竜神 (RYUJIN) // (1/2) “I thought this was my fate, and became a dragon god.”

We have quite a treat for you today, one that we have been working on for quite some time. Perhaps you might have heard of 竜神 (RYUJIN) already, but in case you haven’t, here’s a (very quick) rundown:
竜神 (RYUJIN) is the newest musical incarnation of 篠本竜司 (Shinomoto Ryuji), who you might also recognize as Ryoji. Originally started as Suicide Heaven in 2009, the group changed it’s name to GYZE in 2011 and made quite a name for themselves in the international metal scene with their Japanese Samurai Metal-concept until the name was changed to 竜神 (RYUJIN) in 2023.

The band’s lineup currently exists out of 篠本竜司 (Shinomoto Ryuji) on vocals and guitar, his brother Shuji on drums, Aruta Watanabe on bass and 般若 (Hannya, this time as SHINKAI) as a second guitarist.
At the moment of writing the band is promoting their self-titled full length album that’s been released through Napalm Records on January 12, and of course we wanted to talk about that too. In fact, we ended up talking about so many things during this interview session that we’re forced to break this up into two parts.

So today we would like to present you with part one of our interview with 竜司 (Ryuji) – which is also the name we’re going to use throughout this entire project because that’s what he introduced himself with -, in which we talk about his history as a musician and how the name of his band might have changed, but the concept technically hasn’t. And of course his international ambitions as a Japanese metal musician.

This means that we don’t get to cover the new album 竜神 (RYUJIN) in this part of the interview, but don’t fret. Part two isn’t far behind!

Since this already is quite the lengthy conversation I won’t keep you any longer. Let’s go!


“You have a dragon attached to you.”

Before I start on my list of questions for today, could you introduce yourself to the readers first? I’m sure that quite some of them will already know you and your works, but just in case there are some who don’t…
竜司 (Ryuji): Nice to meet you. I’m 篠本竜司 (Shinomoto Ryuji), the frontman and composer of 竜神 (RYUJIN). The team calls me Ryo. I mainly play the guitar and do the vocals, but in the recording phase I also play the 三味線 (shamisen), 二胡 (erhu), 龍笛 (ryuteki), and do all the other orchestration.

You’re pretty much the driving force behind 竜神 (RYUJIN) then, based on how many instruments you play for your songs. But can you tell me a little bit more about 竜神 (RYUJIN) as a bit of background information?
竜司 (Ryuji): It all started with a solo album that I released when I was 18 or 19 years old. From there Suicide Heaven began because I added growl vocals to these songs. Two years later that project changed it’s name to GYZE, and now it’s 竜神 (RYUJIN).
It’s hard to say what 竜神 (RYUJIN) is as a whole, because the message changes with each song. I want to make music that lets people know that it is Japanese. Since we have evolved so far already, only god knows what will happen in the future!

The current name of your band is written with the simplified version of “ryu” (竜). I feel like I see the non-simplified version (龍) more often, so I am curious to your reasoning for using this version?
竜司 (Ryuji): My real name is also written with the simplified Kanji of “ryu”. Like I said, it was my solo work from the beginning, and even now I often write all parts of the songs by myself. The name 竜神 (RYUJIN) was chosen because we thought it would fit with our Japanese metal-sound, and above all, it is a character that has lived with us. It was also a suggestion from Matt (Heafy, Trivium/IBARAKI).
As strange as it may sound, people on the spiritual side used to tell me: “You have a dragon attached to you.” Moreover, the number “8” seems to be associated with dragons here in the East, and the day I was born was also November 8.
I thought this was my fate, and became a dragon god*.

* The name 竜神 (RYUJIN) is written with the Kanji for “dragon” and “god”, resulting in the meaning “dragon god” in both Japanese and English.

You already mentioned “Suicide Heaven” and “GYZE” a moment ago, so allow me to revert to that topic for this question. “GYZE” has been around for quite some years now, but what caused you to change the name of your band to 竜神 (RYUJIN) instead? I know there were some pronunciation issues with “GYZE”, but that can’t be the only reason, right?
竜司 (Ryuji): As you said, the pronunciation has been bothering me for a long time. * I also haven’t been active for a while since the coronavirus started, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to freshen up. Matthew also thought it would be a good idea to change the name.
No matter what the band name is, it’s not that big of a problem for me because I write all the music myself. However, GYZE has been building a career for 10 years now. I am very proud of this, so that’s why I left the G-mark as a homage to it.

