Notes From Nihon IV: Kokushoku Elegy


By Xin-Rui Lee, Staff Writer

Having just caught Peter Murphy last Thursday night, I’ve got myself into a bit of a goth-rock groove this week. Hence, our featured artist for the fourth installment of Notes From Nihon hearkens back to the darker days of the 1980’s, to a time where Japanese music was much less accessible to the western world. I don’t even remember how I chanced upon them, and I can’t seem to find any English websites on them, so it has been a bit of a challenge to dig up and consolidate reliable information. Hailing from the Okayama prefecture and comprising of band members from hardcore punk backgrounds, 黒色エレジー is frequently cited as one of the quintessential acts of the goth rock era. They’re name translates from Japanese to “Black Elegy”, but they’re never really referred to as such and are most commonly known as Kokushoku Elegy when typed out using the English alphabet, so I shall refer to them as such.

Kokushoku Elegy frontwoman Kyoko, who sadly passed away last year at the age of 53.

Thankfully, a couple of believers in the ‘true Japanese goth rock scene’ made some efforts to spread the good word and maintain the integrity of this underground movement, and in their forum chats and poorly translated articles, we learned that Kokushoku Elegy were active somewhere between 1985 and the early 90’s. According to our trusty Discogs and Last FM, they released around 4 to 5 albums including a self-titled debut, as well as compilation album entitled “Esoderic Mania,” which some consider to be their greatest release.

A frequent comparison is drawn between Kokushoku Ereji and Siouxie and the Banshees, not only for their sound, but also because both bands were fronted by kick-ass women with similar styles and wiry black hair. If not for the lyrics being in Japanese, one could easily have assumed this was a band scraped off from the 80’s London underbelly. They’re just as gloomy and brooding, but more rock/post-punk-oriented producing a lighter, more accessible sound. The haunting vocals provided by charismatic front woman Kyoko gives their songs an extra satisfying kick, and an edge that demands space in your music library.

Apparently the Japanese goth scene was the predecessor to the takeover of “Visual kei”, which according to Wikipedia was “a movement among Japanese musicians that is characterized by the use of varying levels of make-up, elaborate hairstyles and flamboyant costumes, often, but not always, coupled with androgynous aesthetics,” which emerged in the early 1980’s and persists to this day. So let us pay due tribute to these pioneers that laid the foundation to thick makeup and theatrical performance.

Start of with these songs:

Listen to a playlist of their songs here:  


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