Tokyo Damage Report

gekiteki 9 : akiba kei

Akihabara style = akiba kei.  Music from the anime subculture can be gekiteki because people do acting: they pretend to be batman or whatever. . . they wear costumes and perform "in character." Within "akiba-kei", there's a whole genre of wanna-be teen idols that just sing one anime theme song after another, but the people I focus on tend to create their own unique characters and have a more consistent, conceptual,  rock-opera approach.

This is the last in the 9 parts of my GEKITEKI project.

It's also the least completed. Because I don'T know anyone from this subculture. Please help me out if you know a band that should be included in this category.


his is the end of the gekiteki project – but in a way it's also a BEGINNING- because from now on, we all have a resource. we all have this little corner of the net to point to. And hopefully in the months to come, maybe some new people will show up, or tell their friends . And in that way, I hope that new people show up looking for one band, and find dozens of other related bands that they didn't know about. and in return i hope that these people will help me fill in the many gaps in the information.

From now on , I'd like to see people sending in lyrics – especially lyrics that connect to themes that other bands also express. Also: album covers, especially if those album covers have some imagery or symbolism that connects to earlier bands. imagery that connects to particular avant-garde japanese theatre or design crews and etc. It'd all about building the invisible chains of influence!


Anyway, on with the actual report:


 伝承歌劇団 (denshouka gekidan)

MEANING : the literal translation is "Legend-song Theatre Troupe", but their "english name" is Legend of Europa.
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1995
SOUND . . : power metal!
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : members are characters, they have a 'narrarator' who explains the plot between songs
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 月影の深淵

WEB . . . :, myspace


These are 4 older guys who are dressed like European royalty. But European royalty as often portrayed in cheesy ‘70s girl manga, which makes their main influence Japanese!

There was a huge trend of “prince charming”-type girl comics back in the ‘70s . . .which these guys are doing a power-metal version of. For women? For men? Who knows? Apparently this band’s main inspiration is the manga called SEINNTO SEIYA ('saints of the constellations') which had to do with constellations taking on human form (as European princes. . . if European princes were played by the drag-kings from Takarazuka all-women’s vegas-style showtune theatre) and fighting elaborate battles with one another.

Apparently these伝承歌劇団 guys also have characters and the songs tell the story of their own epic battles. Are they also constellations? Are they fighting each other ? or someone else???


Let's let their Myspace provide the answers:

"Densyou-Kagekidan" have many stories of each work and performance.
One of them who is 'storyteller' is special part of them, tells their stories or its change of situation to the audience.
Then other members in the band express different scenes with their song and music.
This band is exactly entertainer!




CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  2001~now
SOUND . . :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . :
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
WEB . . . :  wikipedia, official page, fan site with intricate plot summaries of their "plays"
These guys apparently started out doing doujinshi (fan-made manga) and then started doing plays based on their manga, and now mostly put on these huge, Takarazuka-style plays, complete with dozens of characters! Amazing! The shows seem to be a mix of influences from fantasy-themed anime, mixed with Takarazuka theatre,  and a lot of "european" exoticism.


Sample plots of their albums (taken from their fan site, above)


Roman is the 5th Story CD of Sound Horizon released on November 22, 2006. A series of concerts soon followed. In year 2008, a manga based on the album was created with 2 volumes. The album was influenced with French language, making the songs speak a few Frenchwords. The whole story was based from a French custom, and it follows the story of Hiver Laurant, a child who died premature. He gathers Roman together with his two dolls, Violette and Hortense to know the mystery under Hiver's life in the real world. Roman is a French word for 'story", making the flow of how the stories in the album sung and told legitiamtely.


Any word that Sound Horizon recognizes denshouka gekidan as an influence? denshouka gekidan was around before, it seems.

Any word of any sound horizon influences, in comics, theatre, music, or costume design?

and how did they get the money to put on such elaborate shows?

how do they see themselves relative to western rock opera bands like tommy or anotherbrick in the wall, or  stalin claus superstar? or things like that?





split memory man

CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2003 ??
SOUND . . :  glam rock
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : akihabara, visual kei
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : costumes, backstories of each character

WEB . . . : no.

Glam rock with an "outer space" theme and  some sort of  sci-fi plot that I couldn't understand when I saw them. THey were totally fun though!



 Planet gold 2008

CITY . . :
ERA . . . : the fuuuuuuuture, 2008???
SOUND . . : anime theme song
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : akihabara / theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :


Sort of the same deal as SOUND HORIZON, but much more low-budget, inept, Vegas-y, and intentionally campy. Here's what I said when I first saw them:

Their stage show was so ill-advised. They did one song, then spent like 15 minutes explaining about their superpowers and how they had like 18 strength or what their armor class was, and by the time they got around to winding up their elaborate back-story, it was time for the show to be over. I think they got half way through their second song.

It was like kabuki anime in vegas. The green lady was named like "Zebera Green Sex", and the blue lady was something like "Sex Zero Super Zebra". I think the red guy was just "Sex."

Apparently they came from some kind of zebra planet to teach humans more advanced fucking techniques.

Not pictured, the holes in the ass-cheeks of the red guy’s superhero uniform.

All their songs were karaoke-style, and the music was fake anime-theme-song-y. It was a glorious mix of bombast and ineptitude.

I should point out , in their defense, it was intentionally campy. Volitional camp, if you will. At one point they dragged a *volunteer* from the audience and inducted her into their fan club with the following initiation — the dude bent over her and emptied a small tin of semen-looking syrup into her mouth and made her chant "I AM FULL OF ZEBRA SPACE SEX SUPER! I AM FULL OF IT!"




MEANING : : cyan yellow magenta black ???
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : 8-bit electronica
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : akihabara / theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : see below!

WEB . . . :  here


These guys have a novel interpretation of nerd-rock:  they are really into '80s 8-bit (low resolution) video games. They  do all their songs with old-school, 8-bit synths, of course. But what sets them apart from the other '8-bit music' nerds is this: they do the whole show with a video projection. The video  is 8-bit versions of themselves as video-game characters, playing these imaginary famicom games that the songs are about. Is it a music video? Or a video game in progress? Are the songs about the game or is the game about the songs?   It's all very conceptual but too cute to be really pretentious.  The singer sings about jumping over a car, and lo! The video-game-character-version-of-the-singer jumps over an 8-bit car! The band and their 8-bit analogs do the same dance moves, they're dancing with each other!





again, like with the burlesque section (#8), this is really incomplete. Anyone who has any more ideas for bands, please leave a comment! Thanks!

5 comments Tags:

gekiteki 8 : burlesque and cabaret

Burlesque is definitely a part of gekiteki – especially when there is rock music and instruments involved! Unfortunately I have no idea of most of the burlesque / cabaret crews in Japan, and no idea of the "lines of influence" between them. So anyone who can help, please leave a comment!


情念 (jounen)

MEANING : : passion
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . :  from 2000???
SOUND . . :  motown / karaoke / cha-cha
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : cabaret / comedy
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : choreography, props, audience interaction

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: here , here, and here.


The singer is some kind of fetish writer? She always wears her mummy costume, but usually  with some other costume over it. The backup singers do motown or doo-wop dance moves as they harmonize. The music is all taped, not live. It's kind of uh . . . .synthesyzers. But quiet, not dance-y. The lyrics are all comedy things about sex. Not sure if they are parodies of popular songs or what. They play live a lot.

A lot of the "appeal" seems to come from the main singer being clumsy or not being able to really sing. But perhaps that's true of Japanese pop generally?




花巻組 (hanamaki gumi)

MEANING : :  Hanamaki City Gang
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  2004 ish???
SOUND . . : cabaret
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : cabaret
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : props, dancing, audience participation (willing or not!)

WEB . . . : here
TDR REPORT . . .: herrrrrrrrrrre


video (not embeddable) here.

Hanamaki-gumi is more of a traditional, french-style cabaret. They tease the audience and so on . . .hell, I'll just reprint what I said about them when I saw them:


with no warning, A BUNCH OF WOMEN came running in. they had identical silver wigs and granny-glasses, with matching white t-shirts and skirts. . . and were covered in white balloons. They danced around with a big red monster and lip-synched LAWDY MISS CLAWDY (little Richard) while popping the balloons. The grand finale: bowing with their backs to the audience, showing their underwears. Each bloomer had a big letter on it so when they all lined up it spelled 'B-I-T-C-H-(skull and crossbones). '

Then they ran away, only to come back with cheerleader costumes and do basically the same thing. Some amazing queen dragged a 5 foot wide white balloon into the middle of the crowd and popped it, sending goose-down everywhere: the balloon had been stuffed with feathers.

Their third number was some show-tune called 'money money money.' The leader came out with this absurd and nasty red lace outfit with a charming glitter-covered dildo. A two inch long glitter covered dildo!! Everyone else was wearing sequined-up cabaret style costumes. I think the gist of it was, the lady with the 2-incher was trying to pimp them out to the audience: pulling them up one at a time and gesturing for us to look at their sequin-encrusted boobies. . . but at the end they got even with her: they all dogpiled on her and ripped her clothes off. then, out of nowhere a mink coat appeared, and a bowler hat, and the disgraced drag-king ex-pimp turned into LIZA MANELLI. She sang some kind of Liza song, running into the crowd and harassing people. Then the monster came back and they all took a bow.






 デリシャスウィートス (derishasuuiitosu)

MEANING : : : delicious sweets
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1998~???
SOUND . . :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : cabaret
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
それゆけ!ハレンチ!スットンキョ!』1st Album


WEB . . . :  here

I  don't know what their songs are about or anything else . . . just that they're a swinging-'60s-London-themed burlesque crew.




1 comment Tags:

gekiteki 7 : retro japanese pop

Besides war nostalgia and religion, another  way to be "wayou" (east meets west) is to fuse rock with old-timey Japanese music.


Minyou kyoku= folk songs

kouta = early Meiji era : traditional short, fun songs

roukyoku =  also early Meiji : dark, manly ballads about duty and honor

Ryuukouka =  1920's music that sounded Eastern

Kayoukyoku = 1920's music that sounded Western

Enka = you know what that is


Given that Ryuukouka and Kayoukyoku (and the enka revivial of the '50s) were all about combining traditional older music with emerging pop forms to make something new, it's no surprise that  some bands are combining rock and Japanese music – usually with the scales and the singer's tone-of-voice being the Japanese part.


Frankly the only surprise is that there are not MORE of these bands.


If anyone knows enka/rock bands, please let me know and I'll try to add them. This page is wildly incomplete. . .


Readers wishing to know more about the history of Japanese pop music in the early 1900s can read my report on enka here.


氣志團 (kishidan)


MEANING : : medival knights
CITY . . :  Country suburbs of Chiba.
ERA . . . : 1996~
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :  '80s gangster culture.
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE :   the early '80s gangster world

WEB . . . :

I think the '80s is old enough to be considered retro, so here is Kishidan. They are a big arena rock group.

Famous for their ‘juvenile delinquent’ costumes, their lyrics often borrow from or parody popular manga or kayoukyoku.


MASAMANIA has a superb collection of kishidan cos-play fans here.


more recent, funny:

earlier, perfect every juvenile delinquent cliche totally REBEL AGAINST FUCKING AUTHORITY ATTACK OF GANG FOREVER FUCKING MAN!!!!!!

  母檸檬 (haha lemon)

MEANING : :  parody of the "mama lemon" soap of the Taisho era.
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  2001 ~ ???
SOUND . . : kind of dumb pop, but not dance, more like random pop.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : flags, and sad Showa era girls, Terayama, Dazai Osamu.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry??
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 愛孕哀歌 (aihara muaika)

WEB . . . : myspace,

They perform twisted versions of  童謡 (nursery rhymes)

They have a heavy Showa vibe. Also (along with afurirampo, inugami circus dan, and other female avant-garde bands)  they always seem to rock the red "under-kimono" look which I've talked about elsewhere.

Despite  being around for 10 years, and being big in the whole arty-farty scene (i often hear them mentioned alongside bands like  strawberry song orchestra or inugami circus dan), there is basically nothing at all on the web. Like not even photos. 


Anyone who knows more about the philosophy or influences of the band please get in touch.





MEANING : : : Asakusa is a neighborhood in Tokyo famous for temples but also old-school working-class culture, yakuza, day-laborers, colorful drifters, etc. Jinta is a form of chindonya. Chindonya is a kind of small traditional marching band that stores would hire to stand out front to attract a crowd of customers, or to march around the neighborhood handing out flyers as they play.
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2005 ~ now
SOUND . . : enka-billy
CLIQUE . . . : デスマーチ 艦隊, 浅草ジンタ, QP crazy
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :, myspace

After Deathmarch Kantai broke up, Dynamyte Oshou formed a new band ? also a retro-‘30s rockabilly marching band ? but different: Asakusa Jinta focused more on enka-ish love songs, songs about matsuri (traditional festivals), and the Asakusa lifestyle.





アザラシ (azarashi)


MEANING : : : harbor seal (taken from the Stalin song of the same name)
CITY . . : hokkaido
ERA . . . :  ???
SOUND . . :  thrash (early), crappy fast glam (mid-period)
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 蛆蟲

WEB . . . : myspace


need better picture!

My friend said they had  old-school pop (歌謡曲) vocals over hardcore music ???

But nothing I've heard by them sounds like that. Can fans of this band confirm or deny?


In any case, the costumes are from all different eras of Japanese history. Hopefully I'll have more about that later.


Lyrics are almost entirely about heartbreak, but in that very revenge-crazed enka way.


nice gut-eating horror video:


 霞鳥幻樂団 (kasutori yourakudan)???



CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2008~present
SOUND . . :  happy folk/metal
CLIQUE . . . : a la mode
STYLE . . . : retro
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : Edo, though I'd love to get a breakdown on all the individual costumes.

WEB . . . : myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: hhhhhhereeeeeeeeeee


A new band, associated with the ARTISM and A la mode folks. They play uptempo folk/metal, with a shamisen, accordion, and  a banjo?!?!? yes a banjo.

The shamisen and banjo play iron-maiden-like harmony leads. I don't know what the lyrics are about.

6 comments Tags: ,

gekiteki 6 : noise/performance art

I'm putting in noise bands that have a theatrical aspect – props, costumes, interacting with the audience, etc. Of course the theatrics come from  performance art moreso than  Shakespeare-type "theater"!



非常階段 (hijokaidan)

MEANING : :  emergency exit
CITY . . : Osaka
ERA . . . : late 1979~
SOUND . . :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : japan wiki,

This band took performance art and merged it with noise music (a form of electronic music that sounds like radio static).

There is a great English translation of the bandleader telling the story of the band at the website Psychedelic Noise From Japan And New Zealand.


Here is my favorite anecdote, but I really suggest you go to that website (wonder what it's about?) and read the whole thing.

In April 1981 an event called "Answer '81 Part Two" took place at Takudaku in Kyoto.  The performance-art aspect of Hijokaidan became more distinct at this show. In addition to the direct violence which they had expressed before, Oka and Zuke decided to convey physical loathing through every possible sensory medium. To this end, before the show they mixed garlic, raw fish and such like with buckets of putrid water. During the performance they started throwing these buckets around the stage. As it happened, I had not been forewarned about their plans and I was thus struck dumb with amazement. I remember being rooted to the spot, unable to move. Finally I drew some strength from the sight of Taniyan in his loincloth, his face shining with a certain type of innocence all the while continuing to wail on his guitar, and I was somehow able to continue with the performance. This show also marked the first time that Semimaru urinated on stage – a routine that at one time became almost synonymous with Hijokaidan. By the end of our performance, the entire venue stank so badly that it took over a week for the stench to fully dissipate. The next day we denied all knowledge of what had taken place.

another story, also from '81:

If I remember correctly we appeared fourth from last on the bill at the Keio University gig. However because some of our members let off a fire extinguisher they had found somewhere during our set, the audience (not to mention the band) found it difficult to breathe and we were forced to cut short our performance.It also seems that some of the members of Hijokaidan were themselves angry at the PA man's decision to leave and that they ran around breaking the windows in the classroom. The only direct danger that your writer experienced at this gig was caused by my climbing up one of the signboards that had been erected by members of the student protest movement. I was discovered by one of the students who had erected the signboard and he mistook me for a reactionary element. Fortunately one of the promoters of the gig had some influence with the student revolutionaries and things passed over without serious incident.


