Yoshiki, who formed X Japan with lead vocalist Toshi in 1982, needs urgent surgery on his neck.

X Japan drummer Yoshiki to undergo urgent surgery for neck damage so bad it ‘would force a pro rugby player to retire’

Frail 51-year-old, whose aggressive brand of heavy metal drumming would often see him writhe in pain on the floor by the end of shows, has already been playing concerts without any feeling in his left hand

Yoshiki, the force behind Japanese rockers X Japan who is known for such intense drumming he sometimes collapses on stage, cancelled upcoming shows this week to undergo urgent surgery.

The musician, songwriter and record producer, whose group was one of the biggest acts in Japanese history in the 1980s and ’90s with its fanatical fan followings, will have treatment to receive an artificial cervical disc, his management says.

X Japan were one of the biggest bands in the country during their heyday in the 1980s and ’90s.

“Yoshiki has been told by a neurosurgeon in Japan that his neck has experienced severe damage that would force a professional rugby player to retire. It has been medically determined that he is approaching his limit, both physically and mentally,” a statement says.

“The operation is to be performed on May 16 at a Los Angeles hospital. Unfortunately, the cancellation of all scheduled activity in May could not be avoided.”

The statement adds that the reunited X Japan would be reviewing July arena concerts in Japan as well as a subsequent global tour that had not yet been announced, with a decision later on whether the shows can be rescheduled or need to be cancelled.

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Also a classical pianist, Yoshiki played New York’s Carnegie Hall with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in January, but his doctor said on Tuesday he had already lost feeling in his left hand.

He has kept performing since then though, including at an X Japan concert in March at Wembley Arena in London.

“Even in his condition at that state, Yoshiki said that he wanted to see things through to the end,” doctor Tommy Tomizawa says.

“However, due to the worsening of his symptoms, doctors determined that if the situation continued he would have gone beyond the point of surgery and recovery.”

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Combining the power of arena metal with the glam androgyny of David Bowie, X Japan won legions of devoted fans ranging from screaming teenage girls to Japan’s former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi and US rockers Kiss.

In an interview last year, Yoshiki said he believed X Japan’s bid to win over a bigger audience in the West could have been possible, had the band come of age in the internet era.

Social media in Japan reacted strongly to the news of the surgery, with “Yoshiki” being one of the most tweeted words.

Yoshiki acknowledged in a Facebook post after his management statement that he was “a little scared” but “planning on performing the upcoming X Japan shows” in July, immediately attracting hundreds of reactions from fans.

Sentiment was nearly unanimous in wishing Yoshiki the best and urging him to take care.

“Yoshiki-san, the neck is the most important,” fan Yukari Misaki wrote on Facebook. “Concentrate on your medical care, and please please, don’t overdo it. You will be fine.”