There’s an Oasis song that says “don’t put your life in the hands / of a rock and roll band.” Seems like sound advice, but I wonder if taking it means you’re still putting your life in a band’s hands.
In December of 2012, when I was struggling to decide whether to stay on JET or not, one of the things that crossed my mind was “if I leave, I might not be able to go to another GACKT concert.” Seriously. If, in that cold and lonely December, I had hit for premium tickets (first 5 rows) in the fan club lottery for the 2013 Best of the Best tour, there’s a chance that I would have found the strength to grit my teeth through everything that was annoying me. Instead, a couple days before leaving to spend winter break in the States, I called the fan club line and got a nice recorded message telling me in keigo that I had struck out. For the first time in my 3 years in the club. After being in the seventh row at the Osaka Gakuensai! I couldn’t believe it and called the automated line again, hoping I’d misunderstood. But I hadn’t. And I thought, “On top of everything that’s gone wrong this past year I can’t even see GACKT?!” Then I cried in my kotatsu.
I remembered Oasis’ song, and felt like no matter what I chose, I was putting my life in the hands of a rock band. If I stayed it would be to continue going to GACKT shows, even if I ended up all the way in the back of the hall. If I left it would be to listen to Oasis’ advice. Granted, I don’t think this is what Noel Gallagher had in mind when he penned the lyrics to “Don’t Look Back in Anger.”
Okay, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration; GACKT was only a part of my decision making process, but he has played a huge role in my life for the past 12 years. I don’t think I would have studied Japanese as enthusiastically and naturally if I hadn’t fallen in love with his music, then with him overall. On top of being a singer-songwriter multi-instrumentalist, I think he’s pretty smart. When I saw this interview that came included in 2004’s PlayStation 2 game Bujingai: The Forsaken City (whose main character was modeled after and voiced by GACKT) I knew I wanted to listen to more of what this man had to say.
My body used to be really weak, and I was sick of using that as an excuse in my life, so I started practicing to conquer my own weaknesses. I guess a lot of mothers don’t want their kids fighting with each other, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. If you fight someone physically, your injuries will heal eventually. But a lot of kids don’t do that these days. They get into fights with their hearts, you know? They hurt each other emotionally, and those wounds are a lot harder to heal. That’s how bullying works, and I think the reason why suicide rates are going up is because people are hurting others, and people are letting people hurt them emotionally.
You can see this interview from the beginning here, but what I quoted comes at the beginning of part 2. Interestingly, the subtitles also leave out that GACKT says specifically that martial arts can be used to overcome Asians’ disadvantage of having small bodies relative to white people and black people. (Something I didn’t catch when I first saw this interview 10 years ago.)
Now, I don’t agree with GACKT on everything. I sort of put him on a pedestal so when he does or says annoying things, he really ticks me off and I have the sort of one-sided lovers’ spat that only a truly devoted fan can have. Punning on 男尊女卑 (“dansonjohi,” literally meaning something like “respect men, revile women”) to come up with 男尊女秘 (pronounced the same way, but meaning something like “respect men, keep [this show] a secret from women,” maybe) for a men’s-only concert? Really? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a men’s-only concert, but it seems like a strange name to pick for the show, especially when the overwhelming majority of your fanbase consists of women. But, for the most part, I’ve found a lot of what GACKT says to be very logical and useful.
As I complete my self-assigned homework of studying Japanese for 4 hours a day (2 hours with textbooks and 2 hours with anything else) I’m coming across a lot of GACKT’s words, wise and otherwise. Today I read the interview from Rock and Read #44 (November 2012). I plan on translating all of the interview for practice, but there was one part in particular that really stuck out to me, so I’d like to share it here, along with a related anecdote. [UPDATE: You can now read the whole interview translation here.]
At this point in the interview, GACKT has been talking about bullying. The interviewer, Ayano NISHIMURA, then asks what makes him feel alive and he answers seeing and feeling people’s happiness. The interview continues:
So, turning other people’s happiness into your own strength. Through your music, movies, and plays, you call for people to stop fighting with each other, and to hold friends dear. Why did that become a theme in your work?
