X Japan Renaissance: Pioneering Rockers Defy Typhoon Trami, Reach New Fans Through TV and Streaming

Yoshiki of X Japan

Yoshiki of X Japan

X Japan, one of the most popular hard rock bands in Japan’s history, has seen a career surge as of late. It's credited with being one of the creators of the Visual Kei (or visual rock) movement in Japan in the '80s, a sort of combination of heavy metal and glam, but took a break from 1998 with the death of lead guitarist Hide. X Japan has played over 30 shows in Japan as well as numerous international venues since it reformed in 2008, and has hit a high point in the last few weeks. 

The band sold 100,000 tickets for a three-show stand Sept. 28-30 at Makuhari Messe just outside Tokyo, with the final show being live-streamed and slated for TV broadcast nationwide by WOWOW in Japan on Nov. 10. As fate would have it, Typhoon Trami hit Tokyo the night of Sept. 30 and the final show was cancelled. But the band went on anyway to perform for over 1 million viewers on the Yoshiki Channel, and it was taped for WOWOW as planned.

Yoshiki, the drummer, pianist, composer and bandleader told Billboard after the show, “It was really hard to deal with that situation. Before we decided to cancel the show, we had around 10,000 fans at the venue already. But we had to think about the safety of the fans first, because all the transportation was going to be shut down several hours later.” He continued, “When we announced the cancellation, there was such a loud reaction from all those fans -- we could hear it everywhere inside the venue. So we made the quick decision to broadcast the show for everyone to watch safely from home. Playing full strength in front of all those empty seats was a little strange, but we could hear the screams of the fans in our hearts, just as we always hear the voices of our late members Hide and Taiji. No matter what the situation, I believe the show must go on. Nothing is impossible.”

The show continued to be streamed on demand over the weekend on the official Yoshiki Channel, which is the number one pay channel for a musician on Nico Video, one of Japan’s leading streaming sites. 

The band’s new surge both internationally and in Japan is buffeted by a new wave of attention focused on Yoshiki himself, who lives in L.A. but visits Japan frequently. Previously somewhat reclusive to his Japanese audience, Yoshiki now appears in a number of commercials and guest spots on popular Japanese TV shows. He explained the new foray into mainstream media to Billboard, “My main focus is always music, but fortunately there are a lot of opportunities for TV appearances. Personally, I end up declining 90% of the offers, but my management chooses carefully, and the TV shows are good for promoting our concerts and music to new fans. My schedule gets in the way a lot, so sometimes I can't always do the things I'd like, but it's fun when I have the chance.”

The Japanese public, as well as fans around the world, have responded big time. Yoshiki's new song "Red Swan" from the Attack on Titan anime (Japanese animation) series just debuted at No. 1 on iTunes Rock Charts in Japan as well as nine other countries (Finland, Greece, Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Hong Kong) and peaked at No. 6 on the iTunes Rock Chart in the U.S. and at No. 8 in the U.K. It also made it to the top 10 on mainstream iTunes Charts in 16 countries.

Yoshiki addressed the band’s intense popularity in Japan and how it compares to their fanbases internationally. He told Billboard, “The energy from the fans is always amazing no matter where we play. The only difference is that in Japan or Asia we can play stadiums, but in the U.S. or Europe we've only played large venues like Madison Square Garden and Wembley Arena just once each time.” He noted things are picking up in the U.S. “But this year we played Coachella, and tons of fans showed up. That gave me more confidence that we can go overseas, and we're going to play in America again. 20 years ago, Japan wasn't on the world map of rock music -- the entertainment industry just didn't see us. But now things have changed, and we'd like to contribute to redrawing that map and let people know that rock music exists in Japan. And at the same time, we want to bring rock back to the mainstream in the western market, too.”

Riding the success of the recent shows and releases the band is currently working on a new album and planning a world tour.