Growing up in Tokushima City, Japan, Yonezu Kenshi had always felt like an outsider at home due to a strained relationship with his father. He was a quiet child, often choosing silence over words, which furthered his sense of isolation.
"I always wanted to be an ordinary person, even since I was a child. I also became aware that the feeling of being different caused me much distress." - Yonezu Kenshi
Yonezu often struggled to fit in and didn't have many friends. At times, he found solace in talking to imaginary characters he created in his mind, using them as emotional anchors. When he was around 20 years old, he sought help from a hospital due to difficulties in communication and social interactions, and he received a diagnosis of autism. For individuals with autism, interacting with others can be relatively challenging, but Yonezu accepts his true self. He does not feel the pressure to conform to societal expectations.
"You can say I am an individualist, or you can say I am someone who respects my own will." - Yonezu Kenshi
Yonezu has a very strong attachment to music, and his passion for music emerged early when he discovered animated music on the internet. During his second year of junior high school, he took his first proactive step. He was inspired by popular bands at the time, such as "Spitz" and "BUMP OF CHICKEN," and dreamed of becoming a musician like them. With this aspiration in mind, he started creating music by embracing his identity, and eventually found acceptance and strength in being true to himself.
A role model for self-discovery through art
Under the pseudonym "Hachi," Yonezu gained attention on Niconico for his songs using VOCALOID software. In 2012, Yonezu Kenshi shed the alias and began releasing music under his real name. His work reflected a unique perspective on life, resonating with the solitude and resilience of his generation.
"When I was a child, I felt extremely lonely, and my emotions might have been more intense than those around me. It's precisely because of this that I had the opportunity to contemplate what loneliness means." - Yonezu Kenshi
Yonezu Kenshi's focus shifted towards creating music with universal appeal, aiming to exclude his ego and create relatable songs. He was able to adapt to his loneliness, connect with others, and find himself through music. His dedication led to collaborations and surprising successes, such as his hit single "Lemon," which topped the Japanese Billboard charts. The song discusses death with a light, dance-like rhythm. Just like a lemon, its bitterness when cut open could convey the pain of losing a loved one. However, a person's life could also be like a lemon, filling with vibrant flesh and aroma, continuing to exude a lingering fragrance.
"The lingering bitterness of the lemon aroma remains in my heart, persisting without dispersing.
I will stay in the rain until it clears.
Now, you are still the guiding light in my life." - "Lemon"
Beyond music, Yonezu Kenshi's contributions include producing the support song "Paprika" for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. His journey of self-discovery and authenticity makes him a role model and inspiration for neurodivergent individuals, reminding us that embracing our true selves can lead to greatness in art and life.
Here are some more resources about Yonezu Kenshi, and how he serves as a positive example of autistic representation:
Yonezu's newest release with Studio Ghibli in 2023 - Spinning Globe [Youtube]
Yonezu's official site - REISSUE RECORDS
Yonezu's personal experience with autism (Japanese: 米津玄師 いじめや自閉症の苦しみ「自分の周りには支持者はいない)