In fits of manic frustration, Richey James is stubbing out cigarettes on his own forearm! James Dean Bradfield is smashing up his prized Les Paul guitar! Nicky Wire is dressed up as a cleaning lady! Sean Moore has an acupuncture needle stuck in his back! Yeah, the Manic Street Preachers are unleashed in the East - and Jason Arnopp's hot on their trail!
"Japan is clean, pleasant, safe," assures Manics frontman James Dean Bradfield, standing on a spotlessly hi-tech Tokyo tube platform which is notorious for suicide tragedies. "Everything that Britain isn't.
"You don't have to look over your shoulder here," he smiles. "It's the only other place I could live, besides Wales. The trees are great and I'm afraid that's a major factor for me!"
Richey James, the band's poser-depressive/ropey rhythm guitarist, is less enthusiastic, despite appearing quite content.
"I never find it exciting to go anywhere," he shrugs. "You get much more true information from literature than from travelling. Like, if I want to know about France, I'll buy the book."
"I don't know if that makes me a moron..."
Manic Street Preachers are inflicting cerebral Pop Metal on Japan for the second time.
Tokyo has 13 million inhabitants, despite being a 10th of London's size. In the bustling Shibuya area - Piccadilly Circus times 10, like an explosion in a neon factory - ultra-polite shoppers make little eye contact on the streets. Glass-fronted vending machines are everywhere. They wouldn't last five minutes in Camden Town, but they never seem to get smashed - even though a can of Coke costs the equivalent of three pounds.
Japan operates stringent gun laws. Just about the only danger you'll encounter in colourful, enchanting Tokyo is business executives hurtling down from their tower blocks.
That, and earthquakes...
* * * * * * * * * *
The Welsh Rockers (although their burly American bodyguard is labouring under the sad delusion that they're from "Wales, London") are in the midst of a 13-date tour, in Tokyo for three consecutive nights at the 1,000-capacity Shibuya-On-Air venue.
Now banned from Osaka's Club Ciita, because the fans bounced so violently they displaced the building's foundations, the Manics are bona fide Rock stars over here. They're showered with enough Gameboys, toys, books and other gifts to fill a large pagoda.
The night before their first Tokyo gig, both band and entourage venture out to a restaurant with Accept on the video jukebox. Everyone removes their footwear to eat.
James Dean Bradfield hardly ever talks to the press, firm in his belief that "Richey and Nicky are eminently more quotable than me". But he's far more of a thinker than some might presume, given that Richey and Nicky exclusively write the band's lyrics while he and drummer Sean Moore handle the music.
"It's no definite law, though," he points out. "It's just that if I tried to write something like 'Slash & Burn', it'd end up like a second version of Ben Elton's ecological novel!
"Mind you," he adds, "I can tell that Nicky's got some music brewing; maybe the bass spine of a song..."
He chats about how he's learnt to say "Thank you! 1-2-3-4!" in Japanese; how much he likes The Wildhearts' 'Earth Vs The Wildhearts' album and how much of a bizarre turning point the band's Bon Jovi support slots were this Summer.
"We realised that you can't hijack an audience like that," he admits. "We're not the kind of people to get chips on our shoulders, though; we agreed to do it, but it definitely contradicted everything we've been about."
* * * * * * * * * *
Indeed, the two Bon Jovi dates at Milton Keynes Bowl made the band think hard.
"After those shows, it was probably the first time in our history that we felt like we'd sold out," concedes lanky bassman Nicky Wire, with his trademark Cheshire cat grin. "I don't know why that was - we've done much worse things!
"Our ideals conflicted before those shows. It was a choice between smashing everything and abusing the audience, or just playing our songs. That's the dilemma we face every night now?
"The worst thing about it, though, was seeing Billy Idol dancing at the side of the stage with his f**kin' blond dreadlocks!"
"When you've agreed to do a gig," picks up Richey, "it almost seems pointless to rebel. We did agree, and played to 120,000 people who didn't know who we are, or what we're supposed to be. But just seeing our T-shirt on a board, with the 'All Rock 'N' Roll Is Homosexual' backprint, made it all worthwhile!"
Nicky: "What we definitely hated most, was that once you get to that scale of things, everyone thinks they're so f**kin' important!"
He shakes his head.
"Like, the person who cleans Bon Jovi's toilets thinks they're more important than the person who cleans ours."
"The enormity of it all was quite frightening," adds Richey in his frail tones. "You ask yourself, 'Would you really like to do this? Would you want to pander to crowds for two hours every night?!'."
Nicky: "It's the difference between living in obscurity like The Stooges or being huge! I think we try and marry the two aspects...
"What definitely came out of Bon Jovi, was that our next album will be a complete artistic statement. I love 'Gold Against the Soul' (the Manics' acclaimed second album), but the next one will truly represent us. Whether that means 50 minutes of misery or complete and utter Punk, we don't yet know..."
* * * * * * * * * *
After the restaurant, the band's attention turns to the nearest arcade. When out with the Manics, there's no need to worry about anyone doing anything ridiculous. They're quiet people, almost shy, although drummer Sean Moore, who has an acupuncture needle embedded in his back, is certainly not beyond getting helplessly drunk and wrestling with the stage manager, while loudly exclaiming "Blackie Lawless is a wanker!".
James dismisses the notion of going to a lesbian sumo wrestling club after the arcade, as "f**kin' bullshit". Instead, he ends up downing whiskies in a low-key underground bar, and arguing about Brian Clough with his Sony A&R man.
As a result, he fails to feel the tremors of the 2am earthquake. Centred under the Pacific Ocean, and measuring 7.1 on the Richter Scale, it causes just one fatality; an elderly woman who suffers a heart attack while escaping her house.
Back at the Miyako hotel, Nicky Wire - a recently married man who can no longer drink, due to a liver condition - wants to go back to Wales. He runs out into the corridor, clutching a torch, "absolutely petrified".
However, he's the only Preacher to feel the 'quake. Richey and Sean are fast asleep in their beds, blissfully numbed by alcohol.
The dressing room at Shibuya-On-Air club is small, and covered with some of the worst graffiti imaginable.
'Small penis not satisfy bitch with large hole' is one of the most coherent efforts, along with 'Jamiroquai say hi to everyone!'.
Richey is not impressed.
"It's all shit. We've never written graffiti in our lives..."
Instead, he starts sticking written quotes up on the wall! The longest is from a writer who grew up thinking a nearby railway line was a source of inspiration.
"But he eventually realises that it's just a way of getting from A to B, a way of getting to a work place where no one cares about you. Unfortunately, he finally killed himself over a woman, which made him seem quite cheap..."
Richey's full of stories like this; he usually ends them with "Very depressing..."
At 6:30pm, the audience is standing in fairly neat rows. There's no support band and the venue will be empty by 8:30pm...
As the opening riff of 'Sleepflower' uncoils, the mounting tension explodes into noise, frenzied dancing and Beatles hysteria. Who said Japanese audiences were afraid to cut their heads open?
It's a good gig tonight; far more energised and attitude-driven than the Milton Keynes sets.
Nicky yells "F**k the USA!", specifically because he thinks the American head of A&R is present (he isn't), while James smashes his guitar before the end of 'You Love Us'. It's the Les Paul he used during the 'Gold Against The Soul' recordings...
* * * * * * * * * *
Half an hour later, Richey James sits alone in the dressing room, smoking a cigarette and staring straight ahead. He's not saying anything.
Is it because he treasures his guitars, that he never smashes them?
"No, I dislike my guitar intensely," he sighs. "I can't even be bothered to smash the f**kin' thing. It doesn't deserve death..."
Richey currently smokes 50 ciggies a day, having started two weeks ago!
"Whenever I do something, I like to do it a lot," he explains back at the hotel. "When I was 13, I did a Shakespeare project that was 859 pages long. Everyone else just did six.
I just had f**k all else to do but sit in and write..."
In the hotel's foyer, a bare-footed Richey recovers from an invasion of adoring fans, with whom he's polite, if not as outwardly sociable as Mr Wire.
It seems that the fans favour Richey until they actually meet the band. Then Nicky's cheeriness wins the girls' attention, and the boys or the older women go for James' rock 'n' roll icon qualities.
Richey brushes a hand over a fan's painting of him.
"It's alright," he judges. "Van Gogh colours..."
One thing Van Gogh and Richey have in common is self-mutilation. The guitarist presently stubs out cigarettes on his forearm. Previously, during a famous interview with a broadsheet music paper, he carved '4 Real' into his flesh.
"I'm not a violent person at all," he notes, adding that he never responds to regular threats of aggro in Cardiff pubs. "When I felt like clubbing this particular journalist to death, I just directed it at myself. I don't regret it. I don't regret anything..."
He justifies the cigarette burns as, "my way of not screaming or shouting when things f**k up. It's just discipline, and something to do. We never call each other c**ts and wankers in this band. We just walk away".
"What I usually do," pitches in Nicky, "is put all my clothes in the sink and wash 'em. That's the difference between him and me!
"Richey does tend to stub cigarettes out like that when he's drinking," he adds. "It's a vicious spiral of depression equals drink, equals mutilation!"
The pair find Japan's high suicide rate easy to understand.
Richey: "It's the pressure on the individual to conform. I think it's quite romantic; no matter how bad their lives get, they refuse to place any burden on other people. They don't feel the need to go out after work and get pissed, which happens regularly in the West. If life gets too much, they make the ultimate sacrifice. It's better than nondescript violence, although both are f**ked."
Tonight, only Sean Moore and Dave Eringa (the band's keyboard player and producer of the 'Gold Against The Soul' album) venture out for food and drink.
Eringa's full of grins, and fits in with the Manics' sombre image like Roy Chubby Brown at a funeral. He and Sean are the band's true hellraisers.
"Richey's a private partier," laughs manager Martin Hall. "He parties just as hard - but alone, with a bottle of vodka and a razor blade!
"It's not the kind of party you want to be invited to..."
