Rockin’ on Japan
Interview text by Takako Inoue
Photography by Satoshi Matsuo
There is no guilt, none at all
Divorce, makeup, homosexuality, expulsion, left wing rallies, confinement……
Orphaned soul ISSAY speaks of his traumatic early life and his aloof spirit for the first time
Der Zibet’s new album “POP MANIA”, which corresponds to the second phase of their evolution, welcomed Okano Hajime as a producer. It is a work that leaves the impression that they’re here to make their marks as they open up to pop. Listening to Der Zibet’s past work cooped up in my room, they have all been rather serious productions, but this album, in comparison, has the glitter, the absurdity, and the merriment of rock packed together in a jumble, making it an unexpectedly contemporary album. Even ISSAY’s vocals come through more distinctly, more dramatically than in their previous works. It is one cool rock album.
However, at the same time, I felt a strong sense of jeopardy when I listened to it. That is because this time, half of the song lyrics were written by external lyricists. Beginning with the lyrics from their single Like a Summer’s Day Typhoon (Natsu no Hi no Taifuun no You ni*), “You trace the edge of your wineglass／So meaningfully, with your manicured nails／Seducing my body／While saying nothing” *, these unfamiliar words that were put together made me wonder, ‘Uh, is ISSAY singing this?’.
To ISSAY, who wanted to become a poet before turning into a rock musician, lyrics are an emotional means of expression. This is not an idea of his, but its instead the form that it naturally took, and it is in such a situation where I felt this strong sense of jeopardy. Though it doesn’t feel like this band shutting themselves away at all, instead, it feels like they’ve decided, “If we’re aggressively doing new things, isn’t it also good for us to become rowdier and go crazy?”. But this direction is somewhat risky. Of course, the album was done up well, and I’m not specifically criticising anyone. It’s not that kind of a specific issue, but it is the state of the Japanese music industry that obligates them, as a product, to appeal to a wider audience that gives me that feeling of risk.
It need not be said that this man, ISSAY, is an exceptionally peculiar artiste who cannot be easily substituted. And it is precisely because of this peculiarity that makes it seem like they are about to be buried by the scene. Der Zibet is in danger!ーーーーーー This time, it happens that I was sparked by issues in the song lyrics to write this, but this is also applicable to the riskiness that I’ve always felt from their history.
Is ISSAY really an eccentric or an oddball who makes others avert their eyes from him? Is he an oddity with a twisted outlook? Is he an alien with a communication barrier? Why don’t the words and voice of this man, who has thrown away all of reality’s trivialities and emanates a free soul, contain any sense of normalcy?
ISSAY said with a heavy tone, “It doesn’t matter what my past was like. Even if I talked about my birth, how I was raised, and all those things that I’ve been burdened with, that has nothing to do with my singing on stage”. The reason why this interview had the go-ahead is that there was a desire to address the scene and the readers.
This happened about a week ago, but there was a silly piece of news that caught my eye. It said, “If you take the arrow out of the duck with the arrow (矢鴨**) it’ll just be a regular duck”. This is a topic that has long died down, but for some reason, I felt annoyed upon hearing that cheerful voice. Indeed, it may seem ridiculous to leave it alone with that arrow in it at the pond, and you can’t put it in the zoo either. But that’s none of your business. This is no different from the arrogance of humans who ignored the laws of nature and said, “Save the Japanese crested ibis” instead of letting a species that cannot adapt to reality go extinct. To me, rather than feeling some inexplicable comfort that the arrow was removed, I have more faith in and am more moved by the strength and will to live of that duck which has been flying around and floating around in the water with the arrow still in it.
It is not my intention not to bring attention to the scars of ISSAY’s early life. All I wish to convey is his vitality, that energy of his that makes it impossible for him to resist dashing full speed ahead, and that doing these things do not make him some kind of exotic animal. A declaration of being gay as bright this is probably the first in Japan’s rock scene as well.
An extremely old-fashioned and stern household.
It appeared that he said things like “You have to birth a son or I’ll throw it in the river” to my mother
ーーWhat is your earliest memory?
…… Around the time when I was still toddling around, there was a fire that broke out somewhere near my home, and the next day, my father took me by the hand and brought me over to have a look but right then, they were taking the burnt corpses away. That was traumatising. I was so scared that I clung to my father, and he looked at me wondering what’s wrong with me, you could say I got startled (laughs). I suppose seeing something like that will startle anyone……… It’s something that I remember. What kind of a formative experience is that? (laughs). There’s also the time when I messed up my mother’s vanity set.