 I don't think it's an overstatement to say that this gig has now become legendary. Almost all the audience laughed with blank amazement at the sheer Kansai-ness of Hijokaidan. Then the next moment they were forced to flee in panic by the direct assault from the stage – at the same time they were unable to look away, transfixed as though by some terrifying sight. In a word I think their wide-ranging violent experience can be summed as being akin to extreme culture shock. The shaven-headed Oka and Zuke stood rigid in their combat clothing as they threw around buckets of gunge, ripped up raw fish with their teeth, using their own flesh as musical instruments.


Are there any Hijokaidan fans out there who can tell me what "using their own flesh as musical instruments" means? Did they tape contact microphones to their body, or just bash their heads with a microphone?



We bought some earthworms and lugworms at a fishing tackle shop and mixed these in buckets with eggs, milk, squid, salmon roe, raw fish and so on. During the performance we upended these buckets over our heads (in order not to damage the stage we had covered it with cardboard boxes we had found in the street. I remember fondly that Taniguchi and I had wandered around Shinjuku looking for these cardboard boxes and we sometimes came to blows with the homeless over them). It was too detailed a performance to be seen by the audience but I noticed that Oka carefully allowed the earthworms to hang from his mouth. The instruments we had brought along were soon unable to produce any proper sounds. In a gig like this where we were 200% hyped up we of course played our bodies and howled, resulting in a performance centred around badly connected noise. There was also an incident where Ebi-kun, a devoted follower of Hijokaidan and pyromaniac, got so turned on by the performance that he threw a firecracker on to the stage. The sight of him running around after the gig with a squid in one hand, a sea cucumber in the other and a big grin on his face, is one that has remained with me.



An 82 show with The Stalin:


Then it was the turn of Sta-Kaidan, eagerly awaited by the entire Kansai punk scene. From the Stalin side the line-up was Michiro, Shintaro, some guitarist I can’t remember, and Jun on drums. From Hijokaidan the line-up was Jojo, Oka, Yuka, Woo, and Hayashi. While The Stalin played songs such as The Jacks “Marianne” that had been selected by Michiro, Oka upended buckets of fermented beans, raw fish, milk, eggs and god knows what else over his head. In order to avoid defeat. The Stalin also started throwing around chicken carcasses and a pig’s head, and more buckets and flooring segments came flying from the audience. The Seibu Kodo and the 800 audience members dissolved into total anarchy. When a bucket thrown by someone in the audience hit me on the head, Hayashi charged out into the melee swinging a shovel. However this kind of chaos had been warmly anticipated by the audience and I believe that both they and the bands both enjoyed the show. I have very little memory of what we actually sounded like. Before the gig we had decided that this was to be a strictly one-off affair and so we purposely agreed not to record or video what happened. The event had grown out of the friendship between Hijokaidan and The Stalin and so we wanted to avoid it being turned into a commodity at some later date. Another episode that sticks in my memory – we had bought some shovels to use on stage, and after the rehearsal Hayashi and I put our heads together and dug a pit in the garden behind the venue. Ishibashi, one of the staff from the Seibu Kodo was good enough to fall into our pit twice – a comedy classic that still raises a laugh to this day.


But perhaps the most offensive part of their performance was : saxiphone solos. Not only that, but other noise guys like NIKUDOREI copied the saxophone format.




CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 1994~
SOUND . . : hard rock
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: here.

The Crazy SKB is the vocalist. He is a pro wrestler, on the indies circut. He also runs his own label, 殺害塩化ビニール (satsuga enka vynyl), which has a lot of "geki rock" acts of various genres, such as 大日本意識革命軍狂暴 (as seen Gekiteki 5), Shine Shine Shine Dan, and 毒殺テロリスト.

In fact, the Hijokaidan guy talked about Crazy SKB  showing up to their shows and being on their jock. I guess he was a Hijokaidan fan before he became a musician. But his pivotal insight was: marrying the high-art stylezzz of Hijokaidan to the low-art  performance style of pro-wrestling!

His live performances are full of wrestling-style moves.  Back-flip diving onto a "fort" of flourescent light bulbs a meter high, erecting a chicken-wire fence between stage and audience, filling the fence with firecrackers,  then attacking the fence with a spiked bat as the firecrackers go off and burn the audience. . . and hitting band members with flourescent lights.

When I saw them, Crazy SKB had a megaphone that shot fireworks, a giant flaming head of Asahara Shoko (head of the murderous AUM cult), and a bunch of Buddhist funeral sticks that had "666" painted on them. He finished the show by back-flipping off a speaker cabinet onto the giant Asahara head, which was on a giant sheet of glass which was on cinderblocks. BLAM. wtf!



肉奴隷 (nikudorei)

MEANING : : meat slave
CITY . . : ???
ERA . . . : 1996~present ???
SOUND . . : noise / performance
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :

What are his lyrics about???

A classic noise act. His performances include: screaming while wearing nothing but a gimp mask, while being penetrated by a dominatrix with a dildo, setting himself on fire and being carried at a dead run to the nearest hospital (by ANOTHER dildo-weilding band, still in costume), playing with a succession of female saxophone players (including the singer of Gallhammer at one point), and other terrible incidents.




 ゴキブリ・コンビナート (gokiburi konbinaato)

MEANING : : cockroach factory
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2000~now ???
SOUND . . :
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷, QP crazy

STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 粘膜ひくひくゲルディスコ

WEB . . . :

These guys are like an updated version of a traditional Japanese carnival freak-show (called misemono). But they generally play with rock bands, not with other misemono acts. They start out in contemporary street clothes and then usually get naked. Compared to traditional misemono, there is less actual deformed or handicapped people, and more vulgarity, almost a South-Park style button-pushing: they make fun of the handicapped or retarded people, suicidally depressed people, and people with “conjoined fetus syndrome”. . . and put on skits using “domestic abuse of the elderly” is the funny point. They take a popular kids’ song “dangosan kyoudai” about a kind of 3-ball shishkebab and change it so that the shishkebab pierces the cheeks of 3 members of the group, welding them together. Also their performances are in a “play” format, with the various grotesque acts being part of the “plot.” They also do occasional songs to backing tapes, but that is not their main thing.


The main guy also has a solo act, under the name of  病気マン (byoukiman, sort of a super-hero name like Sick-Man). I have no idea what that is about.




MEANING : : : west-side zero generation
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : early boredoms worship.
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise


West-side Zero Generation is a sort of clique or mutual-support group of Osaka bands with avant-garde or noisy leanings. Unlike most "scenes",  none of the bands sound the same. I'm including it here because so many of the bands are gekiteki. Does anyone know when this scene started? Or if they have a manifesto, something that explains why they think performance is such an important part of music?

Main Members: afurirampo, zuinoshin, oshiri penpens, Midori

Other members: azurashii, dmbq, bogulta, ワッツーシソンビ (WATUTSI ZOMBI) NECO眠る. 巨人ゆえにデカイ, パイプカットマミヰズ, アウトドアホームレス, N'夙川ボーイズ, 宇宙三輪車

あふりらんぽ (afurirampo)


CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2002-2010
SOUND . . :
CLIQUE . . . : 関西ゼロ世代, 鉄劇団
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : choreography, audience participation.

WEB . . . : wiki,
TDR REPORT . . .: herrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre

No costumes or props, but choreography.  A lot of the songs have movements that go with the notes, which is quite an accomplishment since they are also playing instruments at the same time. For instance, in their Onigiri song, they pantomime making onigiri (rice balls). 

Do they count as gekiteki? I think so!


Here's an excerpt of a review from  the CLEAR AND REFRESHING website:

"It ends with drummer Pika leading a sizeable chunk of the audience out into the streets screaming "Puripuripu-pu-pu!" at all the stylish Tokyoites in the stylish cafes, then round in a circle and up onto the pedestrian bridge overlooking the venue, where guitarist Oni has led the rest of the crowd onto the pavement, thus commencing a nonsensical call and response shouting match."

This sort of take-the-crowd-out-of-the-venue was pioneered in Japan by guess who? Terayama. So there's that.




CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2004???
SOUND . . : noise
CLIQUE . . . : 関西ゼロ世代
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : here
TDR REPORT . . .: here

One of the Osaka west-side generation bands. . . way better than afurirampo, but they never got big because they're not cute girls.


Here's what I thought of them when I saw them:


kind of like early boredoms. Totally spastic and percussive but yet really tight. Too bad they decided to use like 39 effects pedals so we could not hear any actual notes. But still they got all crazy, plus the drummer had a fucking rayon SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK shirt. Fucker!



センチメンタル 出刃包丁  (senchimentaru dekabouchou)

MEANING : : sentimental big knife
CITY . . : Tokyo ???
ERA . . . : ???~ 2008 ???
SOUND . . : punk
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷

STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : myspace fan site


on that) this guy is the Japanese G.G. Allin, they say. Pissing on  and cutting up the audience, the whole 9 yards.

I have no information on him other than that. Total underground outlaw.

  組織暴力幼稚園 (soshikibouryokuyouchien)

MEANING : : kindergarten of organized violence.
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : ???
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : white kimono covered with writing, similar to those worn by singer of Junior High School Casket.
CLIQUE . . . : 組織暴力幼稚園, SENTIMENTAL 出刃包丁, 病気マン、肉奴隷

STYLE . . . : noise/ performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
No JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : in the lyrics. unintelligible, but pretty sure he’s not happy.

WEB . . . :

They started as a rock band, who would scream abuse at the audience and finish the show by diving headfirst into the trash-bins and wearing it for a hat while rolling in trash. Of course there are a lot of bands who do that nowadays, but what makes Soshikibouroykuyouchien so special is a few times they’d continue the live-show by marching outside into the street (followed by the audience) and smashing shit until the cops came.




ブッシュマンズ・インポテンス (buschmann impotenz dv)

and the side project: 汚名らんど (omei Land)

MEANING : : Omei is named after a Lip Cream song.
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2007 ???
SOUND . . :
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhere


The youtube is of them being less tribal, more slick, wearing matching fundoshi and welders' helmets. When I saw them – an April Fools' day show at night in a cemetary packed full of cherry blossoms – (!!!!) they played tribal noise – sort of like CRASH WORSHIP i suppose? Improvised tom-tom drumming with feedback over it, plus layers of pedal-driven "noise" over that, and the singer screaming.



There's an omeiland video, but it's not embeddable. go here to see it.



CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2008 ???
SOUND . . : butthole surfers
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : : fundoshi, Japanese construction worker costumes, decorations of b-movie Japanese stars. (politicians?)
STYLE . . . : noise / performance
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : multi-media, stage decorations, costumes.

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: here


These guys had a sort of psychedelic, multi-media performance (props, video projections, thrown objects)  that was like a more sedate butthole surfers, mixed with Weird Al comedy rock. Anyone know who those giant heads are?


1 comment Tags:

gekiteki 5 : militarist

These bands are "theatrical" because they are inspired by  the pomp and bombast of  – to say nothing of the shock value of – Japanese military culture from fascist era (roughly '31 – '45) 

Any discussion of militarist Japanese rock has to start with "the nazi thrash epidemic" of the late '80s: a sort of  'arms race' where each band had to take the gimmick further than the last band. I'm not so offended by the nazi symbolism. I'm more offended that the music combines really high-quality thrash (=good) with crummy glam (=bad).


mein kampf

CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1985
SOUND . . : thrash / early visual
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : metal archives,



CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1986=~
SOUND . . : thrash / early visual
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : metal archives




CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1987
SOUND . . : speed-metal, shred-tastic solos, kind of x-japan choruses
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : metal archives




MEANING : 'twisted cross' as in you-know-what
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : thrash / early visual
CLIQUE . . . : Mein Kampf, Rommel, Harenkreuz, Rosenfeld
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :






 さあぐ (殺悪愚,  pronounced SAAGU)

MEANING : : : literally “Murder Bad Foolish”, but phonetically “thug”, the English word. This sort of pun is called ‘ateji’ (当て字) and is a very very bousouzoku style of humor.

The English "translation" is Spiritual Agony Agitate Guerilla
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : ???
SOUND . . : hardcore
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : bousouzoku costumes, gunka
CLIQUE . . . : ???
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 異形, 唯一

WEB . . . :

WWII army music plays on the intro. . . fade into the sounds of 100 motorcycles revving, singer comes in in full biker gear, throwing lite fireworks into the crowd, then into some old-school Japanese-style hardcore punk. There is no shortage of thug-core bousouzoku hardcore bands, starting with Anarchy (one of the first punk bands in Japan, before hardcore was invented). But saagu is noteworthy because they have a theatrical approach to the bike-gang lifestyle, and also a pro- (rather than anti-) authority attitude.

Pro-Emperor lyrics and such.




火の宮 (hinokyuu)
MEANING : palace of fire
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : ‘80s
SOUND . . :  punk

wtf tall socks and knickerbockers? with head band. What does this mean???


CLIQUE . . . : Taiyou records
STYLE . . . :  militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
WEB . . . :
Sounds like the clash. 
 Band of Sawaki Kazumi, who runs Taiyou records.


デスマーチ艦隊 (desumaachi kantai)


MEANING : : : the ‘march’ was a popular form of SOUND . . : in the ‘30s. kantai means a Navy fleet, and ‘death’ refers NOT to a fleet that is all marching off to die , but refers to the fact that this band is the ‘death metal version’ or ‘heavy version’ of marching-band SOUND. Got all that?
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1997~2005
SOUND . . : gunka-billy ! standing bass, and horns!
CLIQUE . . . : デスマーチ 艦隊, 浅草ジンタ
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : navy uniforms with shironuri and faces covered in scars : zombie sailors!

WEB . . . :

They started out a psycho-billy band, and gradually evolved into a full ‘30s style marching band, with over 10 members and plenty of traditional Japanese instruments, tycho drums etc. The lyrics also evolved to be about the Imperial war ERA . . . :, including covers of gunka (war and military songs) of that time.

The band-leader is named Dynamyte Oshou, and his family is kind of famous for running a big butsudan company (butsudans are the family Buddhist altars one keeps in one’s home to pray to one’s ancestors).






MEANING : : Great Japanese Consciousness Revolutionary Army Frenzy
CITY . . : Nagoya
ERA . . . : `97-2004 ???
SOUND . . :  ???
CLIQUE . . . :  QP crazy
STYLE . . . :militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 97『時代錯誤』, 2001『原石の庭』, 2002 『誉-ホマレ-』
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : early Showa era ('30s , '40s)

WEB . . . :,

the singer is wearing a cross between a Navy General WWII costume and a Vegas-era Elvis jumpsuit????

The guitarist is dressed like a kamikaze. The bassist looks like he collects every Evangelion figurine ever.

WTF. Even my Japanese friends who are familiar with the "nazi thrash epidemic" of the late '80s are puzzled that a band like this would be able to exist.


rad photos of them, more info than i seen anywhere online, but only recent middleage pictures


MEANING : literally, "demon asia moth mystical chinese beast" , but pronounced ‘margarine’. On purpose.
CITY . . :
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . :  trad. Jappacore
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE :  their uniforms seem to be a cross between bosozoku gear and WWII army gear.
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : militarist
ALBUM TO GET . . . : aikokusha he no tsugu
WEB . . . :
I don't know anything about these guys. But I got their CD – the song titles and lyrics are like classic WWII gunka, but not cover versions. More like modernized  punk versions.  It's like they're some recruiting gimmick for some black-van group or something . . . ?

14 comments Tags:

gekiteki 4 : pagan

Religion is another way to mix up East and West. Some of these bands are serious, deep Buddhists, and some are metal-heads who embrace  Japanese pagan or shamanic stuff in order to reject Christianity and Christian Rock (this is a common theme of metal worldwide ever since Norwegian rockers started wearing Ren-faire garb and singing about Thor in the early '90s)




CITY . . :
ERA . . . :  1971
SOUND . . :  psychedelic
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . :  pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :  Buddha Meet Rock
WEB . . . :  prog archives

People was some session musicians who got together to experiment with the theme "rock plus buddhist sutras". It didn't go very well – lots of terrible blues guitar solos and confused minimal bits where nothing goes on. But hey – it's the first time anyone tried combining Japanese religion and rock. Here is the only halfway good song:






CITY . . :  Osaka
ERA . . . : ‘87~
SOUND . . : metallica
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : kimono
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . :  pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :  aratama?? Only one I know of.
WEB . . . :
Cheesy visuals  . . .songs are all about  Japanese mythology.
Like a lot of VK bands, their fans were young girls, but as the band aged and the girls graduated to other things,  their fans turned into old nerd men. the same age as the band!
Same phenomenon as morning musume.
Wtf Japan?!?


