A Japanese person who ventures overseas under their own steam to try their luck in the global market is known as a ‘samurai’. Three years ago, locally renowned guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei took up the challenge, leaving his rock-solid reputation in Japan behind and relocating with his family to London. While there are many ‘samurai musicians’ who find success overseas, taking the risk at the age of 50 is something else. Having just celebrated his 53rd birthday this year, it seems Hotei has taken a philosophical approach to the move, saying, ‘I’ve reset everything here. Now, I actually feel close to how I did back when my band first debuted.’
Hotei had dreamed of living in London since his teens, and his musical roots can clearly be traced to the style of British bands from the ’80s. ‘I became addicted to glam rock at the age of 14; I have always loved the unique, artistic, and fashionable rock ’n’ roll in the UK… David Bowie, Jesus Jones, Sigue Sigue Sputnik...’
These days, Hotei gets to share a stage with the very musicians who influenced him. In 2015, he played alongside post-punk group Gang of Four, who formed in 1977. ‘At the Gang of Four concert, in which I played as a guest artist, the opening act was Lonelady. You could tell that the female vocal lead had also inherited her style from the postpunk era… The British approach to instruments is very raw; they don’t try to manipulate the sound too much. Instead, they create rhythm at the moment the guitar is heard. I get the feeling they really dislike processed music.’
This spring, Hotei signed with record label Spinefarm Records/Universal Music, and he’s just put the finishing touches on his debut international album, ‘Strangers’. The album features guest artists such as Iggy Pop, Matt Tuck from Bullet for My Valentine, Richard Z. Kruspe from Emigrate/Rammstein, Shea Seger, and Noko from Apollo 440, who also supports Hotei at live concerts. ‘Noko, the guitarist for Apollo 440, has the same birthday as me. Our backgrounds are also really similar. I feel like he is my UK alter ego; like he instinctively senses what I want to do. It’s a big deal for me that he’s at my side.’
When it comes to music production, rather than push his Japanese sensibilities, Hotei has focused on immersing himself in the London way. ‘I asked a few London producers for help, and I became, as we say in Japan, a carp on the cutting board, letting them prepare what I provided however they saw fit. For example, they might tell me during recording that this or that guitar solo is too long [laughs]. They are very cut and dried about eliminating material. It would be hard for anyone in Japan to say that kind of thing.’
So what prompted Hotei to finally make the break? As times change, so does the significance of Japanese artists moving overseas – we are beginning to seek out new inspirations. ‘Japan has a lot of interesting and beautiful things, including entertainment. You don’t have to bother going abroad to find enough enjoyment; the Japanese are content with what they have,’ says Hotei. Yet it’s exactly this that led him to leave his home, to regain some of the edge that he’d lost in the belly of his comfort zone. And London, the city of his dreams, was the ideal place to kickstart his creativity.
'Strangers' is out on October 16. For more info, visit www.hotei.com.
This article appears in the autumn 2015 issue of Time Out Tokyo magazine. Get it here.