ーーOoh. Have you had a strong sense of femininity since young?
My father is the descendant of an ancient Kyushu family, you see, so he was an extremely obstinate, masculine man. And, when I was conceived, he would say things like “If it’s not a boy, I’ll get rid of it by throwing it into the river” or “I’ll cull it” to my mother, it seems like she had a tough time. That’s why my mother prayed with all her heart that she would give birth to a boy. Personally, there are times when I think that maybe a girl was meant to be born but through those prayers, a boy was born instead (laughs).
ーーYou’ve been anticipated as “The heir!” since before your birth.
Yup. The first-born son is far more cherished than the second son, and that’s something that they say without batting an eyelid.
ーーDid he have the kind of extravagance to put lots of huuuuge carp streamers***?
Yes, exactly (laughs). The carp streamers and all. Pretty much every festival was grand.
Anyway, I was afraid of men. I absolutely hated men. Especially adult men
ーーWhat were you like as a child?
You know, when I was in kindergarten, I played with the Hakata dolls**** in my house.
The Hakata dolls were put in a glass case in the drawing room, and I’d meet their eyes, all the time. So I talked and played with them. Like if I had my own secrets, I’d write them all down in a piece of paper and put it into that case. I’d be putting all sorts of papers in, and lots of it. But somehow the papers would disappear, y’know. I wonder what happened to them.
Also, the patrolling officer would often come into our home and have tea. So, that person let me hold his gun. I remember it being terribly heavy. Like, I thought, there’s no way anyone can shoot with something so heavy.
ーーHakata dolls and guns…… That’s kind of symbolic. Was elementary school an extension of that?
No, when I entered elementary school, my parents divorced and we moved houses. So, of course my father was of the mind that he would take me in, and my younger brother was handed over to my mother. But I guess, because he’d have custody of me until I graduate from high school, he felt sorry about it and deposited me at my mother’s. And her having to change her name probably evoked pity too, so he did some things with the family register.
ーーOoh. But from a child’s point of view, wasn’t it quite a shock?
Well, I knew that the relationship between my parents wasn’t good. But I didn’t quite understand the divorce.
ーーSo you didn’t feel like, “happiness has suddenly fallen apart!”.
But, you see, that’s because I hated my father. He was violent, the type of person who says “This is what a man should be like!”, and I detest that, so even if he wasn’t around, I wouldn’t think much of it. Even after the divorce, my father would occasionally come by and see me, right? I hated that too. I’d think, “I wish he didn’t come”. Now that I think about it, I think only that strict, exceedingly masculine father of mine would’ve thought that I was cute. But, like him, I’m short-tempered and have violent mood swings. But I cannot forget running away barefooted in the middle of the night with my mother and my younger brother, us three. That’s why, to me, more then feeling pampered by my father, I felt far more afraid, that fear was immense. Anyway, I was afraid of men. I absolutely hated men. Especially adult men.
That’s why, I think that this might have become part of my character. That part of me that doesn’t really assert myself against my surroundings. ー When I was in my fourth year of elementary school, I ended up getting taken back to my father’s home but, you see, he came home drunk and I suppose looked pitiful, and y’know, he asked, “You. You really want to live with your mother on that side? I won’t get angry so tell me the truth” and when I answered “yes” I got beaten to death (laughs).
ーーNo matter what you said, you would’ve had to weather a hell of a storm.
Yes, that’s right.
ーーSo, were you mild-mannered in elementary school too?
I wasn’t very good at putting myself out there, you see. I had social anxiety and was painfully shy too. But on the surface, I lived a normal life. I was a class monitor and all. I had no sense of responsibility though (laughs). Ah, I was super irregular at that time, the comments on my semester report would be completely different from one semester to the next. If “too quiet” was the written, then in the next semester, “too noisy” would be written. I’d think “Ah, am I gloomy?” and then go “Oh no!”, and after that, I’d become extremely cheerful, and then I’d be considered as too chirpy in the next report (laughs). I have no moderation, none at all.
ーーBut being the class monitor, that seems like the teacher trusts you quite a bit.
At that time, I did well with adults, didn’t I (laughs). I was worldly-wise, quite so. Ah, but there’s something that really pissed me off. In my second year of elementary school, my teacher said “Please write an essay about your father. I promise I won’t show him”. And my impression of my father at that time was that he was always drinking alcohol, then coming to our home to beat us or my mother, and I hated that, so I wrote a single statement, “I wish he didn’t drink alcohol”. After that, it was read out aloud when my father came for the school visitation. My father was insanely angry. I was terribly beaten up. I even thought that he was going to kill me. Since then, I’ve never trusted teachers.
