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Ikimono Gakari, one of the most successful young pop/rock bands in Japan, actually claim to be not so young, citing 1999 as their formation date. However, their early attempt at rocking out didn't go anywhere. The group was established in Kanagawa by onetime schoolmates Mizuno Yoshiki and Yamashita Hotaka while they were attending separate colleges. The group expanded to a trio by the end of the year upon the addition of female underclassman Yoshioka Kiyoe as the vocalist. Right from the start the band was dubbed Ikimono Gakari -- a name that is as amusing in English as it is in Japanese, translating as "those in charge of the school pets." However, in 2000, after a year of spirited street performances, the bandmembers abandoned Ikimono Gakari in favor of their student careers and went to study in the university. That's a somewhat banal story; what's unusual here is that in 2002, after finishing their courses, they resurrected the project, and not just in the sense of a fun class reunion. The band was picked by independent label Thunder Snake, and by 2003 played sold-out local shows and released its first EP, Makoto ni Sen'etsu Nagara First Album wo Koshiraemashita, which translates as "Please excuse our impertinence, but we have crafted our first album." Irony is rarely the path to mainstream recognition, but the pop sensibility of the band soon propelled Ikimono Gakari to the major leagues: in 2005, after two more "indies," they were picked by a major label (Epic Records), and didn't miss their chance. Ikimono Gakari's first single for the new label, "Sakura" (2006), reached the Oricon charts and lingered there for 29 weeks, although not rising above number 17. That was followed by their debut LP with the sweetly naïve name Sakura Saku Machi Monogatari (The Story of the Town Where Cherry Blossoms Bloom), which scored number four on the charts. The band solidified its success in a traditional Japanese way -- by providing a song for the long-running and very popular anime series Bleach (the single "Hanabi," 2006). Another seven singles, released over the course of the next one and a half years, paved the way for the second LP, Life Album; released in February 2008, the album debuted at number two in the charts and sold more than 150,000 copies in three weeks. The band's third major album, My Song Your Song, followed in December of that year. ~ Alexey Eremenko

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1999 in Kanagawa, Japan

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