Category Archives: Life of Tokona

The attributes, character and constitution of Tokona-X. By exploring the caliber of the man through learning about his life, nature, soul and spirit, we can get closer to the reality of who he was.

From Old Hood to New Hood

Although Tokona-X was born in Kanagawa, he moved to Aichi, where he built his rap career. There are small parts of his history available online which make interesting reading, but don’t actually tell us much; especially if we’re not so familiar with Japan. In his lyrics, I understand part of the message about his hood from things I know to be true in English rap music, like Tokona talking about his hood must mean the area he grew up in. But in this case, it’s an area he moved to, so I have to question if that’s really his hood. I guess because he feels connected to that area, then that is his ‘hood’.

 

The Move from Kanagawa to Aichi

Yokohama City outline mapBorn in Yokohama, a large city with a big population. He lived there for several years before making the move from Kanagawa prefecture towards West Japan. I presume he moved there before his teen years, but I’ve not been able to find any information about that yet. Kanagawa is a part of the Kanto region and is quite built up for the most part, but has some areas that are quite rural. It’s a place with huge populations near to Tokyo, but also has towns with much smaller populations. Yokohama itself has the largest China Town Asia and is well worth a visit.

He moved because of family reasons, but there is not much information available that would tell us what those reasons were, so it remains a mystery. I think there are clues to be discovered in his song ‘Where’s My Hood?’, but that’s just a guess from the title of the track. Hopefully I can find out more about both Tokoname and why he moved there by listening to the rap lyrics in that song. I still think there will be many questions unanswered because if it really did provide a lot of answers, they would have been made available in Japanese language sources already, but I haven’t found many details yet.

 

Tokoname – Tokona’s New Home

Tokoname City outline

He moved to Tokoname, a coastal city south of Nagoya which is the reason he chose the moniker Tokona-X. When written in Katakana (Tokoname = トコナメ), the characters can be read as Tokona (トコナ) and the letter ‘X’ (メ) since the character ‘メ'(me) looks like the letter ‘X’. In his songs, he mentions the area by number on many occasions. Tokoname has an ‘052’ telephone dialling code. At first, I thought this may be in reference to a postal code, but the ‘052’ postal code, for example 〒 052-0100, refers to Hokkaido. I’m not familiar with rappers talking about their phone code as they usually mention the area they have lived and grown up in, but he’s still talking about a specific area. Tokona-X bot on twitter lists its location as 052. Clicking its location link doesn’t take you anywhere, but 052 is definitely where Tokona is from; it’s just not his postal code. This is why I think he must have been young when he moved to Tokoname because he spoke about it so much to make sure we associated it with him. It also must be the place that formed the character we know and love.

 

His Hood is 052

At the time of his popularity, there weren’t many rappers from West Japan or the Nagoya area, so to be as popular as he was, he was somewhat of a novelty. With the exception of Twigy, he pretty much had free reign over the area. Tokona-X clearly took great pride in the city of Tokoname, which is why he made sure he told us that he was from that city and regularly mentioned it when he rapped. In some ways, it’s as if he realised that because he wasn’t really from the area, it was necessary to express his love for it on a regular basis.

A rapper’s ‘hood’ forms an extremely important part of his image, so it was important for Tokona to choose his hood and stick by it. We can assume that he must have moved to Tokoname at a young age because he shows how much he is attached to it and Tokoname formed a lot of his rap persona. I don’t think it would have been as easy or realistic for him to represent Yokohama if he hadn’t been living there during his teenage years when he developed into a man. I’m sure that Tokoname and the city of Nagoya are proud of Tokona and thanks to him, the seemingly endless list of rappers from the Tokyo area could be broken and one of Japan’s best rappers is known as a resident of Nagoya.

Tokona-X Fans on Mixi

I’ve discovered a treasure trove of information about Tokona on a social media site called Mixi. It’s like the Japanese version of Facebook and many people gather there to discuss things, plan events and meet new friends with similar interests.

I found a group called Tokona-X, which seems to be quite active. It’ll take me a while to get into it, but I should be able to learn more things about Tokona by firstly reading as much as possible, then by asking a few questions myself.

I think it’ll be hard going at first as I get used to reading Japanese again, especially as it appears that most of the language will be some form of dialect/ non standard Japanese. Hopefully it will become easier after a while. In any case, this should be a real help towards my goal of showing the English speaking world who Tokona was.

The Unofficial Murder of Tokona-X

Tokona-X-cutting-somethingThere are three versions of events surrounding Tokona’s death, asking the question ‘did he die, or was he murdered?’ All versions leave us with more questions than we had to begin with. The only true conclusion we can get from each version is that his death was untimely. It wasn’t the right time for him to die, in the prime of his life and at a promising stage of his career, but in each scenario, a set of factors came together and lead to his passing. There’s a public or ‘official’ reason for his death, a second, potentially more honest account and an a third reason involving Yakuza and murder.

 

The Official Story

As anyone that has lived in Japan will know that the summer months can be very uncomfortable. They are unbearably hot, extremely humid and have the power to sap your energy completely. In the north of the country, the hot, humid months come and go reasonably quickly, preceded by the rainy season known as Plum Rain or Taiyou (梅雨) in Japanese. The far south in Okinawa is perpetually tropical, but towards the middle latitudes of the country, the heat of summer is prolonged and the hot, humid months seem that much more intense because of that.