ーーIn your family, were things peaceful when you lived with your mother and younger brother?
Yup. Since the scary father isn’t around either. Well, even though they were divorced, he would occasionally come and fight with my mother again, that was the only time I felt antagonised but……… Other than that, it was great. At home, I’d play with monster figurines with my younger brother, dig holes in the yard.
ーーHoles, as in pitfalls?
Holes. Pure, simple holes (laughs).
Let’s see…… The aim was to have a hole so big and deep that I can bury myself in it. But I was small in size and had no strength so I could only dig down to around the height of my knees, and gradually, bit by bit, it began widening out from the sides. When that happened, from my mother’s point of view, it was just right for throwing out the rubbish in and all so she just let it be (laughs). And when I started digging in a different spot, she’d get angry and say “It’s still too soon” (laughs).
ーーDid you do that on your own?
When friends came over to hang out and said “I wish there’s something fun to do”, I’d say “Well, I’ve got something fun” and have them dig with me (laughs). So, you see, I personally thought that it was fun but halfway through everyone would end up going home. But I’d just keep digging until the very end.
ーーNot for the sake of burying something in it?
Nope, I wanted to go into the hole.
ーーAh. I assume you went into closets too then.
I did go in, I did! When it rained I would stay in the closet the entire time. Even when it wasn’t raining, if I got my allowance and bought snacks, I’d take them with me and go straight into the closet. When my younger brother was around, he’d come in too…… I guess that’s how it was.
I wasn’t good at playing in groups of three or more people. When a lot of people are around, the amount of information going around is too much for me and I’d start to lose track of things. Isn’t it so that the more people there are, the more difficult it is to find the middle ground? I couldn’t do that (laughs).
Hanging out with gays was enjoyable.
Because it made me feel like this was a place for freedom
ーーSo in your fourth year, you were taken back by your father, right?
Well, there was this one time when my father introduced a woman he brought home by saying “This is your mother”, but I didn’t quite understand what he was saying. I didn’t know about remarriage, and even though I thought, “Aah, what a beautiful person”, there was also a feeling of “But I already have a mother……”. But this new mother also cared for me and she was affectionate as well, in fact, she might have been more fond of me than her actual son. Even now, our relationship is still very good too. That’s why, you see, it’s not that I don’t have a place where I can belong to. It’s just that, gradually, I came to dislike family gatherings and I stopped coming out of my room.
ーーI see. Was there some kind of change that occurred when you entered junior high school?
Because I grew to dislike being at home, I joined the Kendo club. See, I had the thought that samurai are cool (laughs). Like Sakamoto Ryoma and the Shinsengumi, weren’t there a lot of cool people during Bakumatsu*****?
ーーLike “youths who care about the world and revolutionise!”?
Yes, exactly. I thought, “How cool!”. So I joined the Kendo club.
ーーBut isn’t the world of “This is what a man should be like!” exactly what the Kendo club is?
I mean, those kinds of superior and subordinate-like relationships aren’t only found in the Kendo club, are they? I guess that’s why I did things as I did with just a simple “Oh, I see”. Even though I thought “how stupid”, this was all because I wanted to do Kendo. There’s no other way except to bear with it, right? Even if I had to go bald I would’ve been completely fine with it too. Even now I can deal with a shaved head.
ーー(Laughs). Even if you say you can.
It’s fine, I don’t care. It’s something that will grow back again anyway.
ーーI see. So, you said that you’d shut yourself away in your room when you were at home.
Yup, I’d, at most, go around on a bicycle. I just kept reading books in my room. Like manga, sci-fi, mystery novels. Since my father completely forbade all forms of entertainment, even manga wasn’t allowed, so I hid and read. The only time I came out of my room was when it was time to eat.
ーーYou never agonised over it, like “why am I like this”?
I never had any forward-looking thoughts at all. It was all just, “It doesn’t matter”, or “Anyway I’ll have a peace of mind as long as I’m in this room. No one will have any complaints”, those kinds of feelings.
ーーYou never worried about the future, or wondered what will happen.
Yup. I didn’t think about that very much. You see, I was being raised as my father’s heir so I always thought that I’d succeed him. Because I thought that it was without a doubt that it would turn out that way, I always did. I guess my parents did well on educating me about that part (laughs)
ーーYou never even said “Why can’t I read manga!” to him, or rebelled or fought back at all.
