podcast world.
Separate from his family name (his father was Rocky Aoki, former wrestler and founder of Benihana), Aoki has made quite the name for himself with his award-winning collaborations, philanthropic-driven projects and entrepreneurial spirit. And now, he's aiming to spread his love of his Japanese roots and culture with the launch of a 5-episode podcast airing on Spotify.
We caught up with the musician to learn more about his love for Japan, his mission behind the podcast and the ultimate travel playlist.
AOL: In addition to being one of the most famous DJs in the world, you're a philanthropist and entrepreneur -- what made you want to get into podcasts?
Aoki: I’m a big podcast fan and I always wanted to get into podcasts because they’re another avenue for me to connect with my fans on a personal level. The best thing about the talking podcast series I did with All Nippon Airways is that it allowed me to share with my fans all the reasons why I love Japan so much. They are a great partner. We’ve been working together for a few years now, and they really helped me put this all together. Japan is my favorite place in the world, and ANA gave me the platform to share all the reasons why the country is so special to me, from the food to the art to the music and fashion. Our talking podcast is something I’m very proud of. It’s called ‘Aoki ’N Air,’ and you can listen to all five episodes here.
What impact did the Japanese culture and your family's history play on your childhood? How did your family try to integrate these cultural roots in your siblings' and your upbringing?
Japanese culture has had a huge impact on my upbringing. My heritage informs everything I do to this day, and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve only wanted to learn more and more about where it is I come from. See my parents were very different, but they both instilled very important lessons in me and my siblings. My mother, really embodying traditional Japanese culture, taught us patience, respect, understanding and loyalty. These are things you see and feel when you’re in Japan. There’s just something about the hospitality of the country and the way people treat each other. The biggest thing I learned from my father was his competitive spirit. He ingrained in me a drive that propels me forward in everything I do.
When you're young, it can definitely be hard to embrace and see value in your family's history. How has that evolved from childhood until now?
I’ve been going to Japan since I was a kid, and I think sometimes as kids we can get a little caught up in figuring out who we are as individuals.
But one of the things I’ve learned throughout the years is that my culture and Japanese heritage are a huge part of who I am. It has shaped everything I have done since I was a kid.
And as I’ve gotten older and spent more time in Japan, my curiosity to learn more about both Japan as a whole, as well as my specific family history has only gotten stronger. My heritage is everything to me. My family’s roots in Japan go back to 1940 when my grandfather started opening restaurants there. The first Benihana is still there in Nihombashi, Japan. It started with the concept of connecting people over food, and that’s a mindset my family and I carry with us today. You can see it in the atmosphere of Blue Tree Cafe, which I opened with my brother Kevin. There are locations in Tokyo, Miami and Hawaii, and I get into all this in more detail in episode three of the podcast, but it’s incredibly important to me that the lessons and values learned from my family history are kept in mind today.
All Nippon Airways
What draws you to the country? What are some of the biggest cultural differences you've seen?
I’ve visited Japan more times than I can count. I started going when I was younger, and now I go at least once or twice a year. There’s a lot that draws me to the country. It feels like home, but the biggest thing is you get this different kind of experience particularly with the hospitality. It’s different than any other country I’ve been to. The hospitality and the way people treat each other with just this respect is a beautiful thing. And when you leave, you yourself start treating people with more patience and respect and understanding that you learned from being around Japanese people. That’s the biggest cultural difference for me, and it’s one of the main reasons why I love partnering with ANA because together we can bring people to this amazing country and show them all the things that are so incredible about it. Even from the moment you step on an ANA plane, you experience that same kind of hospitality, so I love flying with them because you get that Japanese experience I love so much, even before you land in the country.
Can you suggest some under-the-radar spots in Japan to add to my travel bucket list?
Some of my favorite spots are the Senso-ji temple, Golden Gai, the Ginza district, the Harajuku fashion district and Shibuya. No matter how many times I go to them, I always find something new. Golden Gai is a bar scene like you’ve never seen in your life. Akihabara is awesome too. It’s a seven-story mall full of arcade games. It’s different from everything else. And that’s what makes these places so incredible. The Senso-jj temple is one of my favorites because you get to really feel Japanese culture while you are there. You can smell the incense burning and really connect. I’m huge into fashion too, so the Harajuku fashion district is one of my favorite places because you can discover all different kinds of fashion there. You walk through these alleyways and encounter some really bizarre, really cool stuff with just this Japanese flair. Food wise, my favorite ramen spots are Afuri ramen and Ippudo. It’s all about the broth when it comes to ramen, and their broth is out of this world. I highly recommend yakitori, chicken skewers, as well. My go-to spot for yakitori is Toriyoshi. I talk about all this and more in the food episode of ‘Aoki ’N Air,’ but Toriyoshi is bomb.
The flight to Japan is NOT short: What are some songs that are essential for your travel playlist?
The flight isn’t short at all, but from playing more than 250 shows a year all over the world, I’ve gotten pretty used to it. I actually curated a few Spotify playlists with All Nippon Airways separate from the talking podcast, which include songs inspired by Japanese culture and music to really get you excited for your time in Asia. As for new music I’m digging, I don’t like to limit myself to one specific genre. I like to collaborate with artists across every single genre of music. It really helps me break out of my box and stay creative when it comes to making new music. And so the music I listen to while I’m traveling spans everything. I like to stay inspired and use the time to discover and work on new music.