The origin of “ISSAY”
Thank you for All -vol.004-
Interview text by Masubuchi Kimiko (増渕公子)
Photography by Saori Tsuji [Blue Ash]
ISSAY (Issei): Born on the 6th of July in Numazu City, Shizuoka Prefecture. A vocalist. After working on the band ISSAY and SUICIDES and his own solo projects, DER ZIBET was formed in 1984. It was around the same time when he appeared in the movie The Legend of the Stardust Brothers and got acquainted with mastermind and showrunner Chikada Haruo. This meeting led to DER ZIBET’s major debut in 1985 with the single Matsu Uta under the label SIXTY RECORDS. Between switching labels to COLUMBIA TRIAD and then BMG Victor ariola later on, the band released a dozen albums before eventually going on an indefinite hiatus in 1996. In that same period, electronic music group HAMLET MACHINE was formed in 1991 and remained active alongside ISSAY’s DER ZIBET activities. He then formed ϕ (Phi) in 1998 with guitarist Hirose “JIMMY” Satoshi (ex. 44MAGNUM) and a few others but it was later disbanded in the year 2000. ISSAY meets DOLLY was then formed in 2002 (active irregularly), along with Lynx in 2005 with HEATH (X JAPAN). His musical career continued through these bands alone until 2006, when DER ZIBET came together again with all 5 original members of the band following the catalyst of HAL’s accident (although it was around 2007 when the band officially regrouped). 2009 saw the release of their first album since reformation, PRIMITIVE and their solo liveshow celebrating their 25th anniversary. They have remained very active since and in 2012, they have announced the release of two full albums, ROMANOID Ⅰ and ROMANOID Ⅱ and will be performing solo live shows in Tokyo and Osaka too. All while racing on towards their 30th anniversary.
There was no doubt that both my father and mother doted on me.
It’s just that…… I think my father was bad at showing love.
ーー This photoshoot and setting were selected based on ISSAY-san’s image. That said, ISSAY-san, do you often visit the rose garden?
ISSAY (I): During this season (May), I really do feel like going to the rose garden but the moment I thought about how crowded it would get, I had to give up on that idea for this shoot (lol).
ーー Would you visit every year?
I: More or less every year in this past decade. If I don’t go in May or June, I’d go in October, during the autumn rose season. Y’know, some years ago, I’d even go with our drummer MAYUMI too. And this old Western-style building we had our shoot in, I love those types of buildings. I’d love to live in one (lol).
ーー (Lol). So, to start, I’d like to ask about your childhood. You were born in Shizuoka?
I: Right, Numazu City in Shizuoka Prefecture. Although it’s a coastal town, there are mountains too. It’s a place that’s sandwiched between both the mountains and the sea, but I’m better acquainted with the sea.
ーー Was the sea within walking distance?
I: I kept moving around Numazu City from time to time so it depended on where I lived at that period, y’know? From where the present house is, it’s not impossible to walk [to the sea] if I wanted to, I think.
ーー What do you mean by ‘moving around Numazu City’?
I: My parents were divorced. When I finished kindergarten, my younger brother and I, us two were taken in by our mother, but after that, I was then taken in by my father when I started 4th grade in elementary school. I started living with my father’s new wife, my present mother. And shortly after that, my present mother had a child with my father so I have a brother who’s 10 years younger than me.
ーー How did young ISSAY-san take such a situation?
I: Simply speaking, I hated it. I was a momma’s boy, so since I was being separated from my mother, it’s obvious that I would hate it.
ーー And it was right at the time when you’d miss your mother.
ーー I do wonder, what type of child were you when you were young?
I: What type… I’d be a whole other person from one period to the next, but I think I generally tended towards the quiet category. Like, I don’t think I was the type who would create that big a fuss over things. I was certainly often alone. But that’s also because my schooling district changed when I was taken into my father’s house. I went to school in a different district from where I lived, so I didn’t have a single friend near home. That is to say, because of that, I played alone at home. My younger brother was still a baby anyway, and besides, even if I went somewhere nearby to play, I won’t find any friends who went to the same school as I did. Whether I stayed at home or went outside, I was always playing with my own imagination. Like if I went to the river near my house, I’d try walking along the banks while imagining things like, “This river might be a river that leads to 〇〇”. Even when I played at home, in my head, the house would become a jungle or a secret base in space, yeah. Speaking of secret bases, I often dug holes in the garden when I still lived with my birth mother, you know. Using a shovel. Because it was my dream to build an underground kingdom (lol). But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t dig any deeper than my knees, because the ground gets so hard (lol).
ーー (Lol). Did she get angry with you for digging a huge hole?
I: In the beginning, when I dug out a big hole, my mother said, “Perfect, let’s throw our rubbish in this hole.” Then, when I started digging the next hole, she got angry with me and said, “It’s still too early.” What’s too early? I had no idea what she meant (lol).
ーー That it was still too early to dig the next hole for trash (lol). Actually, I imagined ISSAY-san to be the quiet type at home.
I: I was like that too. When I was in kindergarten, I wrote letters to the Hakata dolls¹ at home.
ーー Were you in love with the Hakata dolls?
I: No, it’s nothing like that. Day after day, I’d write letters about what happened today and things like that and then put them into the glass display with the Hakata dolls. But since they were words written by a kindergartner, even if my parents did see them, they were indecipherable (lol).
ーー (Lol). It sounded like you were lonely… Did you spend time with your [birth] mother?
I: The family ran a business right next to the family home, so my mother often worked there, but whenever I missed her, I’d go to where my mother was in the company and draw or something so that I wouldn’t get in the way of her work. That’s why, at the time, I didn’t feel lonely, though. I understood that my father and my mother weren’t getting along.
ーー You could hear their marital discord.
I: That, and my father was an eccentric person. There was a bit of a violent side to him too so I was afraid [of him]. Despite that, I think there was no doubt that such a father of mine, and of course, my mother too, doted on me. It’s just that… I think my father was bad at showing love, now that I think about it (wry smile). I’ve only come to think so after growing up, but when I was a child, I couldn’t understand him at all. That’s why, when it was just the three of us; me, my mother, and my younger brother living together, it was a very carefree time for me. Sometimes, my father would get drunk and come to where the three of us lived… There were also times when he scared me very badly, though.
ーー I see…
I: My mother spoiled me, so I do also think that perhaps my father might’ve had his reservations about her parenting style².
ーー That the eldest son and successor has to be brought up strong.
I: I guess that was it. So, although that was the kind of father he was, he doted on me anyway. You know～ One thing that I remember really well even now is, since both of my parents worked and neither of them would be at home, at the time, my father would buy me open reel tapes～～
ーー Open reel tapes!
I: Because that was a time before cassettes existed (lol). On those tapes, he would record himself reading picture books for me and I, as a kindergartner, would work the open reel tapes on my own and read my picture books while listening to them.
ーー I think the only ones who are capable of doing that now are radio station directors (lol).
I: You won’t get to touch those any more these days, though (lol). I’m grateful for that. Book after book, he made recordings for all of the books we had at home… Maybe he recorded them for me after he came home from work and had dinner or something. He loved alcohol, but it wasn’t as if he drank all the time either. I guess in that sense, he loved me.
ーー Contrary to his scary side, he has a gentle side too, doesn’t he?
I: To say that he was gentle, he wasn’t all that gentle a person, though. But that man’s moods, they’re far too intense. He’s a hundred times more of a rocker than I am (lol).
ーー Speaking of rockers, what kind of exposure to music did you have when you were young?
I: Just a bit of piano, the organ. Now I can’t play them at all (lol). If only I took it a little bit more seriously…
ーー Was it because piano is a girls’ thing?
I: I don’t have such impressions. It’s simply because I didn’t think it was fun. When it comes to music, I just watched those singing programs that they used to broadcast a lot on TV back then. So, you could say that it wasn’t as if I was all that into music. Ah, but I liked him, Ozaki Kiyohiko-san³. And because I liked him, my mother bought the EP⁴ of Mata Au Hi Made for my younger brother and I, and we listened to it on a portable player. That’s why, I was kind of happy when I got to act alongside Ozaki Kiyohiko-san in the movie, The Legend of the Stardust Brothers (lol).
ーー It’s unfortunate that he passed away just recently… But he was a wonderful person, wasn’t he?
I: He was wonderful, he was superb at singing since way back, and when I actually got to meet him, he was a person with an amazing aura about him. Also… I guess that’s pretty much what I liked. It wasn’t as if I was particularly into music anyway.
ーー Nothing about enjoying singing and things like that?
I: I hated it.
ーー Huh!? Why?
I: Because it’s embarrassing. Standing in front of people to sing and all that, I get too embarrassed to do it. When I attended my father’s company dinners with him, I wouldn’t sing even if everyone was singing. He’d tell me, “Sing!” and I’d say, “No way, I don’t wanna sing,” and I’d end up getting beaten by him, though (lol). Even then, I wouldn’t sing.
ーー Basically, you’d absolutely never do something you didn’t want to do.
I: If I don’t like it, I don’t like it. But, you see, I didn’t understand what was the point of singing anyway.
ーー Mm… Why are you a vocalist now…
I: We’ll get to that afterwards (lol).
ーー It sounds like you often ended up joining your father for events where adults were gathered for drinks because he was running the business.
I: There were year-end parties, new year parties, company recreational trips, and all that. He ran an architecture and design firm, so there were designers, architects, site supervisors, and when there were banquets, the subcontractor carpenters and construction workers and painters would attend too. A lot of adults were nice to me, since, you know, I’m the CEO’s son (lol). But despite what it may sound like, it wasn’t as if we were super duper rich. In my opinion, it’s just that we weren’t poor.
I’d keep staring out the window during class while listening to the teacher teach.
Even such a school life was more peaceful than staying at home.
ーー Based on what you’ve told me so far, it sounds like you’ve always been the type to be picky about things since young? Like when it comes to the clothes you wear, or food, or something.
I: I don’t think I was all that… Ah, I was (lol). I said it to my mother before, things like, “I won’t wear it unless my clothes are of this colour.” The things I was particular about would change from time to time, though. For example, there’d be a period when I’d say, “I don’t want to wear pants that aren’t black,” or, “I don’t want to wear any vest that isn’t burgundy in colour.” I think I used to say such things. But that was also something that only went on until I was about 9 years old; during the time when it was just me, my [biological] mother and my younger brother living together.
ーー Like, if you wore what you liked, you’d look better, or feel better.
I: Yeah, I think that’s what I had in mind. Because I wouldn’t wear clothes⁵ that I didn’t like (lol).
ーー (Lol) You were a fashionista, weren’t you? So, you know how boys, when they’re growing up, tend to have this period in their childhood when they develop an interest towards makeup? Did ISSAY-san have that phase?
