A Brief History of Female Guitarists in Japanese Metal


Written by: Ruchesko
Published: 05.12.2014


Things are looking pretty good for women in metal right now. Fifteen years on from the breakthrough of symphonic metal, female vocalists have been making major in-roads into an array of subgenres: you might even say the novelty's worn off. However, away from the microphone, things aren't so rosy.

Outside the sanctuary of all-woman lineups, female guitarists are exceedingly rare in Western (and Australian) metal. As with any sweeping generalisation, there are obviously exceptions: Laura Pleasants (Kylesa), Samantha Escarbe (Virgin Black), Simone Dow (Voyager) and Lori S. Acid King to name a few. Still, the fact remains, in the West, women guitarists are in more or less the same position today that Doro Pesch and friends were in 20 odd years ago.

So, are things any different out east? Well, considering how the Japanese establishment basically told feminism to sod off back in the 1970s, you might be surprised. Far away from the saccharine horror of Babymetal's "kawaiicore", the "girls' metal" revolution is afoot.


What Came Before

Back in 1980, when the flagship all-female act Girlschool made their debut, Japan's metal scene was still very much in its infancy and pretty much devoid of women. With the arguable exception of singer Misako Honjo, things pretty much stayed that way for the remainder of the decade.

Japan's rock scene was a whole different story. By the early '80s, the scene was being swept by the "girls' rock" boom, an unprecedented explosion of all-female bands, precipitated in part by the success of The Runaways. One of these groups, Show-Ya, would give the country the closest thing it would get to a female metal guitarist until next decade. This lucky lady was Show-Ya's sole guitarist, Miki Igarashi, otherwise known as "sun-go", a nickname she adopted to distinguish herself from two bandmates also called Miki.



Show-Ya circa 2010: Satomi Senba, Miki "Captain" Nakamura, Keiko Terada, Miki "Mittan" Tsunoda, Miki "sun-go" Igarashi.


From their 1985 debut, Show-Ya's early output was a blend of synth-laced cheese-rock, mawkish ballads and the occasional heavy number. A couple of their albums even had lyrics penned by one Yasushi Akimoto, a man would later attain infamy as the mastermind behind J-pop behemoth AKB48. It wasn't until 1988 and their 7th opus Outerlimits that they turned to honest-to-Moses hard rock, and that's when the yen came rolling in. This success came to a screeching halt when frontwoman Keiko Terada bailed over creative differences, but besides a seven-year hiatus (1998-2005), Igarashi has continued to perform and record with the band.

Does this mean we can call "sun-go" the Japanese Lita Ford? I hesitate to do so. Besides Igarashi's lack of a solo career - she played in various bands during Show-Ya's hiatus - and the fact she's never sung lead vocals, their public images couldn't be more different. Where Ford has always taken full advantage of her sex appeal, posing in spiked bikinis and whatnot, Igarashi has never really gone in for that shtick.


Rumblings in the Underground

So like I said, it wasn't until the 1990s - 1996 to be exact - that Japanese metal gained its first female guitarists, when two of them turned up at once. The first was someone a few Metal Stormers will already know: Wata, lead guitarist of Boris, a band I've long since given up trying to allocate a subgenre. Recently I read drummer Atsuo Mizuno doesn't even think of their work as music. She was followed in October by Kyoko Moriya, sole guitarist of Osakan hardcore punks Yellow Machinegun.



Wata, Kyoko Moriya, Anoji Matsuoka, Masami Toriumi, Eita.


Things fell quiet again until 2000, when Wata was joined by a slew of her fellow sister-shredders in otherwise all-male lineups. 2000 saw the debut of extreme progressive outfit Gonin-ish, fronted by Anoji Matsuoka. 2002 brought thrashcorers Gunship666, led by guitarist and only constant member Masumi Toriumi. Then in 2003, the burgeoning Japanese power scene gained its first female shredder in Eita of Jikuu Kaizoku Seven Seas. The next year, Coffins frontman Uchino Bungo's exit from sludge-doom outfit Dot(.) opened the door for guitarist Rei.

