Near the end of 2018 I spoke to 龍 (RYU) about his now former project “OROCHI”, a project he had started 15 years ago to combine his love for music and traditional Japanese culture into a “samurai rock” band which had their first performance here in The Netherlands all the way back in 2011. (And various other shows in the years that followed, 龍 (RYU) actually became a rather familiar face here due to his very theatrical performance.)
But after 15 years it was time for “OROCHI” to retire, since the original members had all left the band and the constant change of support members wasn’t doing the project any good. Even though he still released music under the name “OROCHI” he was referred to as “龍 (RYU)” in Japan whenever he played a show.
At the start of 2019 he disbanded “OROCHI” officially in order to return under the name of “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)” shortly after. In October of the same year 龍 (RYU) returned to Europe, accompanied by guitarist MASASHI -one of the colorful new additions to the band’s support musicians lineup-, for a short European tour under his new name. During this tour he visited Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France.
This seems like more than enough reasons to ask 龍 (RYU) for a follow-up interview to catch up a little, don’t you think? So let’s not stall any further and,
To start off today’s interview I would like to ask you about the disbanding of “OROCHI” and the birth of “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)”. What made you decide to finally stop activities as “OROCHI” after almost 15 years? You’ve told me you had difficulties finding support members, did this have anything to do with this decision?
龍 (RYU): I worked on “OROCHI” from 2004 to 2019. It’s a bit confusing since it’s not really a disbanding, I merely changed the name to “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)”, and I’ve been pretty much a solo singer since 2015. Nowadays people are using the same styles (the combination of traditional Japanese instruments with Western pop music) more and more and I don’t like to be a part of the masses. I want to do something unique, I don’t want to be “normal” like the others.
I currently play the Japanese flute, like the dragon flute (RYU-TEKI and non-kan, which are both played in Noh opera and Kabuki) and Shino-bue. But I also play koto and Satsuma Biwa (a guitar that used to be played by Japanese samurai warriors of the Satsuma clan). I’ve started to play shamisen and shakuhachi as well. You can expect these instruments to make their appearance in my songs soon, I hope! (laughs)
Just like with “OROCHI”, “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)” was introduced with a full band behind you from the start. You had a lot of issues finding support members for “OROCHI”, but now you have a full band? How did that happen?
龍 (RYU): Well… One of my managers actually arranged this. I had not met any of the members until the day when the shooting for the music video of 祇園-GION- started. So you can imagine I was very nervous that day, having to work with people who I only met moments before recording started. It was also in the middle of winter, a very difficult time to shoot a music video with a theme this one.
All of the current members have very different and unique personalities. Like MASASHI in particular, I suggested him to do YouTube videos in English because his understanding of English is really good. He actually spent a long year in the United States, and that has really helped him improve his English too.
You know my Japanese isn’t that good, so I was looking for the meaning of the new name, and when I searched it on Google I actually couldn’t find your project! I did find a lot of information about cherry blossoms though, so can I ask for your story behind the name?
龍 (RYU): I actually need some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) regarding that, I know! (laughs)
It’s actually a very popular name. “Somei Yoshino” is actually the most beautiful Sakura (cherry blossom) denomination of the variety. With this project I really want to express the Sakura, so that’s why I chose this name.
I see! You want to express the Sakura with your new project… But when I was looking at the new MV for “祇園-GION-“ I actually didn’t get this message at all. Was it because of the season you’ve filmed the MV in perhaps? Since Sakura trees don’t bloom in winter after all?
龍 (RYU): Well… The MV was filmed in December, during winter. I feel the need to shoot a music video during the worst time of the year, all the time. This time too.
Like I said already, I didn’t know any of the members until the MV shooting was about to start. One of my managers found these members. He also arranged the shooting location and the camera crew. I was very surprised to learn that everyone was really nice, since I didn’t meet them beforehand. I was nervous about strange people coming to the shooting and I was afraid I would be put off by it, but it all turned out fine and it was a big surprise. I met everyone for the first time that day, and it was a miracle. Like destiny.
The story of “祇園-GION-“ is all about love in Kyoto. “Gion” is the name of the land, and coincidentally it’s also a holy place in ancient India.
The Sakura featured in the music video is called “Kanzakura”, which means “cold Sakura blooming in winter”. The language of the Kanzakura is “smiling at you”. This expresses the story behind the song.
You’ve actually made several new songs for the very first release as “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)”, but why did you choose “祇園-GION-“ as the very first music video?
龍 (RYU): I actually arranged the music for this song all by myself. For “桜咲ク花ノ街 -Sakura saku Hana no machi” I had a co-arranger who played some of the song’s piano tracks for me. Like I said earlier in the interview already, from “祇園-GION-“ I have been doing the arranging by myself. I have been relearning music for five years now, but “祇園-GION-“ was the very first original song that I’ve done all on my own again. So that’s why I chose this song.
Mini-tour through Europe
I’ve mentioned in the introduction for this interview that you’ve recently been to Europe again, this time under your new name. In Germany you’ve attended the convention as a musician, but also as a teacher. You gave a workshop about the traditional Japanese flute that day. What was that experience like?
龍 (RYU): It was really fun to be a teacher, but it’s very difficult to play the Japanese flute for so many people at once. It’s really hard, and only 50% of the people who came to the workshop managed to get any sound out of the flute. It’s just a really difficult instrument.
I also want to make an instruction video for YouTube on how to play the Shino-bue flute in English sometime.
Despite having such a difficult instrument to teach, you would like to teach again in the future?
