HIROSHIMA - “Adults are stupid,” says Shinji Okoda, who is better known in Hiroshima as “Guy,” the vocalist for hardcore punk band Origin of M and owner of Disk Shop Misery and Bloodsucker Records. At 52, he certainly appears to have some authority in the matter.
Just one night earlier he was crowd-surfing while simultaneously screaming into a microphone at To Future, an annual concert he helps organize that marks the Aug. 6 atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
At this moment, however, he’s sipping coffee and relaxing at a restaurant downtown.
“As you grow up,” he adds, with far more articulation than you’d expect from a “stupid adult,” “your mind gets filled with garbage. Children understand things instinctively. You show them an image of Aug. 6, 1945, and they know instantly that it should never happen again. It’s only when you think deeply that war becomes ‘necessary.'”
Yet ironically, the subject of the atomic bombing has always existed within the Hiroshima punk scene the same way an irradiated elephant might occupy the slam pit at a bar show — awkwardly, and with a high likelihood of making you spill your drink.
“Of course bands had songs about the bombing,” Guy recalls, “even in the early days.” Sure enough, the first two flexi discs by Japanese band Gas, in 1983 and 1984 respectively, were called “No More Hiroshima” and “The Day After” (meaning the day after the bombing). Yet Guy’s opinion on whether the inspiration for those kinds of songs stemmed from being Hiroshima bands, or from the fact that “cool British bands” like Crass and Discharge were doing it, comes reluctantly.
“In the early days, probably because foreign bands were doing it,” he admits. “But those foreign bands never played in Hiroshima. Now Hiroshima bands are talking about war and nuclear issues in a way that’s genuinely linked to their roots in the city.” However, when asked what precipitated that change, Guy dodges the question like a studded gazelle bounding past a Bengal tiger.
Hiroshima punks are nothing if not modest.
“It’s all because of Guy,” says Ryohey Nasu, or “Nass,” owner of Dumb Records and drummer of Hiroshima’s longest-standing punk act, the So-Cho Pistons. Although he joined the Pistons in 1995, they actually started in ’85.
“That’s a long time to be in a nonselling band,” the 44-year-old says with a laugh. But as a result, he knows the Hiroshima punk scene like the back of his kick drum.
“Being against war is a very normal thing,” he says. “I mean, everybody thinks war sucks. So when bands have that message only as a fashion, it’s just repeating the obvious. But recently, bands in Hiroshima are adopting a more authentic anti-war and anti-nuclear message that’s coming from the heart of Hiroshima itself, and Guy is the driving force behind that change. Personally, I think it’s a very good thing.”
Yet despite his warm sentiments on the matter, the Pistons themselves have no messages of the kind. Or, for that matter, anything in their lyrics which could be said to identify them as a Hiroshima band.
“Not that I’m an expert,” he says with a laugh. “I’m just the drummer.”
When pressed on the matter, Nass simply shrugs. “Of course we love Hiroshima, and this town is a huge part of who we are. But it’s not necessary to say it in our music. We play pure punk — three-chord, eighth-note, simple punk rock. With so many punk variations out there these days, someone’s got to carry that torch.
“And besides,” he adds without the slightest hint of irony, “it’s really hard to talk about nuclear stuff in Hiroshima.”
“In Japan, the hurdle is really high for being political, especially for young people,” Guy explains. “One wrong word and people attack you — even people who ultimately agree with you. And exploiting your image as a victim to gain popularity is pure nonsense. Sure, it will sell, but doing it that way is disgusting.
“In Nagasaki, too, you won’t see any hardcore bands with a ‘No more Nagasaki’ message. I say this with the deepest respect, but it’s much easier for bands like Crass to sing about it because for them it’s a ‘distant tragedy.’ But if they sang ‘Nagasaki Nightmare’ in Nagasaki — not just for punks, but for atomic bomb survivors — that would be real political action.”
And for Guy, taking action is the bottom line. “Being political means actually doing something.”
Guy first became interested in nuclear issues after reading “Barefoot Gen” (a manga set in 1945 Hiroshima), and hearing the stories of hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors) as a boy. When he was 19, he started playing in the Hiroshima hardcore band Gudon, but lacked the confidence to get political.
It wasn’t until he turned 39 that he made up his mind to become openly political and started working with a hibakusha organization, which included protesting outside nuclear power plants. But the more politically active he became, the more people in the punk scene distanced themselves from him.
“Pretty soon I found myself alone,” he admits.
Unlike the punk and hardcore scenes in Europe and America (where protests, punk and politics frequently attend shows as congenitally joined triplets), rocking the boat in Japan usually gets you thrown overboard. Japan, after all, is the country that gave us the phrase, “Deru kui wa utareru” (“The nail that sticks out gets hammered down”).
But punk is, by its definition, that one stubborn nail that you just can’t hammer down — no matter how hard you try. Guy certainly looks like he can take the social beating.
“I don’t belong to any groups or organizations, but I still attend meetings with hibakusha, and participate as I can,” he says. In other words, he’s just a good old-fashioned, grass-roots, punk rock activist.
You know, like how you see pretty much everywhere other than in Japan.
“For me, hardcore comes first. It’s who I am.” But in classic punk tradition, Guy sees his music as a wake-up call — both for anyone who cares to listen, and for himself.
“By screaming,” he says, “I can refresh my mind.” And as far as he’s concerned, that’s the best reason to do it. “I mean really, who likes this music?! Certainly not pretty ladies,” he adds with a scoff. “Harcdore is reaction. It’s shouting ‘Ow!!!’ when you feel pain. Playing punk of any kind is a way of reconnecting with that simpler, clearer frame of mind.”
“The pure, childlike mind that isn’t influenced by many things is the best,” he says with all the sagacity of a punk-rock monk. “The honesty in punk and hardcore comes from that purity.”
When asked if the Pistons will ever have a song about Hiroshima, war or nuclear issues, Nass answers immediately,
“When the time comes, we’d really like to, he says. “But for now, I don’t know if we’re good enough to be able to contribute anything meaningful.” This from one of the tightest and longest playing bands in the nation.
Hiroshima punks are nothing if not modest.
As for Guy, he’s determined to keep screaming.
“When adults can finally view the world the way children do,” he says, “at that moment war will disappear.”
Two punk pockets
Disk Shop Misery (2-7 Fukuromachi, Naka Ward), founded in 1993, offers an international selection of punk and hardcore in vinyl, CD and T-shirt form. Flyers for almost every upcoming show are on display.
Dumb Records (5-15 Mikawacho, Naka Ward) opened in 2005 and offers a new and classic punk alongside delicious food, fresh coffee and draft beer. And if you like your punk (or drinks) a bit stiffer, they’ve got that too.