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Living in Japan is a lot like growing up. Sometimes it’s lonely. Sometimes you’re angry and just looking to fit in. Things can get dark without an outlet. For some of us, that outlet is hardcore.
Without getting into a murky discussion about subgenres, hardcore is simply fast, loud and aggressive music with a message. The hardcore scene sprouted from traditional punk in America in the 1980s but quickly spread to Japan with bands like Gauze and S.O.B.
Hardcore is a community; some might even say a lifestyle. For some, it’s a means to let loose; rage at the world in a safe environment. For others, it’s simply good, clean fun.
In Tokyo’s famous Shibuya district, I met with major players from Japan’s hardcore scene in the alternative apparel store, Greed, to ask what the music means to them and about the community’s openness and acceptance of foreigners and newcomers.
Rage and Chill
Hardcore can be scary to outsiders. A live show can look like a straight fight. It’s not unusual for people to get punched, bruised or bloody. But it’s a shared understanding. No one (hopefully) is at a show to hurt somebody. There’s respect. If someone falls, they get picked up. Still, you should expect moshing, stage dives and people literally crawling over each other.
Makoto, the frontman of Osaka-based Sand, says live shows allow that behavior if you need to let go.
“I take all my rage and shove it into the mic,” says Makoto. “That’s how I relieve stress. The audience yelling ‘die’ probably feels cathartic, too,” he says, laughing.
I take all my
shove it into
Senta, the frontman of the beatdown-hardcore band Numb, wants the audience to have a good time but wants people to feel the band’s energy. “At least once, I want those zoned-out types to experience that exhilarating feeling [of a live show].”
On the other hand, a live show is an easy excuse to party.
“One word,” says Soul Vice frontman Yoyo Tome, smiling, “Chill. On stage, I drink and have fun.”
Tome says that, for him, hardcore is a lifestyle. Besides playing in Soul Vice, he also runs the record label Bowlhead Inc. “Hardcore is life,” he says. “Working. Chill. Music. All one life.”
Tome’s lifelong friend, who prefers the moniker H8monger, counters, “I feel like destroying everything when I’m on stage.” H8monger, the bass player for the thrash hardcore band Saigan Terror and Imperium Recordings owner, says, “We’re not there to fight, but there are times you get hit…There’s not really anything you can do if you get hurt,” he chuckles.
“Just be prepared and have fun!”
It’s common for salarymen who finished working to come straight to shows with their suits still on
Despite the aggressive nature of hardcore, it doesn’t discriminate. The spirit of hardcore is open to all ages, races and sexes. Even in Japan, typically regarded as a conservative, nationalistic country, a show brings all types.
“It’s not just Japanese people,” says H8monger. “Foreigners come to our shows and become friends with us. The audience varies…to people you probably won’t ever meet in life…The age difference doesn’t matter since there’s respect between us all.”
“It’s common for salarymen who finished working to come straight to shows with their suits still on,” says Tome.
Foreign hardcore fans will feel at home with’s Japan’s scene. My first show in Japan was at Antiknock, a hole-in-the-wall venue in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, to see American bands Floorpunch and Strife, the Japanese melodic hardcore band Endzweck and a straight-edge group called Inside. The dimly lit live house was immediately familiar, plastered with thousands of old stickers and graffiti.
People go to work, hang out with friends and their girlfriends, go to karaoke and then the show
Seven thousand miles from home, I was back in my sanctuary: salarymen loosened their ties; girls half my size were slam dancing; stage dives and massive dog piles. When Inside covered the Chain of Strength straight-edge anthem, “True Til Death,” there were familiar X’ed up fists and sing-alongs.
The only real difference was how quickly everyone cleared out to catch the train. Most trains end operation before midnight, and a lot of the audience are students or still living with their parents. Shows typically end early enough for everyone to get home on time.
At least for the younger audience, it’s easier to hang out before the show rather than after. “People go to work, hang out with friends and their girlfriends, go to karaoke and then the show,” says Makoto.
For many of us growing up, live shows were a shelter—someplace to let go and feel safe from family or school. In his youth, Makoto was drawn to violent interactions. “If it weren’t for my love of hardcore, my life would have really gone downhill, said Makoto, “I would have continued down that path, and that would be it.”
H8monger shared the sentiment. “I’ve had times I wondered why I had to deal with tough situations,” he said. “What ended up saving me was hardcore.”
Even as an adult, after moving to Japan, there were difficult times—a feeling many foreigners share—whether due to loneliness, Japan’s working culture or just missing home. For myself, knowing I have a place to de-stress without judgment is a relief. A live show can be that therapy.
“If you come to Japan and are having a rough time, come to a live show, and it can be better,” says Senta. “You can make friends easily, and we would love to have you.”
Here is also a quick list of live houses across Japan that often have hardcore and punk shows.