The Tokyo underground also spawned a couple of all-female acts in the 2000s. The first to break out were crust punks Gallhammer in 2004, followed by the easy-to-pronounce Flagitious Idiosyncrasy In The Dilapidation in 2008. FID actually ceased to be an all-woman group almost straight after their debut, when founding guitarist Kyoko abruptly quit. This status was only restored in 2011 when original bassist Noriko Okamoto, who initially jumped ship back in 2006, took over on guitar. In the interim, Noriko had been playing guitar with death metallers Reexamine as "Robin" - they debuted in 2005 - and symphonic black metal troupe Sungoddess under the moniker "Barbados", who debuted in 2010. She remains active with all three bands.



Mika Penetrator (Gallhammer), Kyoko, Omi (Exist†Trace), Noriko Okamoto as "Barbados".


The mid-2000s also saw an unexpected shakeup in the visual kei scene, with the movement experiencing its very own "girls' rock" boom. I was a bit ambivalent over whether to include this band, but if those sage arbiters of wisdom over at Wikipedia are to be believed, in 2005, visual-kei gained its very own all-female metal act in Exist†Trace. Like I say, I was a bit hesitant whether include to these girls - the best the Wikipedians have managed for a subgenre is "alternative". Nevertheless, the potential irony of Japan's first all-woman metal band with mainstream appeal coming from the visual movement felt like justification enough to at least mention them.


"Girls' Metal" Cometh

Now we come to the phenomenon known as "girls' metal", essentially a repeat performance of the 1980s "girls' rock" boom playing out in the Japanese metal scene. Thus far, at least ten new all-woman metal bands have sprung up in the last 5 years. The first to get their stilettos in the door were the kimono-clad Tengusakura in March 2009, followed in November the same year by Osakan power metallers Aldious. Led by guitarist Yoshi, Aldious were the band who brought about the breakthrough of "girls' metal", when their 2010 debut album Deep Exceed outsold every other independent record in Japan in its first week of release.



Mana (Tengusakura), Yoshi, Ruki, Ayano (G∀LMET), Chiba (Mary's Blood).


2010 also saw the debut of Aldious's fellow Osakans G∀LMET , a self-styled "girls' death metal" act whose lineup features ex-Aldious guitarist Ruki. The year's other debutantes Destrose, who're in the fact the most senior of the first wave of "girls' metal", having first formed way back in December 2005. Quite why it took them almost 5 years to release their first single is probably down to the truly rotten luck guitarist and bandleader Mina has had in trying to maintain a stable lineup.

Her woes began in 2008, when shortly after releasing their second demo, everyone but Mina upped and left. Departed guitarist Eri, along with singer Eye and drummer Mari, went on to form Mary's Blood in late 2009 - their debut followed in 2011. Eri's replacement in Destrose, Saki, didn't last long, and was gone inside a year - in 2012, she joined Mary's Blood. Saki was succeeded by session guitarist Satty, who stuck it out for over a year before moving on to other projects.



The Destrose Six: Mina, Eri, Saki, Satty, Hanako, Narumi.


Guitarist number five, one Hanako Fujiwara, proved to be another Saki and was gone within months. In 2013, she debuted with Albion, but left earlier this year - Eita, free of Jikuu Kaizoku Seven Seas since 2009, has been filling in for them on tour. Meanwhile, Mina's fifth co-guitarist Narumi has so far stayed put. Here's to hoping the poor woman's luck holds.

So, how long can we expect the present "girls' metal" boom to last? As we know, all musical movements burn out at some point, and to be honest, the "girls' rock" boom doesn't set a great precedent. Show-Ya are one of just a handful of bands to still be performing, and are alone in permanently reuniting after a hiatus. Then again, of the first wave of "girls' metal" bands, only Tengusakura has faltered: they've been on indefinite hiatus since 2011.

