Friday, September 9, 2011

Meeting the Rich and Famous in Japan? Sure. No Problem. Happens All the Time

There's not a foreigner in this country who won't tell you that Japan is a very weird place. When I say that, I mean it in a good way. The other foreigners you talk to may not.

Japan is just, well... Japan. That's the best explanation I can come up with. Things happen in Japan that just would never happen in a million years in another country. That's just the way it is.

Here's an example of something weird that happened to me. Just one of a very many.... 

But, first, some background; in the late 70's and early 80's, I was in a one-hit wonder punk bank and then ran one of the first punk underground "zines" back in those days. Underground free papers were quite the rarity at that time. But we made one. It was called, "Sixty Miles North." I won't embarrass myself by telling you the name of my band.

June 27, 1984 Sixty Miles North. Yours truly on the cover.

Sixty Miles North was pretty popular at that time and there's even a webpage for it with someone selling back issues fer chrissakes!

Anyway, we used to distribute these magazines at record stores, etc. back in those days. 

One particularly well-known record store chain was owned by a now multi-millionaire guy by the name of Jim Salzer. One day, when I went to his then tiny record store, I took magazines and asked him if he'd put them on the racks and give them away for me. He eagerly agreed and thought the magazine was extremely cool. I was happy. I think that one time was one of the few times I had ever met him in the USA and I had only ever met him when he was at his shop. Keep in mind that this was a suburban area and not a big city.

Fast forward several months. I moved out of the USA and left the magazine for my useless friends to run into bankruptcy, which they did. Soon. I was then living and working in Japan.

My very first job in Japan found me working in Shinjuku in Tokyo. One of the biggest cities and most crowded places in the world. On my very first day of work, my new friend Stephen asked me to go have dinner with him at a KFC near the station. Even though I generally hate KFC, I said "OK" as I didn't know any good places to eat; I had no friends (Stephen was my first) and I had only been in Japan for one week. I also didn't have a clue as to where I was (really) or where to go.

So we go to this KFC at the west exit of Shinjuku station and are standing on the street eating chicken. There's a million and a half people milling around us. A guy walks up to me and says,

"Mike! Mike! There you are!" At first, I didn't recognize him... It was Jim Salzer. Jim Salzer in Japan, no less, and he doesn't seem the least bit surprised to see me. My jaw drops. WTF!? I've never met him randomly on the street in my own hometown and I had lived there for over 15 years. Here I am in Japan for a week and he walks right up to me like it's no big deal. 

Jim realized the shock on my face and said, "Mike! Mike! Don't you recognize me? It's me, Jim!"

I snapped out of it. "Oh? Er, sure! Jim? Jim Salzer! Hi. How are you?"

Jim said, "I'd been wondering where you went to..." He then slapped my back and said, "Say, Mike, I'd love to talk, but I'm late. Where the heck is the train station?" I didn't know either but my friend pointed him in the right direction and off he went as if there wasn't anything the least bit unusual like this sort of chance encounter.

Here I am in one of the most crowded places in the world and, by pure coincidence, I meet an aquaintance from back home that I had never met by chance on the street there (and even at that I had only met him three or four times!)... There's 60 million people in this town and he walks right up to me! And he acts like it's no big deal... Just like meeting a co-worker at the water cooler at the office!

I am still amazed about it. I wish I had a picture to prove it.

Like I said, the weirdest sh*t happens in Japan. My friend George Williams agrees with me, "You can meet people in Japan that you'd never ever meet in a hundred lifetimes in the west. Hell, in the west, you couldn't get within 5000 meters (yards) of these people. But in Japan, you can meet them walking along on the street!" It's true. I've met Eric Clapton twice walking along a street in Harajuku. At first I thought he was some scraggly-looking dumpy foreigner just hanging around looking for a job.... That's probably what everyone else thought too! 

My friend George even has a cool photo of the time he met Jimmy Page when Jimmy came to Japan in the 1980's! George is standing there next to Jimmy looking like he's standing next to his mom or something. It's pretty cool... I mean, if you like Led Zeppelin... 

Now, let me drop some names.

Since I've been in Japan, I've met many extremely famous people, multi-millionaires and world famous politicians... Just to name a few...

I've met Richard Branson, George H. W. Bush (Daddy Bush), Yoko Ono, Elvis Costello, Siouxsie Sioux (not well known by most, but I am a big fan), at least 7 Japanese Prime Ministers and a bunch of other countries prime ministers - so many - that I can't remember. Along with the some many others that I've met who I can't remember either.

Of course my job makes a big difference, but meeting guys like Richard Branson or these prime ministers and George Bush had nothing to do with my radio & TV work.

In fact, meeting George H. W. Bush had nothing to do with radio but everything to do with... Amway. You can read that true story here.

With Yoko Ono

I'm not in this photo with Siouxsie Sioux (her former hubby, Budgie next to her) but I took the photo. You get to see
how hot my wife was just when we married (though why she married me is anyone's guess). At right, front, is George Williams.

Former prime minister Yoshiro Mori (I think I'm going to 
start a collection of prime ministers I've taken photos with).

George H. W. Bush at an Amway convention. Don't believe me?
Here's the proof. 
Read:  Japan, Amway, George H.W. Bush, and Diana Ross – Your Tax Dollars at Work! to read more bizarre adventures that could only happen in Japan!

White Stripes way before they were famous

Menudo in 1984. I'm wearing the white shirt. See the kid in blue in front second from left? That's 
Ricky Martin at about age 10. No kidding!

Some wankers in a crap band named Linkin Park.

Elvis Costello is a very nice guy.
Anyhow, I hope it doesn't seem like I am bragging (well, I am kind of... Now that I look at all these pictures)... The real point is that, in Japan, the weirdest things happen. I have hundreds more photos to prove it too! I have photos with lots of movie-types like Arnie Schwarneggar, but can't be bothered to find them...

Last night I met one of the most famous Korean singers in all of Asia and one of my other blogger friends wrote about his hospital stay and the doctor smoking cigarettes (Hey! Do we have the same doctor? Wow! Small world, eh?) So that inspired me.

Have a good day... Oh, and don't forget to always have a camera! You never know who is going to walk up to you and ask directions.


Marc Sheffner said...

"at least 7 Japanese Prime Ministers"
Just a drop in the ocean, then. C'mon. You ain't really trying!
Sweet post - a model of how to write an interesting blog entry.

Andrew Joseph said...

Awesome blog! I'm linking you fro mine to yours!
I've always been a suburban punk! I love the music!
Man I am so envious. Too bad you had to meet George Bush.
I've only met sumo wrestlers, Japanese wrestlers and a few porno stars. I did wave something at Miss Nude Universe once. Thank god there's no photographic evidence!
Cheers! and Rock on!

Murasaki Shikibu said...

I concur Mike. Now that you mention it, I have a list myself of odd people I have met while working: Aerosmith, Isao Aoki, Jason Lewis, Hideo Nomo, Erling Kagge, Jean-Jacques Annaud, etc.

Meeting famous/extremely wealthy people outside work is an indication of how safe it is to walk on the streets imho. It's similar in Norway and Sweden. You can run into the King of Sweden or the PM of Norway riding your bike in the countryside and they wouldn't be with their SPs. Like you always say, it feels pretty safe walking around the streets of Tokyo.

Anonymous said...

Totally true. About 5 years ago, a good friend and I went to the Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo and we're sitting in the bar up near the top of the building and I kept looking over to the next table thinking, "I've seen those people somewhere before." Yes! I knew it! It was Billy Joel and Avril Lavigne sitting there drinking wine. That had to have been about the dozenth time I've sat next to super famous people at hotel bars and restaurants in Tokyo. The Japanese people don't seem to care... Maybe it's because all foreigners look alike!
-Greg W.

Anonymous said...

Years ago... John Lennon and Yoko Ono used to frequent a small ramen shop in Shibuya that is near the Shibuya office of TEPCO. The shop is still there too.