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[[File:Malice Mizer - Gekka No Yasoukyoku.jpg|200px|thumb|right|[[Malice Mizer]] were particularly known for their visual image which included elaborate costumes.]]

Visual kei (ヴィジュアル系, bijuaru kei, lit. "visual style" or "visual system") is a movement among Japanese musicians,[1][2] that is characterized by the use of make-up, elaborate hair styles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics.[3][4] Some sources state that visual kei refers to a music genre, or to a sub-genre of Japanese rock,[5][6] with its sound usually related to glam rock, punk rock and heavy metal.[7][8][9][10] However other sources state that visual kei is only a fashion, with its unique clothing, make-up and participation in the related subculture being what exemplifies the use of the term.[11][12][13]


First wave[edit]

Visual kei emerged in the early 1980s, pioneered by bands such as X Japan, D'erlanger, Buck-Tick and Color.[14] The term visual kei is believed to come from one of X Japan's slogans, "Psychedelic violence crime of visual shock".[15] Color vocalist Dynamite Tommy formed his record company Free-Will in 1986, which has been a major contributor in spreading modern visual kei outside Japan.[14] Under Code Production, a sub-label of Free-Will founded by Kisaki, since its formation in 2003 has had a definite influence on newer independent visual kei bands, particularly in Osaka.[citation needed]

Second wave[edit]

In 1992, X Japan tried to launch an attempt to enter the American market, but it fell through. It would take another 8 years until popularity and awareness of visual kei bands would extend worldwide.[4] In the mid 1990s, visual kei received an increase in popularity throughout Japan, and album sales from visual kei bands started to reach record numbers. The most notable bands to achieve success during this period included X Japan, Glay, and Luna Sea; however, a drastic change in their appearance accompanied their success.[14] During the same period other bands, such as Kuroyume, Malice Mizer, and Penicillin, gained mainstream awareness, although they were not as commercially successful.[14] By 1999, the mainstream popularity of visual kei was declining; X Japan had disbanded, and in 2000, Luna Sea decided to disband.[14]


Third wave[edit]

In 2007 the genre was revitalized, as Luna Sea performed a one-off performance, and X Japan reunited for a new single and a world tour. With these developments, visual kei bands enjoyed a boost in public awareness, described by some media as "neo-visual kei".[14][16] New bands still use visual kei to describe themselves, some examples of current mainstream bands are Versailles, Nightmare, and The Gazette.[citation needed]