Yup. If I did that I would’ve definitely gotten into a lot of trouble (laughs)
ーーSo you simply continued through all of that as an honour student by treating it as a force majeure that came about from your surroundings, and without worrying about it or taking it as your problem.
Exactly. So, for high school I went to a prestigious boarding school. An all-boys school. Because I figured that I could get out of the house through this.
ーーAll for the sake of that? (laughs)
But, you know, it was strict. We were split into classes by grades, like everyone of A class would be in one dormitory. So you’d have the whole class in a dorm. And the rooms are shared between two people, your wake up times in the morning are fixed, furthermore, you’d have to be back by 5:30 p.m. for dinner. Then you’d have to stay in your room and study from 7 to 11 p.m.. You’re not allowed to visit other rooms either.
ーーWould patrols come around?
Yup, they would. No one likes that, right? But when I was at home, I didn’t come out from my room either so it’s the same. Though in a double room, it’s more enjoyable since you’d have each other. Approximately once every two weeks you get to go home but I didn’t like that either so I stayed in the dorm the whole time, having fun on my own. And, you see, there were lots of byways in the dorm. You’ll be able to go out in the afternoons on rest days too. At that time, I had two friends who were bad influences, you see, and on Saturdays, in the middle of the night― the patrols don’t really come around much past 11 p.m. so we’d sneak out of the dorm. We’d go to a gay host bar to drink, and we’d just have alcohol then go back (laughs), every week.
ーーOoh. But why? Because it felt comfortable to be there?
Yup, the gays were interesting people. You know, those people, they’d have to hide that they are gay after all, don’t they? That’s because, in society, you can’t really openly say “I’m gay!”, right? But when they go to this bar, they can finally let themselves out, you see. There were subtle shared feelings between fellow discriminated persons too, and those people were very liberated in there. Normally they’d speak with “Well I……”^, and when they get calls from their offices or something, they’d also speak with “Ouh, it’s me!”^ but when that ends, they’d say, “Ah, that was tiring♡” (laughs). It made me think, “Ah, this place is where these people can feel most at ease”. I, too, felt that this was an enjoyable place. Because we were high school students, they wouldn’t get angry with us either, you see, since no one subscribes to common beliefs or generalisations.
ーーWas that because there was interest as well? Or was it a sympathy of not having somewhere to belong to? Or was it because you also had a feeling that perhaps you were gay as well when you were there?
Well, whichever it was. Or rather, there was all of that. At the start I spoke about it out of mere curiosity though, like “Whoa~, this is interesting!”. And when I had nothing to do, there was a park butー That place was famous for being a place where gays cruised for sex, and if I went there to space out, I would definitely be approached by people around five times (laughs), so I hung out with them. If I follow along too much, they’d force for sex and look at me with a scary look in their eyes so I didn’t really go along though.
ーーSo in your high school days, you experienced the nightlife with alcohol, cigarettesー
Yup. So it was also that time when I first slept with a man.
ーーEh? Is that so?
ーーCan I pen this?
Sure. Anyway, it’s the truth. Now, if you ask me, I don’t think it makes any difference to my inner self.
ーーOoh. So have you dated men before as well?
Yup. It’s like, I don’t really have any resistance against such things.
ーーSo in your own consciousness, it’s not something that’s particularly special.
Yup. Even with regards to the sexual partー When it comes to sex, I don’t have anything against it either.
ーーI wonder where you picked up that free-spirited way of being.
Though, you know, I don’t really know about that ‘free’ part. It’s more like just a hit-or-miss thing though (laughs)
ーーBut when you went to that host bar for the first time, there was a shared sympathy between victims, like “This is a place where I can be free”, as well, right?
Yup, it might have been that. Well, that’s because I’m a lump of aggrieved feelings, aren’t I (laughs)
ーーRight? And with the added “I’m gay too”, didn’t that just add to the aggrieved feelings even more?
But, you see, I don’t have a single impression that I did anything bad or anything like that. There is no guilt.
ーーYes. But that lack of discomfort, it’s wonderful yet unusual, isn’t it?
But haven’t I liked them before? Males. Now that I think about it, I believe that the thought of “I like that senior” that I had when I was in junior high was definitely love. I admired him. It was a very strong admiration. Be it because he was cool, or because I wanted to become like him. A regular boy wouldn’t think of that as love, would they?
ーーIs it your nature that stands apart after all?
Hmm, it might be that.. But, also because the sex feels good.
But, you see, I don’t really think very deeply about sex. As long as it feels good, its good. Maybe that’s because my physical body is a male’s (laughs). It might be different if I was a woman though. I’ve never been a woman so I don’t know about that though.