I: I did. That was exactly what my interest towards my mother’s makeup products was. For each item, I’d ask, “What does this do?” I think she probably applied lipstick or something on me before. And she’d sometimes tie my hair up for me too (lol).
ーー Was this interest because of the feeling of becoming another you when she ties your hair up or something?
I: What I felt wasn’t that either, but I had fun doing it.
ーー What were you like in school? Personally, I’ve got this impression that you were a clever child, though.
I: Nah, I wasn’t like that. I was a very very ordinary and quiet student. I think I became part of the class committee because of that, but I tried it, and thought, “Ah, I don’t like this,” and I never did it again, or something (lol). Besides, I’m not particularly good at things which require me to put myself in the spotlight (lol). My switching between times when I wanted to put myself out there and times when I didn’t was wild, probably. For example, I’d be full of motivation in the first semester of fourth grade in elementary school, but by the second semester, I don’t want to do it anymore. If you looked at my report cards from back then, you’d see me being described as “restless” in the first semester, yet in the second semester, “too quiet, keeps looking outside during class” would be written (lol). The ups and downs were probably extreme.
ーー Were you aware of it?
I: Not at all. It’s only when people tell me about it that I realise it does seem that way. It’s just that there are things I’d be thinking about from one period to the next, and if I’m troubled by something, I’d end up becoming quiet. My personality would change. That’s why, my teacher would get worried and say things like, “You’ve suddenly turned quiet since the start of the 2nd semester, did something happen over summer break?” (lol). I didn’t think that I changed, though. But on the whole, what I’ve often heard them say was that I was often staring out the window while listening to the teacher teach.
ーー Because classes were boring?
I: I enjoyed them when they were about things I was interested in. I’d get very motivated about the things I was interested in, but when I have no interest in it, there’s none of that at all (lol). In terms of subjects, I hated Kanji in Japanese language classes. I didn’t see the point in memorising. If anything, I preferred science and mathematics related subjects. For social sciences, I liked history but I didn’t understand a lick of geography. When it was the term when we studied geography, my grades would be horrendous, but when it was history, I’d get very good grades.
ーー When you have an interest in it, you’d get increasingly absorbed in it.
I: And if I’m not interested in it, I wouldn’t have the slightest shred of interest at all.
ーー What about sports?
I: My motor skills were alright, so I’m usually fast at running. But I’m very bad at throwing balls (lol). I liked high jump, long jump, short distance sprints, but I’m extremely bad at middle-distance runs and throwing. For example, I didn’t like dodgeball because it hurts if you sprain your finger while playing it, but on the other hand, I liked basketball, things like that (lol).
ーー Huh, why is that? I don’t understand the determinant factor (lol).
I: I guess, maybe I thought it was fun getting the ball into the net for basketball. I can get myself involved if it makes me think, “Ah, this seems like fun,” but otherwise, I wouldn’t want to do it at all. My report card was horrible too. While I’d get a 5⁶ sometimes, there are other times when I’d get 2⁶. That was something that changed between semesters (lol).
ーー How did your parents react when they looked at it?
I: My father was a person who was strict when it came to education so I got beaten to a pulp. He’d say, “It’s because you don’t concentrate!” (lol). My mother never really said much. My father was a noisy person anyway, so maybe that made my mother not want to say anything too harsh.
ーー It seems to me that you were very particular about things, but what was the criteria for these preferences? Like, did you want to only do things that were cool to you, or something like that?
I: I care to consider whether something was cool or not, but if I was going to be late for school, I wouldn’t want to go. I’d just think, well, since I wouldn’t make it in time even if I went to school today, I want to rest. But this decision isn’t based on whether it’s a cool thing to do or not. School lunches were a pain too. I, basically, can’t eat much, so, why is everyone capable of eating so much? I couldn’t wrap my head around it.
ーー So your appetite has always been small.
I: Also, I’ve always had this thing where I can’t eat much if I’m eating in a place where lots of people are around. I think I didn’t like the idea of everyone being fed the same way. And it simply didn’t taste good either (lol).
ーー There were times when the school lunch menus were awful back in the day, weren’t there? (Lol). Considering this, I guess school wasn’t a very happy place for you, was it?
I: It was better than being at home. I didn’t want to stay at home. Because as a child, I hated my father.
ーー So, it was more peaceful in school.
I: That’s right, it was peaceful.
ーー I see… So, when did ISSAY-san start getting into music?
I: Since the end of elementary school or around the time when I was in junior high school, I was listening to movie soundtracks. I’d buy omnibus cassette tapes of old movie soundtracks of films like Purple Noon⁷. Speaking of which, I think it would be classified as a rock song in today’s terms but I liked Tubular Bells, the theme song of the movie Exorcist⁸ and similar music. I definitely did buy a radio-cassette player when I entered junior high school and listened to these in my own room. Although, there was a stereo at home but it was too old so it couldn’t be used. At the same time, I didn’t want to listen using it because that would mean that I’d have to listen in a place where the rest of my family was. In any case, I’ve always been the type who’d stay in my room and never leave (lol). So the music that I listened to on the cassette player in my own room was pretty much just movie soundtracks. I also more or less listened to the rock and pop music broadcast on radio, but I wasn’t really into it.
ーー What about borrowing from your friends?
I: Well, I didn’t have that kind of relationship with my friends. Because my home was far [away from school] so I didn’t normally have friends to hang out with. Things remained that way when I was in junior high school too.
I didn’t want to be controlled so I didn’t belong to any group. But for some reason, I was favoured by delinquents. They’d say to me, “I’ll treat you to coffee jelly.”
ーー After-school activities?
I: Kendo club. I joined because it seemed like fun, and I was even properly present for club activities. I reached first-dan⁹ in high school, so, I attended two different high schools, but in my second high school, they made it compulsory for me to join a club or something. That was when I joined the kendo club and achieved dan⁹ level.
ーー lSSAY-san practicing kendo… I didn’t expect that (lol).
I: And, you know, the armour was huge. Because when I first started junior high, I was so small that I was positioned second from the front¹⁰. Then, in those three years of junior high, I grew about 26cm taller and after that, I grew another 10cm taller.
ーー Did things change as a result of your growth spurt? Like suddenly becoming popular with the girls? Or getting more chocolates on Valentines’ Day?
I: In those days, obligatory chocolates and all that didn’t exist which meant that you got anything, it was for real. So I remember receiving only one when I was a 6th grader in elementary school and feeling all troubled, like, “Ah, this is serious.” Though, I think that might’ve been a junior who was with me as part of the library committee.
ーー So, you were on the library committee.
I: Because I loved books. You see… If I’m alone in my room, the only thing I can do is read books, right?
ーー Ah, that’s true. Those were the days when the only TV in the house was in the living room too.
I: Yeah, and I hated going to the living room where my father was. So I’d just hole myself up in my room and read Edogawa Ranpo¹¹, mystery, fantasy, stories about ghouls and fairies. You could only borrow one book a day from the library, you see. Since that was the case, I decided that on weekdays, I’d borrow an easy book and finish it within the day. On Saturdays, I’d borrow a thick book and read it on Saturday and Sunday, over two days.
ーー So, 6 books a week.
ーー That’s a ton of reading!
I: But you see, that includes random books that I could finish in a day.
ーー What kind of student were you in junior high?
I: I might’ve been considered to be a bit of a delinquent (lol), but it wasn’t anything like doing this or that with my uniform. You know how there’d somehow always be those friends or seniors who are bad company? I was favoured by those people, though I really don’t know why. So, I had to go through town to get home. And when I meet those slightly delinquent fellow classmates while walking down the shopping district, they’d call out to me saying things like, “I’ll treat you to coffee jelly at the coffee shop.”
ーー Were they looking for something in return?
I: Nope, not particularly. I wonder why. Maybe it’s because I was aimlessly wandering around.
ーー Were they thinking of getting ISSAY-san into their own group since you didn’t belong to any?
I: But even if they did invite me, I still won’t belong to any particular group anyway. Somehow, I don’t like the idea of my actions being controlled. But I was hiding in my room because of that, so there’s also the question of whether that’s freedom or not though.
ーー But there must’ve been a reason why they took such notice of you. Maybe it was something you weren’t aware of.
I: I guess… For example, wasn’t there a trend of piercing a hole in your ear with a safety pin?
ーー Ah, was there?
I: It was right around the time when punk appeared. So, I happened to be there right when the delinquents were going about whether to put a hole in their ear or not. And they asked me, “Hey, can you pierce a hole?” and I said, “I can,” and straight up stuck the safety pin in and pierced a hole myself.
ーー Without numbing it with ice first?
I: Uhhuh. That hurt (lol). Contrarily, to pierce your ear, it wasn’t particularly realistic for students in the countryside to do, you know? And we didn’t have any concept of having piercings either. So that was just a matter of whether you can pierce a hole here or not (lol).
ーー Like, touch this thing to see whether it’s hot or not?
I: I wouldn’t have liked it hot, though (lol), but well, it was something like, I guess it’s fine to pierce a hole since it could turn into a fashion statement too? (lol).
ーー Because you had an interest in rock and punk fashion anyway?
I: I suppose, in a roundabout way, but I wasn’t all that interested in rock itself.
ーー So, when you did that, they just said, “Good on you”?
I: I don’t think there was anything like that either. Probably just a, “Huh, that guy really pierced his ear” (lol).
ーー So you made nothing but losses from piercing your ear (lol).
ーー Did you put a stud or something into that hole?
I: No, no, I didn’t. We only had safety pins there. So, I just made a hole and removed the pin… Wait, isn’t that self-harm! (Lol)
ーー Thank you for playing along (lol).
I: I didn’t even think of that. So, I didn’t do anything particularly bad in those days; that was the kind of junior high life I had.
At the boarding high school it was study, study, study everyday. It was so uncomfortable there that I couldn’t take it and snuck out of the dormitory every Saturday night. Right then, that incident happened……
ーー What about your high school entrance exams?
I: Well, I went to a preparatory school, but by that time, I had already lost interest in studying for school and my grades were steadily dropping, so I attended cram school for a time during summer break of my third year in junior high. Though, when I skipped those classes too and got caught for it, I was badly beaten for it. To a point where I felt like my life was in danger, really.
ーー From your father.
I: Yea. So, I decided that I’d just study anyway, and when I did, my grades came back, but you know… My transcripts¹² weren’t good, were they? Since they consisted of all 3 years starting from my first year in junior high. So I entered a barely-acceptable high school that didn’t really care about those things, but. That place was the worst.
ーー The worst?
I: It was a private boarding school where we were split into classes based on our grades. It was awful. Absolutely awful. Like after dinner, we weren’t allowed to go into other students’ rooms after 7 p.m., and we had to stay up until 11 p.m. at night to study. Then, we had 7 hours of classes in school which were then followed by another 2 hours of class in the prep school next to the dormitories which were run by the high school.
ーー Cram and cram and cram.
