Chapter Six— Lessons With Friends

In my 30s, I met people from many industries. I also met many entrepreneurs. Horiemon, Fujita from CyberAgent, Mikitani from Rakuten, Nobuo from Kadokawa Dwango, Kato from Bike O & Company, Nishiyama from Dining Innovation, Hirano from Fullcast, Yamamoto from Gendai Agency… I met so many sempai who are people of great character that I can’t possibly list them all. Most of the ones who I’m still in touch with are my sempai as entrepreneurs, and what I learn from them is of unbelievably high quality, and deep. 

There are also many wonderful people in show-business. Kitajima Saburo, Akko, Sanma, Takeshi… there are too many people to list in the entertainment world who have wonderful talent and a particular aura that you rarely see in other lines of work. My encounter with Kitajima started out rough. My record company when I began my solo career was Nippon Crown. The reason that I decided on Nippon Crown was that they presented me with such favorable terms that other record companies just couldn’t compare. Everything was outstanding, including the signing bonus and funding for live shows.

That year, there was a beginning-of-year party at the Nippon Crown head office building that all the artists signed to the label attended. They were all enka1 artists, with only myself and a handful of other rock artists. All of the executives came too, but Kitajima was the most important person there. When Kitajima entered the venue, I approached him. I made my way through the crowd around him, and greeted him with a bow and, “Nice to meet you, I’m GACKT,” but his response dealt me a vicious punch as the first blow— “Why the hell are you even here?”

Going To Punch Him

My producer at the time desperately dragged me away by the arm to the very back of the venue, saying, “Don’t get angry! Don’t do anything!” I was twitching quite a bit, and he directed me to quietly watch the executives on stage giving their opening remarks until the end, from the farthest point of the venue. A short time later, Kitajima began to walk onstage. He was a great even among greats. The aura which he gave off from upon the stage was unique and of a different kind. I watched him, thinking, “What an incredible aura…”

First he gave his opening remarks for the beginning-of-year gathering, and then he spoke of his future plans, but suddenly I heard words that caught my attention. “Nippon Crown is enka. It can only be Nippon Crown because of enka.” Up to this point, I was listening and thinking, “Well, that is true. It certainly is,” but then he said, “It’s not a company that does rock or flashy, pointless things like that.” I instantly thought, “Huh? Is he talking about me?” and a switch flipped in my brain. Along with my earlier encounter with him, I totally snapped. I shoved my way through the crowd and walked directly up to the stage. I was going to give him a punch. When I was about five meters from the stage, Kitajima’s eyes met mine, and he seemed to notice that I was approaching. And then he spoke while sizing up the look in my eyes from upon the stage. “Oh, seems like there’s some people who are fired up about this…” As he said that, he smirked. I stopped still and laughed back, “And you’d better know it!”

This happened later, the first time I appeared on Kohaku Uta Gassen2. I heard that Kitajima was present and went to his dressing room to greet him. When I entered with a smile and a, “It’s me, GACKT,” he welcomed me with a wide smile and an, “Oh, it’s you!” He said cheerfully, “You seem well. I’ve been hearing interesting things about you. You’re always fired up, aren’t you?” When I replied, “Oh please, don’t pick on me like this,” he laughed loudly and slapped me on the back, saying, “Now, don’t go getting violent in here.” After that, he took care of me. People who did other genres of music must have seemed shallow to him. I certainly feel that way a lot. Whenever I appeared at a music festival, there were plenty of times that I thought things like, “They’re not thinking about anything at all…” “Why are they half-assing this rehearsal?” “They’re not putting passion or energy into it…” Perhaps the incident at the beginning-of-year party had been Kitajima’s way of getting young people fired up.

On The Offense

This happened when I appeared at a festival sponsored by TV Asahi. I was the final act, and SUGIZO was in the dressing room next to mine. It was a television station-sponsored music festival in which each act performed three or four of their own songs, and I watched SUGIZO’s performance in rehearsal. I had met him once during my indies days, but we hadn’t become friends. SUGIZO’s performance made me think, “As always, he’s good at guitar,” and while I didn’t know him well as a person, I respected him as a musician. From SUGIZO’s point of view, I was his kouhai. SUGIZO was the highest-ranked sempai appearing in the festival, and the remainder were all kouhai3. My performance had a lot of people involved, there were ten dancers. Before the show, my band members, dancers and staff all get together and yell a fair bit to get psyched up. It was a time in which I was working hard on various ways to get my rough-tempered dancers and band members together.