In the meantime, a second wave of sorts has already emerged. Formed in 2011, power metallers Cyntia have been making series waves since their 2012 debut on Aldious's own label Bright Star Records. What's more, 2013 was the biggest year yet for "girls' metal", with Bridear, A Drop Of Joker and Gekijo Metalicche all debuted alongside Albion. Assuming even one of these bands can establish the sort of momentum the first wave have, "girls' metal" should be around for some time to come.



Mitsuru (Bridear), Yui (Cyntia), Miyako "Mi-ya" Watanabe (A Drop Of Joker), Midori (Gekijo Metalicche).



And Finally…

Aldious weren't the only women making Japanese metal history in 2010. Some 28 years after Loudness guitarist Akira Takasaki launched his solo career, Rie a.k.a. Suzaku became the first Japanese woman to pursue a solo career as a metal guitarist. Though she dresses much the same as her Western antecedents, Rie doesn't have much in common with them musically. Unlike Lita Ford, her music is indisputably "metal", but doesn't go in for neoclassical shredding of The Great Kat, instead opting for a brand of melodic heavy metal. She doesn't sing either, employing a host of female guest vocalists on her releases. Anyone interested in gauging her ability for themselves should check her fully instrumental debut album, Kingdom Of The Sun.







 


Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.


Comments

Comments: 18   Visited by: 56 users
07.12.2014 - 01:23
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Brilliant article. It portrays perfectly the whole Japanese girl-metal bands boom that took place in the past few years. Though I am not really acquainted with Misako Honjo's work (her music is hard to find), I pretty much am aware of most of the bands mentioned here.

Once again, great work!
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07.12.2014 - 01:55
Darkside Momo
Retired
Great article man, an interesting read!
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"I've lost too many years now
I'm stealing back my soul
I'm awake now"
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07.12.2014 - 05:07
Susan
Smeghead
This was a highly enjoyable read. It's easy to get tunnel vision for our own local scene and forget that there are vibrant scenes and passionate musicians everywhere. You mentioned a coupe of women that I'm excited to check out now.

Also, I loved the way you started this. Female vocalists are everywhere but its definitely more difficult for women who play instruments to get noticed, especially when they don't "use" their sexuality, which is a double-edged sword.
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At the end of my days"
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07.12.2014 - 05:48
Jason W.
Razorbliss
Thanks for the article, and as said above, great perspective on the subject. Certainly a few artists to check out now
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"After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music." - Aldous Huxley
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07.12.2014 - 13:38
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
One little edit, Wiki says ExistTrace formed in 2003, not in 2005.

Also, a little bit offtopic, but funny, G∀LMET's Miki has another band called Lujaneeza, band which labels their style as 'new wave of brutal hime metal'! =))) Sometimes inventing genres is damn funny.
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07.12.2014 - 20:20
Ruchesko
Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 07.12.2014 at 13:38

One little edit, Wiki says ExistTrace formed in 2003, not in 2005.

That I knew, but I decided to base the debut years on when a band released its first studio recording (excluding demos) rather than when it formed. Helped to filter out a few of the acts listed on Metal Archives that never made it past their first demo.

Another fun fact about G∀LMET: they started out as a Kittie cover band.
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"Making a death threat is too easy these days. If every tweet cost a stamp, people would have a whole lot less opinions." -Andrew Maxwell
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07.12.2014 - 20:29
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Written by Ruchesko on 07.12.2014 at 20:20

Another fun fact about G∀LMET: they started out as a Kittie cover band.


That is not funny though! ) Anyway, got any idea how can I get to listen to Misako Honjou's works? Most of her albums are barely findable...
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13.12.2014 - 18:02
Bad English
Masterchief
Written by Susan on 07.12.2014 at 05:07

. It's easy to get tunnel vision for our own local scene



Guy who wrote is I from United Kingdom not Japan

to me this Japs pop, metal and such scene are more glam looking as real glam metal in L A Sunset strip
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Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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14.12.2014 - 15:06
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Written by Bad English on 13.12.2014 at 18:02

Guy who wrote is I from United Kingdom not Japan

to me this Japs pop, metal and such scene are more glam looking as real glam metal in L A Sunset strip


Probably, if we only look at their vestimentation. Visual Kei is a sort of Japanese version of glam metal although style wise Visual Kei encompasses more than one genre. Visual Kei was present in J-pop, punk, rock, metal and many other genres, it is not exclusivist like glam was which was mostly present in rock and metal.

