Japan's Bono: Yoshiki Is Ready to Take on the U.S.

PHOTO X-Japans Yoshiki has been called the Bono of Japan.

He may have a small U.S. fan base but he has been called the Bono of Japan.

Yoshiki, the drummer and pianist of the rock band X-Japan, has sold millions of records and regularly plays to 50,000 to 70,000 people. He has a branded Visa card, a fragrance line and a race car team.

VIDEO: I.V. from Japanese heavy metal star Yoshiki and his band X-Japan.
Japanese Singer Hopes to Hit it Big in U.S.

He's the first human to have a Hello Kitty doll named after him. And now he wants to conquer America.

"We wanted to come here [to America] a long time ago," Yoshiki said. "Because of our influence. ... Kiss, Metallica. Also it's a center of entertainment, center of pretty much everything."

X-Japan Begins

Yoshiki Hayashi, 44, of Tateyama, Japan, and a classically trained pianist, discovered U.S. heavy metal as a kid.

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He only listened to Beethoven, Bach and Chopin until he was 10 and discovered Kiss, he said. "I saw, like, Gene Simmons, the face with the blood, like what is that? I want it," he said.

From there, he started listening to Led Zeppelin and the Beatles.

At the age of 10, Yoshiki and childhood friend Toshimitsu "Toshi" Deyama started an amateur school band with Yoshiki on drums and Deyama on vocals and guitar. By junior high, they had added a few more members and named the band X. They added Japan 15 years ago because a band named X already existed in the United States.

They combined punk fashion with kimonos, provoking controversy in socially conservative Japan.

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"Our style at the time it was like punk rock, like Mohawks and spikes, and we just put all the elements into one style," Yoshiki said.

The style, called visual kei, influenced animation and comics.

Despite the attention in the 1980s, the band broke up in the late '90s. Deyama and Yoshiki didn't speak for eight years. Three years ago, the pair reunited, and Yoshiki set his sights once again on the United States.

He has now become the face of the band. He has composed a concerto for the emperor and made lots of money.

Yoshiki said it isn't fame he seeks, however. "I want people to listen to our music so that's my goal," he said

X-Japan Band Members Reluctant

His bandmates are reluctant to take on America but Yoshiki is quietly confident.

"You just have to keep challenging," Yoshiki said. "I mean, if we don't have confidence, we are not here [in America.] You've got to try to see. We are pretty confident."

He said he and the band have been encouraged by the fans in the United States.

This past week, X-Japan played its first big U.S. show at Lollapalooza in Chicago. The band's new album -- with English lyrics -- will be released in the fall followed by a U.S. tour.

"[The new album] is still very heavy," Yoshiki said. "A combination of heavy rock and some classical."

Yoshiki said he just smiles when critics say that X-Japan won't succeed in the United States, that no Asian band has ever broken into the U.S. mainstream.

"I mean, as I said a long time ago, I proved them wrong," he said, "so I just have to do that again."

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