Meet Hanamizakura Kouki, a star in the visual kei scene dedicated to promoting Japan’s distinctive culture to global audiences. With a Tsugaru-jamisen guitar in hand and a resplendent folding fan, he embarks on his artistic journey.
His musical journey spans the aesthetically shocking realm of visual kei to the soulful melodies of Enka music. Renowned as the vocalist of the rock band D=OUT, he also leads a successful solo career as an Enka singer, achieving the number one ranking on the Enka song chart in both Japan and France.
In this interview, we delve into his remarkable career and recent experiences at Otakon, where he shared his passion for Japanese culture with fans from around the world. Discover how Kouki’s diverse musical talents and genuine connection with his audience are shaping his path in the world of music and cultural promotion.
Join us as we catch up with the artist who is tirelessly erasing borders, introducing the world to Japan’s heritage, both past and present—Hanamizakura Kouki.
Kouki-san! It’s very nice to see you since the last time we met at Nekocon. Please tell us about the musical activities you’ve been working on since then.
Kouki: My band, D=OUT just celebrated our 16th anniversary this year. I’m also releasing an Enka single this September. Also, D=OUT is going to tour with the bands Vistlip and Yuugure GIRL SUICIDE (夕暮れガールスーサイド) in Japan this fall. The vocalist of Yuugure GIRL SUICIDE used to be the vocalist of the band R-shitei (R指定). After that, I can’t go into details, but I will perform independently in Europe again this year for a convention like this one.
Oh, that’s great news—it’s been quite a while since you last performed in Europe! What are you particularly excited about and looking forward to?
It’s been 15 years since I’ve performed live in Europe, so I’m happy just to be able to directly meet people from other countries who have been waiting for me.
Returning to the topic of your upcoming Enka single, in September you’ll release the double A-side single Tequilamore/Kanpai shimasen ka, Nishinomiya de. Please tell us a little more about it.
For Tequilamore, I got to work with Tsukasa, former drummer of the band D’espairsRay. He is also active in the Enka scene and wrote the lyrics to the song. I wanted to do something different from what I’ve done before. With this song, I wanted to express a man’s charming qualities.
Then for the song Kanpai shimasen ka, Nishinomiya de, since I was born in Nishinomiya, I wanted to sing a song in tribute to my local hometown. So, those are the two songs I’m releasing.
It seems like your hometown, Nishinomiya, is important to you. Can you please share what it’s like and what makes it special?
The place where I was born is near Koshien Stadium, a baseball park. I used to go there often when I was little.
To continue, how was your experience at Otakon this year?
I think I was able to express my passion directly to the audience. Even though my music is Japanese visual kei, when people liked the music it was easy for me to see their response. I really like the direct quality of the audience here in America.
So, Japan is a country that feels like everything follows strict rules, even with behavior at a concert. Even headbanging and hand movements are choreographed. It’s like everyone has to do the same thing. It’s not really a rule, but that’s the kind of culture it is. But in America, it’s more like “freestyle”, and I like seeing how everyone enjoys my music differently.
That’s true [laughs]. So how did that experience compare with last year, at Nekocon?
Well, Nekocon was the first time I came to America. I came with my senpai HIZAKI since he’s super used to performing overseas, and he taught me a lot. If I didn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t have been able to perform on my own at this convention.
I see. So I wonder, what do you think when you come to these conventions, and you see so many overseas fans celebrating Japanese culture?
Well, compared to the rest of the world, Japan is a small country. Seeing people enjoy different aspects of Japanese culture like anime, visual kei, yukata, kimono, and other things makes me happy and proud. I also look forward to learning more about and enjoying American culture.
It’s interesting that you say that. What is your favorite part about American culture?
My favorite part is that everyone looks so cheerful like they’re really enjoying themselves. They seem like they’re enjoying their life. It’s not that Japan isn’t like that, but Japanese people are more shy, so they don’t express their joy physically as much. I really admire that about Americans.
Many people noticed the kitsune mask you had on in the Ten music video and identified it from Nekocon. Did you happen to pick up any intriguing props during your time at Otakon this year?
I didn’t have much time to look at the Dealer’s Hall this year so… I just bought Dragon Ball cards [laughs].
The theme of Otakon’s fashion show this year was “East Meets West”. I was wondering what that theme means to you, personally.
Well, in the past, Japan wasn’t “one” country. It was a collection of smaller territories, then became united. When I perform overseas I think, the words, appearances, and cultures are different, but we’re all human. That’s what I noticed. Like, it’s not just “America” and “Japan”, we’re all human beings. That was the feeling I get when I perform overseas.
At the end of your concert, when you held the Japanese and American flags close to your heart, that was a very powerful moment. I think that illustrates what you just said very well.
Ah, thank you [laughs].
So, going back to the fashion show, you modeled for the brand DimMoire at Otakon this year. Please tell me about your experience modeling for them. I heard the outfit you modeled was custom-made for you.
It was the first time I appeared in a fashion show in a long time. I love trying things I don’t normally get to do. I felt strongly that the crowd liked the fashion too. I’m really grateful that the brand chose me as a model.
I think that’s really cool that people appreciate fashion as part of Japanese culture. Like, I use Japanese folding fans and the shamisen guitar in my performances. I’d like to promote Japanese culture even more, by doing something only I can do.
Could you share a few of your personal favorite Japanese street fashion brands, or perhaps suggest some that you think our readers would enjoy checking out?
I like Japanese-style clothes and kimonos. Japanese creators are becoming more active, so I would like people to know more about Japanese culture.
Thank you for sharing that with us. I’m sorry, I’d really like to talk more, but our time is coming to an end. Would you please leave a final message for our readers?
I’m starting to like America more and more. I really wanted to move and live here, but that couldn’t happen. I hope that dream can come true someday. But through music and social media, even if we’re all separated, I really feel linked with everyone. From here on, please continue to enjoy my musical activities, and continue on in life together.