Safety Dance, or What the Fxxx is Up with Nagoya?

Here's something most of you probably don't know unless you've lived in Japan: in Japan, September 1st is "celebrated" as "Disaster Prevention Day" (though we personally like to call it "Safety Day"). The yearly event was launched to commemorate the anniversary of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that hit Tokyo and surrounding areas and sparked massive fires throughout the city that claimed the lives of at least 105,000 people (that's nearly as many people as were killed in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima). Tokyo at the time was mostly made of wood-and-paper buildings, so you can only imagine how deadly the firestorm must have been... oh wait, you don't have to imagine, we're getting Firestorm Redux all over the world now, everywhere from Maui to Athens to Alberta.

Mm... and September 1st, 1939, was the day Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII (yeah this is Cayce here sitting on our ass in Tokyo watching Barbenheimer instead of going to Nagoya. If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendor of "Taiyou ni Korosareta." But we digress.)

In an eerie sort of time-loop effect, today, September 1st, 2023, marks the 100-year anniversary of the Kanto Earthquake disaster, which remains the deadliest natural disaster in Japan's history to date. For comparison: it is estimated that slightly fewer than 20,000 people died in the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 11th, 2011. Disaster Prevention Day isn't a national holiday - people go to school and work as usual, but what's special about this day is that schools and workplaces around the country hold disaster safety workshops for students and employees, who are encouraged if not required to attend. Safety workshops include presentations on practical tips to survive a major earthquake, post-quake protocols, and hands-on training such as visiting and interacting with emergency supplies, or even obstacle courses where participants put on masks and learn how to crawl through burning buildings while avoiding smoke, etc. (Fun fact: as a young office drone in Tokyo, Cayce got to attend a very intense version of one of these trainings, complete with fake dry-ice smoke. It was a lot more fun than working in the office!)

How ironic, then, that Buck-Tick's Izora Tour Nagoya show, initially scheduled for June 3rd, 2023 (which was incidentally the night of the full moon, also known as the Strawberry Moon) was rescheduled due to heavy rains and flooding from a massive typhoon that hit central Japan on June 2nd, and not only that, it was rescheduled for September 1st, 2023 (which is incidentally the day after the last Blue Supermoon for the next decade and a bit - Supermoon element relevant in that Supermoons, or perigee full moons, are commonly associated with high seismic activity and fun fact the Great East Japan Earthquake also happened on a Supermoon known as the Death Moon because go figure Death Moon is the traditional name of the March full moon in Virgo fun fact Mr. Sakurai's birthday was also the full moon or Death Moon of March 1966, but we digress) - that is to say, the Izora tour Nagoya show was rescheduled for today, Disaster Prevention Day/Safety Day. The show was rescheduled because the trucks with all the stage sets and sound gear and such have to depart a day in advance of the show when the band are on tour, to ensure that everything can be set up in time, but there was no way any of the tour trucks could have hit the highway in that weather. So the band's management went and rescheduled the show for Safety Day. Maybe they thought it was auspicious, but...

...yesterday evening, it was announced on the Buck-Tick official website that the Izora Nagoya show was being postponed yet again. The official reason? Mr. Sakurai felt sick and tested positive for Covid-19 AGAIN. Here's where it gets weirder, though: last year, as some of you may remember, the band arrived in Nagoya on the evening of August 3rd in preparation for their Fish Tank x Love & Media Portable Members Only 2022 show at Zepp Nagoya, only for Mr. Sakurai to start feeling ill, take a Covid test, and test positive. The August 4th, 2022 show in Nagoya was postponed, along with the August 14th, 2022 show in Fukuoka, and the Fish Tanker's Only 2022 show that had been scheduled for August 11th, 2022 at Toyosu PIT in Tokyo. Mr. Sakurai later reported in FT and on the Buck-Tick official website that he felt extremely ill and had been required to quarantine at a Nagoya hotel for ten days, because due to Covid protocols at the time, he wasn't allowed to return home to convalesce. Later, at the rescheduled Fish Tanker's Only show in Toyosu (which was held on Yutaka's birthday, January 24th, 2023), Sakurai stated "I really thought I was going to die back there." 

