Remembering a Japanese rock icon

Tsukiji Honganji temple with its unique exterior.

THE sound of waves crashing against the nearby coastline was barely audible where I was in Miura Reien cemetery.

My thoughts were distant as I gazed at the grave in front of me.

The name ‘hide’ was carved in a stylised font on the tombstone which had countless flower bouquets, drinks and gifts lined in front of it. It has been so for the past 20 years.

The grave belonged to Hideto Matsumoto (Dec 13, 1964 to May 2, 1998), fondly known as Hide (pronounced hee-day, and usually written with a lower case ‘h’).

May 1998 was a month I still remember clearly. Back then, there was no smartphone, no Unifi or Streamyx, just simple Jaring dial-up Internet. My Net surfing sessions were limited to the weekends. A regular website was a Japanese music bulletin board where I got news of my favourite bands.

One particular day, the board was unusually busy with many new posts. A topic stood out – HIDE-SAMA’S DEATH. My blood ran cold as I quickly clicked on it. With dial-up, it took minutes for pages to load.

That was how I learned about the musician’s death, a week after it happened.

Hide was the iconic lead guitarist of the legendary rock band X Japan. He was also a bestselling solo musician in his own right.

 

A Hide tribute corner in a florist shop.

Not a suicide

On May 2, 1998, it was reported that he had hung himself. Fans in Japan and overseas were hysterical over the news. His bandmates denied it was suicide. Even today, Hide’s death was believed to have been an unfortunate accident linked to intoxication.

Days after the devastating news, I saw footage of the May 7 funeral online. Clearly, Hide was gone.

As a teenager, I shared my grief with Haze, a childhood friend who had introduced Japanese rock music to me. We both adored X Japan. Perhaps, it was youthful banter but we promised to visit Hide on his death anniversary every decade.

The promise was never realised in 2008 because of a life-changing tragedy.

My heart was heavy with anguish, recalling the distant past, and that promise as I stood in Miura Reien, 20 years after Hide’s death.

The cemetery is a private one, located in Miura on the southeast tip of Kanagawa prefecture, just over an hour by rail from the vibrant metropolis of Tokyo. It took a short bus ride from the train station, then it was a brief walk through farmlands before reaching the cemetery gates.

Miura peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean, has several popular sightseeing spots. Miura seaside itself is a beachgoer’s paradise, particularly in summer.

Seafood here is widely-regarded. I found an inconspicuous seafood restaurant called Matsubara near the train station, where I savoured deliciously fresh seafood rice set for lunch.

 

Tsukiji Honganji’s main worship hall.

Love for Hide

The love for Hide is still apparent in this town. Florists near the train station know when foreigners visit their shops they are buying flowers for Hide.

One florist called Miura Hanazono even has a little tribute corner with displays of posters and fan-art.

In Tokyo, I headed to Tsukiji Honganji, the Buddhist temple where Hide’s funeral was held. This is just a stone’s throw from the world-famous Tsukiji fish market.

At the entrance, again I remembered those scenes from the funeral footage where some 50,000 fans turned up to bid farewell to Hide.

They were crying their hearts out as they watched their idol leave in a hearse with the police working hard to control the crowd. Dozens fainted from fatigue and needed medical aid. It was a pandemonium.

Hide’s grave in Miura Reien.

Just marvellous

Sad memories aside, the eclectic architectural beauty of Tsukiji Honganji is something to marvel at. A temple of the Jodo Shinshu (True Pure Land) Buddhism, its main building possesses a unique look, not typically found in other Japanese temples. It has a distinctive South Asian exterior and a vast cathedral-like interior that felt very welcoming.

In the main worship hall, there is a resplendent statue of Amida Buddha in the central chamber. An unusual sight in this hall would be the German-manufactured pipe organ with 2,000 pipes of various sizes. It is usually played during wedding ceremonies, but every last Friday of the month, the organ is brought to life in a half-hour lunchtime concert for the public.

Tsukiji Honganji is also a popular pilgrimage site for history buffs as it houses artefacts of Prince Regent Shotoku (574 – 622), among others.

In a quiet corner below a flight of stairs stands a table filled with memorabilia from Hide’s fans. This is just a small memorial stand for the rock star, but it is well-visited, judging from the entries in the guestbook provided.

 

Hide featured in a rock magazine dated May 2002.

Devoted fan

I noticed someone with faded dyed-blond hair standing in front of the table, staring dreamily at the display. Curious, I decided to strike up conversation.

The man, who seemed to be in his late 40s, said he has been there almost every month for the last 20 years.

“His music was my inspiration. I played lead guitar for a band. Then it happened. It shattered my dream. I was among the wailing fans outside this temple 20 years ago, you know.

“Eventually we learned to deal with the loss. But this has become a routine that I can’t stop, so I keep coming whenever I can. Of course, there are months I can’t and that’s when I feel utterly lost. Coming here is like therapy,” he told me.

He then crooned part of a familiar song – Hide’s ‘Genkai Haretsu’ (Breaking Limits) – before turning to walk away.

“Therapy, kore wa therapy, boku no therapy.” (Therapy, this is therapy, my therapy.)

 

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