* Throughout the years GYZE (pronounced as GII-ZE) has been mispronounced many times, for example like “GUYS”, or other variations of this. As someone who’s real name is also the uncommon version of the name in my home country, I can’t tell you how annoying it is to constantly be misidentified, no matter how often you say it’s “not that, it’s the other one”…

You already told me that it is very difficult to explain the overall message of 竜神 (RYUJIN) because this message changes with each song you make. On top of that you’ve been making music for quite some years, and yet you still find inspiration for new songs to this very day. Where do you get your inspiration from?
竜司 (Ryuji): I often find inspiration in nature. There the world is at peace. This is exactly the worldview that 竜神 (RYUJIN) has brought to us. My previous works include stories about World War II and many other variations, since I am also interested in history and study it a lot.
Sometimes I study Japanese religion and incorporate it into my work as well. The same goes for 北海道 (Hokkaido), since it is a little bit complicated and not part of Japan until about 150 years ago. We Japanese are like an alien species to 北海道 (Hokkaido), where the アイヌ (Ainu) people live. So I have a lot of respect for them.


“When I started to pursue something more beautiful, metal had everything I was looking for.”

Another important part of your music, that also makes it “very Japanese”, if you will, is the use of traditional instruments in your compositions. These instruments give a unique sound to your work that modern instruments just can’t produce, but I’m sure not everyone is familiar with them. Can you explain a little bit about each instrument?
竜司 (Ryuji): The 三味線 (shamisen) is a guitar-shaped instrument with three strings. It’s an essential instrument for Japanese folk song, and it’s perfect for percussive and energetic scenes. I think I was the first to fuse metal and 三味線 (shamisen).
The 二胡 (erhu) is a Chinese two-stringed violin-like instrument that is played with a bow. It’s one of my personal favorite musical instruments, with a feminine softness that is very similar to the human voice.
The 龍笛 (ryuteki) is an instrument used in ancient Japanese music and dance called “雅楽” (gagaku), where it is also used in conjunction with the 篳篥 (hichiriki) and (sho) instruments. In terms of Western musical instruments, I think the 龍笛 (ryuteki) is like a flute, the 篳篥 (hichiriki) is like an oboe, and the 笙 (sho) is a mini-pipe organ. There is a representative 雅楽 (gagku) song called “越天楽” (Etenraku) that I would really like you to give a listen to.
太鼓 (taiko) drums are like wooden floor toms! I even performed with them at school when I was in elementary school still.

I’m pretty sure you can’t read my mind in terms of what my next question is about, but I was going to ask you about your musical background next! Since I understand that you have a classical background initially, before you started to play metal. And you actually rolled into this question really nicely with the mentioning of your elementary school performances…
竜司 (Ryuji): I used to like KISS when I played classical guitar. But before I even touched an instrument I was drawn to the guitar already, and imitated playing it as a child. I would get goosebumps when listening to beautiful music, and I played punk when I was a student, but when I started to pursue something more beautiful metal had everything I was looking for. Of course there are some that are heavier and less melodic, but my taste has always been melodic. And as a guitarist it is a rewarding experience! “I want to play better than everyone else!”, that’s what I thought! (laughs)
In the end, the taste of music that moved me before I started playing music is what I still like the most, and I think that this is the source of 竜神 (RYUJIN). It was a very classical film score that used very Japanese scales.

You’ve already mentioned that you are the driving force and pretty much the sole composer for the band’s music, but I do want to ask about the other members. Since your younger brother Shuji is the drummer, and then there is Aruta on bass too. Do they have any influence on your work?
竜司 (Ryuji): Shuji and I are brothers who are only one year apart in age, and we’ve always been together so it was natural for us to form a band together. He also has a great ear and is very talented in music. There is no need for pointless discussions because the points that move us in music are close together. I sometimes compose music on the requests they make! If they think something is wrong, they will let me know. Their opinions sometimes really improve the arrangement of a song!

And of course, there’s one more person. He might not be an official member, but he is on your official photos and in your music videos. He even plays a big role in the music video for “下克上” (Gekokujo). Please tell me a bit more about 般若 (Hannya), since this is not his first appearance as a supporting member…
竜司 (Ryuji): Since Shuji left the band for health reasons at the time of the last album, we created a position called 般若 (Hannya) to replace him. If we bring in new members it will be difficult for Shuji to return, right? So we created a fictional character instead.
This time the previous guitarist left, so 般若 (Hannya) reappeared, this time as a guitarist.


竜神 (RYUJIN) // 下克上 (Gekokujo) (MV)



“In my mind, Europe is the birthplace of classical music.”