In the middle of our pre-performance huddle, I heard a voice from the next room say, “The fuck is with the yelling? Shut up, or I’ll kill you!4” I heard it from SUGIZO’s dressing room next door. Fortunately, the dancers didn’t hear it. They were all pretty fired up for the performance that was about to begin. It just happened to be that I was close to the wall and the only one to hear it. While my dancers nowadays are calm people to a certain extent, at the time they were all rambunctious guys I had no control over. All of them were rough-tempered dudes who would get violent no matter where they were, and fight without thinking of the consequences. “I’m glad those guys didn’t hear it,” I thought with relief. If they had heard it, they probably would have gone charging in. We were greater in number. In any case, I thought that we were going to have a problem if I didn’t send them on stage as soon as possible, so I ordered them, “You guys go on stage first!” I made sure that they had gone down the corridor and turned the corner, then breathed a sigh of relief, “Phew, thank god.” For the time being, disaster had been averted. All that was left to do was to get him to wipe his spit off my face. I kicked down the door of SUGIZO’s dressing room and entered with a, “If you think you can kill me, go ahead and try!”

In the dressing room, SUGIZO was reading a book in the farthest corner. “Somehow, there’s less energy than I expected…” I thought, but in this dressing room the badly-behaved-looking supporting band members were sitting alongside the wall. They were totally scared and quaking in their boots. SUGIZO was the only one I cared about. I had no interest in the quivering small fry. “Hey, if you think you can kill me, go ahead and try!” SUGIZO closed his book and stood up. “What the fuck do you want!?” Then members of both our staff got between us and it got messy. My staff member told me, “Stop, you’re about to go on stage!” and hauled me out. I had totally lost my temper and couldn’t calm down. Actually my manager was quite good friends with SUGIZO’s manager. I heard this from my manager after the show, but apparently one of those poorly-behaved supporting band members had said it. Apparently SUGIZO was having trouble controlling them. But if you ask me, “Even if they are the support band, the person at the top takes on the responsibilities of those beneath them. That’s what being at the top means.”

After that, the head of the TV station came to mediate. He asked us what had happened.
“Anyone would lose their temper if someone did that right before they went on stage. But I had more people. They picked a fight knowing that a lot of us were hot-tempered. There’s four of them. Of course, if we all went in, it would get out of hand. So I went alone. I was, at least, considerate enough to do that. If it’s just me, then it’s four against one. No one can say I fought dirty by bringing lots of people. They’re the ones who asked for a fight, I just gave it to them.”
The conversation went on for a while, but we ended up going back to our dressing rooms without either of us feeling like we’d gotten our feelings out. Later, when some of my guys asked what was going on, they got rowdy, saying, “Let’s get ‘em!” but I warned my band members and dancers, “Don’t. It’s over now. Absolutely do not start anything!” In the end, the only lingering conclusion was that I now had a poor relationship with SUGIZO. This happened two years before S.K.I.N. was formed.

A No-good Older Brother

In 2006 I met YOSHIKI for the first time in Los Angeles. He invited me, “Wanna drink at my house?” I said, “Let’s drink then!” and we emptied almost 20 bottles of Dom Pérignon together. When I asked, “Are you going to be okay? Do you have work?” he said, “Uhhh, I don’t know.” I drank until half-past six in the morning with YOSHIKI, who was naturally at full-throttle from the beginning. After that, we’d hang out whenever our schedules lined up, and act like fools whether we were in Japan or overseas. When we first met, we only talked about nonsense. He was significantly older than me, and the reality was that he was one of the highest-ranked sempai in visual kei, but on that first day, when I asked, “What should I call you?” he said, “I’m going to call you GACKT, so YOSHIKI is fine.5” “YOSHIKI, then,” I said, and from that exchange onward we became like brothers. Each time we hung out, I got a glimpse of YOSHIKI’s good points, no-good points, and his sloppy points, and whenever something happened that made me say, “You can’t do that!” or “Damn it, you’re no good because you do things like this!” he’d say “It’s okay cause you’re here, GACKT,” in full-throttle absolutely no-good big brother mode. Even though he was my sempai, we talked like brothers a lot. My no-good big brother. I feel as though I was always saying, “Get it together,” whenever he got drunk.