But even if it is a sort of emulated glam-ish genre, bad music remains bad and good music remains good, despite genre labelings. Still, I find much more inspiration and creativity (or technicality) in X Japan's stuff compared to what I've seen in most glam rock/metal bands. Not saying that all glam bands were bad, some of them managed to release good stuff (early WASP, Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Winger, etc.) but most of them were there for commercial reasons rather than music. And honestly, these Japanese chick bands are more metal than most glam bands could ever be.
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14.12.2014 - 20:01
Bad English
Masterchief
Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 14.12.2014 at 15:06

Written by Bad English on 13.12.2014 at 18:02

Guy who wrote is I from United Kingdom not Japan

to me this Japs pop, metal and such scene are more glam looking as real glam metal in L A Sunset strip


Probably, if we only look at their vestimentation. Visual Kei is a sort of Japanese version of glam metal although style wise Visual Kei encompasses more than one genre. Visual Kei was present in J-pop, punk, rock, metal and many other genres, it is not exclusivist like glam was which was mostly present in rock and metal.

But even if it is a sort of emulated glam-ish genre, bad music remains bad and good music remains good, despite genre labelings. Still, I find much more inspiration and creativity (or technicality) in X Japan's stuff compared to what I've seen in most glam rock/metal bands. Not saying that all glam bands were bad, some of them managed to release good stuff (early WASP, Twisted Sister, Skid Row, Winger, etc.) but most of them were there for commercial reasons rather than music. And honestly, these Japanese chick bands are more metal than most glam bands could ever be.


maybe but J all is like fake, Japanese had samurais, ninjas, etc , they lost it culture after nuke attack, but ok back on music, even its good, but visual thing works this time , I don't consider those girls sexy at all, and If I see band img I doubt I will give a try ,
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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14.12.2014 - 20:10
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Written by Bad English on 14.12.2014 at 20:01

maybe but J all is like fake, Japanese had samurais, ninjas, etc , they lost it culture after nuke attack, but ok back on music, even its good, but visual thing works this time , I don't consider those girls sexy at all, and If I see band img I doubt I will give a try ,


I don't think they lost it. I've been to Japan and I have to say that they are a model of how to combine tradition with modenity in a harmonizing way. They did not forget about their past, much less the fact that they used to have samurai and ninja (no year passes without a movie or TV series with samurais/ninjas) and there are acts that speak about such stuff, look at Onmyouza, Ningen-Isu or Gonin-Ish for example.

As for the band image, the point is that the image attracts attention. These girls do not wish to pose as some sexy sellouts, like the American glam metal pursued, they just continue a sort of cultural movement. I see Visual Kei in the same way people see the Gothic Culture. In the end, the fact that the girls are sexy or not is trivial, the music is what counts. And while for some, vestimentation might put them off, I never judge a band by how it looks, but by how it plays. I love Versailles (and now Jupiter and Kamijo) for their music, but I can never stomach their costumes, especially because those are guys wearing drag...
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14.12.2014 - 20:54
Bad English
Masterchief
Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 14.12.2014 at 20:10

Written by Bad English on 14.12.2014 at 20:01

maybe but J all is like fake, Japanese had samurais, ninjas, etc , they lost it culture after nuke attack, but ok back on music, even its good, but visual thing works this time , I don't consider those girls sexy at all, and If I see band img I doubt I will give a try ,


I don't think they lost it. I've been to Japan and I have to say that they are a model of how to combine tradition with modenity in a harmonizing way. They did not forget about their past, much less the fact that they used to have samurai and ninja (no year passes without a movie or TV series with samurais/ninjas) and there are acts that speak about such stuff, look at Onmyouza, Ningen-Isu or Gonin-Ish for example.

