Meet Seon Thomas: Visual Kei Insider, Model and Artist in Tokyo

Thomas and I met at fashion school in Paris in 2012.

He was that dark brown-haired, tall and quite attractive young man with an alluring dark sense of style. My intuition (that is always on point) told me something about his overall brash attitude and allure told me he was into Japanese Visual Kei, suspicion that got confirmed as soon as I overheard him have a phone conversation in fluent Japanese. It piqued my interest and we engaged in a discussion and then we ended becoming friends.

I remember having a lot of fun discussing with him about all this Japanese culture thingy since, as you may guess, not much fashion students were into that kind of stuff. It was really enjoyable to get a teaser of his huge knowledge about the Japanese music industry since he already had some professional acquaintances there (especially within the Visual Kei scene). A few months later, he dropped out of school to pursue a modeling career in Japan.

We remained in contact fairly well the following years, which is quite miraculous since he didn’t come back in Paris until the last few month for a few weeks vacation. The occasion brought up the chance for me to ask him few questions about how his professional life went during all these years and his personal outlook about the Japanese music industry and especially the Visual Kei scene.

Check out the interview below!

Hasawa : Hi Thomas! Could you please tell us why you left France to live and work in Japan?

Thomas : I was already into J-music here in France, but at the beginning I didn’t have any ambition to learn Japanese or to live in Japan someday. I tend to think it’s a bit ‘cliché’ for any ‘Japanese culture fan’ to think that way. I ended up in Japan simply because opportunities came up for me and things led to another naturally. I felt like it was a good timing for my career.

Hasawa : You went to Japan a few times before living there definitively. How was that?

Thomas: I had already been in Japan twice. First time for 3 weeks before going definitively to live there. I rented a room in a guest house. I was like “I want to know more about Visual Kei (especially at a time when there wasn’t many information available about that music genre, even on the web) Let’s go there and see what I can find“.
But since I had no specific purpose of coming into Japan other than music and wasn’t in the mood to do touristy stuff, I was a lonely White dude roaming around aimlessly in Tokyo. Besides, the informations I got about Japan from a friend before my trip, especially about the weather, were all wrong (thanks man, haha!)
I was totally unprepared about a lot of things. I didn’t have a phone or a laptop. I was bored… In one word: a noob. For a few days, I really hated Tokyo.

Hasawa: So you traveled 9000+ kilometers and went to Japan for 3 weeks all by yourself…for no reason..?

Thomas:  I already had professional contacts in Japan. It had already been 2 years since I began working into the J-music scene in France, such as organizing events, concerts, translating articles, creating spaces and forums on the web for Visual Kei fans to gather up, etc… The scene was booming at the time. I only came to Japan for the music. My background was metal and goth music, and like most of the fans at that time I came to Visual Kei because I found something that seemed close but different in the same time.

I was interested in Visual Kei as a music subculture and I was really motivated to get to know the whys and wherefores of this scene on the spot.

After 1 week in, I finally met up a woman for whom I already worked for a translation piece and was actually one of the biggest writer of the Visual Kei scene. She brought me in at a concert of Nightmare who was at their final date of their tour. Usually in Japan after a gig, especially on final dates, there is an after show speech and sometimes a party with all or part of the band crew and some friends. It was an occasion for me to go full-on insider in the scene and meet a lot of people like editor-in-chief of the magazine SHOXX at that time. I also remember sharing some words, with the help of my friend translating, with Tatsuro the vocalist of MUCC. It was pretty awesome. Finally me and my friend ended up in a very Japanese kind of street restaurant having a very passionate talk about Visual Kei.

Hasawa: So by the end, your first stay in Japan wasn’t that bad?

Thomas: Yeah. This experience brought a drastic positive change in my experience in Japan. And a bunch of other good experiences ensued. I’ve had the opportunity to meet other musicians, some staff members and to get a precious knowledge from them.

I came back the following year for 2 months. With the realization that if I didn’t speak Japanese I couldn’t do anything there, I had learned Japanese by myself. I attended a lot of gigs, especially from indie bands, and deepened my whole knowledge concerning the Visual Kei scene through expanding my professional network.

toma3

“I only came to Japan for the music”

Hasawa: Could you tell us more about the indie scene in Japan?