五人一首 (gonin isshu)


literally “five people, one neck”, this appears to be a take-off of hyakunin isshu, which is a hundred-card card game based on the form of poetry known as tanka (sort of a grown-up precursor to the kids’ card-game karuta). Anyway there are five people in this band so it seems they changed hyakunin (100 people) to gonin (5 people)!
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1997~
SOUND . . : progressive melodic death metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : vocal melodies, 作務衣 (monk’s work clothes), yokai
CLIQUE . . . : sigh (same drummer)
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Naishikyo-Sekai ???
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : general old-times Japan
WEB . . . : myspace


Their lyrics are about yokai (traditional monsters and faries of traditional folk-tales)
Their sound is very influenced by Dream Theater and kinniku shoujotai



凶音 (magane)

MEANING : : : most horrible or ill-fated sound.
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1999 ~2005
SOUND . . : black metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Shinto mysticism, kimono, onkai (a Japanese scale)
CLIQUE . . . : sigh
STYLE . . . : pagan
Shinto. Early Japanese b.m.
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Mortes Saltantes Full-length, 1999 , Beginning at the End Full-length, 2003
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : They’d wear kimono and shironuri. The vocal was a skinhead who would paint extra eyes all over his head.
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : early Shinto times of Japan – I guess you could say it was Japan's bronze age.

WEB . . . : myspace ,

The first black metal band in Japan, before Sigh, though they did often play together. Applying the BM idea of “pre-christian back to the roots of my people, anti-modern-society” thing to Japan. Most songs are about Shinto myths (shinwa), especially creation myths of various deities.

One of the guys is now in 捜血鬼, souketsuki, a gagaku black metal band!

The drummer was named 黄泉槌, yomitsuchi, literally hell hammer. Ha ha


  ごつとつこつ 元突骨

MEANING : : a famous warrior from the Chinese “sangokushi” (‘warring states’) period. Also the name of a popular videogame in Japan.
CITY . . : saitama
ERA . . . : 2000~
SOUND . . : death metal with slap-bass
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : samurai armor!! (known as yoroi 鎧), Lyrics about noble warriors from the Japanese (not Chinese) warring-states period, known as Sengoku (1467-1573)
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : Their between-song-banter is delivered in character, all SCA/Renfaire style, but very tongue-in-cheek. For example, they’ll refer to the ‘fast Saikyosen horse’ they took to the gig, Saikyosen being the railway that runs to Saitama.

WEB . . . : myspace,

Bassist of defiled.



picture ???


CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2000
SOUND . . : doom w/ folk elements
CLIQUE . . . : birushannah, cavo, ryokuchi
STYLE . . . : pagan (shamanic)
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : costume ???
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : ancient pre-literate Japan

WEB . . . : discography here

The most underground , not-on-web, holy grail shit ever. no myspace, no fan pages, no torrents, no DLs, no youtubes, nothing. Fitting for a band that was very anti-the-modern-world.

Not only are the lyrics in a made-up language, but dude made up his own alphabet like tolkien. Why? He wanted to take it even further back than Magane: performing shinwa (神話= legends of the gods) from Japan’s shamanic cave-man era, before the Japanese language had even been invented! Shaman metal!

Members of cavo and tetsuo went on to form birushannah.

The sound is ritual sludge! repetitive low guitars and chanting. Hella ambiguous.

If you’re wondering why Corrupted began to do super long, almost ritual-sounding songs with 10-minute “dark” acoustic intros, it’s because of Cavo.


Cavo is the missing link between birushannah and corrupted.




MEANING : : : ???
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2002~still active
SOUND . . : technical folk metal with industrial metal percussion
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Buddhism, traditional Japanese tyko drums, Japanese melodies.
CLIQUE . . . : birushannah, cavo, ryokuchi
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : akai yami

WEB . . . : myspace

the thing you got to understand about Birushanah is, they’re taking deep, thousand-year-old Buddhist, occult, living-in-the-woods Japanese folk melodies and melding them with NEUROSIS-style tribal metal sludge. That’s their deal. Also: fretless bass WITH STAINLESS STEEL MIRRORED NECK being fingertapped basically the whole time.

If that sounds too good to be true, it is.

I really want to like Birushanah because they are so deep and uncompromising, but their shit is all OVERPLAYED. That is to say, everyone plays too many notes and progs out too much and they are all in each others’ way. Too many chefs spoiling the pagan,neurosis soup, if you will. The bass is finger-tapping the whole show . . . every riff is too complex to be tribal or catchy- and to make matters worse, the "regular" drum guy, instead of playing accents, tries to duplicate ALL the bass notes. The "industrial" drummer just plays constant 16th notes no matter what anyone else is playing. the guitar was too distorted for me to even attempt to critique it.

On the other hand – the melodies are super long and complex – maybe they take 40 seconds to repeat. And: Lyrics about Buddhist philosophy. Also melodies have a little Indian influence.

They cover a kids’ song, カゴメカゴメ but their version is called アナグラ



pic ???

  緑血 (ryokketsu)

MEANING : : : green blood
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2002-2008
SOUND . . : sludge doom
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Buddhism, samue (Buddhist monk’s work clothes), onkai
CLIQUE . . . : birushannah, cavo, ryokuchi
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : shinshou

WEB . . . : prog archives

When I saw them, they were a 3-piece: bass (like Birushannah, fretless and mirrored-steel neck!), western drums, and tribal drums. A groovier, more chanty version of Birushannah, I guess you could say. Their lyrics are also about Buddhism.

陰陽座 (onmyouza)


MEANING : 陰陽座 ? yin & yang throne. Also, 陰陽師(おんみょうじ) where the shamans of the old days, usually pictured to dress like this band is.

CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2003~
SOUND . . :  visual kei with power-metal stylezzz and lady singer.

CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
WEB . . . : 
Catchphrase : “Youkai heavy metal”.
Lyrics in very old fashioned Japanese.
Lyrics about legends of youkai and demons.
Take inspiration from youkai researcher 京極 夏彦 and manga author手塚 治虫.
All songs are named after various youkai.



銀河 (ginga)

MEANING : : : the milky way galaxy
CITY . . : Kyoto???
ERA . . . : 2007
SOUND . . : insane finger-tapping, motorik prog metal
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :


These guys seem to have teleported out of the medieval past of an ALTERNATE Japanese reality: they are at once very traditional and very surreal. Their kimonos are all crocheted wool with hoodies on, they have giant battle flags on their back (which is a real thing), but also dolls made of dried straw clinging to their backs like children (?!?!?!). And the singer showed up in a loincloth and a fox mask. Their music is equally uncompromising: non-stop finger-tapping for 30 minutes. Not like Eddie Van Halen style tapping – this was Krautrock style. They'd play a hypnotic series of 8 or 16 notes and just loop it for a loooong time. It sounded a lot like Tetsugekidan – another West Coast mystery group.


Francois writes that "the straw dolls could be Japanese voodoo dolls, 藁人形 "




CITY . . :  Osaka
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . :  epic melodic death metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese instruments and scales
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : pagan
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Restoration Of The Samurai World

WEB . . . : myspace, metal archives


a one-man band. Mixes melodic death metal with Japanese instruments and scales. Lots of layers.

sample song titles:



harakiri – the honorable death

pandemic scroll

invincible yamato

man with armor dignified

the samurai metal!


2 comments Tags:

gekiteki 3: literary bands

Literary bands  – for some reason all metalheads – use old-timey Japanese authors for their lyrics. Usually horror or surrealist writers from the Modernist period of the '30s.

Literature is a big part of ANGURA (underground) culture  . . .even if your band isn't metal, even if you don't  have literary lyrics, you're supposed to  know about 4 or 5 guys if you're any kind of hipster at all: Mishima Yukio,  Edogawa Ranpo, Dazai Osamu, Yumeno Kyuusaku, and Yoko Mizo.


And of course many "literary" bands take lyrical inspiration from even further back: traditional folk tales, yuurei (ghost stories), noroi (curse stories), and so on.

人間椅子 (ningen isu)


MEANING : : human chair – The band name translates as ' The Human Chair', it's taken from the title of one of Rampo Edogawa's novels
CITY . . : Aomori (many songs are in the Aomori dialect of tsugaruben)
ERA . . . : 1987~
SOUND . . : doom with folk melodies
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : fashion (often cosplay characters from folk tales or old horror novels) and lyrics, some Japanese instruments, and the authors Yumeno Kyusaku, Rampo Edogawa, and Yoko Mizo,
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . : first alb (ningen shikkaku) and kaijin nijuu mensou (man with 20 faces, based on the Yoko Mizo novel of the same name)
HISTORICAL ATMOSPHERE : taisho era, edo era.

WEB . . . : , myspace


The two major literary influences are Yumeno Kyusaku 夢野久作 and Yoko Mizo, as well as – to a certain extent – Ranpo. Mix this with Black Sabbath and a little King Crimson, and you've got Ningen Isu.

Yoko was kind of the Flannery O`Connor of Japan. Ranpo’s stories were set in the cities, but Yoko’s were set in the deep countryside where every small town had terrible secrets and the traditional ghosts/monsters lurked round every corner. In other words, Yoko’s novels- although at the same time as Ranpo’s and in the same genre – were much more Japaneesy.

Also this band is one of the bands that got embiggened by mainstream TV talent show IKASU BAND TENGOKU – an example of how a mainstream TV show stimulated underground music in Japan at that time.

Because of their TV fame, they were able to kick off a whole "bunkei" (literary nerd rock) movement, which was a sort of counter-reaction to the more jock-ish metal and visual kei scene which had dominated the '80s.  Even non-metal bands such as Strawberry or Inagumi cite Ningen Isu as an influence.


Here's a video for a song called KAIJIN NIJUU MENSOU (The Beast-Man with Twenty Faces). Not only is it based on a horror novel, but each band member is cos-playing a different character from the novel.






ニンゲン・カクセイキ (ningen kakuseiki)


MEANING : : : it’s a pun ? they deliberately use katakana, forcing the reader to imagine the two possible kanji combinations which both sound like ‘ningen kakuseiki’: 人間覚醒記 (chronicles of human awakening), and 人間拡声器 (the human megaphones). But which is it really? Neither! The name exists perpetually in an in-between state of ambiguity and double-ness. This Hisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Shondigger’s-Cat-like property of the Japanese language is also a big part of the lyrics, which are also full of such kanji puns and double-MEANING : : s. Epistemological prog!

CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2000-2006
SOUND . . : fast metal
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : literary Kanji puns, Terayama, Natsume Souseki (author), Evangelion, Yukio Mishima
CLIQUE . . . : : jr. high school grave, Magdalena, 人間 かくせいき
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :

In the beginning, there was a big Terayama influence. They were called ニンゲンカクセイキ・CaptorCrat, and they wrote an entire new set-list of songs for every performance. The songs were playful and philosophical, full of puns and palindromes. For example, one time they'd do a Shakespeare parody. Another show would be about 人動説 戦争 論争戦 : the belief that humans make the stars revolve around earth (geocentrism?!?)

Then they got a new drummer, and made a stable setlist, mostly about “what-if?” scenarios involving famous historical people, both real and fictional:

Natsume souseki (author)
Kafka’s cockroach tale
Yukio mishima.




マグダラ呪念 (magudara junen)

MEANING : : : the curse of mary magdalene
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2003
SOUND . . : doom
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : kimono, kayoukyoku melody, kabuki voice/kobushi (vibrato)
CLIQUE . . . : chuugakuseikanake, magudara junen, 人間 かくせいき
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . :2 eps 何の因果でこうなった and 念の音

WEB . . . : ,myspace

Lyrics similar to chuukauseikanake, but more abstract. They do sing in different characters for different real literally or theatre influence.





中学生棺桶 (chuugakuseikanake),now known as 例のK.

MEANING : : : jr. high school casket
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2004-5??? ~ present
SOUND . . : doom
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : kayoukyoku melodies, difficult, old-school Nihongo, Osamu
CLIQUE . . . : chuugakuseikanake, magudara junen, 人間 かくせいき
STYLE . . . : literary
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 神頼みの似非不良に抗う

WEB . . . :, myspace


Big GG Allin influence attitude-wise, and big Sabbath influence in the riffs, but both filtered through this Japanese occult Showa-era filter.

Vocalist’s name is ようぞう, a character from an Osamu novel. The white kimono covered in chinese letters is a thing some of these gekiteki bands do. Is that a Terayama thing ???
The songs have a GG-ish theme of cursing society and having a huge grudge against everyone. But the songs are structured like stories where the singer isn’t “Me” , he’s a character who is literally placing a hex or curse on the world, and the lyrics are often invocations or chants. うらみぶし。


In the photo above, the singer is wearing a white kimono, called shinishuuzoku. The kimono dead bodies are buried in. The kimono is covered with writing. This sort of graffiti-ed death kimono is worn by several other geki-teki bands, such as Soshiki Bouryoku Youchien.  Mr. Mochi says there are two origins for this kimono;


1) a "kaidan" (ghost story) called Miminashi Houichi. About a demon that likes to eat people in the village. But a buddhist priest advises a villager to wrap his whole body in white cloth covered with Buddhist sutras, which will make him invisible to the demon. But the man forgets to wrap his ears, so the demon  says, "Hey look, two floating disembodied ears! I'll take them!" and thereafter the villager has no ears.

2) the funeral custom of writing buddhist sutras on the shinishuuzoku to prevent yuurei (evil spirits) from corrupting the recently deceased and enlisting them in the yuurei's campaign of revenge on the living. Also the family of the deceased would write good things on the kimono – things they'd miss about the deceased. Like a written eulogy.


Of course, the bands here write fucked up stuff instead.


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gekiteki 2: shironurikei

shironurikei (白塗り形) means "white-painted face style".

The white face thing has been around forever – geisha and all that.

But shironurikei is not just a matter of doing geisha makeup. There's a whole  iconography to it. A sort of "japanese goth" that is different from your fakey Marilyn Manson-type goth bands AND different from your "gothic lolita" people. Shironurikei is a bit more theatrical,  literary, retro, arty, Japanese-y (as opposed to european), and  Terayama-ish.   That's why I'm putting these bands in here and not all the gothic bands that you like. Sorry!

Shironurikei is not just a music thing – you'll often see art or photography which uses the same atmosphere and visual vocabulary as the bands.


It's not really my favorite thing ever but it’s useful since it combines the theatrical stuff with the wayou mix stuff to the MAXXX.

 犬神 サーカス団 (inugami saakasu dan)

MEANING : : : Inugami is a traditional monster from “noroi” (trad. Ghost stories).
This then was used in a Yoko Mizo novel called “inugamikei no ichizoku”. That novel was then referenced in a TERA . . . :yama artwork called Inugami Circus-dan. From whence the band got their name.
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 1994 ~ ???
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese funeral rituals, Edo-era prostitutes, costumes, old horror novels, 'gaidan eiga'
SOUND . . : no Japanese elements. Just visual fast. With random pop.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry and hino hideshi’s horror manga.
STYLE . . . : theatrical, shironurikei
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Jigoku no Komoriuta (地獄の子守唄) – 1999

WEB . . . :


This was one of the first generation of literary (bunkei) bands.

When they first started, the band would play noise while Ms.  Kyoko (the singer) screamed long, non-rhyming poems or excerpts from old horror novels over it while wearing a schoolgirl costume and carrying her own fueral photo on her chest. Then they started playing more musically, and the singer would dress in  a bright under-kimono (and say saucy in-between song banter) in the manner of an Edo-era prostitute.


The bright-red kimono is called a  じゅばん (juban), which is a big re-occuring theme in this type of music.  Afurirampo, Haha lemon, and other female bands tend to wear it. It's kind of what you'd wear under your regular kimono. But in the Edo days, if you were a prostitute, you wouldn't have time to put on a proper kimono, so you'd just lounge around in your juban.  The symbolism is not "slut" so much as "the particular kind of unfairness or harshness of the Japanese woman's life." (because a lot of prostitutes were sold into sexual slavery as a result of high taxes, feudalism, or other forms of exploitation).


Also the singer has this crazy ear-to-ear lipstick. This is ANOTHER thing you almost have to do if you're a lady in a shironurikei band. According to Mr. Mochi, the ear-to-ear lipstick has two possible meanings.


One relates to an urban legend which circulated in the  late '80s, called KUCHISAKE ONNA.  Supposedly this was a lady who was beautiful but wasn't satisfied with her beauty so she had plastic surgery which became horribly botched. She'd walk around town with a big sars-mask on, and go up to strangers and ask them if she was beautiful. They'd say "Yes," then she'd rip off the sars mask, revealing a horribly deformed monstrous mouth and ask HOW ABOUT NOW? and then chase and/or eat them. So that's one possible origin of the crazy lipstick.