Visual kei has enjoyed popularity among independent underground projects, as well as artists achieving mainstream success, with influences from Western phenomena, such as glam, goth and cyberpunk.[4][17] The music performed encompasses a large variety of genres, i.e. punk, metal, pop and electronica.[1][4] Magazines published regularly in Japan with visual kei coverage are Arena 37°C, Cure, Fool's Mate and Shoxx. Noted bands who at least at some point sported a visual kei theme include Dir En Grey,[2] Luna Sea[18] and Malice Mizer.[19] The popularity and awareness of such groups outside of Japan has seen an increase in recent years.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "International Music Feed feature "J Rock"". Retrieved 2007-07-31. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b Monger, James Christopher. "Allmusic biography of Dir en grey". Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  3. ^ Strauss, Neil (1998-06-18). "The Pop Life: End of a Life, End of an Era". Retrieved 2007-07-31. 
  4. ^ a b c d Reesman, Brian (2006-11-30). "Kabuki Rock". Retrieved 2007-08-07. [dead link]
  5. ^ Heinrich, Sally (2006). Key Into Japan. Curriculum Corporation. p. 80. ISBN 1-86366-772-5. 
  6. ^ Yun, Josephine (2005). jrock, ink.: a concise report on 40 of the biggest rock acts in Japan. Stone Bridge Press. ISBN 1-880656-95-7. 
  7. ^ "visual kei is a branch of Japanese rock (affectionately referred to by fans as J-Rock)... it aims to experiment with various established genres such as rock, punk, metal, goth and glam in an attempt to create a wholly new sound." For those about to J-Rock by Subha Arulvarathan, the Carillon, March 15, 2006, Issue 20 Volume 48, official student newspaper of the University of Regina.
  8. ^ "Josephine Yun, author of the book Jrock, Ink., explains that visual kei originated in the late 1970s and early 1980s as Japan's rock scene began cultivating its own identity. 'It was rock 'n roll, punk rock, glam and metal with a twist — a twist just as angry and rebellious as what came before it — but a poetic one, artistic, with painstaking attention to detail,' Yun explains." Kabuki Rock, by Bryan Reesman,, The Latin Recording Academy, November 30, 2006[dead link]
  9. ^ "a fleeting genre known to fans as 'Visual Kei' (aka 'Visual Rock'). Nonetheless, this fusion of metal, punk and gothic aesthetics ignited at least two generations of followers with its shocking visual appeal" X [Japan]: Reliving the Height of Japan’s Superlative Visual Rock Band, By Minnie Chi, Asia Pacific Arts, bi-weekly web magazine, UCLA Asia Institute
  10. ^ "That's why Hide and others in the new rock movement are so important: they're original and they're selling millions of units. As the guitarist of X-Japan, Hide (real name Matsumoto Hideto) was a pioneering member of a new J-Pop sub-genre called 'visual rock.' Born of a combination of hard rock and metal, visual rock leans toward a more theatrical presentation emphasizing imagery as much as music. One only needs to watch an X-Japan video to recognize its decadent glam influences, as drummer Yoshiki is often decked out in lace stockings and torn black leather vests. However, the band's androgynous looks can be attributed as much to kayou kyoku (traditional Japanese pop) as to the eccentric costumes of '70s David Bowie and '80s hair bands. It is precisely this hodgepodge of international styles that makes visual rock such a noteworthy new genre. Couple that with the high-dollar, idol-influenced publicity that goes behind these bands, and you've got a new brand of rock that makes KISS look like shoegazers." Gibson, Dave Get ready America; Japan's J-Pop phenomenon has all eyes facing east. Retrieved September 10, 2007;
  11. ^ "Since it formed in the early-1980s, X Japan went from playing loud, fast thrash-metal to stadium-shaking pop ballads, in the process pioneering its own genre, a Japanese equivalent of glam rock known as visual kei. For visual kei bands, outrageous, usually androgynous looks -- gobs of makeup, hair dyed and sprayed in ways that made Mohawks look conservative, and a small fortune spent on leather and jewellery -- were as important as music (or, in many cases after X, more important than music)." THE POP LIFE; End of a Life, End of an Era, By NEIL STRAUSS New York Times, June 18, 1998
  12. ^ "a representative slice of Japanese rock music as a whole. It’s a very diverse genre and, of course, Japan also now has its own sub-genre called 'Visual kei' ... 'Visual Kei' literally means 'visual style.' It’s a style of dress, there’s a lot of costuming and make up and it’s uniquely Japanese because it goes back to ancient Japan. Men would often wear women’s clothing; I guess if they were here today they would be the underground kind of independent anarchist type people who spend their time in coffee houses thinking radical thoughts for that time." - JAPANESE ROCK ON NPR, by Kristen Sollee The Big Takeover online music magazine, 25 June 2006
  13. ^ "Most GothLolis cite that they are merely imitating their favorite bands from the visual rock genre, known as 'Visual Kei'. Although it seems a reference to Vladimir Nabokov’s scandalous Lolita, many Gothlolis will tell you that books (other than manga, Japanese comics, which are also at the heart of the scene) and art are not a part of their inspiration. Music is a major force in its creation. Visual Kei is exactly as it sounds: Rock music that incorporates visual effects and elaborate costumes to heighten the experience of the music and the show. Visual Kei started in the 80s and became so popular by the 90s that the nearly all-female fan base started dressing up as their favorite band members (known as 'cosplay') who were often males that wore make-up, crazy hair, and dressed androgynously or as females (usually, the more feminine the rocker, the more fans rush to emulate them)." Pretty Babies: Japan's Undying Gothic Lolita Phenomenon, by Chako Suzuki, e-magazine, January, 2007
  14. ^ a b c d e f Dejima, Kōji (出嶌 孝次) Original Link, Archive Link, Bounce Di(s)ctionary Number 13 - Visual Kei Retrieved September 12, 2007 (Japanese)
  15. ^ Inoue, Takako (2003). Visual kei no jidai. Tokyo: Seikyūsha. ISBN 978-4-7872-3216-8. 
  16. ^ "Shinjidai ni Totsunyu! Neo Visual Kei Band Taidō no Kizashi". Retrieved 2007-09-19. 
  17. ^ Mascia, Mike. "Dir en grey feature interview". Blistering. Retrieved 2007-08-07. 
  18. ^ "Luna Sea at Yahoo Music". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  19. ^ "Malice Mizer at Yahoo Music". (in Japanese). Retrieved 2007-08-21. 
  20. ^ Cure Magazine, July 2006 issue, Vol 34, May 21, 2006

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