Chapter 2:

"Love Is Dead"

VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~


That was THE place for fashion in Harajuku, right?

The land of cheap rent in an unpopular area where alt fashion brands could make a home.

Now it’s full of chains and tourist stuff… There’s even a WcRonalds!

I mean, I guess there’s some fashion going on, but it’s more watered down. Like going into a Hot Subject and seeing the change from the height of 00’s Goth, down to Emo, and then now.

How could those FRUIT books have lied to me?

There was the Gothic Lolita dedicated edition, and several mixed street fashion ones - full of decora, gyaru, and more - but punk and V-Kei appeared in both.

“Hhhhhhhhhhhh… I need a break…”

After a despondent onigiri from FamilyMarket to bring up my blood sugar - maybe that’s why I’m getting so heated - I decide to put off exploring the wider area for another day.

I feel too let down after a decade of build up to carry on right now. I need time to regroup and research what’s still going and where…

Maybe they’ve all moved? Found somewhere cheaper, more hipster, less commercialised… Yeah, that’ll be it!


The looming threat of the last few years hangs over my head like a personal rain-cloud. So many businesses everywhere went under. Why would Japan be any different? It’s not immune just because I love it!


Stay positive, or your negative thoughts will make themselves reality. They got through it, same as you did. The clothes are out there, just waiting for me to find them!

It’s not all about the fashion either… It’s the music too!

Feeling a little better - maybe it was my blood sugar - I set my sights on the greatest venue of all time…


“N… n… no.”


“I-it can’t be!”


“…it’s closed…”

My stomach sinks.

An overload of emotions hit me all at once.

Cold waves flood over me. Nausea and vertigo. I want to scream and cry at the death of a loved one I never met, but knew and cared for deeply. How could ARENA die?!.

What happened to their wall of fame? The Mount Rushmore of J-Rock!

Just the forgotten ghosts of Visual Kei past in a boarded up basement.

My despair is immeasurable, and my life is ruined.

I squat down - as if giving homage to the fallen - and frantically look up what happened on my phone.

“They’re really gone!”

Closed during lockdown.

“I missed their final show...”

Is that it?

Did the plague wipe out all the small businesses and venues I came here for?!.


I aimlessly wander the streets, stopping only to grab some Uranium C to drink from a vending machine.

Crack, fizz, gulp, sigh…

Not even my favourite beverage here can shift this mood.

After countless quiet alleyways, between two university campuses, I walk back through Shinjuku, and my feet finally give out.

I look up while leaning against a wall, the waning sky and a familiar name come into focus before me.


My heart leaps.

I’m at the steps of another legendary live-house, and [tentatively, I check the billboard] they’re [hopefully, I check the website] OPEN!!!

Let's gooooo~

I could cry with joy and relief!

I don’t recognise a single band on the bill, but I don’t care. They’re about to open too, so I can be the first to grab a ticket, and just people watch while everyone files in. Excited and expectant of the parade of costumes that will be on show from the audience alone, not to mention the bands, I blunder through buying my ticket.

I clutch the stub to my chest like a comforter, shuffling into SHINJUKU LOAF behind a small group of college students.

They gather at one side, chatting away. I catch snippets of their conversation with my newly minted upper-intermediate Japanese - JLPT N2 as of this year - and find an unobtrusive place near the back to not block anyone’s view.

I’m big in Japan, so it would be rude to get in the way.

For a random weeknight, midsummer, the venue becomes relatively packed, even though the audio techs haven’t done their thing yet.

They scurry about like mice in metal T-shirts, checking instead of nibbling on the wires.

I decide to grab a drink before it’s too full to move, and sidle back to my nook in the wall, beer in hand.

The music hasn’t even started, and... I’m disappointed.

Not a single person dressed up.

Everyone is in more modern street styles, baggy pants and long hoodies, but a lot are just kinda normal looking, even by Japanese fashion standards. A few have some grunge or techware elements going on, but none of it has that drama and excess of visual-kei.

Oh! A Lolita! More classic than gothic, but I don’t recognise the cut or print. Maybe it’s BODYVINE?

The line-up is probably normie friendly, all the usual kind of indie rock sounding bands that get anime theme song record deals… I mean, AVA and Rin Toshite Shigure are kinda good. I get their appeal, mixing genres or having that math rock vibe, but it’s not what I’m here for.

I’m here for the classics!

Obviously, there’s no way the surviving legends of the genre will be at an indie venue these days, but the next generation of Visual Kei stars could be!

Even if the crowd disappoints, I get fidgety with anticipation for the bands.

I’ve barely touched my beer, but they’re serving Sapporo Super Star, so I couldn’t not.

I come up with a white moustache as the first act takes to the stage. A group of girls setting up camp at the very front cheer in chorus. Must be their turn to go to war.

They’re preppy.

I get the seishun thing just listening to their self introduction.

Every song is the same.

Every band and member and fan, rotating in and out of the crowd, is indistinguishable to me.

Three bands deep, two more to go.

Only halfway through a now lukewarm beer.

Its cooling bitterness become cloying and astringent.

I finish it off and take the chance to return the plastic cup to the bar while on my way to the bathroom… might as well whilst it’s still quiet before this band ends.

Checking myself in the mirror, I’m relieved that my make-up hasn’t run much. I touch up the edges with my liquid liner, but I wasn’t wearing a lot to begin with, because of the heat.

I readjust my hair and make sure my outfit hasn’t wrinkled or twisted.

“You paid for a ticket, you’re staying to the end. You’ll smile and clap as appropriate. Show them the respect they deserve for getting up on that stage. It’s not their fault you came to the wrong gig for you.”

My little pep talk makes my heart feel lighter.

I slide back to my place at the wall. People having been polite enough to leave it for me.

A little negative voice in my head nitpicks away, suggesting that it’s a radiation cordon against the giant freak at the back, but I bury it down.

The fourth band is a little more lively, faster paced songs, more frenetic play style, but still as major chord melody driven as the others.

I grab another drink before the break again.

I’d given up on people watching, but some motion in the mostly still crowd catches my attention.

“Yo! What?”

There’s some guy having a one man mosh pit right in the middle.

It’s the most polite mosh pit I’ve ever seen, but he’s still going for it!

He doesn’t bump into anyone, very aware of his surroundings, always swaying and swerving out of the way of others if he stumbles too far one way or another while dancing.

I can’t peel my eyes away.

It’s just such a surreal sight.

He’s like if I had the confidence to get out there and move to music.

His long, long, black hair, filled with dark flame in the strobing lights.

Through gaps in the audience, as people start to give him space like they did me, I get a better glimpse of his outfit.

I am stunned into slack jawed awe.

This madman has turned up to a mainstream rock concert in eroguro, all latex and leather, straps and studs and slits. Like he’s some lost member of SuicideAlley from their early days.

I need to talk to him!

Where did he get that perfect outfit?

Maybe he can be my guide to all things visual kei that have survived the plague!


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