Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Moonwalking with MJ

June 26, 2009

I learned of Michael Jackson’s death this morning in a news bulletin from public broadcaster NHK, when the anchor began with: “This is urgent news just in from the United States.”

I wondered what had happened? News from President Obama? Another U.S. bank failure?


He quoted U.S. media saying Michael Jackson had been taken to a hospital in California and was not breathing. I thought how rare it was for NHK to make a celebrity death its first story, overtaking a boiling political scandal here and upcoming general election, but this was a major story for Japanese and many people across the globe.

In the 1980s it became impossible even in Japan to avoid Jackson’s music and videos and, while later abuse allegations took a toll on his popularity in many parts of the world, he has always retained a huge fan base here.PEOPLE-JACKSON/

I learned how much Japanese had come to love the artist during tour coverage in September 1993, when the singer visited shortly after the initial child sex abuse allegations emerged.

He played two shows at the 30,000-seat Fukuoka Dome, part of an Asian tour to promote the “Dangerous” album. 

Six Reuters staff — two text journalists, two photographers and two TV cameramen — chased him for six days in Kyushu, the major southern island of Japan.

Upon airport arrival, I saw hundreds of fans and media camped out. Many followed him to Huis Ten Bosch, a recreated 17th century Dutch village with canals and windmills near Nagasaki, and some had been with him since Europe, now catching the shows in Japan.

Jackson and his entourage stayed at a luxuriously furnished hotel in the theme park, with nine two-bedroom suites each going for about $3,000 a night.  Media waited in front of the hotel along with hundreds of fans for two days.

I had several near misses with the artist when he was shopping or on rides in the theme park, but Jackson was mainly kept far away from the media and fans with the staff’s assistance. I really managed to come close only once near the front door of the hotel as he returned by car. About 30 fans waited for him and Jackson greeted them, shook hands and accepted some presents.

I remember myself shouting out something like: “Michael, do you have any comments about the allegations… Did you do it?”

PEOPLE-JACKSON/As expected, Jackson didn’t say a word, while his bodyguards whisked me from the scene immediately.  He went inside the hotel as more fans, TV cameras and reporters came running.

Several fans managed to give him presents, then broke down in tears on their brush with fame.  One girl said Jackson was her hero no matter what. Her disgust with the media was obvious.

My brief impression was that Jackson was a very shy person off stage, while on stage a flamboyant showman.  I caught the first concert in Fukuoka, a jaw-dropping performance, and though had not been a big fan before, the show was unforgettable for those both inside and out.

Scalpers were charging as much as $2,000 a seat, and I went outside during the show to speak with those unable to see the King of Pop. Many were trying to listen through the dome’s thick walls, a budget entertainment, but one they are probably talking about today.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Issei Kato and REUTERS/Kim Kyung Hoon

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