I: Yeah. It was extremely strict and they’ll post everyone’s grades up so there’s bullying in that sense too. Because I couldn’t tolerate that sort of thing.
ーー And there’s nowhere to escape to because it’s a boarding school…
I: But. It was better than going home. When I snuck out of the dormitory, I went drinking. We targeted Saturday nights when surveillance wasn’t as strict. Whenever I went to our usual bar, someone would always buy me a drink. So, I’d only drink there every week. Though, it wasn’t as if I understood or appreciated the taste of alcohol, it just looked cool, you know? Well, at a different place, an incident which involved more than half of the dormitory occurred when I was in my second year of high school. Juniors somehow got caught but all of the blame was placed on me.
ーー Because it involved alcohol?
I: Well, that’s what it was though. That incident, although there was no such thing as a mastermind or anything like that, all of it was blamed on me. I guess, maybe the school sort of knew about what I was doing and they were just looking for a chance. But even though this incident involved more than half the students in the dormitory, all of the blame was pinned on me and I was the only one who was made to drop out… Because of that, I became sick and tired of everything. I dropped out around autumn of my second year in high school, but since my father had some level of reputation, I couldn’t be at home, could I? Because other people would find out about this if I was in my hometown. And so, I was sent to Yotsuya¹³ where I was a live-in newspaper delivery boy.
ーー Huh, your parents made that decision?
I: Yeah. They say that newspaper delivery is tough, but once you’ve gotten used to it, it’s fine. To the high schooler that I was, that was better than being at home anyway. Actually, they also raised the possibility of transferring me into a high school in Tokyo, but no matter the school, they had no reason to take in a kid who wanted to transfer at such an awkward time in the school year for some unknown reason. I was also at the point when I didn’t want to go to school, so…… In any case, I was angry at the backstabbing by the juniors in that high school I was expelled from, at the school for trying to cover up the incident which involved more than half the dormitory by blaming it on me alone, and at all my classmates who said nothing against it. Because that happened, I believed that people couldn’t be trusted anymore.
ーー Not a single person told the truth… That must’ve been quite a blow.
I: Yeah. So while delivering newspapers in Yotsuya, I got acquainted with people from a particular left-wing group, and my parents caught wind of me hanging out there so I got taken back into their home (lol). In the end, I was only in Yotsuya for 2 or 3 months before they brought me back. And because they said, “You’re not allowed to go anywhere,” I was essentially under house arrest. I had no money at 17, so I couldn’t go out and have fun anyway, right? There was nowhere for me to go. At home, my parents would keep saying all sorts of things to me whenever we met. Also, I’d be subjected to forced labour at my father’s construction sites on occasion. He’d say, “Understand what it means to work!” Aside from that, I’d be in my room all the time, reading the books I have there. It was around that time when I started writing. Starting from a diary, and gradually into poetry. Every evening, I’d say I’m going out for a walk and go towards the sea to take a breather. I’d spend about an hour there by the seaside, passing time before going back into my room to listen to music. Actually, it was at my first high school where I first encountered rock music.
ーー What was rock at the time?
I: I think the very first one was David Bowie. A classmate had me listen to Station to Station¹⁴. When I heard it, I thought, “Ah, so rock can be expressed in this manner too.” I didn’t like rock at all at the time, but after that, I loved it. I think that one was released in 1976. When David Bowie slicked his hair back.
ーー Was it after you encountered David Bowie that you got inspired to start a band?
I: When you hear such complex music you won’t get the urge to do music, yeah. I just listened to it, thinking that it’s amazing. It was after that when I started to listen to rock and all sorts of music, though. At the time, Japan¹⁵ came about, so I listened to Japan. Then there was Gary Numan¹⁶ and Public Image¹⁷… That was the kind of music I was listening to. I even took my radio-cassette player with me when I was living in Yotsuya.
ーー So, for how long did that confinement in your parents’ home continue?
I: Around February of my supposed second year in high school, I thought, this is bad, I can’t keep going on like this. I wanted to talk to people in my age group. So, I said I wanted to go to school and got myself enrolled into my second high school. I had to drop a grade from high school year 2, which meant that while I should have been in year 3 [at my age], I transferred into year 2 at a high school with more freedom (lol). But as you’d expect, I couldn’t bring myself to trust anyone in the beginning. That untrusting period went on for quite a while. But with a change of environment, I, too, gained the ability to change myself. I doubted and suspected and couldn’t trust, didn’t trust, wouldn’t trust until at the very end, I ultimately decided to try and trust these people who made me feel like I could trust them. And so, during my time in my second high school, I managed to make friends with people who I could call my best friends¹⁸.
ーー Through rock?
I: We did talk about rock too. It was during that time, when I was borrowing all sorts of music from friends to listen to that I found T-REX¹⁹ and Sex Pistols²⁰. And it was then when I made the big mistake of thinking that I might be able to pull it off if I were to make music like theirs (lol). Like, I could probably do it if it was this sort of simple rock’n’roll. If it was that somewhat aloof sort of singing, rather than the high-toned shouting kind of music I hated, maybe I could do it too. You see, I thought that this was the fastest shortcut. Although I had started writing poetry, it wasn’t as if I did it because I thought I was talented anyway. I just did it by following the methodology without the idea that I had the talent for poetry. So, that’s how I felt, yeah. That, maybe I could do it, singing… Although I’ve never sung in front of anyone before (lol).
I have to drink, or I can’t sing! I just get so incredibly embarrassed. Despite that, we believed that we’d go pro, even though we were such a fraud of a band (lol).
ーー Were you in an actual band even in high school?
I: Nope, because I haven’t decided to start a band at the time. When I became a year 3 student, among the graduating students; students the same age as me but one school year ahead of me, were those who I would eventually start a band with and some of them were headed towards Tokyo, so I sent them off with the words, “I’ll be heading there next year too, so if you’re going there and want to start a band, keep practicing, yeah?” And a year later, I went to Tokyo too.
ーー You studied crazy hard and took the university entrance exams.
I: Well, I didn’t study. Any university was fine. As long as I could get in.
ーー As long as you could get into university, you could live in Tokyo, away from your parents.
I: Exactly. And I got into the university’s economics faculty. I actually wanted to join the literature faculty but I got asked, “What’s the point of that?” I didn’t really want to argue about it so I just said, “I’ll go for economics then.”
ーー Was living in Tokyo like paradise, a fresh new start?
I: It wasn’t exactly paradise there. Anyway, the only thing I had decided on was what I was going to do. That I would, in any case, make music.
ーー So you started a band with those who came to Tokyo first?
I: The guitarist and bassist were my hometown friends, but we only lacked a drummer so I tricked a drummer at my university (lol) into joining the band and named it ISSAY and SUICIDES (SUICIDES). We already composed an original even before we had our first studio session. I went to the guitarist’s place, had him put chords to the melody I came up with and composed it together. I then wrote the lyrics later.
ーー What was your first studio session like?
I: I couldn’t do it unless I drank.
I: But, you see, I can’t sing in front of people when I’m sober. I just get so incredibly embarrassed. That’s why I don’t even know whether what I did at the time can even be called singing though. But the fact that we thought that we’d go ahead and perform live with that, and that none of us thought that we couldn’t do a live show… Even though we were such a, fraud of a band (lol).
ーー Calling yourselves a fraud of a band (lol).
I: Really, now that I think about it, we were an awful band (lol). No matter how you look at it, we were such a hoax that I’m wondering how we ever thought that band could go pro.
ーー Where did you perform your show?
I: The first was at a tiny live house in Koenji. It’s not there anymore but, hm… I think it was called Red House²¹. It was a strange live house; there’s a bar counter, and a performance space in the back, and for some reason, there was a seating area floored with tatami mats next to it. That was where we performed live. I was 20 when I first took to the stage, you know. So, shortly after we started performing shows, our audience also gradually grew.
ーー Because you did some sort of advertising?
I: So, before we played our first show, at the time, an acquaintance made a recommendation for me to JUNE²² (ジュネ) and ALLAN²³ (アラン), which were what you’d now refer to as BL²⁴ magazines. They then published a few pages worth of photos of me so people who read those magazines were the ones who came to our performances. From the first or second show.
ーー So that’s how it happened. Um… Did you know what kind of magazines they were before you agreed to appear in them?
I: I did. They posted information for me numerous times after too, and I even had a feature in JUNE. Don’t misunderstand me, but ever since high school, I’ve been going to those establishments to drink.
ーー So you’re immune.
I: Not at all. Rather, I’m comfortable. It’s not… Anyway, it’s like, say, I thought it was fine either way (lol).
ーー Mm～ Freedom (lol). It appears that you were also modelling while being in a band?
I: Modelling, that just happened by chance.
ーー Ah, was it also around this period when you started pantomime?
I: Just before I turned 21, yes. So, there’s a beauty salon back in my hometown that I used to go to when I was a high schooler, and the people there took a liking to me so they asked me to be a hair model. It was there where I met my pantomime teacher, just by chance. At the time, we only greeted each other, but a year later, we happened to meet again at the same beauty salon. Because even after I turned 20 and moved to Tokyo, I still go to that beauty salon on occasion to cut or dye my hair.
ーー The both of you came from the same hometown?
I: Yeah, it just so happened. So, we exchanged greetings and my teacher left the beauty salon, but right after that, he made a phone call to the beauty salon. “It’s ISSAY-kun’s call,” the staff said, right before adding, “It’s the pantomime guy from earlier. He said that he’d be performing his next show in [unknown month], and asked if you’d perform?” He asked whether I would perform, but I’ve never done anything like that before, and besides, I didn’t know whether I was capable of it or not, so I said, “I don’t think I can,” and declined, but then, he said, “No, don’t worry, I’ll only let you do things within your ability.” I thought, if that’s the case, then it wouldn’t hurt to try. And after 2 months of special training, I performed in that show.
ーー Did you have fun?
I: I was nervous. But pantomime was interesting. Actually, rather than pantomime itself being interesting, it was the many things that my teacher taught me about, things which I never knew prior. The way we think about things, music, the arts… There was so much to know and learn from my teacher that it felt as if my world expanded all at once. That was really interesting, you know? And it’s still going on even now, though.
ーー The band and pantomime, you were absorbed in these two activities, so school…?
I: I barely went.
ーー Because you were engrossed in having fun.
I: Mm… Regarding the band, rather than it being something I did because I enjoyed it, to me, it was more of a thing that I felt I absolutely had to do. It’s definitely not something I was doing just because it’s fun. Because I felt that I couldn’t go without doing it.
ーー Because the version of you who writes lyrics and performs on stage is the real you?
I: Yeah, because I really strongly felt that I’d be nothing if I didn’t do this. You know, I’ve rarely ever thought that being in a band was fun.
ーー But were you happy when your audience grew?