It’s often a good idea to stay indoors as much as possible, enjoying your air conditioning. One summer, I was deep in conversation with an old man who runs a restaurant I love to visit and he said he hadn’t gone outside all summer. I asked him ‘why haven’t you been outside all summer?’ and he responded ‘because I’ll die!’ We shared a laugh together, but the serious truth is that the heat really can drain your energy.

Officially, Tokona died of heart failure. He’d been struggling all summer with heat stroke, then in November, he suffered a cardiac arrest from which he did not recover. While still quite a warm month in Nagoya, I wonder why it was this, much cooler and less humid month that he passed away.

 

Cocaine Overdose

Cocaine seems to be a popular drug with stars in the West and despite their strict drug laws, it way also be popular in the East. Drugs seem to be readily available in Japan if you can find the right person, as every few months, a celebrity becomes embroiled in a drug scandal; usually related to marijuana.

It is said that Tokona had links to the Japanese underground and if this is true, it’s likely that he could have gotten his hands on cocaine. Certainly, videos like ‘I Just Wanna’ and at the beginning of ‘Densetsu’ (伝説), meaning ‘legend’, a video that appears to have been put together by a fan and shows a live performance of ‘Shirazaa Itte Kikaseya Show’ (知らざあ言って聞かせやSHOW) mixed together with part of a promotional video, Tokona can be ‘clearly’ seen preparing something and taking that something.

He may have had an overdose or taken too much of a bad batch, which ultimately lead to his downfall. If this was the case, it’s highly unlikely that it would be made public as I’m not sure his family or the record label would enjoy that kind of publicity in Japan.

Of course, his drug taking could have been all a show; a show that may have taken him into the firing line of the Japanese Mafia.

 

Murdered by Gangsters

The last scenario, that Tokona-X was killed by Yakuza, is the most intriguing. the theory behind an underworld murder is that Tokona’s personality clashed with what is expected in the underworld. Tokona was an extrovert, which is what made him such a good performer, but it’s this persona that could have put him at odds with the underground.

As is the case in the rest of Japanese society, one should be humble and not draw attention to oneself or ones activities; unless those activities cast you in a wholly positive light. This is in direct opposition to the gangster rapper persona which Tokona did so well. Being a ‘loud-mouth’ serves no purpose but to put you onto the radar of people who didn’t want the spotlight to fall on them should something go wrong.

It has been said that there are some Yakuza who helped him get into the position he was, but his showmanship and big mouth put him at odds with them. Tokona was happy to talk about his sexual exploits and make reference to his drug taking habits. This is the kind of thing that might have annoyed those who had been backing him. With Tokona out of line, the best way to shut him up could have been to supply him with a bad batch of drugs and allow him to indulge himself.

 

So What’s the Truth?

Of the three probable scenarios, it’s not possible to come to a definite conclusion as they’re all logical and entirely possible. As with most things, the official reason probably contains some of the truth, though not all of it. The truth is most likely to be a combination of the official story and the drug overdose. Many stars in the west have been a victim of their own drug habit and there’s no reason why the same couldn’t be true of a Japanese star.

On the other hand, if he did do something wrong or make a mistake, did he deserve to die? If there’s truth behind the suggestion that he moved in Yakuza circles, he would have been aware of what he should and should not have been doing. The problem could have been his youth; young men often believe that they’re invincible. Instead of doing what was expected of him, it’s very possible that he instead did whatever he felt like doing to enjoy his fame.

Whatever the reason for his death, be it murder, an accident or simply of natural causes, only those closest to him will know the truth. The only things we can be sure of is that 26 is too young to die and in 2004, we lost one of the great Japanese rappers who was yet to show us all of his potential.

Small Body of Work

Perhaps one of the problems with talking about T-X and proclaiming him as one of the best Japanese rappers, is his relatively small body of (solo) work. When ranking the greatest rappers, you must think about not only their ability, but also the amount of times and how consistently they show that ability.

Tokona-X has only one solo album, but he has done a lot of work with DJ Hazu (DJ 刃頭) and performed with his group M.O.S.A.D., so we can still get some idea of his true ability. Even so, there’s no telling where he could have taken his music, both in a positive and negative sense.

For me, his album, Tokai X Teio (トカイxテイオウ) is such a great piece, that it would be really difficult to beat. In a way, I feel it was in part poetic justice that he died after he recorded it. Not because I want him to be dead, but because it’s so good that maybe it was the best he could have done? It’s a really worthy album of such high quality that I think every rapper is trying to reach that level. Tokai X Teio is his ’88 album. We must ask ‘could he have done better?’ And ‘where could he have taken his career from there?’

9 Years Ago Today

Tokona-X was born on 20/10/78. He died on 22/11/04. For me, those two dates are very important. Not as important as they are to his friends and family. The love and joy felt by his parents when he was born. The pain and anguish felt by everyone close to him when he died. For me, those dates are important for a different reason. I look at them as being the bookends. Between them stand several books on different subjects with many different chapters chronicling the life of Tokona-X; legendary Japanese rapper. On the 9th anniversary of his death, I’m here to tell the world about Tokona-X. I’d like to write about his work so that I can introduce him to an English speaking audience. Through this site, I will fill in the gaps between the bookends. His music has brought me a lot of joy over the years and I’m sure that you will enjoy it as much as I do.