Though I was surprised during my first kiss. But I didn’t like it, so I didn’t do anything more than that. Ah, but my first kiss was with a girl.
ーーAh, no, I’m not asking about your tendencies, it doesn’t matter.
In the first place, I don’t have much feelings about being male or female, that’s definitely where I stand. That’s why I hate the “male” “female” categorisations. You see, to me, gender is not something that has an ideal. That’s why, back then, I think I was even more big-headed with even more radical ideas than I am now. And that’s why, in my mind, I don’t have a gender.
ーーI can really understand that a lot. But I dare say that there aren’t many people who put this in practice, are there?
When I frivolously put on makeup in high school and went walking around, there’d be big brawny guys who would come up to my and say, “Hey fucker! I’m gonna kiss ya!”, like they’re trying to harass me. And when they’d grab onto me like they’re going to kiss me, I’d stay still, stare, and say “Sure, go ahead”. Then they’d stop. Why didn’t they do it, if they wanted to it would be fine anyway. So, you see, I don’t really think much of these things.
ーーYou can’t protect yourself, can you?
See, that’s the question, what are you protecting? That, to me, is up to you to imagine, up to you to say what you think, up to you to express. It’s all up to you.
I went for gym class with foundation on, eyebrows drawn, and nails painted.
It seems like they thought that I had a mental problem (laughs)
ーーI see. So earlier on, you said that even now, that part of your inner self is gay, right? What is that?
I don’t know. I can’t really explain it very well. For example, my love for Tatsuya (partner in Hamlet Machine, ISSAY’s other project. Originally vocalist of ALLNUDE) is somewhat similar to homosexuality. However I don’t have the thought of wanting to sleep with Tatsuya, though there might be something close to that. Prior to this, we went to watch a movie and we even discussed things like “if you get AIDS I’ll take care of you”^^ (laughs). Though I think people would normally consider this as being close friends.
ーーTo ISSAY, be it admiration, a sense of security, or adoration, it’s all the same love, isn’t it?
Yup. I can’t differentiate that well. And I don’t have the slightest intention to differentiate if it is love or friendship. What an excuse! I’ll say this clearly. There’s a difference in relation to whether I want to have sex with them or not. But that too doesn’t have anything to do with love or friendship, does it? Not particularly!
ーーSo, you’re saying that there has always been this homosexuality in you.
I don’t know, I haven’t had sex with men recently (laughs). But at the same time, there might be more feelings of guilt when having sex with a woman. Maybe women are scary. …… That’s why I like men, for sure. Like that movie I mentioned earlier, at the start, the gays were swimming in the nude, having fun and being all energetic. But when things steadily grew to be beyond help, one of the leads became worn out and was in ruins from AIDS and he said, “I am in pain. I don’t want to live”. My tears just rolled down (laughs). Those are a man’s words, aren’t they? If it was a woman, I think she’d say “Live for me”.
ーーI see. So even the gay men who you met back then, they weren’t the “adult men” who you hated, but were instead kind and strong people.
You see, I suppose they made me feel safe. They were somehow appropriately effeminate people who got lonely easily, and everyone had exceptionally adorable characteristics too. Like dropping their chopsticks in such an odd manner that its hilarious and things like that. It’s somewhat like being free from worldliness, you see. I really loved it.
ーーUntil then, have you ever thought that your looks weren’t masculine?
You see, I’ve always thought of myself as a regular guy. Sometime before my junior high graduation period, I fought with a friend and he called me something like “queer bastard!” but I had no idea what it meant at all. Then when I was in high school, a stranger said it to me, and I realised that I appear different to others no matter what, so I thought “Well, I guess applying makeup will be better anyway” (laughs). I figured that if I did that, the creeps won’t speak to me.
ーーThat was sudden too, right?
It’s easy to see that I’m different from others, right? I think that this concept itself is liberating too. Of course, when I walk on the streets with makeup on, I’d get heckled by loud voices though. It’s no big deal. I thought those guys were stupid. Like, “why the hell do these stupid people keep barging in and stomping all over other people’s business?” (laughs)
ーーI get the feeling that you’ve put yourself on the line against the world, against adults.