The other origin is, the idea of a retarded village girl who (ちしきが知恵遅れ) who falls in love with a "normal" man and tries to impress him by wearing lipstick, but doesn't know how to apply it. The appeal is a combination of the pathos (she's doomed to be rejected but too disabled to realize it) plus the naiive purity of her erotic desire. Anyway.


Then they went pop and it didn’t work out. Now they are indie again.

A lot of the lyrics have to do with traditional poetry, and “gaidan eiga” (movies based upon traditional ghost stories, which were popular in the taisho and showa eras)





グルグル映画館 (guruguru eigakan)

MEANING :  rotating movie theatre
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 1995~2002
SOUND . . : visual dorkiness with occasional kayoukyoku melody
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : just dude’s school-boy hat.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry, shinjuku gewalt, guruguru eigakan
STYLE . . . :  major label pop
ALBUM TO GET . . . : dunno but the cover is hella a typical traditional style. where does this steelo come from???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :  skits , terayama

WEB . . . :


Is there any other JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : to it??

These guys were a pop band, but theatrical: they would do songs from the points of view of various different characters. And before the song started (in concert), they would do skits where the musicians would talk "in character" about the song.

That wonderful album cover (above) is pure Tadanori Yokou.

Together with Kari Gari, these guys were the sort of major-label face of the shironurikei movement in the '90s.





MEANING : : : Shinjuku Domination (Gewalt is a german word)
CITY . . :
ERA . . . : late ‘90s.
SOUND . . : techno. Laptops. Happy.
CLIQUE . . . : Shinjuku gewalt, karigari
STYLE . . . :  major label techno laptop junk
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . :  props, projections, costumes

WEB . . . :

Terrible music but a big influence on the costumes and artwork of shironurikei.

They were part of the whole "techno side" of shironurikei, along with bands such as Jinsei and Denki Groove. These bands were influenced by Uchouten, the prominent theatrical new-wavers of the '80s. I can't stand techno. But.  Shinjuku Gewalt wasn't just a copy-cat band, they had a whole "look" that was influential.

They had a whole generation of middle-class delinquent schoolgirls sporting racoon eyes and helmets. In the picture above, they have bats (bosouzoku!) replicas of the fucking jackets that Yukio Mishima's private militia group wore when he committed suicide, and the helmets? '60s communist radical style.

Their set design (when performing live) is just as confusing: lots of propaganda posters, crumpled up newspapers. . . as messy physically as it is conceptually.


:かりがり (cali≠gari)

CITY . . :
ERA . . . : '89 ~
SOUND . . :  major label pop-rock, the-cure-sounding-ass
CLIQUE . . . : Shinjuku gewalt, karigari
STYLE . . . : shironurikei.
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 第5実験室

WEB . . . :  wikipedia

Together with shinjuku gewalt, these guys were huge in the late '90s. And terrible.  But before they signed to a major, their original singer Mr. Shuuko  was amazing – he'd be on stage with the tattoos and the goth-loli drag. Apparently all the songs off the 第5実験室 album have totally ero-guro lyrics .

The song below is about being bullied in school. Also the guitarist wrote some songs dealing with homophobia.







ストロベリーソングオーケストラ, (sutoroberii songu ookesutora) often shortened to : 苺楽團


MEANING : : strawberry song orchestra
CITY . . : Osaka???
ERA . . . : 98~present
SOUND . . :
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : everything! costumes, Japanese instruments, Japanese storytelling, melodies, Terayama, Maruo Suehara.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry
STYLE . . . : theatrical, shironurikei
ALBUM TO GET . . . :


WEB . . . : wikipedia,, myspace

These guys have been going strong since the '90s. Their main influences are avant-garde flamboyant theatre guy Terayama Shuuji, and the horror manga artist Maruo Suehara, and the whole Taisho era (1910s and '20s).

STRAWBERRY is the main influence that other bands in this scene all copy. In the past – not that I've seen it – they put on full plays, spoken word events, spin-off bands where one of the characters in the play gets their own group for a one-time event, and other multi-media stuff, including a Strawberry baseball team. Like some Wu-Tang Clan shit where they sort of manufacture their own world.

This world is a fictional city called Kagami, supposedly in between Kyoto and Nagoya. The songs don't all follow one narrative (it's not a rock opera in that sense), but each song tells the story of one particular inhabitant of Kagami City.


The singer – head swathed in bandages, is named Kage Otoko (or The Shadow Man). He's a sort of human shadow, so if you unwrapped the bandages, there would be nothing there.


The symbol of the band  (four knifes coming out of the Chinese word for "strawberry") is interesting. Besides the swastika shape , the knives have little holes in them, for letting juices flow out of the cut things. These type of knives are called 穴開き 包丁 ( ana-aki houchou = the knife with the holes in it).But the pronounciation sounds like "anarchy knife", so that's why the band likes them.



which album to get???






 ゾンビ・ロリータ (zonbi roriita)

MEANING : : : zombie lolita
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2001~still
SOUND . . : power metal / light opERA . . . :
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : no albums, but a lot of live DVDs
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : rock opera.

WEB . . . :, myspace

songs are written in character, and are all about girls’ feelings (they’re hurt!) despite being written by a man in his ‘50s.





  Candy Spooky Theater

CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 2002~ ???
SOUND . . : fakey marilyn manson
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : characters, between-song narrarations, costumes
CLIQUE . . . : alamode
STYLE . . . : shironurikei
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . : myspace,
TDR REPORT . . .: yesssssssssssssssss

Not sure whether to include them. They don’t have any Japanese elements. Their style is American. But they DO have a dramatic side that is more than just just costumes and candelabras.

Apparently their whole thing is based on the American “living dead dolls” , which are a goth niche version of Blythe mixed with Garbage Pail Kids. I had no idea. The actual dolls come with a death certificate which explains how they died.

So the band members are all dressed like dead goth dolls (which come to think of it, dolls are basically tied with alice in wonderland as the center of Japanese goth so maybe that is the "japanese tradition" angle). Anyway each band member plays the role of a doll and they do songs (and in between song banter) which explains the circumstances of each of their gruesome demise.


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gekiteki 1: theatrical

This isn't ALL the "gekiteki" bands, just  the ones who are the most like "regular" theater troupes. In the next week or so I'll post the rest of the bands.


J.A. Caesar

MEANING : Terahara Taka'aki
ERA . . . : 60s, 70s
SOUND . . : : a mix of heavy Psychedelic and Japanese folk
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese instruments, melodies, costumes . . .
CLIQUE . . . : Terayama Shuuji
STYLE . . . : theatraical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : ???
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : everything
WEB . . . :

DL: here
Seazer (real name Terahara Takaaki) (寺原 孝明) was the musical director and composer for Terayama Shuuji. Shuuji would write the plays and Seazer would compose the tunes. His tunes were 50% lame hippy psychadelic crap, but the other 50% were SO RAD. Like you know how in The Wire, Omar whistles a traditional European Kids' song (Farmer In The Dell) and it becomes really creepy? Well imagine that with traditional Japanese folk melodies added to repetitive, tribal heavy psychedelic instrumentation. So deep and yet new.

wikipedia: Seazer composed the score to the animated film adaptation of Suehiro Maruo's manga Mr. Arashi's Amazing Freak Show (also known as Midori or Shojo-tsubaki).


筋肉少女帯 (kinniku shoujotai)

MEANING : : : Muscle Girl Band
CITY . . :  Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1982~1999
SOUND . . : straight up visual glam metal.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : literary influence! Terayama (he's an author and poet as well as a theater guy), Dazai Osamu.
CLIQUE . . . : strawberry, uchouten, kinniku shoujotai
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : ???

WEB . . . :, wikipedia


Kinniku Joseitai was a corny glam band, but they were a big influence on theatrical bands such as (???). Also, the lyrics are inspired by Terayama as well as the romantic gloomy novelist Dazai Osamu. Vocalist Ootsuki Kenji's lyrics are deliberately vague and ambiguous (漠然=bakuzen), because they deal with teenagers' uncertainty and anxiety about the future. He was a hero to '80s otaku because he articulated their frustration and "WTF am I going to do with my life?!?" problems. My friend also said the lyrics were どろどろ, meaning muddy or thick. If I understood her meaning, in this context どろどろ is how teenage outcasts see life: like it's a muddy fog, full of situations, rules, regulations, emotions, and reasons that they can't see or touch or understand, but just stumble around in.

Influenced Strawberry Song Orchestra (though they probably wouldn't admit it), Soshiki Bouryoku Houchien, and ???

The vocalist, Kenji Ootsuki, is a novelist. He writes science fiction, horror, and autobiographical books.






MEANING : : a sanskrit (梵語) word for one part of buddhist heaven, but is a used to mean extasy or rapture.
CITY . . : ???
ERA . . . : 82-91
SOUND . . : more of a new wave thing, but very mainstream.
CLIQUE . . . : uchouten, kinniku shoujotai
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :

WEB . . . :

Contemporaries of kinniku shoujotai.  Uchouten were a big influence on shironuri kei techno bands such as Shinguku Gewalt, Jinsei, and Denki Groove.


The vocalist, Mr. Kera, ran their record label, Nagomu Records. That label had a sort of unique  new-wave sound, so the bands on it were called Nagomu Kei.  Although Uchouten was not a theatrical band, Mr. Kera also runs his own theatre troupe on the side, so it's unclear to me how much influence he had on the development of geki rock.



INSANE website with pictures of Uchouten as well as TONS of '80s pop images. Like a one-man (or one-woman) Tumblr. Even if you don't like pop or new wave, this is fucking interesting, man.




明和電機 (meiwa denki)

MEANING : : Meiwa Electrical Corporation
CITY . . : Tokyo
ERA . . . : 1993~present
SOUND . . : : electronic
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : : a deadpan parody of the salariman lifestyle
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : they do the whole concert in character, with an elaborate script in between songs.

WEB . . . :

These guys are a whole category of music into themselves!

Their schtick is that they're not a band, they're typical engineers and salarymen working for a small electronics firm (SST and Greg Ginn???). They make their own instruments from scratch. The instruments are also art objects – more care is put into the concept and metaphors behind the instrument, and the physical appearance of it, than the actual sound of it. Their concerts begin with them acting like they are opening a business meeting or corporate sales pitch with the audience. They then explain about each instrument and instead of songs they do "demos" of the "products." It's intentionally funny but very deadpan.



CITY . . : ???
ERA . . . : 1997~ now
SOUND . . : early: acapella, later: ‘60s garage pop
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : big when far, small when close (the acapella-with-tribal-drums one = straight dope!)
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : they don't perform plays but they have a "background story" and crazy frog-alien-swinging-sixties-waitress costumes

WEB . . . :

Ex-Girl are another "concept band." They are aliens who come to Earth from the Frog Planet of Kero Kero (in Japanese, frogs go kero kero instead of ribbit ribbit). Unfortunately they don't really do it up rock-opERA . . . : style onstage, but their costumes and frog-headed drummer get the point accross.





MEANING : : official death report of the drownded shrimp
CITY . . : osaka
ERA . . . : 2001~now
SOUND . . : : avant garde art-rock.
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : : influenced by kaiju eiga (Godzilla-style Japanese monster movies)
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : Still no album.

THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : costumes, elaborate lighting design, and movies projected on a screen behind the band

WEB . . . : Unfortunately the band's website just went offline. fuck!

This band is the total package: rad theatricals AND rad music. The tunes are equal parts Residents, Primus, and Count Basie, while wearing suits and monster-movie-quality shrimp masks.

The inspiration for this band came from the band leader's two obsessions : kaijuu eiga and tropical fish. (he is a collector of both). Since crustaceans look like kaijuu, he thought he should do a band with crustacean masks. All the songs are about various crustaceans, not just shrimp. Even though they don’t have lyrics. The wood-bass is used to make a Godzilla-like growl.









MEANING : : fishing harbor
CITY . . : tokyo
ERA . . . : 2001 around ???
SOUND . . : rap-rock
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : props, costumes, Japanese fishing and working-class culture
CLIQUE . . . :
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 2 out, currently recording major label debut
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : see below!

WEB . . . : , myspace

They wear traditional 漁業 GYOGYOU attire (fisherman’s attire), and all their songs are about fish, and for their encore they butcher a real tuna and feed the audience.

3 members : vocal, guitarist (who doesn’t usually play, just squats in a blue-collar style and yells at the singer), and the DJ. The emphasis of the muisc is not, well, music but comedy and performance. All the song titles are names of fish. The vocalist will yell SAKANA! And the guitarist will yell back the name of the next song’s fish: MAGURO! And the vocalis will assent, UN!! And then they start the song.

A typical theatrical number is ANKO (angler fish) : the theatre lights all go to black, ocean sounds play on the PA, and the vocalist tapes a flashlight to his head like the glowing lure of the angler fish. Then they start the song.

Gyokou is promoting not just traditional Japanese blue-collar workers, but they're also promoting a Terayama-like fuck-you attitude towards the separation of reality and fiction. The guys really are fishermen, but their "band characters" are sort of cartoons. The band's "official bio" mixes truth and outrageous exxagerations. They seem to delight in warping the line between real and fiction.



  rose de reficul et guiggles

MEANING : : ???
CITY . . : Osaka
ERA . . . : 2002~
SOUND . . : light opera
CLIQUE . . . : a la mode goth Lolita burlesque
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : they put on plays,dude

WEB . . . : , myspace
TDR REPORT . . .: HERE, and then HERE

These guys are a gothic drama troupe. The plays emphasize costumes and improvisation over "plot" and "rehearsal." The costumes are all lacey Victorian finery which has decayed and gotten mossy in a zombie-like state. They're basically like kids who broke into their grandma's closet, found a bunch of crazy props, and decided to put on a show in the backyard. And like kids, when they finish, the whole stage is a huge mess! The're not pretentious – they seem to really have a lot of fun doing it. There are some songs, (with prerecorded music) but mostly pantomime.

Quoting from my show review:

As near as I could make out, the story was this: king and queen relaxing at home, indulging in their hobby of sniffing roses and beating the help. Suddenly a Bad Guy (a truly inspired costume mixing Snidley Whiplash with Alex from Clockwork Orange) shows up and makes a Scandalous Overture to the queen. The king is subdued by some sort of Craven Minion (I should also point out that the king is Adam Ant). The King/Mr. Ant spends the entire rest of the play prolonging his death scene directly in front of the rest of the performers, as if to say, “Down here, you fools!! Don’t pay attention to THEM, you philistines! The action’s down HERE!!” meanwhile the Bad Guy ravishes the queen on a couch, and the craven minion chases around the servant. Then, songs! The play ends with the king and queen re-united on their Royal Couch, but the queen has been turned into a wanton harlot and the scenery has been reduced to rubble.


Oddly, I actually enjoyed it : in the end it wasn’t the costumes or the “gothic atmosphere” but the fact that everyone involved was shamelessly mugging and hamming the entire time, regardless of who was talking. Even the fuckin’ prop guy started coming on stage and mugging. I can’t help but think that the genius of GIGGLES is wasted on this small stage. I think their true calling is in Hollywood, helping big-budget directors. Any Tom Hanks movie would be 100% better if all the supporting characters were rolling around in agony, tearing up the plant-life, making sex-faces, and doing robot-dances THE WHOLE FILM.






CITY . . :
ERA . . . : 2004???
SOUND . . : goth / industrial
CLIQUE . . . : a la mode
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : see below

WEB . . . :

In the early 2000's, there were a whole bunch of these kinds of bands, none of which went anywhere, that would play Goth Lolita events. Phantasmagoria Fairy Tales is representative: the music is the least important thing, the costumes the most important, they seem to like 'acting' and making dramatic faces, but hate 'rehearsing' or 'making sense'.

Here is how Phantasmagoria does their thing: One woman would read out of a “fairy tale book,” while the other performed really awful charades. Their music was pre-recorded.


There are a handful of Japanese theatrical bands that do this. Either they have a giant flip-book of pictures, or they read text out of a giant prop book between songs. My friend Mochi says this either comes from American Beatnik culture (poetry readings and such) or from '70s girls' manga, which sometimes took the form of fairy tales, and the story would start with a fairy godmother reading from a book.


The funniest thing about this one was, the singer was trying to be goth but looked like fucking Stevie Knicks. I had to resist the urge to request “Tusk.” Their songs were good, but most of the time they deliberately did not sing.