I: Well, that. See, the magazines were posting news about our band as usual too. And because that was the new wave era, the ones with the ideas were the ones who would win. It was a time when it was fine for things like technique to come later. Generally speaking, whether you’re faking it musically or whatever, you’d come out on top as long as you could make the audience think what you wanted them to think. And for some reason, I had nothing but confidence for that, you know.
ーー You were particular with your image too, and even dyed your hair.
I: Every month, my hair would turn a different colour. I’d go to an acquaintance’s beauty salon every month and change colours… Because I get tired of things easily (lol). I was blond before, made it resemble the colour of wakame²⁵ where it looks black at a glance but when the sun shines on my hair, it turns green (lol).
ーー Wakame-coloured (lol). So that you could attract people’s attention with your stage style.
I: Yeah, that was my intention. Although our audience grew bit by bit as we performed as a band, musically, we weren’t quite anywhere… So, I think it was either in 1982 or 1983, SUICIDES disbanded. Because I decided that I wanted things to be a little more solid musically. I started up my own solo project anew, and HAL, the bassist who I’m still performing with even now, was in it, you know. SUICIDES’ guitarist said he had a friend who was a great bassist, and introduced him to me. Also, by that time, it became absolutely essential to have a keyboardist in your band, so Morioka Ken-kun²⁶ (ex. SOFT BALLET²⁷) joined me for a time. Basically, the innocent high schooler Morioka Ken was tricked (lol) and pulled in. I actually think Morioka-kun’s very first time on stage was as a part of my band. So the guitarist and drummer positions were filled by the remnants of SUICIDES but once Morioka-kun quit, the band members kept getting replaced time and time again… You know, around 1984, we actually found ourselves in a situation where we didn’t know who was going to be part of the lineup for our next show. Besides, I don’t really listen to what people say (lol). After all, when it comes to working together, if it wasn’t with you clicked with, you’d definitely soon come to hate each other.
ーー Since you’re in a band with HAL-san even now, does it mean that you clicked?
I: We did. All the other band members came and went, but HAL had always been with me. So, since we had to look for new members again, we went everywhere approaching people and auditioning. And the members who we gathered back then are the present band members of DER ZIBET. When this current group of band members came together and made music together for the first time, I thought, it might be better if I didn’t do this under my solo project any more, we should start a band. We called it DER ZIBET.
DER ZIBET debuted one year after its formation. When I got to the point where I was going to put my all into music, my controlling father never said anything again.
ーー Wasn’t that right about the same time when you appeared in the movie, The Legend of the Stardust Brothers?
I: A little bit before that. At the end of my solo work.
ーー So, why were you in the movie?
I: This is a true story that sounds like a lie, but when I was looking for band members to join my solo project, there was someone who was bringing my profile around to do that for me. And it just so happened that this person was involved in that movie too. So, they were at a point where they couldn’t find someone they liked to play the role I was eventually given in The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, and what I heard was, they had a meeting to evaluate if there were any more candidates. During that meeting, the person who was helping me with the band member search said, “I’ve got something else to handle, so if you’ll excuse me,” and he was about to leave the room when my information slipped out. The others saw it and asked, “Who’s this?” That person had been caught with something unrelated to work, so he started panicking and said, “Please pretend that you didn’t see this,” but they decided, “It’s fine, call this kid over,” and that’s how I got the call.
ーー To think such a drama-like string of events actually happened.
I: Yeah. And from what they told me, although it was a movie, it was also a rock music, and Macoto Tezuka²⁸ was the director while Chikada Haruo²⁹ was the one behind the original idea and the mastermind of the production. I thought it all sounded like it could get very interesting.
ーー Chikada Haruo-san, as in, Vibrastone’s³⁰?
I: That’s right. At the time, I had a manager who was more of a theatre person than a music person so I took part without having much of a full picture of what was going on… Really, I’m so ashamed for doing that (wry smile).
ーー But your meeting Chikada Haruo-san had a lot to do with what was to come for DER ZIBET, right?
I: You’re right. I met Chikada-san, did the movie, and when the movie was done, my band became DER ZIBET. So, DER ZIBET was asked to perform at the live event before the movie preview. Other famous indie artists at the time, like Kubota Shingo³¹ and Takagi Kan³² and a bunch of others performed too. Chikada Haruo-san was watching that event and it was then when he took an interest in DER ZIBET. Soon after, he brought the president of an upcoming record label to our show and asked us if we were interested in being his label’s first artist. That label was Sixty Records.
ーー Didn’t things move extremely quickly? From the time of your formation to your debut?
I: It was. Besides, it was only about a year after DER ZIBET’s formation that we debuted.
ーー Fast (lol). Sounds exciting for the band members too.
I: We were aloofly excited, right.
ーー Aloofly excited (lol). Blood type doesn’t say everything, but I’m guessing that the number of blood type ABs in DER ZIBET must be high (lol).
I: HAL and HIKARU and I are blood type AB (lol).
ーー How unusual (lol). Were there a lot of different elements in your music from that time?
I: Yeah. Because we’re a gathering of musicians with different backgrounds. You know, “french pop is interesting” and “movie soundtracks are interesting” were the only things that all of us agreed on (lol).
ーー Vague (lol).
I: See, MAHITO was originally a bassist but switched to being a keyboardist halfway through. I believe he’s been playing the keyboard since he was a child so he can even play classical music, but I think the genre he was into at the time was techno. I liked Roxy Music³³ so that was where we got along. MAYUMI was a mysterious guy who played unbelievable drums (lol). He’d have a ridiculous number of tom toms set up too. I think he probably liked the drummer Terry Bozzio³⁴ so he might’ve been influenced by him. So, you know, I think he probably listened to Frank Zappa³⁵, for sure, and Missing Persons³⁶ and the sort of pop genre music. Him and HAL, they liked progressive rock so they talked a lot in that area. And, then there’s HIKARU who listened to a wide range of music; anything from jazz to punk to hard rock and everything in between.
ーー Even your music preferences were all over the place; they don’t really come together (lol).
I: But you see, that’s because it was the new wave era; the time when techniques of combining musical genres were established. As my words suggest, we mix a bunch of things together to acquire new techniques which we then try to apply to old music to create something new altogether. From this perspective, I think that DER ZIBET’s experimental nature fit right into that era. That was the strategy of our record label back then; to put that sort of DER ZIBET out just as we were to make it look a little more upscale, y’know?
ーー Did you ever produce any demo tapes prior to your debut?
I: We did. We had actually been scouted by another record label and we worked with that label to the point of recording a demo tape, but for one reason or another, all of us, the band members felt that it would probably take us quite some time before we could actually debut if we stuck with that label. So we took the demo tape we recorded there and brought it to Sixty Records (lol). Aren’t we such an ungrateful bunch (lol).
ーー (Lol). Was the very first release of DER ZIBET’s debut like the culmination of everything you’ve been doing up till then?
ーー Did the relationship between ISSAY-san and your family change at that time?
I: Once I said, “Well, I’m going to have my debut,” they gave up, y’know. Up until that point, they kept saying all sorts of things like, “Music is just a thing you’re doing as a hobby,” or that they wouldn’t send me any allowance if I didn’t go back during the summer vacations, and all that. So that’s why no one had anything to say when I managed to make my debut in the middle of my university education.
ーー It’s great that your debut went without a hitch.
I: Or rather, it was probably more like a form of recognition that I’m finally making my move. Ever since that incident in high school, the way I looked at things had changed drastically, and that’s why I think that my life only truly started at age 17. The person I was prior to that and after that are… How should I put this…… I guess you could say that to me, there’s a severance between them. Everything changed when I was 17. How I thought about things, the way I looked at them, everything. At the same time, that was also when I established my own view of my life, things like my reason for living, you know. And that’s why, even now, the very first question I’d ask myself when considering something is, “What would I think about this if I were my 17-year-old self?” Because to me, that incident which happened when I was 17 was my personal test of faith³⁷.
My parents secretly came to watch my show. I think this father of mine who I so feared had been supporting me in the shadows until the end of his life.
ーー Hmn. So how were things after going pro?
I: It was uncharted grounds, but while we didn’t know anything, I think we had some sort of unfounded confidence (lol). Because I hadn’t really watched all that many people performing live before at the time. And besides, even music, I started doing it only because of my own wilful idea that it was something I could do if I did it that particular way. So it was only of course that prior to debuting, I didn’t even know what it entailed. Neither did I have any background knowledge at all. If, back then, I knew that this is the kind of music that would be popular in today’s world, that Japan’s music industry would end up in this state… If I knew these sorts of things, I would’ve probably chosen not to do music. You know, I think I could do it only because I didn’t know things.
ーー But even if you didn’t know, wasn’t it huge to ISSAY-san that you got to a place where you could make music you wanted to make?
I: Yeah. Because I thought I’d probably die if I couldn’t do music.
I: Because even if I couldn’t make music for a living and had to earn money and feed myself with part-time jobs or whatever, it was fine with me. Above all, I felt that if I ever got myself into a situation where I couldn’t put all of myself into music, I’d be as good as gone.
ーー You believed so strongly that music was all you had.
ーー That you wanted to give your life to what you love.
I: Is it something I love? That’s something I ask myself even now… Although, there must be something about it that suits my personality if someone as fickle as I am has kept at it for as long as I have (lol). But have I been doing this because I love it? On this point, I said that I didn’t particularly enjoy singing by nature. And that I absolutely hated singing in front of people.
ーー Mm… If that’s the case, then it makes me wonder all the more, why music?
I: I suppose, maybe it’s because the first time I stood on stage was the very first time in my life when I was called “cool” instead of “gross”.
ーー You were called words like gross?
I: Well, it’s gross, isn’t it, for a male to wear makeup on the regular. Back in those days.
ーー Huh, you wore makeup regularly?
I: Yeah, in high school. Although, as you might expect, I didn’t wear it all the time in my high school days. Since, you know, my parents could see me.
ーー What led to that?
I: It wasn’t that I wanted to be a woman, or that I wanted to be perceived as a woman so much that I started wearing makeup or anything like that. I forgot what started it, but I got into an argument with a friend when I was in junior high. And it was then when he said, “You queer bastard³⁸!” But I didn’t understand the reason behind why he called me that. Like, on what basis was he calling me that? So I asked him back, “What do you mean by that?” and he said, “You’re so much like a girl that it’s gross!” All I thought was, oh, I see. That turned into a preoccupation of mine for the longest time. So after that, sometime after I started high school, a thought crossed my mind, y’know, that, “If I really am that feminine, then I’d probably look good with makeup. And since that’s the case, then I should wear makeup. No one’s going to have anything to complain about if I wear makeup anyway.” And so, I started wearing makeup similar to how it is now. I have been ever since I was a high schooler.
ーー Even when you went to school?