龍 (RYU): Yes. If people like it I will do it. Some people teach music at a school, but not online like this. So in a way it wouldn’t be as difficult for me as when I would be teaching a class directly.
You have a quite unique genre, even within the realm of ヴィジュアル系 (Visual Kei), but when you were in The Netherlands last October you shared the stage with “DEFINE ME” and “ZEROSHIKI”. Both bands make completely different music than you do, and one of them wasn’t even a “Japanese band”. Do you enjoy playing with artists from different genres, or would you rather play with an artist who’s music is closer to yours?
龍 (RYU): This was definitely a good thing. The one thing I really regret about this mini-tour is that I couldn’t bring all of the band members with me. I’m very happy about performing with them and performing with a backing track that fills their roles is just … different. It’s not the same. I do have to compliment the sound engineer that was at the Musicon venue that night. I think he did a really good job!
But to answer the question: I usually prefer to play with artists from other genres. There aren’t many bands that have a similar music style to mine, even in Japan. Some of them did gather a following, but it’s very hard to survive in this genre so most of them have quit by now. I also don’t like to be a copycat. When I play with another artist who’s music is different than mine it doesn’t make our bands sound too similar. I enjoy playing with any other style of music really.
You couldn’t bring the entire band, so this time only MASASHI came with you as a guitarist. He told me it was his very first time in Europe, but you’ve been here quite a few times now. Did you get to play tour guide for him here and there?
龍 (RYU): A little bit. I acted as a guide for him a few times, but like I mentioned earlier he has been in the United States for a while. He’s very independent and can get around by himself because his English is pretty good. If I would have brought anyone else I probably would have to do a lot more guiding, but with him everything was fine.
You’ve been here quite often, like I just said. But did you get to visit any new places during this mini-tour? Because I can’t imagine you’ve been everywhere already…
龍 (RYU): Yes. I visited … (pause) Versailles. I don’t know how to pronounce that correctly because the European pronunciations are really different from the Japanese one. Plus each country in Europe has it’s own pronunciation of it… But that’s a place I had not visited before. It was awesome. While I was there I made a video, and I will upload it to YouTube in the future.
This tour you didn’t only play the new songs you have created especially for “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)”. People who have seen you perform as “OROCHI” will for example recognize the song “Hannya”. What was the audience’s reaction to the mix of these old and new songs?
龍 (RYU): Some songs are indeed new, like “祇園-GION-“, “薄紅-USUBENI-“ and “ゆびきり-YUBIKIRI-“. Some people in the audience have visited my shows several times before, so I think they would know there are older songs. Especially since “Hannya” is so easy to remember.
Museums, history and samurai
I only have a few more questions, but in these questions I would like to ask about you, not about your projects specifically. Like, for example, why did you choose to be a musician rather than an office worker or something?
龍 (RYU): I was actually born into a samurai family. I’ve never been employed by anyone else. I love music, freedom and nature.
You’ve been playing in this genre for so long now, and like you said, it’s not the easiest one out there. But why did you choose this genre? What grasps your attention to keep working on it rather than switching genres entirely?
龍 (RYU): As a child I really liked to visit castles… But my mother was also a very strict parent. She didn’t allow me to read any manga. There is however a special manga that focuses on history. I believe this series has twenty books in total. But it teaches the reader about the history of the world, China and Japan. I’ve read these books so many times, but that partially was because it was the only manga I had. I’ve visited so many castles and one thing I really liked about them were the ancient Japanese “Yoroi” armors on display there. Of course the swords too. I’ve been to so many museums.
When I got older and went to college and university I played normal rock music. During that time I came across a poster that had five guys on it, they looked like they were musicians, but they were all wearing Ronin-style* kimonos. I saw this poster and thought it was really cool. I had a pop-band at that time and I sent them a photo I took of the poster. I was in Japan, but the band’s members were in Australia. I just liked the concept that much. All the people I made music with at that time agreed with me on this, and that’s how “OROCHI” was formed in December of that same year. This also changed me from a normal Japanese band singing pop songs in Australia to “OROCHI”’s style.
*Ronin were the poor type of samurai, who didn’t have a master.
You’ve also started to use your social media accounts more and more lately. Is there anything you want to share about them?
龍 (RYU): Social media have been getting more and more important lately. Compared to last year there is a lot more activity going on there already. Which I why I try to use mine more too. It’s still a process though. I also try to use English on my social media accounts so I can reach more people globally, and we can enjoy music together.
Sadly, this means we’ve reached the final question… So let’s do this! Do you have a message for everyone reading this interview?
龍 (RYU): A message for everyone? Thank you for reading my interview this time! We will return! I think I will make more videos and posts on social media in English in the future, so more people can join in on the music. I will also sing a few songs in English soon…
A bonus feature…
Like mentioned in the interview, during the last mini-tour through Europe 龍 (RYU) was accompanied by MASASHI, one of the new support members for “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)”. I asked him if he had something he wanted to share about his very first visit to Europe as well, and you’ve probably already guessed, but he did!
MASASHI: Everything I have been given while touring in Europe was so awesome! All of you that I have met made my very first time in Europe absolutely amazing.
Thank you so much for welcoming us, thank you for loving Japanese music and Japanese culture! I really hope to come back again in the future!
I walked around in the towns we’ve visited during our time off, and I actually got lost one time. I asked the people around me, and I was shocked by how nice they were to me despite my bright green hair! I really appreciated their kindness. The food was absolutely delicious too, the buildings were amazing… I already miss those moments so much…
MASASHI of course also has his own social media accounts, to which he often uploads a guitar cover of songs from X JAPAN, Acid Black Cherry and so on. If this interests you, you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter!