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Yoshiki: The Kei Master

Yoshiki

Not too many people in L.A., no matter how famous they are, can say there is a Hello Kitty doll patterned after their likeness.

Yoshiki can.

Yoshikitty, as the plush character is called, was a bit of an accident. As drummer and spokesman for the world-renowned Japanese rock band X Japan, Yoshiki was doing a press tour in Asia. Just to liven up the press conferences, he put an X Japan T-shirt on a Hello Kitty doll as a "half-joke," he says. Sanrio, the toy company, caught wind of the incident and a proper collaboration developed.

In Japan, Yoshiki is a major rock star, the leader of the band that's often credited with launching the dramatic hard-rock movement known as visual kei. Here, though, X Japan is still very much a cult phenomenon. And for the past decade, Yoshiki has been living in L.A., anonymously. "I can go to the grocery store without thinking that someone is going to recognize me," he says.

Like the Yoshikitty, the musician's move to L.A. was an accident. "All the X Japan members came here. We were recording," Yoshiki explains. "We were booking so many different studios, like, four or five different studios, to finish our second album for Sony Records."

They were looking for a single studio that would suit all of their needs. Yoshiki stumbled across one that, he says, is the best in the world for drums. He tried to book session time but couldn't. So he bought the place.

"After we finished the album, everybody went [back] to Japan. I was, like, what am I going to do with this studio?" Yoshiki recalls. "Since I had a recording studio, I came back and started recording more. Then, obviously, I'm here, maybe I should buy a house. So I bought a house."

In early 2010, after disbanding and then getting back together, the band made a concerted effort to launch in the United States, playing Lollapalooza before embarking on their first U.S. tour, which began in Yoshiki's adopted hometown. "I was so happy, finally, I could play here in Los Angeles," he says.

That show, at the Wiltern, garnered a monumental response from the crowd — but Yoshiki felt they could have done better. "On a tour, the set list gets better and better every time we play," he says. "So, when we got to New York, we were semiperfect, but in the beginning there were so many things to figure out. ... Next time we play [L.A.], it's going to be semiperfect."

X Japan currently are preparing their first U.S. studio album and a world tour, while Yoshiki is collaborating on a new project with comic book legend Stan Lee. "He's making me a superhero," Yoshiki says. "I'm going to turn into a dragon."

Combine this with several high-profile fashion projects and one has to wonder if Yoshiki will be able to remain anonymous at the grocery store in L.A. much longer. As it stands, Yoshiki says he has been getting recognized more often near his home base.

"I don't hate it," he says, but, "I always have to ask: 'How do you know me?' "

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