I: That’s right. They thought I had mental problems at the time (lol), so my teachers didn’t say anything either. When we were doing push-ups during phys ed, the teacher saw my nails and asked, “What’s this?” so I answered, “Manicure,” and to that, he said, “You’re into that sort of thing?” It’d be too troublesome for me to explain properly right there and then, so I just replied with, “Yes.” And he said, “I see.” And that was it (lol).
I: After that, the phys ed teacher called my friend, like, “Hey, come here,” and then asked him, “That kid’s a little different, isn’t he? Doesn’t he seem a bit like That (gay)?” And I think my friend answered with, “Yeah, he does. He seems to be kind of That.” (Lol).
ーー You weren’t bothered by the reactions of the people around you?
I: People who walk past would often do a double-take, but (lol) I thought that compared to forcing myself to hunch and walk around like a guy in a sorry state, this was far better, wearing makeup and walking tall with my chest out.
ーー It’s cooler to wear makeup the way you like it and walk around proudly.
I: I didn’t exactly wear makeup because I liked it, though… Ah, I guess I did like it (lol).
ーー I don’t think you’d wear makeup you didn’t like (lol).
I: Yeah, I wouldn’t (lol). But really, getting called a queer bastard really shocked me.
ーー I wonder if it’s because you were mild-mannered? Like sticking out your pinky finger?
I: No, no (lol). But, well, with the way my face looks and how my body is shaped like this.
ーー To ISSAY-san back then, wasn’t that the highest form of insult in the limited vocabulary of a junior high schooler?
I: Probably. Well, but when we look at the generations who came later, I think I’m the one who won, though (lol). Now, even if high school boys wear makeup, people would think that they’re trying to look cool and that’s the end of it, right? (Lol).
ーー That’s true.
I: So, going back to the topic at hand, this me who seems to be like That (lol) was called cool for the first time when I stood on stage just the way I was, and that’s why I thought, music is what I should be doing. Things happened as usual in my daily life, though. During DER ZIBET’s Kyushu tour, I crashed³⁹ at a relative’s house for a night and went drinking with my uncle when his friends saw me looking the way I was. It turned out those people mistook me for my uncle’s paramour (lol). Because at the time, I was blond and the locks at my nape were long. That was a story I heard at my father’s funeral.
ーー Your father, he’d passed away?
I: Right around HOMO DEMENS (1990). He was a father I feared but he never said anything more after I made my debut, y’know, since I’m earning my own money and feeding myself. And it was only later on that I also heard that he apparently snuck over to watch my show (lol). They said he secretly came to my show at Shibuya Public Hall⁴⁰, him and my mother, together.
ーー I guess it’s because of your father’s pride that he did it in secret.
I: Perhaps… Although, he did say, “That was amazing. It was so loud it felt like my insides were getting torn out.” (Lol). Then when I asked my mother, “Did you come and watch?”, she said, “I certainly did.” (Lol). Our family’s really quite formal and reserved with each other so that’s about it. I’m going a little off topic, but my alcohol-loving father got affected with liver disease so he stopped drinking ever since I was in high school. But we didn’t think he was going to die yet at the time, y’know. So, one day when I was in my final year of high school, my father called me to his room. I was apprehensive, thinking in the back of my mind, “What could it be? Is he going to get angry and hit me again?” but instead, he said, “There’s a liquor called 〇〇〇〇 on the first floor. Bring it here.” After I went and brought it back, he said, “Fill this glass,” so I did, and then he said, “Drink,” so I drank. Then he said, “This is expensive stuff so taste it and drink,” so I drank it bit by bit, but then he said, “How would you know the taste of the liquor when you sip like that!!”, so I downed it all in one gulp and slammed the glass on the table. Then he said, “Good, you, me and your mother will finish this bottle today.” The bottle I just opened was brandy, so I drank, thinking I’ll be fine since both my parents will be drinking too, but before I knew it, my father was drinking shochu and my mother was drinking whiskey (lol). In the end, I emptied that bottle of brandy on my own, in one night (lol).
ーー Strong (lol). It sounded as if there was something your father wanted to say.
I: Maybe he wanted to drink with me at least once because he knew that he’d never be able to drink with me again for the rest of his life…… was what I only realised later. Because it never happened before and never happened again, so that was the one and only time…
I: Even after that, there were times when my father had to go to Tokyo for get-togethers⁴¹ because of work. On those occasions, he’d tell me, “Come pick me up,” and I would go and pick him up, though. Just so that he could use the excuse, “I have to go because my son has come to pick me up”. But it doesn’t make sense that someone looking like this picks him up, right? My father’s friends all made a huge fuss, y’know (lol). Like, “What’s up with you?” (lol).
ーー I’d expect that (lol). Could it be that he wanted to show off a little bit too?
I: Nah, there’s nothing to be proud of, is there? A guy like me.
ーー No way, you’ve made your debut, released CDs, performed live shows; even if he didn’t say it directly, I’m very sure he was proud of you.
I: Who knows, really? Although, I do think that he was supportive of me. With those circumstances, I was prepared to watch this person who I so feared as a child grow weaker and weaker so…… I didn’t feel anything special but… Mmm…… I didn’t see him die, y’know. When I got home and turned on my answering machine, message after message after message was recorded from the moment he fell into critical condition until he passed and I rushed back to my parents’ home as fast as I could but…… I think there were 2 times when I cried. Once was when I visited him in the hospital and I saw him struggling desperately, trying to get up even though he couldn’t. I guess my father wanted to show his dignity… That manly spirit⁴² made me cry, and after that was when my father died, and I arrived at my parents’ home and saw my father’s corpse. When I went back into my room, the tears came. Why did I cry? I have absolutely no clue, though. During the funeral, I had a lot of trouble because I had extensions in my hair which made it so long that it reached my ankles, y’know. Even though my mother was already peeved when I visited my father at the hospital with that hair, I still showed up at his funeral with it so she was half-mad with rage, scolding me, “I can’t believe you dare show up with that head.” She gave me the silent treatment for a good half year after that (lol). But it wasn’t as if I could do anything about it, you know? It took 2 people 20 hours a day over more than 3 days to do that, I couldn’t take it off just like that. My mother was angry at me the whole time, saying things like, “Look at you, coming home dressed like that altar⁴³,” but when my father’s magnificent-looking altar was brought to the house, she turned to the craftsman, pointed at my head and said, “My, that’s splendid. Gold leaf pasted on black lacquer, just the way my son likes it, don’t you think? Look at this head of his.” (Lol). Though, as you’d expect, that struck a nerve at the time (lol).
I: That’s how my mother was, but a year after my father passed away, I began sending my mother flowers every year on her birthday. It’s like, part of it is letting her know that I love her. Because, although she’s my stepmother, I’ve been with her longer than with my biological mother. I think that she really took care of me and brought me up well. So I really have to take my hat off to her for that, y’know.
ーー From a mother’s standpoint, I think you’d have been considered as a difficult child. You were sensitive and a bit of an oddball.
I: And to top it off, my feelings of being victimised were all out on full display (lol). I guess she probably had a really hard time. Furthermore, she hadn’t had any kids yet when she became my mother too. So considering that she suddenly had to become a mother to a 9 or 10 year-old boy, I think it’s understandable that she wouldn’t have any idea how to raise a child. There was once when she got mad angry at me when I went home after playing in mud near the house (lol). So, I thought, “Ah, I can’t play in the mud if I’m living with this person,” and since then, I never played with mud ever again.
ーー You were thoughtful even as a child.
I: Well, that’s of course. Because, you see, she’s looking out for me too from her end. But, you know, we get along well now. Sometimes, when I take my mother out for a meal or something, the madam⁴⁴ there would even say, “Why, you look just like your mother.⁴⁵” It appears that somehow, we give off similar vibes.
ーー Do you look alike too?
I: Our facial features are similar too, in the sense that there’s this air of some unknown foreign ancestry or something like that (lol). I’ve been to that place together with my younger brother and my mother too, but on that occasion, the madam commented, “The younger brother looks like the father, but the older brother looks exactly like the mother, doesn’t he?” and both of us could only laugh helplessly with troubled expressions (lol).
ーー Could it be that your mother’s facial features were your father’s type?
I: You know, that’s what I thought in the beginning too. But if my mother’s face was my father’s type, then it begs the most disturbing question of, “Does that mean my face, which resembles my mothers’, is also my father’s type?” (Lol). But after giving it a lot of thought, and comparing my biological mother and my stepmother, they don’t look much like each other though (lol).
I used to quarrel with HIKARU a lot, though, now we joke about it.
I guess we couldn’t understand or accept each other when we were young.
ーー (Lol). Going back to what you said, it sounds difficult to live with extensions so long that they reach your ankles.
I: It was super hard to deal with in daily life. I had to be extremely cautious because it’s dangerous when I board taxis or get on escalators and elevators. Because if my hair gets caught between the doors, it’s the end. You know, I’ve even been chased by elementary schoolers when I’m walking along the streets (lol). They’d be yelling, “What’s that? Look at that guy!” and come running towards me from 20 meters away, and when I realise it and turn around, they’d all stop (lol). It’s like, are we playing “Red light, Green light⁴⁶”? (Lol). Also, when I went to a friend’s house, their kitten kept playing with it so excitedly, y’know. When I said, “Right, I’m going home,” and stood up to leave, there was this weight pulling at my head and when I turned to see what it was, I found the kitten dangling from my hair (lol).
ーー (Lol). Right at the time when you had those extensions for that album HOMO DEMENS, it caused quite a stir in the editorial department I worked in back then. That picture on the album cover where you looked like you were breaking out of a shell made a huge impression.
I: That husk of mine (lol) was made by pouring resin in a mould of me which took a day to make and cast from my head to my toes so it was a lot of work. You know, I think the person who made it didn’t think that they were doing something bizarre though. The idea got presented, and it sounded interesting so we just did it. Although, I wonder what the other band members thought of it…? (Lol).
ーー I suppose the members’ reactions were rather dry?
I: Yeah, quite. Logically they understand that this is how I naturally am, but… Maybe that’s precisely it? You know, I do think there are times when I don’t really feel like wearing makeup, things like that. Back then, if you look at us as a whole, everyone was absurdly dressed, so (lol).
ーー Absurdly dressed (lol). HOMO DEMENS was an album you released when you were still with Columbia, but you changed labels after that, right?
I: We debuted with Sixty in 1985, then moved to Columbia Triad, and then to BMG Victor over our 11 active years since debut.
ーー Ah, before that, MAHITO-san left the band right before your major debut, didn’t he? Did something happen?