However, we all know he's a much tougher bastard than that - in fact, less than a week out of quarantine, he took to the stage at Club Citta' Kawasaki to perform with Buck-Tick at Toll's 60th birthday extravaganza. This was a big deal for a number of reasons. First, the 60th birthday is considered a very important milestone in Japanese culture. A person turning 60 has lived through a full rotation of the Chinese Zodiac: five turns of the twelve zodiac animals (Rat, Ox, Tiger, Hare, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar), with one year with each animal in each of the traditional Chinese elements (air, water, fire, wood, and metal). Therefore, the 60th birthday is called 還暦 ("kanreki," or "complete rotation"), and age 60 is seen as a "return to childhood" or "second childhood" in which the person is able to start fresh with a youthful heart in older age. Historically, living to age 60 was considered a great achievement, because in pre-modern times, many people died young of disease, accidents, violence, etc. The 60th birthday is traditionally celebrated with all kinds of festive customs, including eating lucky red rice and dressing the birthday boy/girl in a bright red coat called a "chan-chanko." The color red is used widely because (as adopted from Chinese traditions) it symbolizes good luck, longevity, prosperity, and vitality. In short: there is no way Mr. Sakurai was going to miss performing on Toll's big day! Later, in FT, Mr. Sakurai confessed that he wasn't quite sure he would be up to performing, he didn't feel his performance was up to his usual standards, and he felt very exhausted after the show, but of course, he did it anyway, because he's a tough guy, with a lot of pride, and a great sense of loyalty to the other band members.

Not only that, but one of the many illustrious guests who performed at this show was none other than Issay, vocalist of the band Der Zibet and "very close special friend" of Mr. Sakurai since their indie days late 80's Tokyo. During his later career, Issay was a member of a regular rotating group of musicians in the Tokyo underground/goth scene who often made guest appearances at each other's shows or played jam sessions at events featuring multiple bands. Toll was another high-profile member of this group, and the two had a longstanding working relationship entirely outside of Sakurai and Issay's notorious "friendship," but nonetheless, Issay had never performed as a guest musician at one of Toll's birthday shows since Toll's much-discussed bombshell 50th birthday show (held on August 19th, 2012, also at Club Citta' Kawasaki) that featured a guest live set by Der Zibet in which Issay and Mr. Sakurai performed a reprise of their 1991 duet "Masquerade" (originally released on Der Zibet's album Shishunki II: Downer Side), involving possibly the single most sexually explicit stage routine either of them has ever performed, strip teases included (and we say this in full knowledge and direct personal experience of just how sexual those two can get on stage even when they're up there solo without the benefit of a special friend to get off play off. Also anyone who tries to claim that Mr. Sakurai hasn't ever done a proper strip tease clearly wasn't present at the November 23rd 2011 Utakata no Razzle Dazzle show at Akasaka Blitz, also incidentally a show that was rescheduled due to the Great East Japan Earthquake.) 

However, on August 19th, 2022, Issay took to the Club Citta' Stage again with Mr. Sakurai to perform guest vocals on Buck-Tick's "Itoshi no Rock Star" for the first time in... god only knows how many years. The original Six/Nine studio recording of "Itoshi no Rock Star" (released in 1995) featured Issay singing guest vocals (show of hands: how many of you didn't even realize it because Issay's voice sounds so similar to Sakurai's on this track?). Sakurai later reported that he had written the lyrics of "Itoshi no Rock Star" in Issay's image, just as Issay reported that he had written the lyrics to "Masquerade" in Sakurai's honor years earlier. Issay also appeared as a guest on several dates of the Six/Nine tour, with photographic evidence pointing to a similarly steamy and salacious pas de deux, but no videos of the tour were ever released (even though we know they exist in a secret vault somewhere), so the history of "Itoshi no Rock Star" largely fell through the cracks of the Archives of Buck-Tickistan. While by all accounts, the 2022 reprise of "Itoshi no Rock Star" was a great deal less sexual than the "Masquerade" performance of ten years earlier, it was still a unique moment in Buck-Tick's history, a shivering presentiment of tragedy hidden in the killing effulgence of the August sun: 

"If I turned into a pig, you'd laugh
If I turned into a bug, you'd laugh

If I turned into an ape, you'd laugh
If I turned into a star, you'd laugh"

It was the last time Sakurai and Issay ever performed together. August 11th, 2022 - Sakurai sick with Covid-19 in a hotel room in Nagoya, unable to perform at Toyosu PIT, turns too swiftly toward August 10th, 2023, the day Issay's death was publicly announced. The August 4th, 2022 Nagoya B-T show canceled due to Mr. Sakurai's bout with Covid turns too swiftly toward August 4th, 2023, Issay's last full day on this too blue planet with its too-bright killing sun. (He died August 5th. But he loved the blazing sun and blue ocean of summer better than any other season, and surely he wouldn't have chosen any other day to fly away. Born on July 6th, the eve of Tanabata, gone back to the sky on August 5th, the eve of Hiroshima. Life is art, my friends. All things move toward their end, but nothing is random, of that you can be sure. Die the way you lived, with an abundance of aesthetic style. There is a much greater pattern and design at work than most people allow themselves to see. Don't fear to be a part of it.) 

