See the Story

With half of 2017 over, the best movie I’ve seen this year wasn’t about jazz in LA, nor a Polynesian princess (yes, Disney cartoons release late in Japan). In fact, it wasn’t even the one about persecuted Christians in 17th century Japan.

It was about these guys:


Meet X Japan, the band featured in the documentary, “We are X”. You’ve probably never heard their music. And if you did, you probably wouldn’t want your kids listening.

A Japanese friend introduced me to them four years ago. “You must listen to them to understand Japanese music,” he said. After looking up a couple songs on YouTube, I got the idea: this is what happens when the worst of American ’80s fashion meets goth Japan.


Little did I know that they created an entire music genre called “Visual Kei” (ビジュアル系): bands whose outfits, makeup, and hair are as epic as their piano ballads. Add a sprinkling of lyrics about drugs, sex, and violence, (as nearly all their songs do), and you’ve got Japan’s biggest icon for youth rebellion in the ’80s and ’90s.

Learning to Look

But let’s be honest. Based on the above two photos and two paragraphs, you don’t really care. Not your style, never will be.

Fair enough. After watching several YouTube clips, I didn’t care much for them either. Until I saw the documentary: 101 minutes of not just crazy costumes, but the stories of the men behind them.

I learned that Kiss front man Gene Simmons said of the band, “If those guys were born in America, they might be the biggest band in the world.”

I learned that given the choice to commission a song for his 10th year anniversary celebration, Emperor Akihito chose X Japan’s leader, Yoshiki, to write it.

I learned that at age 11, Yoshiki’s dad committed suicide, and that his interest in music was mainly to express his pain and anger.

And I learned that 50,000 wailing fans lined the streets of Tsukiji for lead guitarist Hide’s funeral after he committed suicide.

As the documentary finished, I no longer saw the same guys caked in make up. I saw people shaped by their stories of success and suffering, just like you and me.

A Closer Connection

But my connection to this band and genre goes deeper. During my language school days, I met a Chinese classmate whose lifestyle and dress screamed visual kei, from her weekly concert attendance, to her painted black nails. Over time she not only shared more of her story, but her questions about God.

In particular, I remember her expressing doubts about the Bible being historically accurate — not your typical conversation during class breaks. Yet behind the objections, I sensed a deep curiosity — the same tone of existential searching that I found in some of these bands’ lyrics. Perhaps God was using their honesty to frame her quest.

Nothing Is More Important To Me Than…

Fast forward to last month when I noticed a post on Facebook by the same classmate: “Now nothing is more important to me than God, because He saved me. Everything will be fine, because I believe in Him.”

I immediately asked her what this God talk was all about. She shared how after language school, a number of unexpected events changed her thinking. She began attending church, and after six months of discipleship, got baptized. Though she had decided to leave Japan, she had peace about it now as a believer.

She then recalled a conversation we had shortly after graduating at a class get-together. She remembered me sharing about my faith. She said that at that point she felt that God was trying to tell her something. This was just several months before she began attending church. I told her I remembered that conversation, and that I had been praying for her. She thanked me for my prayers, and thanked God for this step along the way.

God is writing new stories here in Japan, even within the musical genres that we tune out. Would He give us eyes to see such stories, and the grace to enter into them.

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  • Tommy says:

    Our God is truly the omniscient composer, omnipotent conductor and omnipresently available. Thanks for the reminder – perfect way to start my day.

  • Auntie says:

    PRAISE GOD! i know this changed life and God choosing to use you in her story encourages you to persevere for His sake, Ian.

    (is this movie available in English subtitles?)

  • Auntie says:

    whoops. i didn’t listen to the trailer. i shall look this movie up.

  • Craig says:

    Awesome post and perspective about seeing everyone through God’s eyes and understanding everyone is facing their own hard battles. Thanks for sharing!

  • Venetia Louie-Chee says:

    Wow!! Interesting read! I’d never put one of your postings with Yoshiki/X-Japan! I 2006, I first heard one of their songs,”Tears”, in a korea drama, “Windstruck”. The song was so pretty that I had to check out the group. I learned of the group’s history….and of Yoshiki’s musical background. Several years ago, I had a chance to attend Yoshiki’s concert, “Classical”. I was amazed by his story and his playing and of the group’s following outside of Japan. Thank you for your post.

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