MEANING : : : Iron Theatre Group
CITY . . : Osaka????
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : I forgot!
JAPANESE TRADITIONAL INFLUENCE : Japanese flute, Japanese storytelling style
CLIQUE . . . : afurirampo
STYLE . . . : theatrical
ALBUM TO GET . . . :
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : set design, props, narrarator, story.

WEB . . . :

These guys were kind of a rock opera. They had a lady on stage telling a story over minimal flute music, while – on the side of the stage- a huge picture frame displayed a selection of hand-drawn pictures which corresponded to what she was saying.  Another example of the "read-out-of-a-fairy-tale-book" staple of geki rock.


Also, I should mention the whole stage was covered with life-sized pregnant alien women, and the band-leader was a midget in a Mao Red Army cap with a miniature pez-dispenser flute which played tones only dogs could hear, and everyone was wearing stuffed-monkey neckties, and while all this was going on . . . they were in front of a video projection of skydivers. And when the accordion player starts jamming, watch out!!!

Eventually the whiny irritating vocalist left in disgrace, and the musicians could get on to the serious job of rocking. They played nothing but hammer-ons, of course. Just this intense rigid clockwork metronomic fast 16 th note figure which repeated over and over, but the guitarist would cue people to change key. It repeated for 20 minutes and was amazing!!

Oh, shit, I forgot the best part: EL MYSTERIOSO. He was a dude in a black hood and eyepatch who stood on the side and did not sing, or play an instrument, or even move. He just stood there, like, dude, I don’t NEED to do anything. I AM EL MYSTERIOSO. You should thank me for not doing anything, because if I really did my thing on stage here at this time, it would BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIND. fuck, he should be in EVERY band.


 巨乳マンダラ王国 (kyonyuumandaraookoku)


MEANING : : mandala kingdom of giant tits
CITY . . : Osaka (originally) Tokyo (currently)
ERA . . . :
SOUND . . : nerd style
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : props for each song. Band members stay in character. No plot, though.
CLIQUE . . . :  gimmicky punk bands like s/m, Tokyo terebi, onanii machines, and QP crazy.
STYLE . . . : theatrical Comedy band.
ALBUM TO GET . . . : 王国民洗脳教育セット
THEATRICAL POINTS . . . : props, costumes, different characters

WEB . . . :
TDR REPORT . . .: herrrrrrrrre

Saw them live. They were just like an anime monty python skit. First they dress up in spandex Doraemon costumes and sing karaoke, getting all choked up with emotion and not being able to sing because they are crying. Why this is funny I have no idea. But it was. Then the rest of the band comes out ? an arab shiek on guitar, a transvestite and hippy backup vocalists, and on drums, a blow-up sex doll. Did I mention the SOUND . . : was all pre-recorded? And the lead singer is some kind of bodybuilding dwarf in a home-made superhero costume. The crotch of the costume is so narrow, that his testicles stick out on either side like miniature Daisy Duke butt-cheeks. It is just insane when you combine it with his French waiter moustache which is painted on to his face with graffiti pen. He is all whipping his cape around, bullfighter style and striking superhero poses and playing this kind of Korn-goes-to-the-circus big top rock and everyone is jumping up and down. The lyrics I could understand involved pubic hair.


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Introduction to 劇的なロック (geki-teki rock)

Gekiteki (劇的) means dramatic, or theatrical. 


Since coming to Japan I done seen a lot of "genre" shows: punk shows, metal shows, even shows with punk and metal on the same bill!   But every once in a while,  some wacky bands will sneak on the bill, bands that defy categorization. bands that are RAD.  But all these bands have some things in common:

They use some combination of props, costumes, choreography, physical performance (anything from "acting" and pantomime to breaking things which have been set on fire), audience-participation, and narration.
They are more about concepts (the "characters" they play and the back-story of those characters) than actual music. 
Who were all these people?
Where did they come from?
Why did they seem to not know each other,but have similar outlooks on performance?
What intrigues me about this gekiteki/theatrical rock business is, it's not a scene.
it's not a subculture.
Almost none of the bands sound the same as any other band.  
Some dress like shrimp. Others like dolls.
Some look like normal rockers  but have really deep lyrics about Japanese surreal horror novels.
Others dress up like characters from those same  novels, but their lyrics are about some other shit entirely! 
It seems like there are a thousand kids, in a dozen different cities,  playing all different types of music in all different decades, who just ALL HAPPENED TO HAVE THE SAME IDEA:  "LET'S EXPRESS OURSELVES IN THE FORM OF A ROCK OPERA."
In America, by contrast,  we have  GWAR and.  . .. well, that's it. For the last 30 years, all we have had is GWAR .
WTF America???
For years these questions buzzed in the back of my mind, and finally I got fed up and decided to  do a GEKITEKI ROCK PROJECT
"The gekiteki rock project?" you say. "What on earth is that?"
THE GEKITEKI ROCK PROJECT is an attempt to catalog all the bands, in order to answer these questions:




Gekiteki rock is a phrase I made up to describe these many diverse bands that have different themes, different images, different sounds, but all share something in common, something not found in other countries. Since Japanese people themselves don't realize that this is A Thing, they never came up with a name or category for it.
When I say gekiteki rock, I don’t just mean some fake KISS band with makeup and a wacky costume. While I’m sure those bands are (*sigh*) just fine, there are too many of those to even count. 
Gekiteki rock is a combination of  three elements;
First element: THEATRE
Not just costumes but also:
  • The band members portray characters who have a backstory and are ‘in character’ on stage
  • songs that are part of a larger plot
  • stage decoration or props
  • narration or acting between songs
second element : WAYOUMIX
Wayou (和洋, pronounced wah-yo!) is a word made from the characters for Japan (= wa) and the West (= You), and it means mixing eastern and western styles together. In this case, mixing western rock music with . .
  • Japanese costume (for example, kimono, samurai garb, Buddhist monk clothes, modern working-man’s clothing)
  • Japanese melody ( for example, melodies from minyoukyoku or enka),
  • Japanese scales (called onkei)
  • Japanese singing style (kobushi, a mixture of vibrato and kind of scratchy voice)
  • Japanese instruments (usually shamisen or shakuhachi)
  • Japanese deep culture lyrics (for example, old folk-tales, religious themes, historical or literary references, or old ghost stories (kaidan, noroi, or yuurei))
Third element  : ANGURA influence
(angura is a contraction of the word ‘Underground’  . . . but it does not refer to punk or hardcore bands. Instead it refers to a ‘canon’ of ‘classical’ dark, literary Japanese avant-garde artists from the ‘30s to the ‘70s).  Gekiteki bands usually have band-names, lyrics or costumes or cover-art inspired by ANGURA.
  • Artists : tadanori yokou,  hirano kouga.
  • Playwrights : (Terayama Shuuji, and his theatre group Joukyou Gekijo, butoh dance)
  • authors (Edogawa Ranpo, Dazai Osamu, Yumeno Kyuusaku, and Yokomizo Seishi,)
  • manga (hino hideshi, Maruo Suehiro,  古屋兎丸)
  • movie directors (Wakamatsu Kouji, Suzuki Seijun, Keiichi Tanaami, Kanai Katsu, Kazoo Hara)

usually NOT an element: actual music
These bands' music is usually (but not always) just a pretext for people to do performance art or theatre under the name of "rock". 
Heavy metal bands excepted, of course.
(you could reply that pop music in ANY country the music is just kind of an afterthought . ..  but the main point of pop is to get a Pepsi endorsement and a line of designer pants. In gekiteki rock, the music is sidelined to make room for actual CONCEPTS: the back-story, the characters' individual personalities, audience interaction, and so forth).


Not every band has those 3 influences in equal amounts, of course. Some bands are more theatrical , others are more wayou, and still others are more angura. So I started grouping them by sub-categories. However, bands in the same category aren't  necessarily  copying each other or even friends. More often than not they came up with the same idea totally independently.


But, with so many bands (over 60 as of right now!), it's easier to start by comparing bands that have similar themes, so I broke the 'geki-teki world' down  into 9 sub-categories:


GENERAL THEATRICAL ROCK –  the catch-all category for rock operas or character-based bands

SHIRONURIKEI –  (literally 'painted-white face') the more art-studenty, retro-'20s,  Japanese-traditional-melody-having older sister of Visual Kei. Shironurikei combines wayou and theatrical rock in almost equal amounts.

LITERARY – combining western music (usually heavy metal) with lyrics inspired by Japanese surrealist and horror novels

PAGAN – combining rock with Shinto, Buddhist, or even older shamanistic Japanese traditions.

MILITARIST – doing Nazi or  Imperial Japanese Army drag. Just for shock or  . . . .?

NOISE/PERFORMANCE ART – because terrorizing the audience is a form of theater.

RETRO SHOWA/TAISHO POP – combines rock with retro-1910's / 1920`s nostalgia and old-timey pop music.

CABARET / BURLESQUE  – because burlesque has always been theatrical, based on teasing and interacting with the audience

AKIHABARA STYLE –   based as it is on anime, the performers are always "characters" and have a backstory, lines, etc. Also the audience gets so into the ritualized gestures and call-and-response that they do more work than the "performers."


Just in case that is not complicated enough, here is  a sort of "family tree" of Japanese gekiteki rock styles:


SO,  TO RETURN TO THE MAIN QUESTION : Exactly what is it about japan that makes “rock opera” popular?
To find the answer is a three-step process; a process  that I'm begging you guys to help out with.
ONE :  I'll make a list of all the bands that have something GEKI-TEKI  going on. I'll post this in a fuckin' minute.
TWO: now that the bands are lined up side-by-side for comparison, let’s  look at their music, imagery, lyrics, and  try to find common themes : symbols, clothing, lyrical phrases, etc. Are 2 or more bands imitating the same artist, playwright, movie, or something? 
THREE:  Each time we  find a common theme, symbol, or fashion, we can start asking our Japanese friends, “What is the historical origin of this particular theme? Is it a custom from  Edo times or is is based on a particular artist or pop culture thing?”
In other words, it's about connecting the invisible lines of influence  that link these bands, and figuring out what it is that makes up the "invisible something" that makes them seem similar.
So I need your help . . .
  • if you know bands that should be on here, please let me know!
  • If you have pictures of the band, cover art, or lyrics from them, please send it.
  • If you think you found a common point or repeating pattern among bands, let me know! And let me know what you think is the source or roots of the pattern.



This is to help me (and you? if you're still reading) understand the cultural background and influences from which gekiteki bands sprang.
Let's start with traditional music: (or at least, those parts of traditional music that  lot of these bands seem to wind up using)
太鼓 : taiko drums
民謡曲 : Minyoukyokufolk music. Shrill!
童謡douyou – traditional childrens’ songs
声明 Shomyo – Buddhist sutras
雅楽 : gagaku – Shinto music
歌舞伎 – kabuki theater
音階 :Onkai – Japanese scale
こぶし  : kobushi – Japanese style vibrato
呪い noroi – trad. Ghost stories (lit. curses)
神話 - Shinwa – myths or mythology
怪談 - kaidan – ghost stories
下ネタ: shimoneta (crude material) : junior high kids’ or elementary kids’ immature playground songs.
And now, from the samurai times,  let’s skip right to the ‘60s, when TERAYAMA SHUJI dropped the bomb. This guy singlehandedly started the avant-garde (by which I mean, weird semi-illegal shit that wasn’t just a copy of Euro avant-garde) . He cultivated a crew around him that did shit in all formats: music, theatre, literature, whatever.
Also in the ‘60s there were a bunch of hippy/psyche bands that some people consider “avant garde” but fuck them. There’s a website that lets you download all the albums in the famous "japrock sampler" of Japanese psyche. I DLed most of them and they were just wretched. I deleted them. You heard me? I wouldn’t listen to that shit for free. 
In the ‘70s, the avant-garde shifted to prog rock! Most of this was just copies of foreign prog bands like Yes or ELP. . . there’s even a Japanese knockoff of BOSTON (they even got the same cover artist!).
But some bands like PEOPLE, AFTER DINNER, GEINOU YAMASHIROGUMI and EAST BIONIC SYMPHONY Infused the prog trend with traditional Japanese influences: mostly gagaku (a Shinto holy musical drone), and shoumyou (Buddhist sutra chanting). The results were not usually that good, but at least they were trying and they had moogs.
Around the same time as the prog guys were underground folk singers. Where prog was big and complex, folk went the opposite way: intimate and quiet.
I am frankly not sure why my Japanese friends insist that these folk singers are avant-garde or influential on gekiteki rock, but they insisted. I guess the folk-ers mixed up bob Dylan style with minyoukyoku (traditional Japanese folk) and had dark spooky or deep spiritual lyrical themes? I mean who cares, it’s just a douche with a guitar and no distortion. But anyway: the main people were
Inoue Yousi – his fans liked  the band kinnikushoujotai
Morita douji – her fans liked the bands kinnikushoujotai and uchouten
Asakawa maki
Tomokawa kazuki – his fans liked uchouten
Mikami Kan – his fans like uchouten.
Both Asakawa, Tomokawa, and Mikami came out of Terayama Shuuji's crew.
あがた森魚 (agata morio)
Fairly major folk singer. But conceptual (and therefore theatrical?)
Had elaborate stage sets. His catchphrase was “Taisho Roman” (taisho meaning the pre-war period of Japan, and roman meaning romance, meaning nostalgia Got all that???) . His lyrics and stage sets invoked the pre-war days of modernism, optimism and freedom of thought. But also kind of making his own world a la Tori Amos or whoever. Like he was invoking  nostalgia for a parallel universe Taisho.

Then late 70s: new wave! Rebelling against both prog and folk with sounds that were simple yet futuristic and new. And sideways haircuts for everyone!
 the big 3 wavers were P-MODEL, PLASTICS, AND HIKASHUU
Leader of Hikashuu was Makigami Koichi, originally a theatre guy, also a writer/ critic : he brought an avant garde, theatrical, kabuki influence to new wave.
But still they all –together with the avant- prog- and folk bands carried a lot of traditional Edo or Taisho imagery with them, and a sense of theatrical fun. Of which I am startlingly short of specifics. Any wavers want to give me a hand here?
Also can’t forget Togawa Jun and her band YAPOOS. Somehow they got a major label contract to make a rock opera about a sex android that fucks and kills its maker before going on a reverse-rape-and-hatchet spree. Unfortunately the music is just awful. YAPOOS were pals with p-model. And Togawa Jun remains to this day the template for every “wacky” female vocalist.
Then the ‘80s came and mainstream culture got taken over by anti-arty-farty machismo:  visual kei, bosozoku,  guitar solos and big hair,  etc.
The shironurikei trend was also started in the ‘80s, although it didn’t have the nerdy, gothy, anti-jock connotations it was later to aquire. It hadn’t really “jumped ship” from the regular rock and roll of the time.
Then the big 2 shironurikei bands of the ‘80s: UCHOUTEN and  KINNIKU JOSEITAI.
Kinniku Joseitai's fans were people that had grown up with  folk singers like Inoue Yousu and Morita douko
Uchouten's fans tended to more like  the folk singers Tomokawa kazuki and Mikami Kan. 
SO there's some "lines of influence" for ya.
Like the leader of Hikashuu, Uchoten’s vocalist also ran a theatre company on the side. I have no fucking idea what they did. Any theater goons want to help me out on this one?
Around, oh, let's say 1989 or so,  there was an influential TV program called : いかす バンド天国. (SET-BANDS-IN-MOTION BAND HEAVEN ) 
This program was in large part responsible for the so-called “band boom” of the late ‘80s. Bubble economy didn’t hurt either. SET-BANDS-IN-MOTION BAND HEAVEN was a battle of the bands, where the winner would get a major label contract.. but in the process it gave a lot of exposure to indie bands who also tried out, even if they didn't win. Of course indie (underground) bands had fans since the ‘60s, but now regular kids were getting into them and starting their own indie bands.
Also in the mid- ’90s was the bunkei boom. 文系 ブーム. This was a sort of nerdy, literary rock trend, led by  metallers Ningen Isu. It was a counter-reaction to the more jock-ish, yankii-ish metal and visual bands that had dominated the ‘80s. 
In the  late ‘90s, the shironurikei scene was big enough to split in twain: techno bands and rock bands. The techno bands were led by SHINJUKU GEWALT and the rock bands by KARIGARI. Neither of them were particularly good, but they influenced a lot of smaller bands that were, so please make a note of them in your ipad or whatever the fuck you kids use nowadays.
And after that, nothing happened.
OK. Now  I explained what the fuck this GEKITEKI BAND PROJECT is about,  this introduction is over.  I'm gonna give you a few days to let this sink into your heads and then start posting about  specific bands.
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Japan book review 9 : AMAKUDARI by Colignon and Usui



They sit on the boards of directors of almost 30 percent of big companies. . .. and 58 percent of the one hundred largest private firms, so they make all the money. They occupy 40-50 percent of the board positions in large and powerful tokushu hojin (government-run corporations),which don’t have to reveal anything about their finances and no-bid contracts to the public (although they’re funded by tax money!). They account for 20 percent of Liberal Democratic Party seats in the lower house of congress, and 33 percent of cabinet positions, so the government can’t outlaw them. They sit on the board of directors of all the media companies, so you won’t be seeing any exposes about them.


