A chat with: 龍 (RYU) from ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)

At the end of 2018 I spoke to RYU about his now previous project OROCHI, but after 15 years of music it was time for OROCHI to stop activities. RYU’s passion for samurai rock didn’t burn out however, since early 2019 he returned with ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino). Last October  龍 (RYU)returned to Europe for a mini-tour, visiting Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and France with his new project. During this tour he was supported by guitarist MASASHI, one of the very colorful new additions to RYU’s support musicians lineup. More than enough reason for a chat to catch up a bit, don’t you think?

01. To start off I would like to ask you about the disbanding of OROCHI and birth of ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino) to take it’s place. What made you decide to finally stop activities with OROCHI after 15 years? Was it because of the difficulty you expressed having with the search for support members?

 龍 (RYU): I actually worked on OROCHI from 2004 to early 2019. It’s a bit confusing since it’s not really a disbanding, I merely changed the name to ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino), and I have been a pretty much solo singer since 2015. Nowadays people are using the same styles (Japanese traditional instruments with Western pop) more and more and I don’t like to be a part of the masses. I want to do something unique, I don’t want to be “normal” like the others. I currently play the Japanese flute like the dragon flute (RYU-TEKI and non-kan, which are played in Noh opera and Kabuki) and Shino-bue. But I also play koto and Satsuma Biwa (which is a Japanese guitar that used to be played by Samurai warriors of the Satsuma clan). I’ve started to play shamisen and shakuhachi as well. You can expect these to make an appearance in my songs soon, hopefully! (laughs)

02. With ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino) you had a full support band behind you from the start. How did this come to be then, if it’s so incredibly hard to find support members?
龍 (RYU): Well… One of my managers did. I had not met any of the members until the day we started to shoot the music video for 祇園-GION-. So on that day I was very nervous to work with someone I just met. And it was mid-winter, so a very hard time to shoot that particular kind of music video. All of the current members have very different and unique personalities. Masashi in particular, I suggested him to do YouTube videos in English because his English is very good. He spent a long year in the United States which really helped him improve his English.

03. When you search for “ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino)” on Google for example you don’t immediately land on your project. What made you choose this name, what is the story behind it?
 龍 (RYU): I actually need some SEO (Search Engine Optimization) on that, I know. (laughs)
It is a very popular name. Somei yoshino is actually the most beautiful Sakura denomination of the variety. And with this project I want to express the Sakura, so I chose this name.

04. You say you want to express Sakura with your new project, but the first music video, 祇園-GION-, actually didn’t convey that message at all. Or at least, not as clearly. Was there a reason for that?
 龍 (RYU): Well… That is because it was filmed in December, during winter. It just happened. I have the tendency to want to shoot a music video in the worst times of the year.
I didn’t know these guys two weeks before it was shot. One of my managers found these members. He also arranged the shooting location and camera crew. I was very surprised that they were very nice, because I didn’t know them beforehand. I was also very nervous about strange people coming to the shooting that day and that I would be put off by it, but it turned out fine and it was a big surprise. I met them for the first time that day, during that shoot, and it was a miracle really. Like destiny.
The story of 祇園-GION- is actually all about love in Kyoto. “Gion” is the name of the land, and coincidentally it’s also a holy place in ancient India.
The Sakura in the music video is called “Kanzakura”, which means “cold sakura blooming in winter”. The language of the Kanzakura is “smiling at you”. This expresses the story behind this song.

05. You’ve made several new songs for the first release of ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino), but what made you choose 祇園-GION- as the song for your very first music video?
 龍 (RYU): For 祇園-GION- I actually arranged the music 100% by myself. For 桜咲ク花ノ街 -Sakura saku Hana no machi I actually had a co-arranger who played some of the songs piano tracks for me. Like I’ve mentioned earlier in this interview from 祇園-GION- I have been doing it by myself. I have been relearning music for five years, but 祇園-GION- was actually the first original song I did all by myself again. So that is why I chose this song.

06. Let’s go to the European tour for a bit. In Germany you attended a convention as a musician, but you’ve also been a teacher for a brief moment. You gave a workshop about the traditional Japanese flute that day. How did that go?
 龍 (RYU): It’s fun to be a teacher, but it’s very difficult to play the Japanese flute for so many people at once. It’s really hard, and only 50% of the people who came to the workshop managed to get sound out of the flute. It’s just a really difficult instrument.
I also want to make an instruction video for YouTube about how to play the Shino-bue in English sometime.

07. Oh, so you would like to teach again after this experience?
 龍 (RYU): Yes. If people like it I will do that. Some people actually teach music at school, but not online like this. So in a way it would not be as difficult for me as it would be when teaching a class directly.