You’ve stated earlier on in this interview that you wanted to make music that lets people know it’s Japanese, but you are also aiming for a very international fanbase. Throughout the years you’ve toured the world more than once, but you’re also working with non-Japanese agencies and engineers for many years now. Please tell me more.
竜司 (Ryuji): The next album will be written by an American for the first time actually. His name is Mark Laws! The sound is different from Europe, but they did a great job.
The reason why I have been creating my sound in Europe for so long is because in my mind, Europe is the birthplace of classical music. I’m sure they’ll make it into something precise and beautiful. I however mixed and mastered all the songs for the 2021 and 2022 singles myself, such as “サムライメタル” (Samurai Metal) and “Oriental Symphony”. This is because there are so many tracks by now that it is starting to become difficult for anyone other than me to control.

Aside from creating your sound in Europe, you’re also signed to a European label: Napalm Records. They’re based in Germany, but branch out all over Europe, which automatically means you do too now. What is it like for you, as a Japanese artist, being signed to a European label? Since things work very differently here, you know that better than I do!
竜司 (Ryuji): I don’t want there to be any misunderstandings, but I no longer have high expectations for Japanese companies. As the world was starting to shift to digital, Japan was the only country that couldn’t see anything but selling CDs, and only doing promotion in Japanese. They do use worldwide services like Spotify and YouTube, but again, only in Japanese.
Napalm Records has been my favorite label for a long time, their lineup is always cool and they are an indispensable presence in the global metal music market. That’s why we’re proud to be the very first Japanese Samurai Metal band to sign a contract with Napalm Records. And since it’s a European company, I thought I would still be around 200 or 300 years from now, even if it changes form. Much like classical music. In other words, it’s a country that values music, so I am sure that they will cherish it in the future as well.
I think the fact that Samurai Metal existed in Napalm’s history, not just now, but even after we die, is definitely a big deal.

Like I already said, you’ve also played quite a number of shows in many countries all over the world. But what is the difference between a Japanese show and a show in a different country according to you? Do you prefer one over the other?
竜司 (Ryuji): I’ve often thought that we want to be active like other bands around the world! Japan separates Japan from other countries too much, and it exaggerates overseas performances as something special. Of course it’s important, and it’s important no matter what country you play in. But it’s hard to say something about the performances themselves since the reaction from the audience changes from country to country, even within Europe. I just want to do my best every time! That’s what I think, and I think it’s important to never cut corners.

I am really enjoying our conversation so far, since you are very open about your music and your band in general. I feel like even fans who have followed you for years might have learned something new here. Next I want to talk about your self-titled album 竜神 (RYUJIN), of course! But I feel like I have to save that topic for part two of this interview…

So let’s finish part one with one last question for now: you mix Japanese and English in your music both in the instrumentals and words, which is very fun for us in Europe because it’s unusual, but what about Japan? Do they enjoy the folklore and Japanese influence too, or not at all?
竜司 (Ryuji): The culture of the East in the past is completely different than the culture in the West, so the visual aspects are also very different. However, I feel like Japanese people tend to not consider Japanese things to be cool. Especially in the metal culture, I feel like it’s good to have a Western style… Since we were born in a country where we are a minority in the metal market, we want to continue to convey our originality!

Like mentioned in the introduction, this interview is divided into two parts. Unfortunately this means we have reached the end of part one, but don’t worry! Part two is not far behind, and will be coming next week Friday, March 1, at 13:00 CET / 07:00 AM EST / 21:00 JST!

In part two we’ll continue our conversation about the new self-titled album 竜神 (RYUJIN), as well as 竜司 (Ryuji)’s plans for the future and more. See you next week!


Follow 竜神 (RYUJIN)


🎂 11/08


🎂 03/16


🎂 03/20


🎂 ??/??


雪 (Yuki) is the owner and driving force behind Arlequin.
She originally started the project in 2009 as a photographer under the name of Arlequin Photography, but developed an interest in journalism and translation ever since. Because of these interests interviews and reviews were added to the project, until it eventually hit the limits as a "photographer" in 2021, and Arlequin Magazine was added to the mix.

雪 (Yuki) is a native Dutch speaker with a graphic design degree, which means she is also the main person behind Arlequin Creations.
After all these years she is still the main person who does interviews the interviews and live photos that you see on Arlequin, but also a large chunk of the reviews and behind-the-scenes work and communication goes through her.

She speaks Dutch and English on a native level, but also understands Japanese and German.

Leave a Reply