They’re not aliens or communist spies. They’re not even Jews  (shame on you)!


They’re . . . amakudari! Japan’s hidden ruling class.


Amakudari – literally “descended from heaven” –  are ex-bureaucrats that retire at around 50 and then spend the next 20 years working for the companies that they used to regulate.


If you want to build houses for a million dollars each , LIKE A SUCKER, go ahead. But if you want to build houses FOR THE GOVERNMENT at THREE million each, you got to hire one or two retired bureaucrats. Ditto government subsidies: If your company makes a product no one wants, will you go bankrupt? Not if you hire one or two retired bureaucrats.  Tired of your $15 shoes winding up costing over $30 because it’s so expensive to “comply with all the regulations?” No problem – just hire one or two retired bureaucrats to “explain to you” the regulations. Sure they cost money, and you’re not allowed to ever fire them, and they don’t even necessarily know what the fuck they are talking about , but who cares? They get you that free money. 


This kind of systematic yet informal corruption excites me! And that’s why I decided to read AMAKUDARI, by Colignon and Usui.


Colignon and Usui make a good point : Amakudari is not just the individual ex-bureaucrats running all the elite institutions. Amakudari is the network itself, which keeps voters/women/minorities/foreigners out of power. Amakudari is  their shared outlook on life which allows them to work together, despite the fact that business, bureaucrats, and politicians usually fight each other. And most importantly, it’s the complex set of unwritten rules and procedures that dictate HOW and WHEN and WHERE and WHO amakudari takes place, which all the guys in the network agree on through a sort of telepathy.


Colignon and Usui go so far as to suggest that the amakudari are the real government, and the stuff that the public sees: the flags, the big patriotic ceremonies, the kabuki debates in the Diet on TV, the scandals with disgraced CEOs hiding their head under their coat. . . all that is just window dressing designed to make the whole process look legitimate, while distracting people from the real government.


Even the idea that the bureaucracy, business, tokushu hojin (government-run corporations), academia, and elected officials are all “separate things” is part of the ruse.


Of course, all of those things have competing interests and kind of fight among each other over little things. And the various ministries also compete a little to gain more territory and regulate more things. But basically they all work together: the real government is a web of individual pod-people who have common goals and whose only loyalty is to the web itself.


This gives it the major power in Japan. But it’s Not loud power like winning debates or fighting the other side to win the election with lots of attack ads. Amakudari have Quiet Power : like stopping debates from happening in the first place, from making sure “inside guys” are the only guys running for election in the first place.


In other words, instead of being run by one charismatic dictator, with medals and eaptulets and shiny boots, Japan is run by 10,000 very drab, non-charismatic civil servants, who sort of Voltron together to form a web of power which is more , uh. . . .powerful, than any single leader.


As Colignon and Usui say,


The repeated movement of ex-officials to specific positions in private and public corporations through the different paths, represents one feature of amakudari.


Repeated movement? Paths? Sounds a lot like pachinko!


Picture the vice-minister of Human Resources twiddling the knob of the pachinko machine, and the retiring bureaucrats as the little balls (which, like casino chips = $$$) that are launched from the top and “descend” along “paths” determined by the little pins (the various corporations, tokushu hojin, think tanks, political offices, etc.) until they either hit a prize (board of directors of Bank of Japan! Kaching!) or sink to the bottom (unpaid directorship of some non-profit “raising awareness of bonsai trees.”) Plus, just like amakudari, releasing one ball to descend sets in motion the next ball – they descend in a chain, until fate or strategy shunts them into different slots.




This book is really frustrating.


Colignon and Usui explain well about a lot of the secret processes and rules that govern the retirement process. Who decides when Mr. X retires, who decides where he goes to afterwards, who decides how much he makes at the new company, and how do these unwritten rules change over time.


But instead of mentioning even one word about corruption, they waste a huge amount of time with mind-numbing charts and graphs that “prove” really obscure useless points like “Between 1982 and 1994, Ministry A’s amakudari declined 23% compared to Ministry B!” . . . as if it was some sort of baseball trivia contest:


“Barry Bonds’ Bunting ratio went up 19% after he was transferred to the Phillies, but his APB went down by 4%. Now Darryl Strawberry on the other hand. . .” Tedious.


“Why did I have to sit next to this guy at the party? Fuck! Should I get up and say I have to go to the bathroom? Or is that too obvious?”



And then there is no shortage of this kind of sentence:


And although amakudari has cultural mechanisms that motivate individual effort to reproduce the institution, it also manifests structural patterns among a matrix of organizations and formal institutions.


Oh really? You don’t say!


But most of the book is spent dealing with one single issue: which ministries place the most amakudari and how the ratio changes over the years. A tangent of a tangent of a tangent.


It’s crazy that this is the ONLY English-language book on the subject.


It’s as if there was only one book on heavy metal EVER, and that book ONLY dealt with the distinction between German death-thrash and wigger slam. And used statistics to prove mathematically that these were two distinct categories. No mention of black Sabbath, motorhead, slayer, or judas priest. But . . .just check out table 2b. WHO CAN ARGUE WITH TABLE 2B? NO ONE! EDUCATION WINS AGAIN! WE’RE HELPING PEOPLE!! 


It’s like . . .huh? Hey, book publisher: is this the best starting point you could think of? Why not just pay some grad student fifty bucks to translate all the good scandals from Japanese newspapers into English?  You wouldn’t even have to hire a writer! Wouldn’t that be a better place to start?!? Fucking gaijin, man.


I understand the authors of AMAKUDARI base their career on working with and interviewing beuracrats, and they don’t want to burn their sources by printing anything unflattering, but talking about amakudari only as “a way of developing networks” is like talking about tornadoes only as “a way air moves.”


Grow some stones, dude and lady. At least mention some scandals that were in newspapers and thus common knowledge in Japan.


Compare this to DOGS AND DEMONS, the classic book by Alex Kerr. It’s not even ABOUT amakudari, but in one random paragraph Kerr dishes more dirt than Colignon and Usui do in THEIR WHOLE BOOK.


I like Dogs and Demons so much, let’s see if I can recite Kerr’s example of amakudari corruption from memory:


Take the case of freeways. Instead of Ministry of Transportation directly hiring a construction company to make a new freeway, and paying for that with a bond (that voters would have to vote to authorize the passing of), the Ministry of Transportation will make a tokushu hojin called the “New Freeway Company,” which has no workers and no equipment. Just a few amakudari. Then The Ministry of Transportation will borrow a billion dollars from the ministry of finance (without asking/telling the voters OR the legislators), and give it all to New Freeway Company. And New Freeway Company will then use most of that money to hire an actual construction firm to do the actual work. A lot of that money will go missing. Thus, New Freeway Company serves two functions: to allow Ministry of Transportation to siphon money from the zaito (instead of a bond), to provide a safe “nest” for amakudari to “descend” into, and to facilitate the bribes and kickbacks so the Ministry doesn’t get its hands dirty. 


Anyone at home with a copy of DOGS AND DEMONS, tell me: how’d I do?


Instead of juicy conflict-of-interest scandals, corporate kickbacks, bribery, rigged bidding, no-bid contracts, government waste, backroom deals made in brothels, what do Colignon and Usui give me?


Page after page of one-sentence summaries of other academics’ papers. Some of the papers sound interesting, scandalous even, but we never get more than one sentence to sum up the whole paper – just enough to tease, never enough to inform. It’s like Colignon and Usui just want to cover their ass by saying, “Yes, Professor, we are familiar with the literature on the subject, we have done our homework.” But they don’t care about actually informing US, THE READERS. Well, fuck you too, buddy! Haven’t you heard of footnotes? If you’re going to mention something, explain what the fuck you’re talking about.


Not only do they not mention any cool scandals, but they don’t even mention any specific GOOD incidents where the government and the corporations worked together to solve an economic emergency. The book INSIDE THE KAISHA gives way more examples, despite that not really being the main point of INSIDE THE KAISHA.


A final word of warning:

 The nomenclature is annoying as fuck. Amakudari is a noun AND a verb. And to make matters worse, the authors identify 4 different types of amakudari – and one of those 4 types is ALSO called “amakudari”, so you’re never sure if they’re talking about that one specific type or amakudari in general, WTF man.


Because I actually care that you understand what I write, I’m going to refer to amakudari-in-general as “amakudari” and the amakudari-the-category as “amakudari classic.”




Here’s the difference between the gaijin style corruption and Japanese style:


All countries have their “back-room fixers” – the “men behind the curtain” who make the real decisions in politics. Basically if you’re on earth and you’re allowed to vote, you’re choosing between options that the back-room fixers have laid down.




Each country has its own system of backroom fixers. And in japan the fixers are NOT a  few Putin / Marcos / Mr.Burns-like overlords; instead there’s a wide network of thousands of unremarkable middle-aged drones, who gain power by collectively belonging to a big group which spans the upper echelons of politics, business, academia, media, and the federal bureaucracy.


And in japan the backroom fixer system has lots of (unwritten) rules.


Why? Since they have waaaay more guys doing the fixing,  they need waaay more rules to keep the various fixers from forming mini-cliques which would war among each other and derail the whole process.  Whereas if you just have one banana-republic dictator calling the shots, he can decide whatever.

Like,  of course, the dictator of Kalmykia, who built a whole small city to play chess in, while his people starved. This would not happen in Japan.


In America, some of our fixers are like George Soros and the Koch brothers. They were never politicians, never spent time in the federal bureaucracy. Although rich business men, They don’t even try to get power by joining the existing “business associations” of their industries.


Even those guys aren’t connected in the usual sense, they just woke up one day and said, “Hey, I’m rich, bitch! What is stopping me from starting a bunch of think tanks, PACs, and fake grass-roots pressure groups, and buying and selling politicians? Nothing, that’s what!” . This would never happen in japan.


Or even within “the system” of America, . . . say there’s five democratic mayors that all want to run for governor of the same state. The DNC (Democratic National Council)  will gather in some smoke-filled back-room and decide who gets to run, and the other four will be told, “You can sit down, or you can LAY down.” But even these decisions from within the system are usually arbitrary, case-by-case, and not following a protocol. “I like this guy.” “You like this guy, Harry?” “Yeah, he seems ok.” “OK then. Bill?” “I like that lady more, but whatever, it’s only Nebraska. Let’s nominate that first guy and then get martinis.”


And the example that Colignon and Usui give:  Dick Motherfucking Cheney! My man started as Secretary of Defense, then moved to a private oil company, and then went back to government work as the President, uh, I mean Vice President. This is what we call the “revolving door:” From public to private to public service and back again.


And, since in America, we DO have a powerful legislature, corporations have to persuade the legislature (rather than the buracrats and ministries).


Also, our retired corrupt guys become lobbyists, (who can represent a dozen clients at the same time), rather than salaried employees of one particular industry.





Unlike Dick Cheney and friends, makudari only goes one way: from the beuracracy outwards, and typically downwards. And they don’t try to influence legislators; they influence their former beuracratic colleagues. Also, they function as spies, passing inside knowledge of that company to the ministry.

 In this regard, amakudari maybe more like Russian ex-KGB than American lobbyists:  In Russia, former KGB (now FSB) agents laid off after the collapse of communism got high-ranking corporate jobs providing their spy services to their new capitalist overlords (and in return, spying on the capitalists, and reporting back to FSB central!)


It’s only in Japan that back-room deals are done by elaborate rules. Precedents are set, and then followed as if a binding legal decision had been made. People who have never met, in radically different industries, make the same exact choices, for reasons that are unclear even to them. Because That’s the Way of Amakudari. Things are not decided in the whimsical manner of the bannnna republic, or the contentious, chaotic, case-by-case basis of the United States. It’s not some American lobbyist who last week was working for a middle eastern tyrant and is now working on deregulating asbestos.

The Japanese rules for doing back-room deals get complicated and they get very firm/unchangeable. Why? Because there are so many players in the game, and it only works if all players feel that it’s fair.


Rules ensure fairness (for everybody who matters). In other words, amakudari is not JUST mutual benefit for the corporations and ministries. It’s taking people with opposing vested interests and knitting it into a single vested-interest. (what some call “reciprocal patronage”). Even notorious rivals like the Finance ministry and the MITI ministry can agree to get together to shut out everyone else: foreign businesses, special interest groups, uppity women, minorities, and especially the fucking voters.


Jesus, we’re barely getting the big corporations, the bureaucrats, the politicians, and the academics to agree on things. . . now you want to get voters involved? Do you think we can please everybody? We’d never get any work done! Grow up, son.


 Another fun difference: a lot of companies are forced to take amakudari they don’t particularly want. (but the ministries need cushy landing spots for their retirees, so oopsy daisy). Can you picture the US government – for all its corruption – forcing lobbyists on big business?







And, although Macarthur saddled it with a USA-style constitution, in practice, Japan doesn’t have separation of powers: usually the bureacrats write the laws and the politicians just vote on them.


Also Japan does not have a strong judiciary who will reign in the federal agencies. “Japan’s judiciary is not independent and dares not rule against the government, and 95 percent of suits against the government end in rulings against the plaintiffs. Unlike US judges, who begin their careers as lawyers representing varying interests, Japanese judges enter the judiciary at the outset of their careers, are trined together, and remain within thei institution until retirement. Thus the quality of the Japanese judiciary is even and its out look is unform.”


“Japan lacks the basic legal mechanisms for non-elite influence: class-action lawsuits, non-profit advocacy groups. . .. . .a  lack of laws to protect citizens’ rights. There are no environmental assessment regulations, no product liability laws, no lender liability law, few rules on insider trading or other forms of market manipulation, few testing protocols for new medicines, and no cost-benefit analysis of gigantic building schemes”


As you can guess by now, local (state) government is also too weak to put the central bureaucracy in check. (See my report on STRAITJACKET SOCIETY for details). In Japan, bureaucracy is very centralized. Not only do the “provinces” have almost no authority, but even the bureaucrats mostly come from one single department (law) of one single central university (tokyo university, or Todai).


Then, after retirement, they filter out and down, taking positions of power at smaller regional companies and city governments out in the boondocks. Less powerful companies are more likely going to ask for an amakudari to join them. Larger companies consult with the ministry as equals and plan the economic policy of that industry jointly, so they don’t need amakudari as much.


The amakudari process is also repeated elsewhere in society :


“high ranking employees of large corporations retire to important positions in their smaller counterparts, and local governments, in turn, move their high-ranking officials to lucrative jobs in affiliated companies. High-ranking public university professors retire to senior positions at less prestigious private universities, and Tokyo government has more than seventy affiliated organizations where it places its own city-level bureaucrats after retirement.”


So! Keeping all this in mind, Colignon and Usui constantly remind us:  it’s not fair to think of amakudari as “ FEDERAL BEURACRATS TRYING TO CONTROL THE COUNTRY.” It’s more like amakudari is a way for ALL elites to keep power concentrated between them, and help them work together to solve national economic problems. Or not, as the case may be.


And amakudari is the main part of nationwide elite network, but not the only one. There are also keibatsu (marriage alliances) and school ties (gakubatsu), and industry pressure groups (keiretsu).

 Speaking of gakubatsu . . .





Tokyo University (Todai) is the hardest to get into in the whole country, but it’s your ticket to the best jobs: In 1994, 25 percent of todai grads passed the bureaucrat exam, and yet 70 percent of Ministry of Finance hires came from Todai. This “I’d rather hire someone I went to school with than a more qualified guy who might not believe 100% of the same stuff I believe” mentality illustrates the importance of gakubatsu.


The Todai connection makes it easier for Japanese guys to get along and achieve consensus in decisions: even if one guy is working for a private company and the other is a bureaucrat, politician, or think-tank nerd, they share a common set of values. They implicitly trust the other guy. Even if the other guy is, of course, struggling to get the best deal for his own group, they know he’s not going to say some crazy stuff like, “Let the common voters decide! Hey! What if we made all this public just for fun!” or “You know who is rad? Stalin!” That might sound obvious, but in most countries, the private-sector businessmen seriously hate the government guys, and vice versa.



