I first came to Japan in the late 1970s. There were very few foreigners in Tokyo back then. When I would walk through Shibuya and the Scramble intersection, people would point at me and say, “Look! There’s a foreigner!” Some people would even ask for an autograph.
Those were the good old days. Being a foreigner in Japan in those days was the same as being some superstar merely because of where you were born (kind of like British royalty). I rarely ever saw another foreigner back then.
One time, I think it was Jan. of 1979, I was waiting for my friend at 109 in Shibuya. They had just completed building it and I was told to wait there for my friend. I got there an hour early and, after walking around lost in Japan many times before that, I thought it would be best to stay there and wait for my friend rather than exploring and getting lost again.
While I was there waiting, four different beautiful Japanese girls walked up to me and said to me in nearly perfect English things like, “She’s not coming. I’m supposed to take you to dinner.” Or, “Your girlfriend called me and told me that she can’t make it, so I’m supposed to take you to coffee now.” Or, “It’s getting late, we’d better hurry or they’ll cancel our reservations.”
I was so surprised. I wondered how these girls knew who I was and who my girlfriend, who I was waiting for, was? Weird, eh?
Duh! I figured out after the forth girl asked me to go somewhere with them, that they didn’t know who I was and they didn’t know my girlfriend, but they were trying to “pick me up!”
“Wow! What a wonderful country Japan is!” I thought, “This would never happen back home. Never in a million years!”
It wouldn’t. I have never had a girl try to pick me up back in my home country… Ever!
“Japan was like heaven!” I thought. I’ll never forget that experience.
Shiga san and Yasuha Ebina, hosts of TV Tokyo’s “Ohayo Studio”
A few years later, I would return again to Japan. This time, I got a regular job on TV Tokyo’s “Ohayo Studio.” I think it was in early 1985 or so. Ohayo Studio was hosted by Shiga san (I don’t know his first name), and Yasuha Ebina. They are both very well known stars in Japan.
I couldn’t believe my luck. I had only been in Japan a short time – couldn’t speak a word of Japanese – and, by some miracle, I got a regular job on a daily kid’s TV show. Impossible! Incredible!
With Shinko san and Morikawa Yukari san
I taught short English phrases on Ohayou Studio once a week. Also, on that show, there would be local J-Pop bands appearing. One time, though, the world-famous Menudo came to the studio. Menudo was the first group that Ricky Martin was ever in and they were touring Japan and Asia so they stopped into the show.
I was looking forward to talking to those guys because, even though I loved Japan and everything about it, I was dying to speak English to another native speaker (Spanish? Close enough!) and also simply dying for some good Mexican food! Figured that these boys might have brought along a few burritos!
In Japan at that time, there weren’t any good Mexican food restaurants at all. None. Zero. Zip.
Ok, well, I have to admit that that the band Menudo isn’t from Mexico, but, hell, being a dummy, I didn’t know that! I figured that they must have been from Mexico because the word “Menudo” is the name for a delicious traditional Mexican food dish.
Anyway, Ricky Martin and the boys from Menudo came to the studio and they “lip synced” (くちぱく) one of their songs. It was “FABULOUS!” (Wink! Wink!) After the show I went backstage and said to them, “Hi guys! I’m your biggest fan in Japan! I have all your records and I love Mexican food!”
They all looked down and kind of scowled and said, “We’re not from Mexico. We’re from Puerto Rico.”
How embarrassing! I said, “Oh? Yeah! I knew that! Well, that’s OK because I’m not from Japan! Ha! Ha!….. Ha!”
Oh, did I feel stupid!
Anyway, after that dumb remark from me, I could tell the room was getting cold and it seemed like, all of a sudden, the guys from Menudo didn’t want to talk to me so much, so I asked to take a photo and got out of there as quick as I could…
I could have never guessed that a decade later, Ricky Martin would become such a big super-star with that “Livin’ da Vida Loca” song…
So, I took the photo and, since then I have been telling people that I was an “original member” of Menudo; the photo is “proof”… And those brats kicked me out because I was the most handsome one in the group and getting all the hot babes (at least the ones who could smoke cigarettes and could go on a date without their mom driving the car!)
The story I was told from band management (or, at least the wild story I spread around) was that Ricky was extremely jealous of me and my action because of my good looks and being more “macho” (mui macho!) than all those skinny little punks put together…. Ricky was jealous so I had to go!
And that’s the truth. So help me God! Bwa! Ha! Ha!
Seriously, though… I do look like one of them, don’t I?
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