Thomas: Throughout my experience in Japan I didn’t deal with THE Japanese indie scene, but rather the indie scene INSIDE the Visual Kei scene.

I’m no expert about French indie music, but I think there is the same amalgam here; when we say “indie scene” we think about “independent artists,” but in my opinion not all small artists are necessarily “independent” and they don’t necessarily belong to the same scene. “Indie scene” doesn’t mean anything. Each scene has its own actual independent artists and each indie scene has its own major. But yeah, I’ve spent a lot of time inside the Indie Japanese Visual Kei scene.

Hasawa: Did you feel like there were a difference between how Visual Kei was perceived in France and how it actually is in Japan? Once you experience it yourself, did you ever think “Oh I didn’t expect it worked that way“?

Thomas: Certainly, but I don’t remember that well. It’s been so long since I made sure to correct these false ideas.
Maybe how many bands that were considered major here in France were actually indies. The music industry system in Japan is more complex than in the West.

Hasawa: What’s the difference between an indie and a major band then?

Thomas: The main difference is that you’re either get signed on a major company (only three remaining in the world currently), an entity that is independent of these majors, or you are independent as an artist and not signed anywhere. You probably have advantages in each of the status, and even combine some of them. For example, Dir en Grey are indie because their label (Freewill) is independent, but they are distributed by a major. Honestly, this is quite complex and messy…

In Europe and US we tend to use only the term ‘label’  most of the time, and sometimes ‘record company’. I think that’s not wrong at all. In Japan, in most of the cases, it’s a bit more complicated. There are 3 different entities: the ‘Production’ (or jimusho / agency), the ‘Label’, and the ‘Record kaisha‘ (record company). The production is in charge of the management of the artist, the label produce the CDs and the record company distributes and sells the CDs.
Debating whether who is major and who is indie is in my opinion only a matter of point of view. Some people will think in term of production while other in term of distribution.

But to sum up things, I realized the term “indie” was way more vast than I expected and that being in major didn’t really mean anything in the way I thought about at that time.

Now I remember another thing that I realized only once I settled in Japan.

In the Visual Kei scene, there is a term called “kote kote” which means “bold”, “heavy” or “fat”. The subgenre that ensued is called Kote Kei which is often affiliated to the ‘old school’ look of old Visual Kei bands, with vinyl, colored hair, SM-inspired accessories. However, a bunch of other bands from the late 90s’ to the early 00s’ like MALICE MIZER, LaReine, Moi Dix Mois, are widely assimilated to this visual subgenre despite their blatant baroque and romantic imagery, which is pretty disconcerting first since both style were very different. But once you acknowledge the etymological origin of this term, it made sense actually.

There is also another subgenre called Oshare Kei. In the West, the most famously known band said to be embracing this style was An Cafe, which is absolutely not true.

Hasawa: Why?

Thomas: When I talked to someone who was into the Visual scene for a long time about Oshare Kei, he answered “Oh, like Plastic Tree?” Taken aback I replied “No, like An Cafe“, and then this is him who got confused.

Actually Oshare means “being on trend“. It doesn’t imply any particular style, while in the West this word has been used to describe a very colorful rockish style. We don’t have the same definition here in Japan.

I’m not sure if one could consider An Cafe as ‘fashionable‘, whereas Plastic Tree‘s ‘dark fashion’ sticks better with the accurate definition of Oshare.

Hasawa: Well, that’s up for interpretation.

Thomas: Thing is, fashion comes and goes.  A band that is ‘on trend’ at a time, will be ‘out’ later. Thus its representation is pretty fluctuating.

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  • Comments

    • I was right about Becky and Enon being different kinds of entertainers, hence them being treated differently! http://i.imgur.com/dsUZVTy.gif

      • hasawa

        Honestly one of the most interesting things in interviewing him was how dispassionated his point of view was about a lot of topics that inversely caused a lot of fuzz and extraness here in the West. Japanese people seem to be more chill on this point.