I: Before we started recording prior to our debut, MAHITO said, “There’s a lot I want to do and it’d be tough for me to only focus on DER ZIBET. I want to do things from a position with more freedom,” and left the band. Although, that topic just came up recently and he teased with, “What a prick you were.” (Lol). Well, I understood how MAHITO felt, and besides, he continued to help out for quite a while after he quit, and even after that, he often came to watch our shows and showed up at our after-parties to drink with us anyway. We’ve always had a good relationship. Actually, he said the same thing as I thought; his leaving DER ZIBET was a good decision because of how he’s now turned out to be in really great form. Because he got to see and experience all types of bands during that time, y’know. So after MAHITO stopped playing with us, there was a period of time when other supporting keyboardists joined us, and there was even a time when we had a horn section, but the band was mainly made up of the 4 of us.
ーー While the 4 of you continued to maintain a certain level of distance between each other.
I: That’s right. Even now, when HIKARU gets drunk, just for kicks, he’d often say, “Me and ISSAY were on bad terms, though.“ (Lol). Although, just recently, we spoke about that on an internet TV thing, and I said, “But you see, about that, it wasn’t that me and you were on bad terms, we just weren’t on good terms.” (Lol).
ーー You can joke about it now (lol). Were the 2 of you at loggerheads back then?
I: That, and we couldn’t accept each other; as you’d expect, we both had that “I am who I am” attitude when we were young. The biggest problem we had might’ve been that we couldn’t understand each other, I think. Like, when we spoke, I didn’t try to express myself properly and neither did he express himself properly, and that’s when our opinions would clash. And the one who would always get caught in the middle in distress was HAL-chan (lol). Because HAL’s like the one thing that kept the band together, yeah. Whether I quarreled with MAYUMI, or I quarreled with HIKARU, or HIKARU and MAYUMI quarreled, he was always the one coming between us. Because HAL-chan’s the mother figure of our band.
ーー That’s very typical of a bassist.
I: That’s really how it felt. Less of a jack-of-all-trades⁴⁷ than the glue that binds⁴⁷. He’s the kind of person who brings together those who are far apart. Even if we’re all on different wavelengths and our rhythms don’t match, HAL-chan will make it work, something like that.
ーー For such an invaluable person to have met with an accident…
I: After DER ZIBET went on hiatus in 1996, HAL and I and guitarist Jimmy (Hirose Satoshi, ex. 44MAGNUM) and drummer MINORU started the band Φ (PhI) in 1997 or 1998. That band broke up after 2 or 3 years of activity, and after that, I called on HAL-chan to do ISSAY meets DOLLY with me. It was in the middle of that when he had an accident.
ーー I heard that it was quite a serious one.
I: So much so that I thought that was it for him. It was so bad that I wasn’t sure that he would survive, or even if they managed to save him, that he would probably become a vegetable. That’s why, at that time, I couldn’t even think about going up on stage or doing anything like that.
ーー I see…
I: I did visit him in the hospital every now and then, though. Even after he regained consciousness, he had a long period of hospitalisation, going through rehabilitation as he slowly recovered. Eventually he got discharged to recuperate at home, and not even six months after, he called me. He left a message on my answering machine: “It’s HAL. Call me.” So, wondering what happened, I called HAL’s parents’ home, and he said, “Well, I wanna play in a band. So, you know, I’d be really happy if ISSAY would sing for me.” And I was like, “Ooh, let’s do this. So, who are the other members?” I asked him that, and he said, “MAHITO.” So I said, “Then shall I come to HAL’s home with MAHITO next time? We’ll compose something and figure out who’ll make up the rest of the members.” And when I dropped by HAL’s place, he was already holding his bass guitar and playing it. Then, he said, “HIKARU will be the guitarist.” As for drums, he said MAYUMI got admitted into hospital because he wasn’t doing well, so shall we ask MINORU? But by the time all of us entered the studio, MAYUMI had been discharged, y’know. Knowing that, MINORU said, “MAYUMI-san can drum now, so I’ll step aside. Please go ahead and play as DER ZIBET.”
ーー In the end, DER ZIBET’s reunion was again the hard work of the glue that binds HAL-san.
I: It really was. That was probably around 2006. I was shocked when HAL came into the studio and played his bass because he did it so solidly, y’know. Like, I didn’t expect that humans really had such an amazing hidden recovery ability. At the same time, I also thought that the power of music was truly astounding. People often talk about music therapy, but HAL proved its effects to me with his own body, y’know.
ーー Truly. So after that, you started performing live too.
I: Yeah. It’s just that in the beginning, we’d be worried for HAL’s body, right? Say, for example, even if we were to do a show about 40 minutes long, we’d be worried about whether he’d be able to bear the whole 40 minutes too. There was a chance that we might have to cut the show short too and we felt that we shouldn’t say that it’s a DER ZIBET show because of that, so we decided to perform a live show under a band name that would only make people think of DER ZIBET when they looked at it. This name was “RED BITEZ”. It was advertised with the words, “ISSAY will be the vocalist of this band.” No matter how you looked at that name, it was obviously an anagram of DER ZlBET anyway, and people may not know who the other band members were going to be, but I suppose they’d have speculated that I’d probably sing at least a DER ZIBET song or two.
ーー I’d assume that the relationship between the members of DER ZIBET wasn’t great when the band first went on hiatus, but what was it like when all 5 of you gathered again after that much time had passed?
I: Though, y’know, there was one more cushion between that time and our reunion. I was in the band LYNX since 2005 with HEATH⁴⁸ (X JAPAN) on bass, SAY→ICHIRO on guitar, and Matarow (廣嶋-HIROSHIMA-) on drums, right? So, during the period of that band’s activity, the other members proposed, “We want to celebrate ISSAY-san’s 20th debut anniversary, so let’s perform DER ZIBET songs.” I declined, saying I didn’t want to. But y’know, it was partly also because I was thinking, how was DER ZIBET going to sound like with HEATH playing bass? Would it really be okay? But they asked, “What if we did it in a livehouse in Numazu instead of Tokyo?” and I thought, maybe it would be alright if we were doing this somewhere outside of Tokyo. Because I didn’t like the idea of people coming to watch us just for fun on a whim⁴⁹, and I figured that if we held it in Numazu, only those who really wanted to come and watch us would make their way there. Then, they said, “Since we’re doing this, and it’s been such a long while, why not try asking HIKARU-san too,” and coincidentally, I met HIKARU at the wedding celebration of our manager’s at the time, so, y’know, I asked, “Actually, you know, it’s gonna be my 20th debut anniversary, and LYNX wants to hold a DER ZIBET songs-only show, so I was wondering if it’s a good idea?” He said, “Yeah.” So, going along with the flow of that conversation, I asked, “So, would HIKARU join too?” and to that, he said, “Tch… I suppose it’s ‘cuz DER ZIBET’s songs are tough.” His reaction wasn’t as bad as I thought, you know? So, in the end, he agreed to perform with us. I guess it was after that time when I started to think that maybe it would be possible for me and HIKARU to play together in a band again. It could also be that we became mellower too after HAL-chan’s accident happened. Because we understood HAL-chan’s desire to play in a band together again.
ーー In other words, the Numazu show brought about the resumption of DER ZIBET?
I: Mm… Well, I suppose one of the initiators, the fact that HIKARU and I were doing something together again. Because, you see, I think HIKARU didn’t say no when HAL-chan said he wanted us to play in a band together again because this had happened. Though, well, I suppose he mightn’t have turned HAL-chan down even if that Numazu show didn’t happen… Hm. That’s why, although people are calling this recent period a reunion boom, it wasn’t as if we came back together because we specifically wanted to, y’know? It’s just that we ended up coming back together before we knew it (lol). It just so happened that the members turned out to be DER ZIBET again when HAL gathered the people he most wanted to play in the band with. I guess that’s probably because in the end, what he wanted to do the most was play as DER ZIBET again.
ーー That does sound like it. It seems like a number of miracles happened behind the scenes to let DER ZIBET restart activities despite the uncertainties and now hold solo one-man concerts like its business as usual.
I: Right? Because no one would’ve imagined that [HAL] would recover like that.
We only reunited because we felt that we could do something new among the 5 of us. Besides, we’re living in the present.
ーー Did it feel different to stand on stage with all the original members of DER ZIBET?
I: No, actually, y’know, the moment that moved me the most was when all of us made music in the studio, more so than when we performed on stage. Watching a scene that I knew so very well unfolding before my eyes… It was moving. Besides, HAL-chan hadn’t yet fully recovered from his injuries and MAYUMI had been living a life away from music too, so we definitely weren’t at our best, but there was nothing more moving than having the 5 of us make music together, y’know.
ーー Then, in 2009, you held your 25th anniversary show, and still continued your activities after that. And now, this year, you’re releasing two original, full albums, ROMANOID Ⅰ and ROMANOID Ⅱ! You sure are working tirelessly.
I: Ah, well, I don’t really know why we ended up working so hard this time (lol). Although, HIKARU’s laughing at this, like, “We’ve made a reckless plan, huh.” (Lol). But you know, I suppose it’s because our relationship is really at its best right now, between all of us in the band. Besides, it’s also fun to discover new things about each other being in a band together again after a little over 27 years. Like this time, it also just struck me that, “Ah, so HIKARU writes this type of songs too.” I do think HIKARU thinks the same of me in HIKARU’s own way, though.
ーー I wonder if that was how he felt when he received lyrics from you?
I: Perhaps. I can really feel the reflections of how each of us spent our time during those 11 years of inactivity.
ーー That all of you were definitely not the same person that you were at the start of your hiatus 11 years ago.
I: I think if we remained the same as we were back then, we definitely wouldn’t do this. Because, you see, there’s no point, is there? We only reunited because we felt that we could do something new among the 5 of us. It’s not that we don’t enjoy making our fans happy by playing old songs, but what’s more important than that is the possibility of doing something new again with these band members. Besides, DER ZIBET isn’t an oldies band. We’re living in the present.
ーー Do you feel that unlike before, you’re now doing music a little more comfortably?
I: I do think so, especially between me and HIKARU, we two who fought the most fiercely (lol). Well, the one who was most on edge was probably me, though (lol). Because in the later half of those years, for a good few years until we went on a break, music was the only reason we ever spoke to each other, y’know. That said, in the first place, DER ZIBET wasn’t a band that came about because a group of friends came together anyway. “If I work with this guy, we might be able to come up with something interesting.” That was what we thought of each other, and that was why we became a band. So, we weren’t friends or anything. Although, somehow, we’ve most definitely become friends now (lol).
ーー (Lol). In all your years being in bands, is this now the most enjoyable, or the best state things have ever been?
I: Yeah. It’d be even better if MAYUMI recovers⁵¹. I think he’s really eager to come back, and we’ll wait for him, no rush.
ーー And 2 years later, it’ll be the 30th anniversary of the band’s formation.
I: In 3 years, it’ll be our 30th debut anniversary. It’s soon, isn’t it? Since we’re releasing 2 albums this year, shall we not release anything until the anniversary? (Lol).
ーー Please don’t idle (lol).
I: For real (lol).
