About Tomokawa

Poet, singer, artist, bicycle race commentator, essayist, actor, drinker.
An artist who miraculously embodies the romance of the vagabond poet, a rarity in an age where our very freedom means we have forgotten how to live.

Youth and encountering the poetry of Chuya Nakahara

Born in Hachiryu-mura (now renamed as Mitane-machi), Akita in northern Japan on February 16, 1950, Tomokawa’s real name is Tenji Nozoki. He was brought up by his grandparents, surrounded by the lush nature of the Mitane River which flows into Lake Hachiro. During his years at Ukawa Middle School, Tomokawa was a notably poor student and displayed no interest in literature. However, by chance one day in the library he came across the poem Hone (Bone) by the early 20th century Japanese symbolist poet Chuya Nakahara. This poem shocked him to the core, and he started writing his own verse. After leaving middle school, he entered Noshiro Technical High School, a school famous for its basketball program. While managing the school basketball team, he read widely – devouring books by the likes of decadent novelist Osamu Dazai and noted literary critic Hideo Kobayashi. (He later coached the team for a while, one of his students going on to represent Japan at the Olympic Games).

The Birth of Kazuki Tomokawa… The 1970s

Inspired the example of Bob Dylan and others, the early 1970s in Japan witnessed a boom in folk music. Tomokawa found himself caught up in the movement, taught himself to play acoustic guitar and began to set his poems to music. In 1975 he made his long-awaited record debut, releasing the album yatto ichimaime (Finally, The First Album). Around this time he got to know the members of the radical Japanese rock band Zuno Keisatsu. He got on particularly well with the group’s percussionist, Toshiaki Ishizuka, who would go on to become one of Tomokawa’s most important musical collaborators. In the late seventies, Tomokawa would become heavily involved with several theatre companies, writing songs for their plays and even appearing on stage as an actor. This was a period when he seemed to seek ever new spaces into which to expand his creativity. It was also during this period that he first became interested in art.

Tomokawa, the Artist

Tomokawa held his first solo show in Tokyo in 1985, with the support of the art critic Yoshie Yoshida. Since then he has had shows all over Japan, and has attracted the attention and praise of artists and opinion-makers like the outsider author Kenji Nakagami and the poet Yasuki Fukushima.

Moving to PSF Records

In 1993, Tomokawa released the album Hanabana no kashitsu (Fault of Flowers) on PSF Records, a label until then better known for avant-garde music and psychedelic rock. The album attracted much praise from the contemporary composer Shigeaki Saegusa, and suddenly Tomokawa found many of his out-of-print albums being reissued. The relationship between PSF Records and Tomokawa continues to this day, producing a steady stream of releases. One of the most notable of his PSF albums was Maboroshi to asobu (Playing with Phantoms, 1994), which broke new artistic ground in its encounter with free jazz musicians. Around this time, Tomokawa also produced a string of books – the poetry compilation Chi no banso (Earth Accompaniment), a picture book Aozora (Blue Sky, text by Wahei Tatematsu, illustrations by Tomokawa), and a collection of essays, Tenketsu no kaze (Wind from the Skyhole). More recently Tomokawa has become known as an authority on bicycle racing, working as a commentator on the satellite TV channel Speed Channel, and writing a racing column for an evening newspaper. Bicycle racing is now one of Tomokawa’s main obsessions.

Film Soundtracks and Overseas Tours

In 2004 Tomokawa appeared in cult director Takashi Miike’s film Izo, which uses the motif of the 19th century killer Izo Okada to depict time-travelling scenes of carnage and butchery. Tomokawa appears as a mysterious singer who symbolizes the killer’s internal thought processes, and he sings five songs during the course of the film. Tomokawa also provided the music for Koji Wakamatsu’s 2005 film 17 sai no fukei (Cycling Chronicles: Landscapes the Boy Saw). Since moving to PSF, Tomokawa has continued to release one album per year. His reputation has begun to rise overseas, and in recent years he has performed in Scotland, Belgium, Switzerland, France and also in Korea in the autumn of 2009.
While Tomokawa’s music has been most warmly received by artists and music obsessives that does not imply that it is difficult to understand. Rather it is the ironic result of his fastidious way of life as an artist. As the years go by, Tomokawa’s music and art seem to become even more beautiful, ever more limpid and they will surely continue to inspire his listeners with the courage to be themselves.


“Kazuki Tomokawa” Text by Nagisa Oshima

How is it that the Tohoku (northeast) region knows and is enlightened to the fact that they are the roots of the Japanese soul? Because for some reason the Japanese feel nostalgic toward it; even though all accounts, on their origins, point to the southern or borderline northwest region. These poets, that the Tohoku have given birth to, are in constant pursuit of understanding this nostalgia and are actually becoming their messengers for us; spreading it to regions commonly known as the center of Japan. Amongst my friends, these types are restricted to very few like Shuji Terayama, Kan Mikami, and Hideo Hasebe.