After that, when I was drinking with YOSHIKI, he extended an invitation— “Wanna do music together?” This would later become S.K.I.N.. When I asked him who he was thinking of for the other members, he said, “Maybe SUGIZO for guitar,” and I let out a sigh, “SUGIZO, huh…?” YOSHIKI asked, “What? Is something wrong?” and I told him, “Oh, it’s just that I had a fight with him. I got violent in his dressing room. Well, leaving the reason aside, I did bust into his dressing room. It doesn’t bother me anymore, but I’m not sure what he thinks of it… We are sempai and kouhai after all.” YOSHIKI said, “That’s okay! Let’s do it then!” “Hang on, weren’t you saying you’d make him a member!” Conversations that went like this were a daily occurrence. In the end, the day came to a close without us reaching any conclusion.

Every year, I throw a big birthday bash. For my birthday that year, I rented out a nightclub and held a party there. Lots of my friends rushed to the venue before the party started. When I was getting ready in my dressing room, thinking, “It’s almost time to start…” one of my staff ran up to me. 
“Sorry, can I interrupt for a moment? Um, SUGIZO is here… What should I do?”
I felt glum, thinking, “What? For real…? Has he come to fight me on my birthday…?” But it wouldn’t be right to turn away a guest. I said, “Let him in,” and a while later, SUGIZO appeared. I thought, “I really don’t want to get in a fistfight at a time like this,” but SUGIZO closed the distance between us.
“For real?” I thought, a moment of tension running through me. But then he extended his hand and shook mine firmly, saying, “I know stuff happened, but happy birthday!” And then he took something out of his bag. When I looked at the object wrapped in the paper and asked, “What’s this?” he said it was a power stone.
“Keep it close by. It’ll make good things happen.”
“I see,” I replied, “In any case, thanks for coming.”
I thought he was a super weird person, but for some reason we started talking from that day on. We quickly became friends. Perhaps YOSHIKI told him to come, or maybe that big power stone worked? Whichever it was, he had every reason to be pissed off at me at the time. But he took the time to attend my birthday, and reach out his own hand, and his generosity saved me.

That said, I hardly ever go drinking with him. If I have to choose one or the other, I go drinking more often with INORAN who is also a member of LUNA SEA. But somehow I have a connection with SUGIZO. When I was getting dental treatment and lying back in the examination chair, a voice from next to me said, “Oh, hey, GACKT, it’s been a while.” SUGIZO was lying back in the chair next to me. “I recognized you from the scent,” he said. When I asked, “What are you doing here?” he said, “Getting dental treatment.” I suppose that was obvious.

The Reason We Had A Fight

I had a fight with YOSHIKI for the first time after we began S.K.I.N.. We weren’t in touch for two years after that. We had a huge fight at the venue. The reason was YOSHIKI’s lateness. We didn’t fight because of alcohol.

We arranged a long rehearsal period in a rehearsal studio in Japan, but in the end, YOSHIKI never showed up to that studio even once. Because we hadn’t all rehearsed together even once, it was hurriedly arranged that we’d hold a rehearsal in the actual venue from 12pm the day before. We were all there… Except for YOSHIKI. In the end, we waited and waited, but there was no sign of him at all. It got to the point where it almost seemed an art form.

When 4pm rolled around, the other members, SUGIZO and MIYAVI, entered my dressing room. MIYAVI spoke. 
“Gaku-nii6, isn’t this a bad situation?” 
Everyone already knew that.
MIYAVI continued, “Yeah, I think we’re definitely going to have to call YOSHIKI.” 
This was also obvious. 
“And?” I asked. 
“I think you’ll have to call him and bring him here, Gaku-nii.” 
“Here it is!” I thought, but said to the two of them, “You know, if you think that, you should call him yourself. I sure as hell don’t want to. We’re gonna have a fight. I know it. Actually, SUGIZO’s the most senior out of all of us here, so he should be the one to call.” SUGIZO said, “GACKT, YOSHIKI and I are sempai and kouhai. It’s different between you and him, right? So you should be the one to call.”
“These two are trying to push a role no one wants on to me…” I thought, so I stated more strongly, “You know, I’m YOSHIKI’s kouhai too!”
SUGIZO continued, “Oh, no, I’m directly his kouhai, so there’s no way I can say it. GACKT is a kouhai in a position to say it7. This is definitely a job for you, GACKT!” In the end, they forced the role on to me. 
“I’ll have it out with them later!” I thought, as I rang YOSHIKI’s cell phone.