Hm, probably because when I took a look back at myself, I realized that I hadn’t produced anything.
You hadn’t produced anything?
Through fighting. It resulted in nothing. The fights I myself started, the fights I was involved in, they accomplished nothing. I really think so. When I was a student, the discrimination against zainichi* children was awful. I was in that group, too. I’m not zainichi, but I got along really well with the zainichi children. So, I stood right between the Japanese and the zainichi. You could say I understood where both sides were coming from. Neither side was wrong in what they were saying; they’d get so heated that you couldn’t even tell who had started it, and I was caught between the two, being on good terms with both. So, sometimes there would be these really huge arguments, and I’d be the only one who didn’t get called out to join. Because I couldn’t join either side. They wouldn’t let me know what was going on because they knew that I’d end up mediating. I wondered, why does such a meaningless thing have to happen, why does it happen over and over again? It was a huge dilemma. I thought, if Japanese and Korean people sat down to talk to each other one-on-one, they’d both realize what a great person the other is. But they never understood each other. I thought, what’s up with that?
It’s about the pride between countries, right? Recently, I interviewed a certain zainichi actor. He’s 33 years old now. He said that from the time he was very little, he was always taught that he couldn’t lose to Japanese people. When he started to wonder why that was, he asked his parents, “Is it okay if I lose to Korean people?” They couldn’t answer him, so his viewpoint changed to “what a stupid way of thinking.” But I think it’s about how you take it. In that case, it could go either way. I think that to treasure one’s country and to want to protect its culture and way of thinking, are very precious things. But it’s sad when people hurt each other.
*”Zainichi” literally means “being in Japan” but it’s most often used to refer to people of Korean descent residing in Japan.
The story the interviewer shared about the Korean actor and what his parents told him reminded me of something that happened at one of YELLOW FRIED CHICKENz’s concerts. YFC was a band that GACKT formed, active 2010-2012. Its first live shows were men’s-only, with women gradually allowed to participate. But the rough nature of having started as a men’s-only show remained. GACKT would address the audience in really rough Japanese, included a call and response bit that consisted entirely of the word “F***,” and the audience was constantly instructed to “go wild.” I was more than happy to oblige, and I would scream out the band members’ names between songs louder and for longer than anyone else. But at the beginning of one concert, this happened, and I was so annoyed by it I felt compelled to write about it in my journal in the fan club community:
Well, I was gentle in the translation. The word the woman used, 「気持ち悪い」, doesn’t mean just “bad,” but literally, something that makes you feel bad, e.g. something disgusting. So there I was, enjoying the show and showing the band some love, feeling like I was one with all the fellow fans, when this woman goes and ruins the moment by turning it into a competition. Implying that somehow I shouldn’t be enjoying the show as much as a Japanese person. I, who had been walking the path of GACKT fandom for 9 years at that point, who was a card-carrying member of the official fan club, was screaming so loud it somehow challenged this woman’s Japanese-ness. What?
The comment seemed even sillier considering that in their 2011 incarnation YFC had two vocalists, GACKT and Jon Underdown, an American musician active in Japan. It reminded me of the first time I went to the Catholic church in my neighborhood, and a parishioner said, “Oh, a foreigner.” There was no ill-will in the observation, so paired with the location I was just thoroughly amused. Had I known more Japanese at the time, and had the guts to make saucy comments in church, I might have given voice to my internal reaction: “Who, me, or the man on the cross?”
Well, to take another lesson from Oasis, I’ll end on a positive note. Because I don’t want to always be looking back in anger. The reason I didn’t get in touch with friends in Detroit in my first few months back was that I didn’t want to talk about Japan, and I figured they would ask. I was too mad at it, but I knew that I needed time and space to let the good things about the country and my JET experience resurface in my mind.
This comment from another fan club member (one whom I knew in person from the same club-within-the-club) made me feel better that day.
気愛 KiAi = 気合い Kiai + 愛 ai. Putting love into your fighting spirit. Or fighting on because you love something. I think writing the word this way isn’t common outside the GACKT community, but I really like it.