ーー Because there are lots of people, from your fans to the many musicians, who support DER ZIBET’s activities and admire the band and each individual member. This was before, but I started listening to DER ZIBET because BUCK-TICK’s Sakurai Atsushi-san took part in DER ZIBET and ISSAY-san’s album for duets and because he said that he was a fan of ISSAY-san.
I: It makes me so happy to hear that he said that. You know, in the very beginning, the first time we met was at the recording session for a live TV program. The broadcast was meant for another week, but the recordings were done all in one go, so we ended up backstage together at Meguro Rokumeikan where the recording was being done. That was where we spoke for the first time. He said, “I like DER ZIBET and I’ve been to see your show,” and I said, “Ahh, thank you!” (Lol). They’re very polite people, aren’t they? So, we continued to keep in touch even after that. There was also the time when it just so happened that BUCK-TICK and DER ZIBET went to London for recording in the same period. He told me that they were going to do a show in London, so I went to watch with HIKARU too. I was there for about a month, but you know, throughout that time, the only live performance that I watched in London was BUCK-TICK’s (lol).
ーー (Lol). But there are also many other people apart from the aforementioned Sakurai-san who admire both ISSAY-san and DER ZIBET so––.
I: Oh, is that so? But I don’t do anything.
ーー Then what have you been doing for almost 30 years (lol).
I: I’ve only been singing (lol).
ーー And that’s precisely what’s been drawing people in.
I: If that’s true then I’m glad. There’s a payoff to my efforts. But I think the biggest reason why we can continue like this is because we got the feeling that it’d be fun to work with each other. Take, for example, during the production of this ROMANOID Ⅰ and ROMANOID Ⅱ, we were just writing songs but we ended up coming up with lots of interesting compositions. Just when we decided, “Since we’ve come up with such an amount, we might as well release 2 mini albums,” the number of songs grew again and we ended up with 2 full albums, y’know.
ーー They were just overflowing and spilling over, these songs.
I: Because we kept making discovery after discovery, like, “We can do something like this,”, “We can do something like that too.” There are a lot of these cases, right? Where bands or groups form because they like The Rolling Stones⁵⁰ or something. In DER ZIBET’s case, we’re just a band of individuals with scattered influences who came together to make music, so we’re always experimenting, y’know. It gets really bad when things don’t work out well, but right now, we can really pull off a huge variety of things in interesting ways, so I think we’re in exceptional shape, y’know. All that’s left is for MAYUMI to come back.⁵¹
ーー That’s true. I think that’s what everyone is hoping for. Um–– This is a bit of a vague question, may I ask, what’s the most important aspect in ISSAY-san’s life thus far?
I: Well, y’know…… I think my life changed the moment I called myself “ISSAY”, probably. Or maybe, rather than ‘changed’, I let myself change. In my opinion, I believe my greatest creation to be this “ISSAY” who looks like this, sings songs about those things, sets up such a stage, and sings like that. Because I feel that the invention of “ISSAY” by Fujisaki Issei, who was so frightfully afraid of everything, who was so filled with feelings of having been victimised, was what liberated me from my life up until that point.
ーー When did this begin? Your use of “ISSAY” as your name.
I: When I started to write a poem of sorts in high school, I signed that off with “ISSAY”. That was the first time.
ーー Did you feel like you’ve turned into another you when you did that?
I: Nope, to me, that was the moment when I showed my core self to other people. So, I guess you could say that “ISSAY” is the transmission apparatus I use to show the essence of who I am. There’d most certainly be a lot of things in my regular life that aren’t “ISSAY”, right? But when I digest all of that and bring out the most important part of me which resides deep within myself, that, I feel, is when I become “ISSAY”. I can’t really explain it well, though. Basically, performing “ISSAY” is the heart of who I am. And that is why understanding the pain, the sorrow, and the sadness I felt when I was 17, and the question of whether these feelings still remain are the most important things to “ISSAY”. Because of this, I want to continue to protect and keep this perspective of, “How would ISSAY view this?”.
ーー Because that’s the very origin of ISSAY-san.
I: Yeah. That’s why, whenever I return to my parents’ home, I’d always, without fail, go to the beach that I used to visit when I was 17 and I’d ask “ISSAY”, y’know. “Do you, now, still understand the sadness and pain I felt back then?” The friction between my father and I as a child, the friction I had with my friends because of that incident… At the age of 17, I had to bid farewell to the person I had been up until then and take a look at all 17 years’ worth of events in retrospect. Because to me, to “ISSAY”, that incident in my adolescence which led to all of that is important. So much so that in 1991, it culminated in the release of the 2-part album Shishunki (思春期 / Adolescence) by DER ZIBET, y’know.
I: For those same reasons, even now, I feel deeply indebted to my homeroom teacher from my 2nd high school who encouraged me to write. I actually made a promise with my father when I entered the second high school, that this time, if I messed up in any way, he’d withdraw me from school. One day, I got into a huge fight with my father and I ran away from home, y’know. Just like that, I didn’t go home for around two days and in that time, my father submitted a withdrawal letter to the school. Well, I made a promise so it couldn’t be helped, right? But my homeroom teacher stopped my withdrawal from school for me. They convinced my father for me, saying, “If you make him quit school here and now, it will spell the end for that child, so I can’t let you do this. Because his talent for writing compositions like these will play a part in his future in some form. And if you make him drop out from school now, he would definitely give up on writing. So please, don’t withdraw him from school.” Then, to me, he said, “If you want to run away from home, then please do it legally by going to university. Because then, you’ll be kept fed for a good while without trouble.” I wasn’t sure about going to university and furthering my studies, but with that, he talked me into it.
ーー Your teacher understood, down to ISSAY-san’s character.
I: They really understood me well.
ーー I’m sure that’s because you were especially outstanding in class?
I: I think I stuck out like a sore thumb because I was an especially problematic student, though (lol). I think it’s thanks to that teacher that I managed to graduate from my second high school without incident. When we met again after I graduated, he laughed and said, “The only withdrawal letter I’ve ever rejected before or since was yours.” (Lol).
ーー And you’re still grateful for that even now.
I: That’s the only teacher I feel deeply indebted to, even now. Of course, there’s a ton of other people I’d like to thank too. Because my life is built on all these numerous coincidences upon coincidences. And among them, I want to thank my mother who spent a longer time bringing me up and raising me than my biological mother. That, and… Now, at this point of time in my life, to the father I once so hated and feared, I can also genuinely say thank you. For the love and kindness he had for me.
¹ Hakata dolls are traditional Japanese clay dolls that originated from Fukuoka. Read more here.
² The actual text said “教育方針” (kyouiku houshin) which directly translates into “educational policy”. I don’t think it fits quite well in the context so I changed it to “parenting style”.
³ Ozaki Kiyohiko was a Japanese singer from Kanagawa prefecture who released his greatest hit Mata Au Hi Made in 1971. It sold over a million copies and won the Japan Record Award at the 13th Japan Record Awards as well as the Japan Music Award. He passed away on 30 May 2012 at the age of 69.
⁴ He actually called the EP a “ドーナツ盤 (doonatsu ban)”, which literally translates into “doughnut disc”. In short, this was one of the many names that vinyl records were called.
⁵ I think it bears mentioning that he specifically said “洋服 (youfuku)”, which refers explicitly to Western-style clothing.
⁶ I looked up the academic grading system in Japan and there were a few, but the only one which fit into this context was the 5-scale grading system where a 5 is the equivalent of an ‘A’, and a 2 is the equivalent of a ‘D’. Reference
⁷ Purple Noon (French: Plein soleil; Italian: Delitto in pieno sole; Japanese: 太陽がいっぱい / Taiyou ga Ippai; also known as Full Sun, Blazing Sun, Lust for Evil, Talented Mr. Ripley) is a 1960 crime thriller film directed by René Clément, loosely based on the 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith.
⁸ The Exorcist is a 1973 American supernatural horror film directed by William Friedkin and produced and written for the screen by William Peter Blatty, based on the 1971 novel of the same name by Blatty. The film had famously courted controversy in the US where it had supposedly provoked fainting, vomiting and heart attacks in cinemas.
⁹ Technical achievement in kendo is measured by advancement in grade, rank or level. The kyū (級) and dan (段) grading system is used to indicate one’s proficiency in kendo. There are usually six grades below first-dan, known as kyu. The kyu numbering is in reverse order, with first kyu (一級, ikkyū) being the grade immediately below first dan, and sixth kyu (六級, rokkyū) being the lowest grade. In Japan, kyu ranks are generally held by children up to age 13. The exam for 1st kyu (ikkyū) is often their first exam and grade. Adults generally will do their 1st dan (shodan) as their first exam. In most other countries outside of Japan, kendoka go through every kyu rank before being eligible for dan ranks.
¹⁰ Just for clarity, students were arranged according to height.
¹¹ Taro Hirai was a well-known Japanese writer better known by his pen name, Edogawa Ranpo. His works played a huge role in developing mystery fiction in Japan and several of his novels include Kogoro Akechi, a character who was a detective. In later books, Akechi became the leader of the Shonen Tantei Dan, which translated to “Boy Detectives Club,” a group of boy detectives.
¹² Junior high school students in Japan are ranked by their school reports/transcripts which shows a student’s grades and includes comments on their conduct. This affects them when they go to high school.
¹³ Yotsuya is a neighborhood in Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan. It is a former ward in the now-defunct Tokyo City. In 1947, when the 35 wards of Tokyo were reorganized into 23, it was merged with Ushigome ward of Tokyo City and Yodobashi suburban ward of Tokyo-fu to form the modern Shinjuku ward.
¹⁴ Station to Station is the 10th studio album by English musician David Bowie, released on 23 January 1976 by RCA Records. Commonly regarded as one of his most significant works, Station to Station was the vehicle for his performance persona, the Thin White Duke. Listen to the full album.
¹⁵ That English new wave band with David Sylvian. The band achieved success in the late 1970s and early 1980s but split in December 1982, just as they were beginning to experience commercial success in the UK and abroad.
¹⁶ Gary Numan is an English musician, singer, songwriter, composer, and record producer. He entered the music industry as the frontman of the new wave band Tubeway Army. Numan is considered a pioneer of electronic music, with his signature sound consisting of heavy synthesiser hooks fed through guitar effects pedals. He is also known for his distinctive voice and androgynous “android” persona.
¹⁷ As in Public Image Ltd, the English post-punk band formed by singer John Lydon following his departure from the Sex Pistols in 1978.
¹⁸ Throughout this whole bit, he never specified if it was just one person or a group of people, but let’s just go with plurals.
¹⁹ T. Rex were an English rock band, formed in 1967 by singer-songwriter and guitarist Marc Bolan. The band was initially called Tyrannosaurus Rex, and released four psychedelic folk albums under this name.
²⁰ The Sex Pistols were an English punk rock band that formed in London in 1975. Although their initial career lasted just two and a half years, they are regarded as one of the most groundbreaking acts in the history of popular music.
