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20 years after 9/11

X Japan's Yoshiki sees music as a potential cure for trauma

Philanthropist and rock 'n' roller has been supporting disaster victims since 1995

Yoshiki gives recital at Carnegie Hall in New York in 2017.

TOKYO -- Yoshiki, the leader of Japanese rock band X Japan, is also known for his more than 20 years of involvement in a broad array of charitable and philanthropic activities. His history of supporting people going through pain started in 1995 when he donated 10 grand pianos to Hyogo Prefecture, home to the city of Kobe, which was devastated by a deadly earthquake in January that year.

The X Japan drummer and pianist has also made donations to support other disaster victims as well as charitable organizations and causes, including victims of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the U.S. and health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He has established Yoshiki Foundation America, a U.S.-based nonprofit organization. In a recent interview with Nikkei, Yoshiki discussed his views about the role of music in society. The following is an edited version of the interview in his own words.

"I saw a dream. You were flying in the sky." These lines are part of the lyrics of "Unnamed Song," a song I composed to mourn the victims of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. On that day, I saw shocking video footage of many people jumping from the buildings. I could not believe my eyes and could not stop crying. I could not help but wonder what kind of feelings and thoughts they had as they jumped to death. I could not get the heart-wrenching images out of my head.

I wanted to extend my hand to save these people, but there was no way I could reach my hand to theirs. "The ruthless wind kept your soul away," is another line in the song, which I wrote to pray for those people who abruptly lost their lives in the outrageous act.

Yoshiki in March was awarded the Japanese government's Dark Blue Ribbon Medal for his decades of charitable and philanthropic activities.

I have been using the U.S. as my base of artistic activity for nearly three decades. America is a country of freedom and hope. People from all over the world come to this country in pursuit of the American dream. It is an extremely vibrant nation brimming with energy. These were my images of America. But the 9/11 attacks made people in this nation feel that war had started. It seemed the entire nation was gripped by fear.

It is said that the attacks have changed the U.S. for good. Indeed, it may have become less open. I always try to remain as politically neutral as I can. When I talk with others in this country, even my close friends, however, I find myself carefully choosing my words, according to whether they are Republicans or Democrats, what kind of opinions they have.

Social media can serve as a great tool for people to express their diverse views and opinions. But it is sad to see emotional and aggressive verbal attacks against others with different views and opinions that do not contribute to constructive debate.

Discrimination based on race and faith has also become fiercer and more blatant. The Black Lives Matter movement has brought deep-rooted discrimination against blacks to the fore. The number of hate crimes targeting Asians is also growing.

It is important to acquire a better understanding of different cultures. After I started living in the U.S., I spent two years reading the Bible. I did so not for a religious reason but to know more abut the cultural basis of Western society. I have friends with various cultural backgrounds, including people from Southeast Asia and Europe. I have found that I can better understand them if I learn about their cultures. People should make more efforts to understand others with different cultural backgrounds.

I have been engaged in charity activities in hopes of helping people facing difficulties. I first got involved in charity work when I donated pianos to elementary and secondary schools affected by the earthquake in 1995. I feel greatly rewarded when I hear people say "Thank you" for what I do. In 2010, I created my own foundation to make donations to a range of causes, from supporting refugees and victims of natural disasters to environmental protection.

I publish my charity activities because I hope they will help make people aware of various problems in the world and inspire them to make donations and efforts of support. Recently, I have been supporting counseling services for the mental health of musicians and other people in the music industry who have been going through hard times due to the pandemic.

I myself have experienced the painful losses of my father and a member of the band. The pain of these losses has never gone away. Creating music has been a great emotional support for me. I would not have been able to keep living without music.

I would be very happy if my music cheers up people even slightly and makes any contribution to building a society without conflict. Music knows no borders. If music brings about any change for the better, that would be great. Even if it can bring about no change, however, it can at least express sympathy for people. I hope people can cry their heart out when they are sad. There was music in all eras of history, even in the darkest times. Artists have a duty to express their feelings about whatever may happen through their artistic works that reflect the times.

Yoshiki is a lyricist and composer who first earned a reputation in the world of Japanese rock music as the leader, drummer and pianist for X Japan. He has been active not only as a solo musician and music producer but in various fields. He lives in Los Angeles.

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