When I rang, YOSHIKI answered immediately. I thought to myself, “I’ve got a feeling that if I don’t use a firm tone, he won’t come at all…” so I said it fairly strongly. 
“Hello, YOSHIKI? We’re all at the venue waiting! You know we can’t rehearse like this. Hurry up and get here! There’s not much time left!” 
YOSHIKI lost his temper at me, saying, “All you guys keep calling me like this, so even though I was trying to leave the house, I thought ‘My home phone is ringing!’ and had to go back, damn it! I’ve had it with this! I’m about to leave the house, so everyone better stop interrupting me! I can’t take one damn step away from my front door!”
I listened to YOSHIKI.
“So, you were just trying to leave the house now?”
“Yeah! And I had to go back inside ‘cause you called me, GACKT! For real, give me a goddamn break!” 
He was irate.
“Ah, I see. In that case, sorry about that… But there’s probably a lot of traffic, so you’ve gotta be careful on the way. I won’t call your home phone again, so come here quickly. Got it?”
“Yeah, I get it. I think I’ll be there in about 20 minutes, so hang on. See ya then, bye,” he replied, and hung up. A moment passed, and I reflected on this deeply.
“Huh? Was it his home phone that I called? Wha??? …He got me.”

In the end, it was 8pm when YOSHIKI arrived at the venue. It was closing time. I was furious. “We haven’t even played together once, are you fucking kidding me?”
Just when I was about to leave the venue at 8pm, YOSHIKI suddenly appeared in front of me and said, “Morning!”8 Then he took a look at me and asked, “Huh? GACKT? Where are you going?” I said, “The venue is closing, so I’m going home.” Then YOSHIKI said, “No, don’t be selfish like that! Let’s rehearse!”

It sounds like a joke, but that’s YOSHIKI Theater for you. After that a lot of things happened… but it’s in the past now. Remembering it has made me pissed off again. For god’s sake… I’m pretty loose with time myself, but YOSHIKI has reached the peak of Uchinaa Time9… He’s really a useless person… The only method available to solve this problem is “give up”.

When I was filming commercials in a studio some distance from Tokyo, from time to time YOSHIKI would stroll in in the evening. When I asked him, “What are you doing here?” he’d just turn it back on me, “No, no, what are you doing here, GACKT?” I answered, “Filming!” and he said, “Wow, what a coincidence! So am I!” I asked, “…Aren’t you late?” and he asked back, “Eh, am I?”
“You know, filming generally starts in the morning… Even if it’s late, it usually starts during the day, right?”
“I guess so,” YOSHIKI replied.
In my heart I was screaming, You’re definitely late! but I’ve given up on saying it out loud.

I guess the only unit of time that YOSHIKI perceives is the date. I’ve told his manager this as well — “Don’t think of YOSHIKI as a human! He’s a lion! It’s the person telling the lion to be on time that’s the weird one! Being a manager means it’s your job to put the lion in his cage, with force if necessary, and bring him along!” I did think, I’m saying crazy things. By the way, I’ve got nothing against lions.

Step Into The Family And Become Like Brothers

After that, I put some distance between us for a while, but about two years later we started drinking together again as we normally did. He suddenly called me, “You know, back then…” and I ended up in Roppongi listening to him complain. By the way, me calling him YOSHIKI with no honorific is like how one might call their older brother aniki. Of course I’m conscious of the fact that he’s my sempai. I speak to him casually, but naturally I have respect for him. There are many people who I speak to casually even though they’re older than me. It’s the same with HYDE and SUGIZO. Most band guys are my sempai. Just because I speak with them casually doesn’t mean that I think we’re on equal footing. It might look friendly to the people around us, but it’s rooted in a deep respect. Japanese people aren’t very used to this kind of behavior, so I guess it’s difficult for them. When someone’s in the position of sempai, there’s a certain distance, and you don’t speak casually to them. But it’s precisely because I have deep respect for them as musicians that I’m treating them with politeness even though I’m using casual speech.