The Todai link gives the bureaucrats a common culture.  Students were raised to believe that saving Japan was their job, and all their teachers told them that bureaucracy and status quo was the only way to do that. And that the “common citiczens were too lazy or ignorant to take that responsibility.”


In the ‘30s, the school song of University of Tokyo was:


Common people lead the lazy life, but we despise such attitude

The people are drowning in a sea of international struggles, but we have to save them and steer the ship

Draw the sword at the top of the ship, thedevils now hide, seas are calm.


Which should give you some idea.


Also :

“ High levels of competition to enber top universities and then the ministries contribue to the public perception of them as a legitimate elite based on merit.”





The translation “descend from heaven” dates back to the Meiji period, when bureaucrats (mostly ex-samurai) worked directly for the  holy emperor. Bureaucrats were seen as being in heaven because they worked for God and the nation, so their work was sacred. . ., but they “descended” in status upon retirement and reemployment into the profane world of material self-interest.


Before WWII, it was considered very bad form for a retired bureaucrat to retire into anything but the legislature – in the House of Peers, of course. No pesky “getting elected” for them. Working for a company was not spiritual enough. But if they did decide to go that route, they would have to look for a post-retirement job on their own.






After WWII, the ministries had to work to rebuild a devastated Japan, but they didn’t have a lot of resources (because of the devastation), so they started using amakudari in order to reach out to businesses (and also local governments). There is a saying: businesses and local governments are the arms and legs of the central ministries. To this day Japan has far fewer federal bureaucrats than other rich countries. Thus, amakudari became routine and institutionalized: each ministry designated a person, known as a secretariat, specifically to find employment for retiring personnel – employment in the most powerful positions possible.


Other reasons amakudari flourished post-war:


The American occupiers, to save money, ordered 30% of all bureacrats fired. This required the Japanese to come up with a system in a hurry to place the laid-off guys in good jobs.


And later, when Japan got back on its feet, the opposite problem: a lot of new guys came INTO the newly revitalized ministries. This put the ministries in a tough spot: they had to keep the old guys employed (lifetime employment, remember?) and at the same time, get rid of the old guys to give the new guys room to move up the ladder. The solution was already there! I hope you can guess what it is.


Mostly the ‘40s and ‘50s guys would go directly into business and finance, but from the ‘60s, they used a new technique: They learned how to create these tokushu hojin (government owned corporations that are unregulated by the legislature AND invisible to the public) and put most of their amakudari in THERE. This helped them to a) deal with the increasing pace of retirement, and b) get around legal restrictions on guys retiring into jobs in the industries they used to regulate.





Besides giving the ministries “arms and legs,” and managing the whole promotion-vs.-lifetime employment issue, amakudari has other benefits:


Amakudari take self-interest (“I want to get paid! I want to be a big man!”) and turns it into decades of 80-hour weeks of kiss-assing, as the guys wait for their eventual payoff. Not only that , but it stops them from doing dirt by pursuing self-interest on their own (embezzlement, crooked stuff), which would reflect badly on the ministry when they get caught. By institutionalizing the corruption it keeps guys from wilding out in unpredictable ways. The same “organized crime is better than dis-organized crime” rationale is used to justify the prominent position of tne Yakuza in society.


Here’s the rub: if you work 80 hours a week, you’ll get a amakudari gig as a vice president of a big company. If you work 60 hours a week, you can count on receiving a consulting gig for a low-level cookie factory. And if you left at 5 PM every day, forget it. Your retirement package consists of a gandam with one arm missing, and a foot in the ass. So the pattern of deferred compensation which started in elementary school is kept up all the way to a dude’s fifties. A lifetime of crippling uncertainty of “What do the teachers/professors/bosses think of me? How can I make sure they help me out when it’s time to go to the next stage?”


Other functions of amakudari: lets the ministry spy on the company.


Lets the company spy on the ministry – insider information, plans or quotas, regulations the ministry is planning for next year, etc.

One problem: you can’t ever fire an amakudari even if he a) turns out to have zero juice at the ministry or b) makes a series of disasterous business decisions for your company.





From the beginning of their careers, bureaucrats are rotated to different positions within the ministry, giving them a wider perspective and also letting them meet the companies the ministry regulates (the companies where they will work after they retire). After that, they will often be “loaned” to other ministries for 2 years at a time. So the eventual move to private industry just seems like a natural extension of that. In fact, the legal time limit before you can work for an industry you used to regulate is . . . exactly 2 years!

In Japan, as part of the lifetime-employment system, all guys (and they’re all guys!) who are hired on a given year get promotions at the same time, regardless of merit. As long as you don’t stand out in any way, you’re guaranteed to move forward. For about 10 or 15 years. After that, there are only like 7 senior “section chief” type positions open for 15 guys.

And only 4 of those section chiefs will become a bureau chief. That’s why Japanese guys work these insane hours – they’re trying to out-compete the other same-year guys for that vice-president slot. 

To make matters worse, there’s a thing called kata-tataki (the tap on the shoulder ) or mabiki (thinning out): when one bureau chief is chosen to become vice-president, ALL THE OTHER CHIEFS get fired, to make sure the new VP has total control. WTF.

So then, how do you keep guys motivated to try their best when 90% guaranteed they will get kata-tataki-ed? Making sure EVERYONE gets cushy post-retirement gigs.


About 3,000 guys retire every year from all the ministries combined.


And each guy has to be amakudari-ed by the HR department of his ministry. That’s right: the HR department places them in OTHER companies. Each retirement placement is as conscious, calculated, strategic and rule-bound as a move in a chess game. And yet it’s all unofficial, informal, and off-the-books. There are no rules, but everyone knows exactly what the rules are.


Japanese bureaucrats don’t decide where they will work after they retire. Their boss or HR department decides that for them. Thus, unlike foreign lobbyists, Amakudari remain loyal to the ministry from which they came, and aren’t just out for themselves.


For some reason, the retirement “season” is in April. Guys move from the ministries to various boards of directors. This sets off a chain reaction, as the ex-ministry guys who are ALREADY on those boards have to be-reshuffled to other boards to make room for the new guys coming in. And, although this shuffling might involve 100 different corporations, tokushu hojin, research facilities, think tanks, universities, and so on . . . this is all coordinated through the HR department of the ministry.


The vice-minister or the HR guy in charge of placing amakudari usually arranges it so that as soon as one guy retires for good, or is rotated to a new company, another retiree from the same ministry get his old job. This way the ministries defend their turf.


Another unwritten rule: the more times you “bounce” from job to job, the worse the pay gets. And of course not only do higher-ranking guys better gigs, they also get bounced less: they might stick with the same gig for 15, 20 years.


Here’s a point that Colignon and Usui make over and over: Ministries do work together to control the politicians, the regional beuracracies, and the corporations, but that doesn’t mean that they like working with EACH OTHER. Turf battles are common.


Ministry of Finance, MITI, Transportation, and Construction  are the biggest ones, both in power and in sheer numbers. They have correspondingly more guys retiring, and place those guys in correspondingly higher-ranked positions. In a way, the locations of all the amakudari of a given ministry can be thought of as a map of the influence of that ministry. The other ministries struggle frantically to expand their “territory” by placing amakudari in new or more powerful companies.One ministry guy likened the amakudari to stocks, to a stock portfolio that the ministry had in certain companies.


For example, let’s look at the most powerful ministry: Ministry of Finance! Every July, the Ministry of Finance holds a secret meeting called the tanabatakai, at the finance minister’s residence.


They invite career bureaucrats of the most powerful bureaus in the MOF , plus the most successful amakudari (who now work for big business). The MOF’s HR office has a list of companies and positions, in which they can place amakudari. This list constitutes the “territory” of the ministry. And they look at the list and decide where to place each of  the 20 or so retiring guys. Of course the HR weenie has to handle the details later. The details being, placing a phone call to a given company and “suggesting” they hire mr. So-and-so. Since the ministry regulates, liscences, gives subsidies and loans to that company, there is an implied threat.


And if this wasn’t yakuza enough: check out what happens to companies in financial trouble!


The ministry offers to “help out” by sending guys in to “restructure” the company. They usually save the company, but the guys stay on as top-level employees after the crisis passes. And the company is now under the thumb of the ministry.


Anyway, this job-placement thing doesn’t happen once: the ministry is responsible for finding these guys job after job until they turn 70ish! (see WATARIDORI, below)


It’s illegal to place a guy directly into the board of directors of a company he used to regulate- so the ministry places them in a tokushu hojin related to that industry until the legal time limit is up, and then, a couple Julys later, it secretly pops them into the corporate boards. This way, it’s all “off the books:” the guys that took the scenic route don’t show up on official government statistics of amakudari.


For their part, the “ex-civil servants who inherited these positions from their predecessors felt obliged to do good work (for the private firms) so their positions could be handed over in good shape to their successors. The ex-bureaucrats take the role of the stewards of such positions.” Not so different from how the emperor is thought of by Shinto priests – his current physical body is just a temporary stand-in or place-holder for the goddess Amaterasu. I think the religious term for this is 中今 (nakaima), which is to say the eternal now. But that’s a different story. The point is, these guys try to do a good job.




ONE: amakudari classic: going directly from government to a for-profit corporation. This is the most powerful type, but also the most regulated, so comparatively few guys do this anymore.


TWO: the yokosuberi (side-slip): going from government to a corporation which is owned by the government. . .Examples: railways, national universities, national hospitals, Japan Tobacco (?!?), telephone companies, and airports. Universities and policy-making research institutions. The yokosuberi is now the main type, since it is much less regulated than “classic.”


THREE: wataridori (migratory bird): the ex-bureaucrat moves between corporations and semi-public institutions over and over again. This seems to be the booby prize of the bunch, since every move pops you into a lower-paid position (like a ball, that bounces less high every time it bounces).


FOUR: seikai tenshin (movement to political office). This is for the elite of the elite: beuracrats that had jobs where they’d been getting newspaper exposure for years, and can leverage that exposure into winning public elections. However, since the ‘70s the ruling LDP party prefers to keep most of the good jobs for itself, rather than letting some ministry guy that just retired last July “take cuts” in front of career pols that have been waiting 20 years for a good job. Thus, nowadays seikai tenshin can’t be prime minister, but they can still work in the Lower House of parliament.


Not tedious enough for you? Well, how about if we look at them in more detail?!?






The ministries with the most straight-up amakudari classic guys are:


Ministry of Finance, International Trade (MITI), Construction, Transport, and Telecommunications. These are what is called the “economic ministries.” And of course, they place those guys in more different companies than the other, weaker ministries, since they have bigger turf.


So what industries do the ministries try to place their amakudari in?


NOT agriculture, forestry, or fishery.


Almost never utilities, trade, retail and wholesale.


Mostly: transportation, communications, services, and (top dog) banking and insurance.


The authors say that the motivations for a private company to aquire their very own amakudari are different by industry:


Banking, insurance and transport industries want amakudari to “interpret regulations and provide insurance against uncertainties.”


On the other hand, conscrtuction, agriculture, telecom industries want THEIR amakudari to “help gain strategic information and government grants.”








Tokushu hojin (literally, ‘special legal entities’) . . . there is no equivalent English term. We just don’t have these things in the West. It’s another manifestation of Japan’s particular communist-capitalism, I suppose!


I’ve heard them called “government owned corporations,” “semi-public entities,” “quasi-private corporations,” “government-y little guys,”, “pseudo-quasi-whachamacallits,” and so on, until it becomes clear that it’s simpler to just use the Japanese words. So: tokushu hojin!


Even the damn book doesn’t say what they are or what they do, despite page after page of eye-glazing charts and corporate reports.


Here’s what I could glean: they’re somewhat analogous to America’s “subcontractors” : doing the jobs that government should do, but at a much greater cost, so the bureaucracy can claim “small government.”


For example, in 1995, there were only 1,160,000 people working for the federal government of the whole country. Waaaay smaller than any other industrialized nation. And yet there were 750,000 people working for tokushu hojin – almost 40% more people than the “official” workforce.


Tokushu hojin don’t make money, they provide services (mostly to industry, not average people) and so they COST money. The money that they cost is not from official tax revenues, but from the ‘zaito’, (Japan’s  ‘second budget’ – bureaucrats secretly borrowing from the national bank (where average citizens deposit their money)). Since they’re off the “official” budget,  these tokushu hojin don’t require any approval from the legislature . . .but since they’re government-owned they’re totally unaccountable and opaque to the public. Winnerz!


But wait, you say! Didn’t Koizumi and the gang reform the zaito laws way back in 2001? Didn’t he make it way harder for these shady tokushu hojin to raid the zaito funds? Yes this is true. And didn’t his reforms force tokushu hojin who were in financial trouble to borrow money from the private sector at the same interest rates as everyone else? Yes.




Loophole! If your tokushu hojin is in trouble, you can still buy “zaito bonds” at near-zero interest rates. And guess what? By late 2001, 90% of loans to jerkface tokushu hojin were “zaito bonds”, not real bonds.


Did I say 90%? I meant 97%!


Then there’s the tokushu kaisha (‘special companies’), like the railways, the phone company, and the tobacco company. These DO make money, and are run like corporations, it’s just that the government owns majority of stocks in them.


And then there’s the government-owned Bank of Japan, which is a tokushu kaisha that is so huge, that it is basically its own category..


As semi-corporation / semi ministry thingamabobs, Tokushu hojin function as the ministries’ “arms and legs” for manipulating the private companies. It seems the ministry is like the brain, making new policies, and the tokushu hojin enforce them. How? Contracts, loans, subsidies, and regulatory protection. If your company plays ball, you get those four things from your local tokushu hojin. If not, then not!


Another benefit of tokushu hojin: as I said above, they allow the ministries to avoid the publicity and accountability of placing their amakudari directly into the private sector. Often they’ll place them in a tokushu hojin for 2 years (the legal waiting period) and THEN slip them quietly into the private sector. Sadly, this means that guys who have worked 30 years of coming in Saturdays AND Sundays, in the hope that they will get a cushy post-retirement job, have their lifelong dreams deferred AGAIN. Maybe in a few more years, we’ll get you a gig at a real private corporation. Maybe when you’re 67. Jesus.


In 1999, around half of all bureaucrat retirees went into these tokushu hojin.


Tokushu hojin are structured more like a corporation than a government – meaning, not as much bureaucracy, more adaptable, and able to take initiative. They date back to the ‘30s : “Initially they were established to control and coordinate the economy in the war effort.”  But they really took off in the ‘60s for two reasons: 1) the bureaucracy came under pressure for doing too much “classic amakudari,” AND at the same time, 2) the government had a lot more new guys coming in, and needed more retirement spots for old guys to land in.


What do they actually do, though? This is not covered in the book. Amazingly. From a few hints, I am able to guess that regular corporations make stuff for citizens to buy: cars, spatulas, porn, etc. But tokushu hojin tend to specialize in making things that the whole country uses (that’s why the central government does it). That means: Infrastructure!  Telegraph, telephone, railways, airports, housing, highways. Promotion of small and medium size businesses,  promoting imports, exports, and energy development.  In other words, making things that are strategic, things that affect the whole nation.


Coligon and Usui explain nicely how tokushu hojin work with the iron triangle:


Ministries give money to tokushu hojin, to distribute to private companies that play ball (i.e. that try to meet the ministry’s economic or policy goals for that year). That’s how the ministries control the companies.


And the companies take that fat government profit and use it to fund politician’s campaigns. That’s how the private companies control politicians.


The politicians band together and form tribes (called ‘zoku’) to prevent anyone from passing laws which would restrict the bureaucracy, defund programs which have long outlived their missions, or make the ministries more accountable / transparent. If the ministries play ball, all efforts at reform are guaranteed to fail: That’s how politicians can control the ministries.


Note that, in classic Japan fashion, “control” is inseparable from “help.” There’s this idea that everyone has the same vested interests.


But look who DOESN’T have the same vested interests: EVERYONE OUTSIDE OF THAT LOOP. The taxpayers who are paying more taxes to fund government waste, and then paying more AGAIN at the store for high-priced commodities (since lower-priced competitors are shut down by bureaucratic regulations). All the companies that could do the job cheaper but don’t get the contracts because they’re “outsiders.” All the industries that DON’T fat subsidies, but are expected to compete against industries that got subsidies they didn’t deserve. All the companies that DON’T get zero-interest loans. All the foreign companies that could offer Japanese a wider range of merchandise at cheaper prices but can’t because the bureaucracy says, “You didn’t follow regulation 203403-b.”