Now, in general, a song will exist hand in hand with their time and vice-versa. Even Jean-Paul Sartre once said that a writer must embrace his surroundings. That those who express and create will, at some point in time, sleep with society. Embarrassingly, those three mentioned above have slept with society to unearth the key to that nostalgia. Tohoku poets display a great deal of petulant like stubbornness towards society but have tendencies, at times, to indulge in their kindness. Only Kazuki Tomokawa has never once slept with society and stood clear of all this; puzzling humankind. For, he would never show such sheepish-smiles, nor shameless mannerisms. There is no doubt that humankind and society would stand ashamed, bewildered in fact, if it were being stared at with those huge interrogating Tomokawa eyes. Actually, it’s not the eyes but more his pupils. It would, like the pupils of Odilon Redon, leave anyone standing ashamed and bewildered.

However, this shouldn’t suggest single-mindedness because, if anything, Tomokawa is very fickle. It’s his strength and intelligence that allows him to be free of it. In fact, Kan Mikami, is a single-minded man. Of course, so is Hideo Hasebe. And ultimately, in the end, even Terayama was. From the day he would arrive, with a silk scarf as white as snow around his neck, at Oobune Studios until the day he talked down to me at Canne insinuating that I “shouldn’t accept any commercial movies.” In front of me, he was the most single-minded man, to say the least.

There’s a certain synchronicity Tomokawa’s songs. One breathing with ferocity and unimaginable kindness; another that shows a life of undying honesty filled with prolifically delicate verse.  Though, there are at times when he can’t be bothered with it, nor with painting, nor with cooking, nor with drinking, nor with causing a fuss about things concerning theater (acting) because to him all are as important and as random. He isn’t interested in the cause and effects of love because his is unconditional. He is song and if song was in the form of man then that’s Tomokawa.

And if it pierce’s you through the heart consider yourself blessed. If your eyes fill up with tears consider yourself (one of the) chosen. For, your heart responds to a love that asks for nothing in return. He’s willing to bare himself to us revealing that a love which asks for nothing in return still breathes inside of him.

Hey, my friend, haven’t seen you in a while but how are you doing? Are you looking good as always and still drinking like a fish? I know you’re blessed with great friends and though it may not amount to the world’s population it’s far, far more than the standard in which one man will ever have.

……just got word, songs of Kazuki Tomokawa will be released on CD. And what a pleasure that will be.

– Quoted from a text for A Collection of Masterpieces [the early years], 1989, Nagisa Oshima, Film Director

“A RAW TIMELESSNESS“ Text by Masato Kato

There was a famous movie director who was always grilled with the question, “what’s your most important piece of work?” And without fail had always replied, “my next piece of work.” Such an answer can only be explained by the directors confidence, in oneself, that every piece is the final masterpiece. Expressive minds have their moment in time and even if one were to leave their mark it’s destined that their life will spiral into one that grows hideous with old age. Though there is one exceptionally gifted writer who’s indifferent to signs of decay and a life of decadence.

Kazuyuki Tomokazu is one of those rare breeds. There is a perception that being called a genius simply means having a natural talent or brilliance but that’s really only one side of it. A true genius possess’ a unique style, one that has no peers. Their works are given eternal life and only when death calls does the soul of a one grow old. He is a man of this nature, a true gift from God.

Now those who initially come in contact with his songs are overwhelmed and left standing helpless by his powerful voice. Listening to the new CD, I’m amazed at how it’s a masterpiece breaking new ground. Even seasoned songs are sung with fresh vigor. There’s never a moment of regression with this man. His mind-blowingly ambitious lyrics leave one feeling touched and we’ve only just scratched the surface. Empty your mind of all thought and listen closely for his songs should make you feel at ease with yourself. The underlying tone, I feel, of Kazuyuki Tomokazu is like the peace and tranquility of a subterranean full of eloquently flowing veins of water. The songs on this CD are delivered to you in this way.