        • kamben is here

          Honestly, I can’t help but literally go WTF almost every time I read comments here on Arama (and elsewhere) and see how most westerners (I believe) like to point out ‘gender bias’ when it comes to such scandals like Enon/Becky’s. I have been following the japanese showbiz for more than ten years now, and I know that there are different kinds of entertainers there. They get treated differently and stuff. Gender bias never comes to my mind at all when I read such scandals lol. Gender equality is never a big thing here in my country and some parts of this world ^^

          I don’t know if it has anything to do with me being an asian myself, but I very rarely disagree with the japanese – the way they manage their artists, drugs, etc. My country bans marijuana and such too, so the news about Koki, for example, did make me feel ugh a bit.

          Btw, I’m looking forward to the next part. Thanks for sharing this :)

          • hasawa

            I feel you sooo much about the reactions about all these users screaming about sexism about the Enon/Becky scandal. It’s like people couldn’t grasp the fact that being a woman didn’t give a free pass to fuck up and grab a “victom of sexism” card at convenience. It’s not like male entertainers never had their career destroyed because of scandal ; it only depends of their status in the entertainment scene.
            Also, i totally get you about this whole extraness ensuing from a very specific culture. My French ass is very active on tumblr and i can definitively tell as well that this whole extraness and irrationality to bring feelings FIRST is very American (Descartes was French and rationality has always been put forward in the traditional French way of reasoning). With this whole SJW/snowflake culture slowly corrupting the public discussion i’m utterly baffled to see Americans netizen being so extra about gender and all those snowflake topics that have indeed never been a huge thing here as well…until fairly recently, thanks to American cultural imperialism~

            Japanese seem to have a very rational way of reacting to this kind of stuff, and i really like it. It changes from the usual american full-on emotional extraness.

            • iGleaux

              I’m getting tired of people whining about “SJW”. I also don’t think treating entertainers different because one is in a band one is a talent as “more rational” but at this point in life everyone annoys me so whatever.

              • hasawa

                Well, if you actually looked up the damages or of sjw culture debiliting any discourse with ‘feelings’ you’d probably understand why they are unanimously hated and mocked.
                Also, if you can’t understand that a TV personality capitalizing on her own image to sell has more responsibilites to cater a good public image than a random musician whose personality is not his main selling point is actually more rational than screaming “SEXISM!!”, i can’t do anything more….

                • iGleaux

                  I’ve sat back and watched this whole “SJW” and while some take things too far (when you can just ignore them they aren’t physically hurting anyone like the opposite) most people are just mad that they can’t be openly racist etc. I don’t care about Becky or Enon. My point was the Japanese way of viewing it isn’t rational either in my eyes.

    • Midna

      Oooh this is very interesting!! Can’t wait for part 2 :D

    • eeeee

      i don’t know if this is quoted from him, but shouldn’t it be “i came TO Japan for the music” not “i came IN Japan for the music”. sorry it’s written twice and the grammar is bothering me a lot.

      • hasawa

        Sorry, english is not my first language! Thank you from brining this up! It’s been fixed ;-)

    • Welp

      Can’t wait for part 2 :)

    • Thomas

      (Not to be confused with the Arama! Japan writer)

      • Bubi.

        lmao i thought this at first

      • Reileen

        When hasawa told us about this, i had a few confusing seconds thinking this is you!

        • Thomas

          omg I am not worthy!

    • Dalooshe

      That’s a fun interesting read! Looking forward to the second part :))

    • Thomas

      Thanks for the insightful interview :)!

    • yamakita

      Sorry for being a fujoshi here, but the intro reads like a yaoi intro.

      • hasawa

        lol i’m not a guy and Thomas ain’t gay ;-)

    • I placed this on the sidebar! Hopefully it gets more eyes reading this

    • kashiyuka

      I’ve read this and I still don’t quite get who this is and how he’s an insider and “model’

      • hasawa

        Thomas will tell more about his model job on the part 2 of the interview!
        He’s not a “model” but a legit model : he’s signed in a japanese model agency.
        As for his insights about the Vkei scene as it’s been said in the interview, it’s been fomerly organizing (from France) Vkei-related events, spaces and concerts + making working relationships with the japanese Vkei scene through these activities. Now in Japan, since he’s been busy being a model he’s settling for attending a huge amount of Vkei concerts and expanding his contacts in the milieu. He’s doing music as well, which is something i completely set aside of the interview to focus on his main occupations. But I do not leave the idea of eventually making another interview in the future to go further into his different activites and be more specific about it.