08. For your show in The Netherlands you were added as a special guest to the already planned show of DEFINE ME and ZEROSHIKI. Both bands make very different music than you do, so how was that for you? Do you enjoy playing with artists from a completely different genre?
 龍 (RYU): Yes, that was definitely good. The one thing I really regret during this mini-tour is that I couldn’t bring all of the band members with me. Because I am very happy with them and performing with a backing track, is very different. I do think the sound engineer did a very good job that night.
I usually prefer to play with different kind of musicians. There aren’t many bands that have a similar music style in Japan. Some people did gather quite a following, but they quit very quickly because of it being so difficult to survive in this genre. Also, I don’t like to be a copycat. So playing with a band that does not have a similar style to my music doesn’t make our music sound too similar. I enjoy to play with any other style of music lovers really.

09. Instead of a full band you could only bring MASASHI as a guitarist. For him it was the first time in Europe, while you have been here before. What was it like for you to travel with someone who had never been here before? Did you feel like you had to act as a guide?
 龍 (RYU): A little bit. I have acted as a guide for him at some times, but he has actually been in the United States for a while. If I would have brought any other person I felt like I would have to do a lot more, but everything was fine.

10. You’ve been in Europe a few times over the years, but did you visit any new places during this short tour? Places you had not been to before?
 龍 (RYU): Yes. I visited Versailles. I don’t know how to pronounce that correctly because every language in Europe has a different pronunciation… But that’s a place I had not visited before. It was awesome. I made a video and I will upload it to YouTube in the future.

11. During the shows this tour you didn’t play the new songs from ソメイヨシノ (Somei Yoshino) exclusively. You also played Hannya for example, which is a song OROCHI-fans or people who have seen your shows as OROCHI will recognize. What was the reaction from the audience like when you played these older songs?
RYU: Actually, some songs are new. Like 祇園 -GION-, 薄紅-USUBENI- and ゆびきり -YUBIKIRI-. Some people have visited my shows several times before, so I think they would know, especially since Hannya is so easy to remember.

12. Let’s make the last few questions about you personally. Like, what made you become a musician rather than someone who works in an office or owns their own company for example?
 龍 (RYU): I was actually born into a samurai family. I’ve never been employed by someone else. I love music, freedom and nature.

13. You’ve been playing in this genre for so long now, but of course there was a moment where you decided that this genre was the one for you. How did you get into this visual style exactly?
 龍 (RYU): As a child I really liked to visit castles… But aside from that my mother was also a very strict parent. She didn’t allow me to read any manga. But there is a special kind of manga that focuses on history. I believe there are twenty books in total, in that series. It learns the reader about the history of the world, China and Japan. I’ve read these books so many times, but part of the reason was that it was the only manga I had. I’ve visited so many castles and the one thing I liked about them were ancient Japanese armors they had on display there. These are called the “Yoroi”, and of course the swords. I’ve been to so many museums.
When I got older and went to college and university I played normal rock music. During that time I came across a poster which had five guys that looked like musicians on it, all dressed in Ronin-style kimonos. (These are actually the poor samurai who don’t have a master.) I saw the poster and I immediately thought it was really cool. I had a pop band at that time, but I sent them the photo I made of the poster. It was in Japan at that time, but they were in Australia. I just liked the concept that much. All the people I made music with during that time agreed with me, and OROCHI was formed in December of that year. And with that the style changed from a normal Japanese band in Australia with a singer who sang pop songs in English to OROCHI’s style.

14. You’ve also started to use your social media accounts more and more lately. Is there anything you want to share about that to finish this interview with?
 龍 (RYU): Social media has been getting more and more important lately. Compared to last year there is a lot more activity going on there already. Which is why I try to use them more too. But it’s still a process. I try to use English on my social media accounts to reach more people, so we can enjoy music together.

15. And as a final question, do you have a message for everyone who has read this interview?
 龍 (RYU): A message for everyone? Thank you for reading my interview this time. We will return! I think I will make more English videos and posts on social media in the future, so more people can join in on the music. I will also sing a few songs in English soon.

As an additional bonus, I asked the guitarist RYU had with him during this short tour, MASASHI, if he had anything to say about the European tour. And… He did. He has a special message for everyone too:

MASASHI: Everything I had been given while I was touring in Europe was so awesome. All of you that I have met in Europe made my first time in Europe absolutely amazing.
Thank you so much for welcoming us, loving Japanese music and Japanese culture! I really hope to come back there!
Besides that I walked around in towns during time off, and I actually got lost. I asked people, and I was shocked by how nice they were to me despite my bright green hair! I really appreciated their kindness.
The food was also absolutely delicious, the buildings were amazing, and I already miss those moments…

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