²¹ He’s right (of course). Although, I can only find one mention of it here. Must’ve been gone for a very long time already.
²² JUNE (ジュネ) was the earliest yaoi magazine, which began in 1978 as a response to the success of commercially published manga. Other factors that influenced the founding of June were the rising popularity of depictions of bishonen (pretty boys) in the dōjinshi (self-published print works, such as magazines, manga, and novels) market and ambiguous musicians such as David Bowie and Queen. JUNE was meant to have an underground, “cultish, guerilla-style” feeling – most of its manga artists were new talent.
²³ ALLAN (アラン, or 阿蘭) is the sister magazine of Gekkan OUT (月刊OUT; OUT Monthly — anime magazine). ALLAN was published by Minori Shobo and focused on the theme of shonen ai (questionable-age-gap relationships between men).
²⁴ BL, boys’ love a.k.a. Yaoi is a genre of fictional media originating in Japan that features homoerotic relationships between male characters. Of course, these days, it’s not just a genre in Japanese media anymore. The 2010s saw an increase in the popularity of BL-influenced media in China and Thailand in the form of web novels, live-action films, and live-action television dramas. The growth in streaming service providers in the 2010s is regarded as a driving force behind the production of BL dramas across Asia, as online distribution provides a platform for media containing LGBT material, which is frequently not permitted on broadcast television.
²⁵ Wakame is a species of kelp native to cold, temperate coasts of the northwest Pacific Ocean. As an edible seaweed, it has a subtly sweet, but distinctive and strong flavour and texture. It is most often served in soups and salads.
²⁶ Morioka Ken was an iconic electronic musician that first got his break as a member of the groundbreaking electro trio Soft Ballet. He was also particularly known for his flamboyant image and atmospheric musical style. He remained active in the Japanese electronic music scene, having also worked as a session musician and producer for Issay, Tomayasu Hotei, Mell, and Demon Kogure among others, and produced the soundtrack for the anime “KAIKAN Phrase”. His activities continued for over three decades until his untimely passing in 2016 from heart failure. He was only 49 years old.
²⁷ Soft Ballet was a Japanese electronic group formed in 1986. The group consisted of three members, Maki Fujii, Ken Morioka, and Ryoichi Endo, though they employed extra support members for live shows. While Soft Ballet weren’t necessarily chart toppers, they had a strong cult following and were considered pioneers of modern electronic music in Japan in the 1990s. Soft Ballet released 6 studio albums before disbanding in 1995. The group briefly reunited from 2002 to 2003, releasing 2 more albums and touring extensively before splitting once more.
²⁸ Makoto Tezuka, officially romanized as Macoto Tezka, is a Japanese film and anime director, born in Tokyo. He fashions himself as a visualist and is involved in the creation of moving images beyond film and animation. He partially owns Tezuka Productions and helped in releasing the posthumous works of his father, Osamu Tezuka.
²⁹ Chikada Haruo is a Japanese musician, composer, music producer, music critic and TV personality. From the time he was a student at Keio University, he worked as a keyboard player in Yuya Uchida’s backing band, and in 1972 he formed “Haruo Chikada & Harwophone”. In parallel with his musical activities, he wrote the legendary column “THE Utagyoku” for the magazine “POPEYE” from 1978 to 1984. In 1979, he released a solo album, “Natural Beauty”, which featured the Yellow Magic Orchestra, which he had just formed, as arrangers and performers. In 1981 he formed “Haruo Chikada & The Vibratones” and released one album and one mini album. In 1985, he began to focus on funk and rap music, working under the name BPM. In 1987, he formed the Vibratones with the concept of “hip-hop in a band format”.
³⁰ VIBRASTONE was a Japanese hip hop band formed in 1987. The band was formed by Haruo Chikada, who had been pursuing the possibilities of hip-hop in Japanese, and initially performed under the name “Haruo Chikada & Vibrastone”. They released their first album “Vibra is Back” in December 1989, and made their major label debut with “ENTROPY PRODUCTIONS” in July 1991. They ceased activities in 1996.
³¹ Kubota Shingo is a Japanese vocalist active from 1978 to present. In 1985 he starred alongside Takagi Kan in Macoto Tezuka’s rock musical The Legend of the Stardust Brothers, and also appeared in the sequel film The New Legend of the Stardust Brothers, released in 2016. Since 2006, he has been working as an 11-member music group under the band name “Kousei to Gansaku”. As of 2015, they are working with a 10-piece band under the name “Sunny Kubota and the Old Lucky Boys”, and their first album was released on 15 November 2015, and their second album “One from Sunny’s Heart” on 1 June 2017.
³² Takagi Kan is a Japanese DJ and producer. Influenced by the London punk scene of the 1970s, he made his debut with the band Tokyo Bravo, and began his career as a DJ and writer in the 1980s. After forming “Tiny Punks” with Hiroshi Fujiwara, he made a splash by sharing hip-hop with Seiko Ito and others. He also founded the club music label MAJOR FORCE, which produced artists such as SUCHADARAPER, and was active as a solo artist in the 1990s. He continues to be of great influence as a pioneer of hip-hop in Japan.
³³ Roxy Music were an English rock band formed in 1970 by Bryan Ferry, who became the band’s lead vocalist and chief songwriter, and bassist Graham Simpson. Although the band took a break from group activities in 1976 and again in 1983, they reunited for a concert tour in 2001, and toured together intermittently between that time and their break-up in 2011. Ferry frequently enlisted members of Roxy Music as session musicians for his solo releases.
³⁴ Terry John Bozzio is an American drummer best known for his work with Missing Persons and Frank Zappa. He has been featured on nine solo or collaborative albums, 26 albums with Zappa and seven albums with Missing Persons.
³⁵ Frank Zappa was an American singer-songwriter, innovative rock guitarist, modernist composer, multi-instrumentalist, satirist, film-maker, and bandleader. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture.
³⁶ Missing Persons is a Californian New Wave band, formed in 1980. They were known for songs such as Walking In L.A., Words & Destination Unknown.
³⁷ The word he used was 踏み絵 (fumi-e) which, back in the Edo period, was a tablet with the image of Christ or the Virgin Mary. Suspected Chiristians were ordered to tread on it to prove themselves non-Christians and it was carried out back then to discover hidden Christians in order to extinguish Christianity in Japan. This days, 踏み絵 alludes to a ‘test of loyalty or allegiance” and is used to describe a thing or situation. (E.g. how loyal an employee is to their company etc.)
³⁸ The actual phrase here is オカマ野郎 (okama yarou). I think with enough exposure to Japanese media, you’d have heard 野郎 being used a lot and it’s a general insult. Fucker, bastard, asshole, it all works. Attaching 野郎 to anything basically gives the thing a derogatory implication. オカマ generally means gay, as in gay person. But it is also often used on its own by straights in a derogatory manner. Context matters for this word. In this interview’s context though, it’s clear enough to deduce that Issay was essentially being called “f*ggot”.
³⁹ Where I said “crashed”, the word he used was 前乗り (zen nori) which was interesting to me because it appears to have originated from local surfer slang where 前乗り means to deliberately get in the way of someone riding a wave.
⁴⁰ Shibuya Public Hall (渋谷公会堂) is also known as 渋公 (shibu kou) for short. It is a theatre located in Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan. Completed in 1964 to host the weightlifting events in the 1964 Summer Olympics, the theatre was sponsored by Dentsu and Suntory, which paid ¥80 million to rename it C.C. Lemon Hall from 2006 to 2011. As of 2021, it is named LINE CUBE SHIBUYA.
⁴¹ To note, the get-togethers were 飲み会 (nomikai), i.e. drinking parties. The direct translation sounded decidedly unnatural (not something you’d say in regular English), so I went with “get-togethers”.
⁴² The phrase he actually used here was 男気 (otokogi), which directly translates into “manliness” or “manly spirit”. But it mostly encompasses the qualities of valour, chivalry, and dauntlessness, which is traditionally attributed to men.
⁴³ To be precise, its 仏壇 (butsudan), a Buddhist altar. Smaller ones are usually kept at home and meant for their deceased family members or ancestors.
⁴⁴ Madam here refers to the lady owner or boss of the establishment, which can either be a restaurant or a hotel. The word in Japanese is 女将, which can be read in a few ways; okami, nyoshou, joshou. Direct translations are “proprietress (of a traditional Japanese inn or restaurant); landlady; hostess; mistress”.
⁴⁵ The quote from the “madam” actually included her addressing ISSAY as お兄ちゃん (oniichan). It literally means big brother/elder brother/older brother, but it could also simply be a polite address, like “young man”. Note, calling someone brother or sister or even uncle or aunty in Asian culture is often merely a form of polite address, not a literal relation.
⁴⁶ That game where one person is the target who stands with their back to all the other players, while everyone tries to get to the target and tap them. If the target turns around everyone has to freeze. In Japan, it’s called だるまさんが転んだ (Daruma-sama ga Koronda), i.e. Mr. Daruma has fallen over.
⁴⁷ Original phrase was 三河屋さんならぬ膠屋さん (mikawa-ya san naranu nikawa-ya san). 三河屋 (mikawa-ya) is a trade name or shop name, often used as a slang term for a retail shop selling brewed foods such as sake, miso, soy sauce, vinegar, and related products and was used mainly from the Edo period to the Showa period. For this name, I turned it into the phrase, jack-of-all-trades to keep the implied meaning of “having” a bunch of generally useful things for sustenance because they used to be the grocery stores or convenience stores of that era.
The pun here is where ISSAY turns mi into ni, i.e. mikawa-ya becomes nikawa-ya. There’s actually no such thing as 膠屋 (nikawa-ya), or that I could find. On the other hand, 膠 (nikawa) means glue, which makes 膠屋 “glue shop”.
屋 (ya) add to the back of a noun is like saying noun shop. But in reference to a person, it’s like saying this particular thing or trait is characteristic of the person. In other words, HAL is like the “glue which binds” the band.
⁴⁸ Hiroshi Morie, known exclusively by his stage name Heath, is a Japanese musician and singer-songwriter. He is the bass guitarist of the rock band X Japan. He joined the group in 1992 a few months after the ex-bassist Taiji Sawada left the band.
⁴⁹ The phrase here was 物見遊山 (monomiyusan) which is directly translated as “a pleasure trip”. The implied meaning here is that someone is doing something or going somewhere just for fun.
⁵⁰ The Rolling Stones are an English rock band formed in London in 1962. Diverging from the pop rock of the early-1960s, the Rolling Stones pioneered the gritty, heavier-driven sound that came to define hard rock.
⁵¹ MAYUMI was away on a mental health break at the time of this interview as addressed here in this blog post: http://derzibet.com/blog/?p=799. He made his comeback soon after this interview was published.
Scans: Text pages – Yoshiyuki / Pictures – Devalmy