Yup, probably. These days, there’s the opinion that “putting on some kind of makeup makes you cooler”, but back then, the culture of men applying makeup did not exist. That’s because this was slightly before Julie^^^ started wearing makeup. And that’s why, even though my teachers looked at me and thought “How strange”, no one could say it (laughs). I applied foundation, put on eyeliner, drew my brows, applied mascara, and also put on lipstick and painted my nails, so I think that should be obvious enough, but they didn’t say anything to me. Like, after gym class, the teacher apparently told my closest friend “That guy sure is strange”. Then, my friend said, “Yup, he’s strange” and that was the end of it. It seems like they thought that I had a mental issue (laughs). Like they can’t directly tell me that I’m weird or it’ll hurt my feelings or something.
ーー(Laughs) It’s like some unfathomable world unfolded in that cramped dormitory……
There was something remarkable there.
To say that having friends is a lonely thing, that’s truly lonely!
ーーIt’s like the kind of foreign gymnasium that appears in a Shojo manga………… So, was it around this time that you started listening to music?
Yup, it’s in that period. Until then, I would buy and listen to film music like “Melody”^^^^ though. Back then, KISS and Aerosmith were popular but it was shrill and noisy to me, I couldn’t deal with it . You see, I couldn’t stand those kinds of sounds. Then, I think it was David Bowie’s “Station to Station” that I heardー That doesn’t sound like rock at all, does it? I thought, “Ah, so rock has such music too” and it was after that that I could listen with a peace of mind.
ーーWhen you first listened to rock, how did it influence you?
I became comfortable with enjoying myself alone in my room. Like, it doesn’t really matter to me whether or not I’m with anyone. But this isn’t because someone told me this or anything. I just grew to become like this after listening to that. Well even now, thinking about it, I still feel that music is an amazing force after all. …… It was also around that time when I started writing poetry too.
ーーWhat kind of poetry did you write?
The poetry that I wrote back then, well, most of it was uplifting. I loved Tanikawa Shuntaro^^^^^. But it’s really no big deal.
But because that was all I did, I started to stand out in the dormitory. So, then, there was a little something……… It’s kind of pathetic so I don’t really want to talk about it, but it’s not that big a deal though. There was something that happened in the dormitory that got everyone overly excited, and one of them got caught by the teachers and spilled the beans. So normally, the ironclad rule is that things just stop there, but that guy, he probably thought he was being cute or something. He said “That senior forced me to go”, and he gave them my name. I don’t remember whether I invited him to go or not. Then, I was next to be called, so I said, “If that’s what he said, then that’s fine”. ‘That’, as in, expulsion. But, you see, after investigations, they found that half the dormitory was involved. And there was no way they’d expel more than half the dormitory, would they? So, I was made out to be the mastermind, like they decided that it would be enough to punish just this one guy, me. So either expulsion or a school transfer. I was asked to choose between the two. But, you see, I didn’t want to live in such a place any more, did I? And it just so happened that at that time, I was having problems with my family again, soー I was also becoming mentally unstable myself, you see, like “Well, that’s just perfect”. I didn’t want to be at home, neither did I want to be in school any more. I thought, fine, whatever, I’ll give up, and so I did. Instead of the bastard who did this, it was I who got bitterly hurt.
ーーAnd that’s because it was not only the adults but even your friend who sabotaged you, right.
Yup. If the person who was caught wasn’t a friend or anything, if he was just some guy who decided to tag along on his own, then it would be fine since he never was someone I trusted since the start. But everyone agreed to this. That’s the most shocking part, isn’t it? I thought, “Well, fine! I don’t want to be around these kinds anymore”. My father kept going on about it though. He’d say, “You may think that you were protecting your friends, but it was instead your friends who cast you away”. Yes, yes, that’s right. And he’d also say, “How irresponsible, stop doing those ridiculous things”. He said those words until the day he died.
ーーIs that with regards to your way of life?
Yup. He’d tell me to stop it because I looked like a fool to him. But I know. Because that person would despair over this, saying things like “What a corrupt world”, a man who attempted suicide in his youth (laughs)
ーーThat’s a fitting image, isn’t it (laughs).
But by surviving, that person would have thrown that away, right? Surely? That’s why, at that time, I kept thinking, “Ah, these people aren’t what you call friends!”. Friends are people who will never do that which should not be done to their companions. Those who do such things aren’t friends. Only friends will have a long list of things that they know they should never do to their fellow friends. And, you see, that’s why, to say that having friends is a lonely thing, that’s truly lonely!
ーーSo you were able to see this even more clearly for the first time after this incident happened.
More like, I became even more aware of something that I’ve always felt from the beginning. That’s why, you see, listening to rock, talking to gaysー The more such empathetic incidents occur, the more I grew to feel like there must be some kind of mistake for my being in my family, in this school, all of it. Because I started wondering to myself, “Why am I here?”, despite that I enjoy reading these kinds of books and writing these kinds of poetry, you know? I got the feeling that if I didn’t do what I did, I would’ve broken.
