Pretty much everyone on earth has some kind of masochistic pleasure. Mine (or rather, one of them), as many of you know, is the study of Asian languages. Although it’s sort of embarrassing to admit publicly, I read Japanese grammar guides and flip through my Kenkyusha Pocket Dictionary (Which doesn’t fit in my pocket, by the way. I don’t know what sort of pockets they had in mind, but none of my jackets have them.) for fun.
In my experience of trying to talk to non-Visualists about Visual Kei, there are several big questions that come up, the first being “Are they all women?”, and the second (and much less simple to answer) one is “Why are all Jrock bands typographically disabled?”
As many of you already know, I set out to answer the first question with my Visual Kei series. Today I will attempt to tackle the second object. This is less an explanation of why they are typographically disabled, because only they truly know, and more of a scholarly hypothesis. I was inspired to talk about this after reading a fellow blogger’s post a few weeks ago, wherein the author wrote something about how in 2009 Gackt changed the spelling of his name to the all-caps GACKT. The blogger expressed exasperation at the idol, saying something along the lines of “Doesn’t he know that changing to all caps doesn’t change the name…?”
Actually, that’s not necessarily true.
In Japanese, there are 4 aspects to the written language Romaji (romanized Japanese), Hiragana （あいうえお）and Katakana（アイウエオ）, the two phonetic scripts, and Kanji（字電車）– traditional Chinese characters.
If you write something in hiragana (and katakana), you have a direct reading of the pronunciation. So if you write はな (ha na) then you read it, naturally, as “hana”, flower, and to read the characters “ha” and “na” as “ki” and “mi” would be the [English] equivalent of seeing the word “flower” and reading it as “you”. AKA senility.
However, unlike the inflexible phonetic scripts, you can have a lot of fun with kanji. Written Japanese is not an intellectual battle-royale, therefore this is not commonly done, except for in the significant case of given-names, literature, and lyrics. You could, say, write “hana” (花) which means flower, but read the character as “kimi”, (君)which means “you”. A clearer example is in a song by KOTOKO, where she uses the characters for “uchuu” (outer space) but reads them as “koko” (here), which gives the sentence “I am here with you” the implication of “I am here with you in outer space”, without the awkwardness of having to say it.
There is no English equivalent to this practice, except perhaps in the case of given names . You cannot write the sentence “And then she floated as though on water into the vast deep-sea void of outer space” and actually have it read as “And then she flew into the sky”. In Japanese, you can do exactly that.
Well, that’s too bad– but using English words is really trendy in Japan. You see it everywhere in advertisements. Usually nonsense, but you can see why they thought the words were cool or interesting looking (one of the best Engrish T-shirts I have seen says “When [that] it has a look HAVE A CRUSH ON”). And you can see it in band names.
In Japanese band names, anime and manga titles, song titles, and album names, you see such typesetting as GACKT, The GazettE, and even more outrageous combinations of upper and lower case, numbers, and symbols I can’t even make on my keyboard.
So, to explain my theory, let’s say that at the beginning of their career, a band decides to call themselves “Taka”, and they agree that they should write it in Japanese characters. At first they agree they should write it 高 (“taka”, the character used for “high, steep, tall”), but then after their initial naivete wears off, they refine their look, maybe they cap fifteen years, and suddenly everyone’s sick of that kanji character, so the bassist says “Let’s write it this way: 鷹 (“taka” the character for ‘falcon’ or ‘hawk’)”. OR, to make things even more interesting, they could start writing their name as 朝日 (‘morning sun’). The difference between this example and the two preceding examples is that these kanji 朝日 are read as “asahi”. These kanji have nothing whatsoever to do with the pronunciation “taka,” but in kanji, you can legitimately write a word using an unrelated kanji and still pronounce it the same way. The only difference is that now the word “taka” means ‘morning sun’ instead of ‘falcon’, and that a lot of people who initially read the kanji as ‘asahi’ will be very confused.
Suddenly, without actually changing their name at all, they can completely change the feel, image, and implications of the same exact word.
Now, let’s say that our hypothetical band Taka doesn’t want to write their name in kanji. They decide that English looks much cooler, so they write it “Taka”. Then, after they cap maybe ten years, they get sick of it, and they really want a fresh new image, they start ripping off ’80s disco songs, for example… Now, suddenly they’re faced with a predicament. They can’t change the name, because then they’ll lose their renown as “Taka”, but there’s not the same flexibility at all in English as there was in Japanese. So they start writing their name “TAKA”, or “T@ka” or “T-aka”.
So what I’m getting at here is that I think it’s likely that using all-caps, symbols, and combining English and Japanese words is sort of their way of creating a similar depth of meaning, but in English. Therefore, actually, changing his name from Gackt to GACKT probably has a lot more implications than we can read into.
SHORT ANSWER: It looks cool. (which is probably the actual answer…Hah.)
Images: Brise/ ilovegackt.net, Wudang_Monk, tracyleephoto.com