There 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 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.