ーーSo, you chose to drop out of your own accord.
My parents were extremely angry. Since it was an embarrassment too. And because of my father’s reputation, they said that it wouldn’t be good if I stayed in Shizuoka, so I went to Tokyo. Though it was more like I was discretely kicked out. So I delivered newspapers in Yotsuya (a neighbourhood in Shinjuku, Tokyo).
ーーYou’re kidding me!?
It’s true. I delivered newspapers while wearing makeup (laughs). The Self-Defence Forces were there too, weren’t they? So in the mornings or something, the entrance guards would be standing there, you see, and it seemed cold, so when I’d give it to them like, “Here, take this”, they’d be all grateful, like “Thank you. When I’m in the country……”, etcetera, etcetera (laughs)
ーーWere you wearing makeup at that time too?
Yup. But it was no longer that heavy though, usually. Though, life in Yotsuya was terrible. The only space I had was a room the size of two and a half tatami mats with a bed in it. But I had a tiny radio cassette player anyway. I listened to tapes using that.
ーーBut it was better for your mental state.
Yup. You see, in the morning I’d deliver newspapers, then after that I can take a nap or something, then wake up in the evening and go out delivering again. After that I can do whatever I want too. I can choose to drink alcohol, or smoke, or read a book. I can listen to music too. And at that time, there was a guy among my acquaintances who was part of a left-wing group, and I went to meetings and stuff by invitations from that guy though. It just so happens that at that time, it was being held at places like Sanrizuka. But when I asked about it, it seemed to me that these guys weren’t all that big a deal.
ーーDid you take part in demonstrations too?
Nope, before that, my father caught word of it and he brought me back again, I had quite a hard time (laughs)
ーーOh no~. Not again……
It’s true that no matter where I go, I’m a failure though, aren’t I (laughs). So after I was brought back, I was in confinement. Meaning that I didn’t take a single step out of my room, neither did I step out of the house. Though occasionally, when there’s no one around, I’d go to the beach or something.
ーーSince then, you began writing all sorts of things in your room, right?
For three months, all I did was read books……… write in my notebook. Be it poetry or prose. I simply kept writing out every single thing in my mind, like, I don’t like this, or I like that, and what not. You know, as I did that, a lot of things gradually became clear to me, a lot of things came to light. Maybe other people who can confidently say what they are started out this way too.
ーーWas that the original form of the worldview that you sing of now?
Yup. I felt that I can’t live if I don’t protect this, so I decided that I wanted to live like how I felt. I think it was at that time when the original form of ‘Matsu Uta’ came about.
I’ve always been looking for a place where my soul can exist as it is,
with no relation to age, or sex, or birthplace
ーーI see. So how did your confinement come to an end?
After about three months passed, I got the feeling that my mental state might be in trouble. When we’re talking like this, I can answer you with “Yes”, right? Or I could say “No” or “I don’t think so”. I got into a state where there was none of that at all. I wouldn’t make a single sound, and I would just keep writing. I would fill up ten to twenty full pages of words in a day. As I did that, the characters would gradually, steadily, grow larger and larger. Coherence and context was lost too. I thought, “This is bad”. With all of that……… It’s somewhat like spewing out curses all over the place (laughs). I thought, “This doesn’t seem good……”. I knew that I wasn’t making sense any more and I figured, “This is bad!”. I wanted to talk to people in my age group. So, that turned into a huge fight though. My father told me to repeat to him myself that I wanted to go to high school, but it was obvious, and he could see it, so I would never say it. So it became a battle of endurance, to see who would give in first, and then we got into a fight, I thought he was going to kill me (laughs)
ーーThat’s no laughing matter.
So I went for one more year of school. At that time, I barely spoke to anyone in my class because I no longer put my trust in friends, you see. Hey, you know those committee chairman types, there are lots of those, aren’t there? Those that say things like, “If there’s anything you need help with, do ask me”. I would say to them, “Shut up, you idiot”. It’s not because I’ve become a cynic, but it’s because these guys who approach you all smiles are the first ones to turn around and stab you in the back. I’d say things like “Shut up, I’ll ask if I need anything so beat it” (laughs) Something like that.
ーーWas it during those days when you became the student council president?
Yup, after that.
ーーWhy did you become the student council president there? It’s strange (laughs).