Anyway! Moving along . . .


Then there are zaidan hojin and shadan hojin. These are also semi-private companies, but they’re smaller, there is less money involved, and they tend to focus on more touchy-feely things.

Zaidan hojin focus on  education, religion, culture…and shadan hojin “tend to carry out promotional activities for industry, and regional associations.”


I guess you could think of them as non-profit foundations. Except that their policies, personnel, and budgets were totally secret until the fucking ‘90s.


There are over 26,000 of them.


Because zaidan/shadan hojin are smaller and less profitable than tokushu hojin, that’s where you go if you yokosuberi from one of the loser ministries (AKA the ‘social ministries’ : education, health, labor, construction, or foreign affairs). Or if you’re kind of a loser from a more powerful ministry, you might have to slum it in a zaidan/hadan hojin, and sit next to some clown from the education ministry.


In contrast, the top ministries (Finance, Transportation, MITI) put their yokosuberi guys in the tokushu kaisha, because that’s where the money is: for-profit government-run companies.


Several different ministries may be present on the borad of directors of one tokushu hojin. But the ratio is generally agreed upon in some back-room when the tokushu hojin is first founded, and then thereafter never changes.


Colignon and Usui give us exactly one actual, down-to-earth example of how this works. In the whole book. And seem very proud of themselves for going that far.


Oil exploration is a risky and costly business. The probability of finding oil is three in one thousand. JNPC (Japan Deveopment of Petroleum Corporation) was made to conduct oil exploration by giving money to nearly 120 private Japanese companies that have cooperative oil-exploration projects in thirty countries.


JNPC and a private company typically  team up to start a MINI, TEMPORARY oil-exploration company and go halvsies on the   initial capital. This company explores for oil, and when oil is found, the company imports it to Japan. If they don’t find oil, the company is disbanded and the government eats the loan.


The logic is straightfoward. JPNC is a tokushu hojin controlled by MITI. It funds risky drilling thingies that private companies don’t have the ovaries to undertake. JNPC itself and the private corporations it funds become locations for yokosuberi and amakudari from MITI. In 2001 alone, JNPC had 138 private companies that were affiliated.


That’s 138 places that now have to accept amakudari!  But like I just said, the mini companies are temporary, and when the well runs dry, the mini-corp is disbanded. So where do the amakudari go then?  They migrate to other temporary mini-companies. And this brings us to . . .







This is kind of an extension of what some bureaucrats spend their whole career doing. It’s normal for new guys to be rotated to different departments in their ministry, to gain experience. Then they might get “loaned” to other ministries for years at a time, to share inside information, expertise, and to keep the ministries’ rivalries from spinning out of control. Then even after they retire, they might continue to play musical chairs on the boards of directors of tokushu hojin and private companies.


If tokushu hojin blur the lines between private and public corporations, wataridori blur the lines even further, as they “migrate” between the two regularly.


Will you get a good job after you retire? Or get screwed and wind up a wataridori? Depends on how high-ranking you were in your ministry, and how powerful your ministry is. But then again, the more powerful a ministry is, the more post-retirement jobs they have to scrounge up for their huge staff . .  so even if you work for MOF or MITI, you might still wind up being wataridori for a decade if you’re not a hard worker. Better come in Sundays from now on!


Problem is, sometimes, the people who actually worked for that company all along want to get promoted to their own board of directors. The nerve of them! Not only that, but when wataridori leave one job to go to the next, they get huge sums of “severance pay” , much larger than what regular company guys get when THEY retire. And of course wataridori leave their jobs every couple of years. From the perspective of the wataridori, the “severance pay” is only fair because their next job is most likely much lower-paying than the current one. But from the point of view of the company’s regular executives, it’s fucked and unfair.


Not only do the amakudari  jump over long-working employees straight to the top, not only do they get better severance, not only do they frequently not even know much about what that company even does. . . but they INTERFERE. They make policy decisions that put their former ministry's priorities over that company's priorities, which causes no end of headaches to the rank-and-file workers.


Also,when one wataridori moves on (retires) , another guy from the same ministry will take his place immediately. It’s like an assembly line. This is another example of how arrangements can be informal and unspoken, but also very regular and institutionalized and strategic. As opposed to informal back-room decisions in other countries which are often made on a case-by-case, what-the-hell basis.







This chapter is the worst, most irrelevant chapter of the whole book . . Basically the whole thing is devoted to settling a dispute between two groups of American teachers – does the rise of zoku politicians equal the demise of seikai tenshin or not? (total number of people who care about this: the 6 teachers involved)


There isn’t even one word of discussion about,say, seikai tenshin guys voting in ways that put their former ministry ahead of their constituents. (total number of people who care about THIS: all the voters in japan, plus everyone who bought this book).


It’s like you had a book about the porn industry with a whole chapter that demonstrated THROUGH MATH AND STATISTICS who was the most popular silicone-implant doctor in the industry, and not a word about fucking. And then the authors were like, “Our job is done here. Another victory for KNOWLEDGE! HIGH FIVE!”


Anyway, here’s the little dribbles of useful information left over:


In the good old days, Seikai Tenshin (politicians who are ex-bureaucrats) used to run the legislature. Remember, in Japan, bureaucrats usually write the laws, and politicians just vote on ‘em. Unlike “regular” pols, the seikai tenshin actually knew how to write laws (from their decades at the ministries), and they had their friends/connections back at the ministry to pressure the other pols into playing ball. Powerful guys! About half the prime ministers were Seikai Tenshin, to say nothing of half the regular cabinet guys. But! Starting in the ‘70s, seikai tenshin went down in power. They still control the lower house of the Diet, but that’s about it. 


Here’s how that went down: some financial reforms were, uh, enacted: prominent politicians couldn’t use their warchests to shower unlimited money on the smaller pols in their clique. So the pols had to seek money their little-ass home-towns. From constituents, even! The horror!  The Ministries are as central as central can get: the seikai tenshin couldn’t compete with politicians FROM the hick-towns when it comes to raising that hick money.


Also, consider this: after WWII, the LDP ran Japan for 40 years. Like a one-party state. In the beginning of the LDP, anyone who was a big guy in WWII could become prime minister. But over time, their hierarchy solidified, and a sort of seniority system was put into place: you have to spend a good 20-30 years as a rank-and-file pol before you get “promoted” to being a minister or a prime minister. That pretty much rules out amakudari, who – as you’ll remember – are retirement age when they BEGIN their political careers.


Also there’s the issue of Zoku politicians (tribal politicians). These are guys that have the power to make laws that regulate ministries. (usual politicians just pass laws which  ministries write themselves!)


People have been saying, “Rise of Zoku politicians = the fall of seikai tenshin.” But that is not the case. Many zoku politicians get their special powers from serving as ministers of the bureaucracy – sort of seikai tenshin in reverse. And of course the pols owe the bureaucrats who taught them everything they know. So instead of zoku guys replacing seikai tenshin guys, it’s more like the zoku guys give the ministries yet ANOTHER tool to control the legislature.


Anyway! Point is, your average seikai tenshin can’t be minister or prime minister anymore , but – if he went to Todai AND his dad was a politician, he has a good shot at winning the election to the lower house of the Diet. The Diet seikai tenshin numbers have not decreased in like 100000 years.





First of all, like I mentioned : politicians don’t write the laws here. The bureaucracy writes the laws and politicians vote on it. So picture a politician asking a bureaucrat, “Say buddy, mind writing a law to restrict your own power? No loopholes! Have that on my desk by Monday, will ya? One love!”


Over the years, legislators tried to reduce the size of the bureaucracy. In response, the bureaucrats created tokushu hojin companies, who they would sub-contract their work to.


Legislators tried to limit the amount of time an amakudari could run a tokushu hojin. In response the bureaucrats invented wataridori – switching them back and forth between different companies.


Then legislators limited the number of ex-bureaucrats who could be on the board of directors of a given companies. And the bureaucrats started placing more of their guys in local government posts instead.


Finally, in the ‘60s, reformers privatized the biggest government-run companies: NTT and Japan Rail. But the bureaucrats somehow managed to buy all the stocks of the new privatized companies, turning them into tokushu kaisha, instead of all-the-way-private companies. This actually had the result of INCREASING ministry control over the new companies – since the original “state-owned” NTT had its own bosses, and new, tokushu kaisha NTT had to answer directly to ministry officials.


After the bubble economy burst there was a lot of Japanese criticism of how the ministries helped fuck up the economy, and how a lot of bureaucrats were corrupt. To deal with this, the ministries cut down on “amakudari classic” drastically. They released a graph of it, even! From over 300 retirees a year doing “amakudari classic” in 1984 to under 50 a year in ’99. Yay, problem solved!


But hold on – Colignon and Usui uncovered a less publicized, some may say, hidden graph: showing that, as a percent of people on boards of directors of private companies, former bureaucrats actually INCREASED. WTF?


The secret: first they yokosuberi their guys to non-profit foundations (which jobs pay not very well) , and THEN they pop ‘em into the lucrative private-sector jobs. All perfectly legitimate. Like laundering money.


Here’s another good shenanigan: in the ‘80s, the legislature was sick of tokushu kaisha that kept going on, taking tax money, long after their “project” (i.e. the freeway in the example above) had been completed. So they passed a law requiring the ministries to shut down X amount of tokushu hojin. X amount were duly shut down, but lo and behold, the total number of amakudari employed by tokushu hojin actually went up! The secret: the boards of directors went from 10 dudes to 20 dudes per company! Talk about slipping sideways.


Another fun bureaucratic trick: take 3 companies and merge them, resulting in zero savings to the budget, but take credit for “eliminating” 2 companies anyway.


Winz! Also, a lot of the jobs on the boards of directors of zaidan/shadan are . . . “special”, meaning “unpaid.” So when the ministries want a big headline saying they “reduced the number of amakudari,” guess whose jobs get cut?” the “special” guys’s jobs. Net profit to the taxpayer? exactly zero yen.


This kind of fake-reform is known as Koromogae (literally, ‘changing clothes’)


Also blocks to reform: Ministry of Telecommunications owns NHK, the public tv station, and places a lot of amakudari on the boards of other, private TV stations. You’re not going to see Mike Wallace going all 60 minutes on an amakudari anytime soon.


The futile game of cat-and-mouse resembles nothing so much as the decades-long battle between the vice squad and the prostitution business: the cops ban “no-underpants” coffe-houses, so the pimps open up “turkish baths” . The cops ban the baths, so the pimps set up “image clubs.” The cops ban “image clubs”, so the pimps set up “gal bars.” And so on.


Here is the lesson: you can’t regulate amakudari with written laws, because amakudari is not an official legal procedure – it’s an unwritten, informal protocol and a set of networks. So it’s un-regulatable as long as all these guys are still friends.


The Achilles heel of Japanese institutions is the erosion of public trust. A career as a bureaucrat with its power and prestige is preferred to that of a businessman, even though businessmen make much more money. But that depends on bureaucrats having a good reputation. Change may occure when career incentives (such as amakudari) disappear, where letitimacy of the bureaucratic career is withdrawn, or when the alternative career paths offer more power, prestige, and economic returns than the ministries.


Did you understand that? I don’t.  It sounds like the authors needed to put some kind of hopeful happy-ending on their book (Western kata!) but this is all they could come up with. Near as I can tell,  what they mean is, if there keep being articles about corruption in the ministries, then parents will tell their kids, “Look, no one will respect you if you work for the government. Get a job at Sony instead.” And the ministries will wind up with the dumbest graduates.


And then what? Doesn’t even say.



Me personally, the only way I can think to  deal with the amakudari network is how the FBI dealt with civil rights and black power groups in the ‘60s: turn them against each other. Fight informal networks with informal means. Make them stop being friends.


For example, the FBI would call the Chicago black panther boss and tell him, “Hey your wife is fucking around with the NYC panther boss.” And then call the NYC guy and tell him the same thing. This program of hideous and unconstitutional pranking was called COINTELPRO.

I’m not saying that’s an OK thing to do, even to amakudari. I’m just saying that’s the only way I can see to break up the network.


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small shrines of sadness

When most people – foreigners OR Japanese –  think of shrines, they think of Google Image Search  images like this:

or this. . .


But in my neighborhood, shrines all look like this:

and this . . .!

Small forlorn things, sandwiched between concrete, Western-style buildings.  The spirit world colliding with the mundane suburbs like a patchwork quilt.

Not only is that kind of weird, but even trying to TALK to Japanese people about it is weird.


ME: What do you call those tiny shrines in between houses?

JAPANESE FRIENDS: Those are shrines.

ME: Yeah, but specifically the run-down, meter-wide ones that look jarrlingly out of place?


ME: Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about!  Those things are everywhere.

JAPANESE FRIENDS: Yeah, shrines.

ME: Don't act like they're the exact same thing as the famous shrines in Kyoto!!!!!!


ME: So what's the super-secret Japanese word for that particular phenomenon – the meter-wise shrine?

JAPANESE FRIENDS: There's a word for that???


JAPANESE FRIENDS: Foreigners sure are weird.



As near as I can tell, these tiny shrines used to be full on regular-sized temples, but when Japan industrialized and land in Tokyo became very valuable, the big shrines got sold to homeowners or businesses. Unwilling to totally pave over the shrines, the new land-owners "compromised" by keeping around a square meter of land for the god to live in.  I'm sure to the owners, this showed their commitment to "preserving" Japanese culture, and to the neighborhood people it was more like "destroying" Japanese culture. In any case, it's another example of this Japanese "layering" or "montage" approach to problem-solving.


I tend to root for the underdog. I like these tiny, run-down shrines better than the fancy, sell-out shrines. I like how the spirit world and the mundane world are mixed-up. I like the thought that these very sterile concrete-and-delivery-truck-and-vending-machine encrusted suburbs have something special or other-worldly about them, something that can't be totally paved over and standardized.


So I went online looking for the word for "that type of shrine."

I image-searched, figuring that of all the Japanese with weird, very specific hobbies, there had to be someone whose life work was documenting all these types of shrines. But oddly – no! Not that I could find. Most of the search results were people's blogs about their everyday life that had one single photo of a small-shrine. This shows that clearly the phenomenon is weird EVEN TO JAPANESE. And yet not so weird that there is a word for it. Most of the time, the text accompanying the photo said  露 天神社(つゆのてんじんしゃと読む)tsuyunoten jinja. But this just means "outdoor, roofless shrine." And plenty of big, "normal" shrines also qualify.

The other big phrase that Japanese used in the text accompanying their pictures was ビルの間に神社 (biru no aida ni jinja) : "the shrine between western buildings."


Putting that into Google Image Search is where I got most of the hits. But this still isn't a "real" religious word. The absence of an official word, or an official category of shrines,  suggests to me (and my paranoid mind) that Japanese are not supposed to be thinking about how their shrines got destroyed by their own elites during the period of industrialization.



And yeah, the following images are from google image. I didn't take any of these.

Links to the few blogs that had  more than one of these kinds of images are at the bottom of this article, so please visit them.




























A sub-category of "small shrine" is this:


and this!

These are not old shrines that got shrunk to make room for fancy new buildings.

These are new shrines that got built by wealthy developers, to bring good luck to their fancy new buildings.


Getting back to the first kind of shrines:




















Seriously. Are you seeing how many of these there are? This is TOO a real phenomenon!!!
It deserves a name! And a full-color photo book!
















A third kind of "small shrine" is the  屋上にある神社 (okujou ni aru jinja) : the rooftop shrine.

This happens when the land developer doesn't even want to spare a single meter of land after he tears down the old shrine.

So as a "compromise," he re-builds a small replica of the shrine on THE ROOF!

In this case, the 'layering' is literal!








below:  a serious thing!

They didn't want to tear down the shrine, so they built the new, Western style building OVER it!

Anyone know where that thing is?!?

















A fourth category is this, the REALLY TINY SHRINE, which I also found on google image search.


This kind of 3 inch high shrine is put on corners of buildings, in the hopes that drunks will think twice before urinating on the buildings.  That's so fucking amazing. And I stole the photo from some sucker. Wait- that was my own blog. I just stole from myself. WHAT A DICK!!!!


But for real though,  all these blogs have tons of great images like this. Please visit them.


Excellent blog of all the small hidden shrines in this one city!


 Another  "hidden shrine" blog.



great blog of urban small strange things: architecture, absurd details etc.


  another rad architecture / shrine blog


Shout out to


 A blog of rad urban absurdity,  (lots of unintentionally humorous street or store signs . . .in Japanese)



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