And now here we are, the second rescheduled Nagoya show in less than two years, and... Atsushi goes and gets Covid again? On Safety Day? Sure, Nagoya is an industrial cultural wasteland of a city, regularly voted "the most hated city in Japan" in opinion polls (not making this up, Google it)... though it has its interesting elements, from the robust South American diaspora to the flourishing doom and gloom subcultures (see: Nagoya-kei) spawned by the reflections of post-modern industrial malaise upon its disaffected youth to the Acchan Ramen Shop, a real place (if it's still in business) whose tagline is "Yappari Kyou mo Acchan" ("Let's have Acchan again tonight!") and whose sign the eponymous Acchan posed in front of during a B-T tour of yore in order to proudly display the photo in his column in FT (if anyone has this on hand, please send, we're too lazy to look it up and photograph it right now). 

But, y'all, what the efffff is UP with Nagoya? There's some kind of Doom Spiral going on down there and it needs to be stopped! We can't let the Black Hole of Nagoya suck down the magic of Buck-Tickistan! So here's my first request of y'all: say some prayers for poor old Nagoya to stop attempting to eat our boys. Nagoya is sad and traumatized but it's expressing its trauma badly and we need to get it help so take off your hats and Safety Dance for Nagoya in hopes that we can stem the spiral before it gets truly out of hand. If Acchan doesn't feel strong enough to attempt a boss battle with Nagoya's Scylla and Charybdis just yet, at least we can help weaken Nagoya's bad juju by firing our Sailor Moon crystal healing powers at the place before he has to go there again for real. All hands on deck! Open your third eyes and send some beams of Cosmic Love down there, because we, Cayce, Grand Tabloid Journalist of Buck-Tickistan, refuse to stand for any more of this behavior from a Japanese city that doesn't even have its own real castle, just a concrete reconstruction of one. Know your place, Nagoya! (Hint: it's not at the cool kids' table.) Being "most hated city" is no mean feat. Eat your karma now, Nagoya! Eat it with your stinky miso cutlets and your stinky automotive plants and your stinky Captain Hook Crocodile vendetta against our Mr. Sakurai! In the name of the Moon, consider yourself punished! (Yeah, Nagoya. I'm Aichi-shaming you. For the capital of a prefecture whose name literally means "knowledge of love" you sure seem ignorant. Sailor Moon was never above a little speechifying dress-down of her antagonists before a fight, and neither are we. Miso cutlets, really? Ewww.)

But, more to the point. Despite having released numerous collaborations, touring together, and doing numerous joint interviews over the years, Sakurai and Issay consistently downplayed their relationship in the media. They were the subject of reams of fan fiction and doujinshi (apropos, considering that Issay actually more or less started his career as a "professional bishounen," entering beauty contests and posing nude for boys' love magazines before he ever really launched as a musician - yes this is true, cross my heart, I'm not making it up for humor value, see JUNE magazine, pronounced Ju-nay, for Jean Genet, notorious queer provocateur author of the seminal gay aesthetic murder suicide novel Our Lady of the Flowers, if you can find barely-legal Issay's nude shoot in this one pat yourself on the back for not only having done better than 99.9% of the aging yaoi fangirls in Japan but also for being twisted enough to f** to possibly underage photos of a dead guy, congrats 2 you U sick fuck, but I digress.) In addition to being chased and stalked by Japanese nutcase fangirls aplenty, the diabolical duo were also the target of a series of frightening stalker fangirls from the Gaijin Internet (yeah, we know who you are. A&I knew it too and guess what, they weren't impressed, fancy that. Crimea cry me a river.) And yet... it seems that the true nature of their relationship remained compartmentalized in fangirl minds as the stuff of early 80's boys' love manga, all subtext and no substance. Which just goes to show how puzzlingly out of touch with sexual reality their fanbase was, despite the fact that both men made their careers out of publicly, unashamedly plumbing the depths of sexuality and sexual psychology, and it was precisely this sexuality that their fans claimed to be drawn to. The longer it went on, the more brazen the joke became. Each one kissing a mask of the other at his show, baring just a little more cleavage here or thigh there, laughing through their teeth at the screaming women attempting to wrestle them bodily off the stage, as if daring them, "What would you have even planned on doing to me, if you actually had me? Do you even know?"