As for the band image, the point is that the image attracts attention. These girls do not wish to pose as some sexy sellouts, like the American glam metal pursued, they just continue a sort of cultural movement. I see Visual Kei in the same way people see the Gothic Culture. In the end, the fact that the girls are sexy or not is trivial, the music is what counts. And while for some, vestimentation might put them off, I never judge a band by how it looks, but by how it plays. I love Versailles (and now Jupiter and Kamijo) for their music, but I can never stomach their costumes, especially because those are guys wearing drag...


I like Japan, but old ways
they like to have now all vintage, whisky is made there ,many jeans following old code ad so on, but when it goes yto Jap metal I dunno
only thing I don't like about Japan is food , rest is OK, but metal I dunno , I can listen it but I have not done it so much
girls I don't like American either
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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14.12.2014 - 22:24
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Written by Bad English on 14.12.2014 at 20:54

I like Japan, but old ways
they like to have now all vintage, whisky is made there ,many jeans following old code ad so on, but when it goes yto Jap metal I dunno
only thing I don't like about Japan is food , rest is OK, but metal I dunno , I can listen it but I have not done it so much
girls I don't like American either


Like I said, they are a model of how to combine conservatorism and modernity. Also, Japan is pretty much nationalistic when it comes to what they consume. Whatever they buy, they first look if the product is japanese and if they can't find one matching this requirement, only then they will buy a foreign one.

As for japanese food, it was quite good when I tried the real thing, surely different from what europeans eat. Japanese metal resembles the history of the country, it is very isolationist and exclusivist. Their cultural values and the way they percieve it restricted its chances of success on western markets. Even the more European/American like Japanese metal bands did not have that much of a success abroad. I remember Loudness even going as far as to hire an American singer only to hit the American market and they failed.

I don't know if they have a band that they can be proud of being worldwide known... though I was kinda intrigued when I saw X Japan having a sellout concert in Madison Square Garden... pretty amazing for a Japanese metal band.
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07.01.2015 - 11:24
Ruchesko
Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 07.12.2014 at 20:29

Got any idea how can I get to listen to Misako Honjou's works? Most of her albums are barely findable...

I've not had much luck finding her stuff myself. There's a few of her songs scattered across YouTube and other Asian video sites, but as you probably know, its mostly unseeded torrents and dead download links.
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"Making a death threat is too easy these days. If every tweet cost a stamp, people would have a whole lot less opinions." -Andrew Maxwell
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07.01.2015 - 13:57
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Written by Ruchesko on 07.01.2015 at 11:24

Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 07.12.2014 at 20:29

Got any idea how can I get to listen to Misako Honjou's works? Most of her albums are barely findable...

I've not had much luck finding her stuff myself. There's a few of her songs scattered across YouTube and other Asian video sites, but as you probably know, its mostly unseeded torrents and dead download links.


I think I've seen only her debut. Hopefuly, someone will make it available in the future. Then again... from what I listened on youtube, I am not that impressed. Her songs have that 80s-90s anime soundtrack feeling. I feel like I am listening to the opening of City Hunter. I also doubt that this is heavy metal, more hard rock to me...
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09.01.2015 - 10:09
Ruchesko
Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 07.01.2015 at 13:57

I also doubt that this is heavy metal, more hard rock to me...

Yeah, I agree. That's why I called her an "arguable exception" in the article.
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"Making a death threat is too easy these days. If every tweet cost a stamp, people would have a whole lot less opinions." -Andrew Maxwell
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09.01.2015 - 11:56
ManiacBlasphemer
Black Knight
Written by Ruchesko on 09.01.2015 at 10:09

Written by ManiacBlasphemer on 07.01.2015 at 13:57

I also doubt that this is heavy metal, more hard rock to me...

Yeah, I agree. That's why I called her an "arguable exception" in the article.


She may have made a metal album further in their career, like Show-Ya, but the one I listened barely had any metal in it. Who knows...
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14.01.2015 - 04:49
Lit.
Account deleted
Hmm, cool article. There's something about beautiful Japanese girls wielding guitars that just makes me wanna rewatch Hi Hi Puffy Ami Yumi.
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