Vice president. Well, you see…… It was decided that if any problems arose this time around, I’d be expelled. So I figured, if I’m at least in that kind of a position then I’d be fine, regardless. Hahahaha. Because that was the last chance that I had. Since that time, I wanted to express myself like, I don’t know which, but either a writer or a poet. And, time is needed for that, isn’t it? So for the sake of a perfect moratorium, I thought “If I did this, then it should be difficult for me to get expelled” (laughs)
ーーSo, was this long before you thought of making rock music?
Sometime before I graduated from high school, I was writing poetry when I began to think that I’m not getting anywhere doing something like this. So, at that time, I was listening to T-REX when I became convinced that “Ah, this might be something that I can do”. Then I gathered almost all my musician friends. Right before we went into the studio, I suddenly hummed a tune and said, “This is the melody that I want to sing”, then the guitarist briefly played it. Chords were added and memorised. And so we did an original song the first time we went into the studio. It made me feel like I’m a such genius.
ーーWithout having ever made music before?
Yup. Even now, that’s how I write songs. I come up with them by humming (laughs)ー Well, I have zero analytical abilities, don’t I, and that turned out to be fortunate (laughs). But we debuted before graduating from university so that was unusually early.
ーーYou’ve never thought of playing instruments?
I’ve never even considered it. I thought the one who used his voice was the greatest!
ーーHahahahaha. So when you went to university, you began to properly start performing lives.
Though I didn’t even know that live houses were a thing. I told them that I heard that such a thing existed, and the bassist went looking for it, then he came back and said, “Anyway, let’s give it a go”. So, you know, until then, I’ve always been nothing more than an eccentric, right? I wasn’t popular with the girls either.
But isn’t that how it is?! With using makeup, talking about incomprehensible things on my own, being highly conscious of only myself, having no trust in anyone at all. “He’s creepy, that guy”, that’s what people used to say of me. But when I performed at lives, other people started to say that I was cool, and I was soo happy! I thought, as long as I’m here, I’m cool. Like, “Ah, I’ve finally found it”.
ーー……… That took a long while, didn’t it?
Yup. Hahahahaha. It was there where I first came to understand the magic of being able to be myself no matter what I sing. Regardless of my age, of whether I’m male or female, of my originating from Shizuoka, of whether I’m a student or not. I’ve been looking for a place like this that has none of those societal burdens. I didn’t want to be male or female. I didn’t want to be called a student, neither did I want to be called a working adult. It doesn’t matter if you’re proud of having lived a long life, neither does it matter if you’re proud of being young, age has nothing to do with this, does it? This is how I’ve always felt, you see.
ーーYou hit your head against this and that, here and there, all to find a place where you can live as your soul is. And it was then that you found a place where you can openly live as yourself.
Yup. But in the beginning, I was scared though. I’d get drunk, gulping down alcohol, and every time we were going to have a live, I’d definitely empty a pocket bottle of whisky, that’s how scared I was. Even now, when a live is about to start, I’d still get scared. But, you see, that’s the only place where my existence is excuseable. It just happens that this is the only place where the soul in this physical body can be itself. This one and only existence unlike any other.ー I think that’s definitely what I am, ever since I was a child. I’m not going through life as the son of that father. I started using the name ISSAY ever since I started writing poetry in high school butー I think that I changed the moment I gave myself the name ISSAY. I turned in to an existence of nothing, of zero.
* Translated title and lyrics from This is NOT Greatest Site
** This references an incident in 1993 when a Northern Pintail duck was found at Tokyo’s Shakujii River with a crossbow arrow stuck in it. Read more here (Japanese only, unfortunately)
**** Hakata dolls are traditional Japanese clay dolls that originated from Fukuoka. Read more here
***** Bakumatsu refers to the end of the Edo period when the Shinsengumi existed.
^ In this portion, it should be noted that there is reference to the different forms of “I” that can be found in the Japanese language. 俺 (ore), which has a strong masculine implication, was used in these sentences. Read more about the different nuances here
^^ It might be interesting to note the literal translation of this statement.
アイズになったら俺がオムツ換えてやるよ = If you get AIDS I’ll change your diaper for you
^^^ Julie as in Sawada Kenji, who was nicknamed Julie for his love of Julie Andrews. It was in the 1970s when he started wearing makeup. He was also known as “Japan’s David Bowie”. Read more about him here
^^^^ 小さな恋のメロディ is the Japanese title of the British movie Melody, also known as S.W.A.L.K.
^^^^^ Tanikawa Shuntaro is a famous Japanese poet who is highly regarded in Japan. Read more about him here
Scans: morgianasama on LJ