* * * * * * * * * *
Miki and Toshi, two highly glamorous female fans from Osaka, find it hard to express exactly why they love the Manics.
"They're very sexy!" blurts Toshi, before they both collapse in giggles.
Miki likes Richey most, while Toshi favours Sean, but, "we also like the band as whole!".
Japan loves the Manics for their Punky material most of all.
"I'm glad they changed their set-list after the first show," says Miki. "We thought it was kind of boring."
She gasps, clasping her hand to her mouth. "Can I say that?!"
The way the Manics approach their fans is interesting. While perfectly amiable towards them in person, they rarely tone down their miserable demeanour and vicious humour, as the tea party organised by the fan club demonstrates very well [see below].
For this event, Richey insists on taking a suicidal Joy Division tape along as backing music.
"Oh yeah!" mocks Nicky. "That'll really get the tea party rockin'!"
* * * * * * * * * *
On the second night (a triumph of musicality over rebellion), James introduces a song with, "This is a misogynistic, paedophilic, lovely little ditty called 'Little Baby Nothing'."
As the crowd cheer, he spits "F**k yourself!" at them with true venom. Yet when meeting the fans he's painfully shy. It would appear to be a matter of not patronising them.
"They definitely take more time to read our lyrics," praises the frontman, "and don't just blindly accept any Western bands. They also ask more challenging questions than most British journalists.
On the first album, we had quotes from Philip Larkin and Frederick Nietzsche, and one of the first questions the Japanese fans asked was: 'How can you reconcile these two strains of thought?'!"
He buries his face in his hands and laughs.
"I just ran away! But there are a lot of contradictions involved in being in a band like us in Japan. On one hand, the fans make it seem like they almost... love you, but then, they'll ask a question that makes you feel completely humble and hypocritical!
"If people think we're arrogant, that's fine," he grins. "I've always thought I was better than other people, to a certain degree. In infant school, I was such a little runt with a massive turn in my eye, which I've still got but I've learnt to disguise.
I had about 40 different nicknames, and I hated it, but I still thought I was better than the rest, because I was caring, sensitive and intelligent, and they weren't!
Arrogance has always been a self-defence mechanism for us," he considers. "We find a lot of strength in that..."
* * * * * * * * * *
To what extent do the Manics mean statements like this one from 'Life Becoming a Landslide'; 'There is no true love?'?
"...Just a finely tuned jealousy'?" completes Richey. "I wrote that line, and I do think it's true. Man's a basic animal, and when he learns to deny emotions it's kind of a front. I know Nick doesn't agree..."
"Usually, our lyrics have a darker side," nods Wire, "which tends to be Richey taking a negative slant against what I'm saying. It balances things out; my lyrics would be far too cheery."
Richey: "Whenever I've got close to having any kind of relationship at all, I know it's kind of fraudulent, because I still find other people attractive. I think if I truly loved someone, that wouldn't be fair...
He and Nicky exchange humourous glances.
"...that's why I've never had a f**kin' girlfriend!"
This is bad news for the gagging females who literally chase the Manics' mini-van through winding streets for a full five minutes, but at least they get the performances.
The third Tokyo gig is absolutely spectacular; a winning combination of the first two. Even Richey has to confess that the Manics are "happy puppies" tonight. Quite momentous.
The Japanese Manics' fanclub hosted a question/answer session with the 'Preachers, via an interpreter! A tea-soaked Jason Arnopp hung on to their every word!
Interpreter: "What is the strangest present you've been given?"
Richey: "A suicide doll, and a note asking when I was gonna kill myself."
Int: "What are the most interesting places you've been?"
Richey: "A museum in Hiroshima, and Peace Park."
Dave: "A brilliant amusement park. Seven times."
Nicky: "A Kentucky Fried Chicken place."
Int: "Have you heard any Japanese bands?"
Nicky: "Yeah, and they're all f**king dreadful!" (Silence follows this one...)
Int: "Have you written any new songs yet? What will the next album be like?"
Nicky: "The next album will be about concentration camps and death. That's about as far as I can go, really..." (Silence again!)
Int: "Do you miss anything about England?"
Richey: "I miss my dog."
Nicky: "I miss my wife and my dog."
James: "My dogs, my cat and the hills."
Dave: "I'm not homesick at all..."
Int: "Do you like Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine?"
Richey: "They don't interest me in the slightest. They're like amoebas passing in the night..."
Nicky: "That must be f**kin' hard to translate!"
Int: "What's your favourite moment onstage?"
Richey: "When we walk off."
Nicky: "When something gets destroyed. I wish all Japanese fans would help us destroy the buildings we play in."
James: "When we all jump in the air at the same time."
Dave: "All of it, especially when I play a certain suspended chord..."
Int: "It's my 19th birthday. How did you feel when you were 19?"
Richey: "When I became 20, I cried. Sad day."
Nicky: "19's probably your last good year. It's all downhill from there..."
Int: "Do you believe in God?"
Nicky: "I think Richey has a God-given talent for playing guitar!"
Sean: "That's why he doesn't believe in God!" (Mass laughter)
[Originally published: Kerrang!, 4 December 1993]