ad info

 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


The death of rock star Matsumoto Hideto
has exposed the schisms in Japanese life

By Alexandra A. Seno and Murakami Mutsuko / TOKYO

MAY 7 WAS THE hottest day of the year in Tokyo, with temperatures soaring to an unseasonal 27.6 degrees Celsius. Despite this, some 50,000 teenagers solemnly filed out of subway exits to line kilometers of sidewalk near the Ginza business district. Many brought flowers - the cloying scent lingering in the station for hours after. Some of the youngsters wore their hair dyed red, blond or light brown and nearly everybody dressed in black for mourning. The throng had come to say goodbye to their scarlet-tressed rock idol, Matsumoto Hideto.

Matsumoto, 33, died in the early hours of May 2. After a night's drinking, he was found hanged by a towel tied to a doorknob in his apartment in the swish Minami Azabu district of Tokyo. His death - still unexplained and the subject of much speculation - touched an exposed nerve in Japan, once again revealing the chasm between the country's young and their parents.

Better known as "hide" (pronounced hee-day, and with a small h), Matsumoto played lead guitar with the now-defunct rock group X Japan - a five-member band that had a passionate following among teenagers, but which most adults had never even heard of. In a country where conformity is everything, X Japan were different. Their style was Visual Rock - an in-your-face attitude that combined flamboyant dressing and an angry sound that rejected the cookie-cutter principles of Japanese society. The group, which sold millions of albums, broke up with a farewell concert at the Tokyo Dome on the last day of last year.

Hide was not the band's leader, but he was in some ways its spiritual center. He wrote few of the group's numbers, but his compositions often set the tone of alienation and frustration for which X Japan was revered. Often more level-headed than the others, he was known as the calm member of the group - though he was apparently a heavy drinker and sometimes given to angry outbursts. If he went too far, say fellow band members, he would normally make peace the next day by saying he could remember nothing.

Hide's death produced scenes of grief and hysteria not witnessed for a music star since the war. As the hearse with his body passed through the streets of Tokyo, fans several deep at the roadside called out "Sayonara!" Their wailing mingled with the sirens of ambulances scurrying back and forth along the route to pick up the dozens who fainted. Nearly 60 had to be taken to hospital and some 200 received medical treatment in make-shift first-aid tents.

No one disputes that hide died by his own hand, but many believe it was somehow accidental. In the days of media coverage that followed his death, commentators and doctors suggested alcohol was to blame. They pointed out that there was no suicide note. Not only that, hide was beginning to shape a career as a solo artist. His Rocket Dive album sold nearly half a million copies, and two singles, "Pink Spider" and "Ever Free," were scheduled for release this month. A major tour of Japanese cities was also being planned. "I believe hide's death was an accident," said X Japan leader Hayashi Yoshiki at a hastily called press conference the night before the funeral. Sensing the worst, he appealed to the guitarist's fans: "Please do not follow him. Do not commit suicide. Please see him off to heaven warmly."

It was not to be. Within days of the rocker's death, three girls killed themselves in copycat suicides. The first victim, aged 15, was found hanging in her bedroom - described as virtually a shrine to hide - in Chofu. She died in hospital May 7. That same day, a 14-year-old killed herself in Hiroshima and a 17-year-old died in a hotel room in Osaka. Two other girls tried unsuccessfully to take their own lives. One, wearing an orange shirt emblazoned with the rocker's name, jumped off a bridge near Tokyo, and the other cut her wrists at a Tokyo funeral wake for the musician. With the grieving still going on, more deaths are feared.

The anguish over hide comes in the wake of growing official concern over suicides and violent crimes by Japanese schoolchildren. Latest statistics show that nearly one death in seven involving youngsters between the ages 15 and 19 is by suicide. The number rises to about one in four for those between 20 and 24. In a recent study, a Tokyo psychiatrist, Dr. Sekiya Tohru, noted a sharp increase in depression among young Japanese. "There is a craving-to-die syndrome," he said. "Sufferers are scared to die, but they are reluctant to live. Such a mood is spreading in society."

Disc jockey Yanai Maki thinks many fans saw in hide the rebel society would not allow them to be. The hostess of one of the most popular radio shows in the Tokyo area, she says: "Often with no one they can trust at school or at home, they identified with someone like hide."

A tearful Kojima Tsuneo was among those on the street the day Matsumoto was laid to rest. "I survived my toughest times because of hide," the 16-year-old schoolboy said. "He gave me courage." Hisano Yumi, 15, was outside Matsumoto's parents' house, waiting for his ashes to arrive. Clutching a bouquet of white lilies, she said: "This is a very important day for me - a day for me to thank him for helping me continue my life."

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.