On a personal level, to have an actor of his stature reading words from my script was not only a privilege but a pleasure. This happened to be my first encounter with the man and it may have been because we lived in the same district but a relationship had sprung; one of booze and bets of course. From pachinko to horse, speedboat, or bicycle racing we partook in anything that resembled gambling. With big wins, at first, on both horse and bike races, he’d say to me, “this ain’t the time nor place to be singing now is it.” We were on fire and I’d reply, “someone here suffering defeat. Well then, we’ll buy you out and split it between the both of us.” Now nothing can last forever and our life of extravagance would end day by day, little by little. But out of all this betting nothing compared to the rush of those bicycle races and in an instant Tomokawa fell victim to it. From that day was the start of his research and analysis. If it had anything to do with bicycle racing he’d check it front to back. There was even a time when he’d fly out alone, with only cash in pocket, to a Kyushu racetrack. I imagined him looking like a terrorist carrying a bomb into enemy territory. If he wasn’t sleeping all his time and effort was vested into this. So much so that if this were preparations for a college entrance exam, he’d most certainly get into the University of Tokyo. And finally, all this hard work would come into fruition. Assigned as a commentator to a televised race he would predict, an unprecedented, all four races on the head. On top of that, three out of the four were mammoth long shot wins at odds around the five thousand yen mark. It would go down in the books as, the first and probably the last, greatest feat in televised race history. He would soon become a prominent figure after this winning over many fans and eventually publish a book, as a specialist, on bicycle racing. What would take a regular man a couple of decades to reach, he would arrive at merely a fraction of the time. Having seen this with my own eyes would convince me further more of his talent and versatility. A singer, a painter, a poet, and sometimes an actor…. There is no doubt that extraordinary amount of energy were put into each of these roles.

With life, for him, always comes sacrifice. If it be his body, his soul, his money it’s always changing and you can bet always risky. That’s exactly it, the word shouldn’t be sacrifice but betting or gambling. Now don’t mistake this for incompetence because he’s too proud to be caught dead taking refuge and bathing comfortably in tepid waters. Some might say he should take it easy but I say mind your own damn business because it’s this attitude that keeps him together.

The Tomokawa;

that in a split second loses thousands at the tracks and can’t get up over the shock even after the races have ended, that cheers banzai after winning big on the final race at Hakodate, that gets drunk and becomes truculent, that ends up sitting at a pachinko/slot machine even after angrily accusing it of fraud. All these Tomokawa’s give KAZUKI TOMKAWA everlasting energy. Always ahead of the game playing second fiddle to someone or something is out of the question. Facing the wind with his bare hands and teeth clenched; surely that’s hand to hand RAW-ness.

And now he’s delivered to us this album. It’s like a new born with steam still rising from it. Cut it and it will bleed but if you don’t watch yourself you’ll get cut. As I take the CD out of its case, my heart warns repeatedly to be careful. It feels weird that he can be stuffed into such a small round disk. But if it were oval in shape, setting the CD into the player, I’d actually be holding the bank part of the (bicycle) racetrack. Oh, so silly. I remove all anxieties and hold my breath with anticipation. Just one more second and KAZUKI TOMKAWA will show up at my door …….

– Quoted from a text for Fat in the Morning Light , 1996, Masato Kato, Playwright

“A Bad Influence“ Text by Shu Fujisawa

Reaching. Reaching down, down to the deepest loamy depths of this world while swigging from a cup of rotgut sake, that’s Tomokawa-san.

“What can I say? My behaviour is not irreproachable!” “I want to keep on enjoying myself till the day I die!” With phrases like that, scream-sung like in a voice like a staggering drunk, Tomokawa-san is about as far from being irreproachable as anyone I have ever met. The first time I met this so-called mad Akita dog, he poured a huge shot of whisky into a pint glass, fixed his big raptor-like eyes on me, and showing his pearly white teeth he laughed, “Fujisawa-san, I’d better stop all this human being crap before it’s too late! I need to kill it stone dead.” Madness, violence, decadence. All shone from those handsome eyes, but at the same time there were there dreams too.

I remember thinking that his eyes seemed fixed on something not of this sphere, like a pattern reflected up from deep in the earth on to the shimmering water surface of our world, or something far off in the distance. They reflected too the loneliness and struggle of being alone.Still a fledgling editor at the time, I fell under Tomokawa’s spell and I trailed along after him. “Drink before talk!” he said and I recall that he kept me up drinking with him till the next morning. “I can’t, I’ve got work…” I mumbled. His reply as he passed the rotgut? “Work? Just erase your company from your memory. Then there’ll be no problem.” And you know what, I believed him, as I got drunker and drunker and finally ended up as the reprobate I am today. There’s a delinquent part of me that still surfaces every time I hear one of Tomokawa’s songs. Delinquent, but deeply deeply kind too…

That man was a bad influence on me.

– Quoted from a text for Sky Fish, 1999, Shu Fujisawa, Novelist

Kazuki Tomokawa Biography:  Translated by Alan Cummings
Kazuki Tomokawa:  Text by Nagisa Oshima,  Translated by Naofumi Kuchiba
A RAW TIMELESSNESS:  Text by Masato Kato,  Translated by Naofumi Kuchiba
A Bad Influence:  Text by Shu Fujisawa,  Translated by Alan Cummings


This website has replaced the old official website of Kazuki Tomokawa and is managed by his supporters.