But, real talk here. Because it's 2023 and we can finally real-talk. At this late date, do y'all really still believe that Tokyo's most famous long-haired boys in lipstick and eyeliner, the ones who sang harmony together on "Koi no Hallelujah" and kissed unashamedly in public, even in the eye of the media, were merely playing dress-up in their stepmothers' clothing? Do y'all really think that? Do y'all really think that the guys who wrote songs like "Dance Tengoku" and "Upper Queen" spent all their days in Goldengai without ever stepping a toe into Nichome? (Districts in Shinjuku. Look it up. I can't give everything away.) These are the guys who penned "Masquerade" and "MasQue" respectively, and call me old but I'm pretty sure that back then, Q didn't stand for QAnon. If you don't know what I'm trying to say, go back and listen to Episode 6 of "The Music of Note with Atsushi Sakurai," the part where he talks about going to see Bohemian Rhapsody multiple times in the movie theater and then plays "Don't Stop Me Now" by Queen.

If, as you read this, you feel tempted to say, "Cayce, don't be a B," then all I have to say to you friends is, B is the first letter in B-T, and the universe in which Mr. Sakurai and Issay so sensually resided was a "B Universe." Men, women, what does it matter? In a B Universe, it doesn't. L for the Lucy, G for the G-Spot, B for Japanese babies... Q for all the QT B-T fans...

So what's my point here? 

It's this. Just like "special friend" in Everything Everywhere All At Once was for one Chinese laundress to introduce her multiversial hellion of a daughter to the father she feared could never be pleased, "I have Covid-19" is the most ironclad excuse in a wide world of Japanese excuses for a hugely successful professional musician with a slightly punishing sense of personal responsibility to use when he knows that the words "Good night, sweet Prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" will fall on deaf ears with the Victor brass because he knows that those guys have definitely never read "Hamlet" and probably never even heard of it (Ophelia who?) The great thing about living in 2023 is that the lockdowns are over and the masks are off and the fans are allowed to cheer at concerts again, but the moment you come down with Covid-19, you're an invincible hikikomori by legal sanction, free to stay in your house with the drapes closed, eat takeout, and grieve in peace because Covid is the Unassailable Bugbear, and therefore Covid is your best friend (not special friend) when you know, despite your continuing tendency towards guilt and self-blame, that you just couldn't possibly get up on a stage in a concrete box in a concrete jungular armpit like Nagoya and sing "Hizumi," much less "Die," much less "Na mo Naki Watashi" before an adoring crowd. So, y'know, god bless Covid-19. Whether Mr. Sakurai actually has it or not at this moment is almost beside the point. It's finally useful for something, after all. Because professional rock stars don't generally get to take mental health days.

In conclusion: I'm calling on all of y'all to please send your best vibes to our Acchan-chan, as loudly and often as you can. He's a very strong person, and deep down, he knows that. He knows his job isn't finished. But he's experiencing choking, overpowering grief, and all the sense of futility and mortal fear it brings. "Why shouldn't I be next?" "My life is almost over anyway" "I'm too old" "Too old to lose it, yet too young to choose it" "Why are there a zillion criminals and abusers out there living as billionaires and yet you're the one who's gone?" "What even is the point anymore?" "What did I actually accomplish in all this time?" "Why..." (and a thousand other bargaining/anger/denial questions). And the "Why can't you just suck it up and move on?" And the "You could have/should have..." (continue with second-guessing here). And the "I'm letting everyone down" (continue with the self-flagellation here). And the "I shouldn't even be here anymore" (continue with the survivor's guilt here). And the (insert all the beautiful, sensual, dizzyingly real memories here).

So please, y'all. Send him your love. Send him your encouragement. Tell him he's enough. That he's loved. That it's not his fault. That there are more tomorrows. The Mothership is waiting patiently, but this field trip is not over. And he doesn't have to eat miso cutlets if he doesn't bloody well want to.

And this... (February, 2021)

Are there any foreign artists you would like to collaborate with ?
ISSAY: All of the artists I would have loved to collaborate with passed away, unfortunately... (laughs). You know what, recently I had a dream, which is a bit embarrassing to share but, the world was coming as one. The borders disappeared. All the countries around the world unified and merged to form one and only country. In order to celebrate this union, an anthem was needed. I don’t know why but David Bowie and myself were chosen to create the song. Isn’t that amazing (laughs) ?!

Who's going to sing the anthem, eh, Acchan? If not you, then who?

There's no remedy for memory, so we won't say "get well soon." But help us say "You can do it. Mada da yo. Izanae, tabidatou." It ain't over till the fat lady sings and she ain't singing yet and more to the point, you ain't no fat lady!