YOSHIKI is a musician who created a whole music scene. I also know how hard he worked behind the scenes. I know the messed up parts and also the irresponsible parts of him. I have this talk with him often, but I truly feel that he’s my “truly no-good older brother” from the bottom of my heart. He’s my powerful and no-good, messed up, older brother…

He contacted me before starting THE LAST ROCKSTARS too. “I’m gonna do it.” I said, “Oh, I see. Well, good luck,” and then we chatted about other things. Later, people were voicing a lot of speculation about my relationship with YOSHIKI, but I will never do music with him again. I know we’d fight and lose our tempers with each other. I live and die by rehearsals, and YOSHIKI is the exact opposite. Our stances are completely different. People who can match their own pace to YOSHIKI’s should do music with him. If you can’t, then you’ll end up fighting with him. All I can say is that I’m not that type of person.

He really is weird. The other day he started a phone call with, “Huh? GACKT? What is it?” even though he was the one who called me. When I said, “You’re the one who called me! And it’s 5am here!” he said, “No way! Oh, yeah, it’s a different time zone.” The one who gets angry loses the conversation. I asked, “By the way, what time is it there?” and he said, “It’s 6am!” Only one hour of difference. I asked, “Hey… What is this about anyway?” and he said, “I’m not really sure…” Incomprehensible… It’s like conversing with a specialized AI.

Usually, most people have sempai and kouhai relationships. Therefore, it will never be any more or any less than that. Because I think of him as an older brother, I’m always taking shots at the parts of him I don’t like. When something’s no good, I snark, “The hell are you doing?” I don’t sugar-coat things because he’s my sempai. Because I think that, on the contrary, that kind of half-hearted restraint would be rude to him. Thinking things like “If I say this he might get angry,” or “He might not want to hear this,” is nothing more than an underestimation of the other person’s capabilities. If you respect the other person, you should believe they can handle it. If they are bothered or get angry even when you haven’t said anything significant, that simply means they aren’t a high caliber person. You should break off your relationship with them.
Honestly speaking, it’s more comfortable and safe to speak formal language and keep them at arm’s length.
“If you think of them as family, speak to them with your heart, not your manners.” These are words that a sempai I respect told me long ago. It takes time and is fairly tough to build a brotherly relationship, but once it’s established, it’s a valuable thing to have in life. The other person will also get angry if you have a half-hearted attitude. If you keep the other person at a safe distance, you’ll only build a safe relationship. If that’s what you want, then go ahead and do it, but I don’t need that kind of person in my life. It’s not only him, I treat anyone more than slightly older than me as a brother, and I have many sempai who I speak to with no filter, whether I have good or bad things to say. Of course, this depends on what you want your relationship with them to be like, and if you feel that it’s better to preserve the gap between sempai and kouhai, then you should work hard to see how much you can deepen the relationship while doing that. It’s my life, so I’ll live it in my own style— that’s the way of living that I’ve chosen.

  1. Enka is a genre of Japanese popular music which is influenced by traditional Japanese music (and which Nippon Crown specializes in). These days, it’s mostly popular among older generations. Kitajima Saburo is quite a well-known enka singer with a string of hits in the 60s, 70s and 80s. [^]
  2. Kohaku Uta Gassen is an annual music show broadcast each New Year’s Eve. [^]
  3. Sempai and kouhai are often translated as “senior” and “junior” but this is a difficult concept to fully convey. Essentially a sempai is someone who joined an industry, workplace, group or scene before you did, and therefore takes on a role of authority/mentorship. Japanese people are frequently consciously aware of and verbally refer to these sempai-kouhai relationships even after the “junior” person has years or even decades of experience themselves. [^]
  4. Usual disclaimer that these curse words were not literally used, but are there to convey the rude/aggressive tone of what was said. [^]
  5. Both names are given without honorifics, which is unusual and generally indicative of a very close relationship. [^]
  6. Nii here is an affectionate way to say “big brother”. [^]
  7. I believe SUGIZO’s argument here is that he was new to the VK scene when he formed a sempai-kouhai relationship with YOSHIKI, and was directly mentored by him in some sense, while GACKT didn’t meet YOSHIKI until they were both well-established. [^]
  8. It’s somewhat of a custom in the Japanese entertainment industry to greet people with ohayou (good morning) the first time you see them that day, even if it’s no longer morning, but 8pm is fairly egregious. [^]
  9. Uchinaa is the Okinawan word for Okinawa, and “Uchinaa Time” is a joking way that Okinawans refer to their relative lack of concern about punctuality. [^]