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Saturday, March 27, 2010

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

Big faces leave big impressions


I recently unearthed vital trivia stating that the average American will consume 35,000 cookies in his/her lifetime.

There you have it — proof I am above average.

And I am pleased to have such an easy way to measure myself against my countrymen. For I have always thought I was twice as good as everyone else and now I know.

If there were only a cookie Mount Rushmore, my doughy face would be on it. Me, Famous Amos, a Keebler elf and a certain blue muppet whose name says it all.

With all this being a rough segue into today's topic — Japan's Mount Rushmore.

Which doesn't exist. Outside of — I hear — a corny replica up in Nikko.

Where Japanese have chipped out stony images of four presidents from America's misty past. But . . . shouldn't Japanese be paying homage — and entrance fees — to their own heroes instead?

So I now aim to rectify matters and present my own Japanese Mount Rushmore. Following are sketches of the four Japanese I deem memorable enough to slap upon a mountainside. Thank goodness opinions are cheap. I could never afford the actual mountain.

Yet, first some disclaimers. To start, Japanese history is deep and I have big holes in my scholarly wading boots. The number of emperors alone is more than I can shake a stick at.

I know because I tried. I began shaking sticks at emperors, but all too soon my arm grew weary and I stopped, learning firsthand, so to speak, what that expression means.

So I limited my Mount Rushmore candidates to those Japanese who have lived during my 30 years of residency. But I must admit that my first 15 years here are pretty fuzzy.

My brain must have popped along with the economic bubble. Prior to 1990, I can tell you where and what I myself was doing, but my recollection of political, entertainment and sports figures of those years blends together in a wet splatter of people and events.

Thus, my Japanese Mount Rushmore will be fairly contemporary. Let's start with the figure on the far right . . . Junichiro Koizumi.

Prime ministers come and prime ministers go. In fact, in my time in Japan, this nation has shuffled through 20 prime ministers, while the United States, for example, has suffered but seven presidents. Yet, in Japan's long chorus line of leadership, Koizumi has been the one with the most kick.

On one hand, he was a maverick and reformer, the outsider in the party of power. On the other hand, he was that America-schmoozing, Yasukuni-visiting, business-as-usual LDP-er. And in between he danced with Richard Gere, crooned a little Elvis and tossed his mane to X Japan.

But no one stays in power for five years unless they are super-savvy. Plus Koizumi's hairstyle was made to be chiseled on a mountainside.

On the far left then . . . Takuya Kimura.

Yes, Kimutaku. For one thing his hair makes him the perfect bookend to Koizumi. For another, Kimutaku is not just your typical Sports Music Assemble Person. He has claimed a spot in Anan magazine's yearly ranking of male celebrities for an incredible 15 years in a row.

And what spot is that? Why, at the very top! Number one for 15 straight years! During which time he has been the hottest sex symbol in Japan, and much of Asia too. He has also mined considerable gold with romantic comedies, zany commercials and Simple-Simon SMAP numbers.

And somehow, through all this, he has managed to remain pleasant and affable. Kimutaku is as steady as a rock. So why not put him on one? He's earned it.

If being "steady" can get you on Mount Rushmore, then the third face there has to be . . . Ichiro Suzuki.

I am not an Ichiro fan. I think he looks like a lizard. Plus, he seems full of himself. And I cannot take the way he gulps his beer in commercials.

But while other Japanese athletes have made successful transitions to international arenas, Ichiro has done them all one better. He has ascended to the peak of that arena and remained there for a decade.

I watched the World Baseball Classic title game on TV while in the States on a trip back home. Joe Morgan, the announcer, had only two words when Ichiro came to bat with the game on the line: "Walk him."

The Koreans didn't. We all know the rest. Now Ichiro can walk up my mountain.

One name to go. And I need a female for the center. Someone attractive. Someone who says "Japan" in a single glance. Someone ubiquitous.

It can only be . . .

Hello Kitty.

For who else can better represent Japan's addiction with "cutesy cute?" And also embody the marketing madness of the Japanese economy? Hello Kitty is my gal. Besides, she's everywhere else. She might as well be on my mountain.

There you have it, my Japanese Mount Rushmore: Koizumi, Kimutaku, Ichiro and Hello Kitty.

How about yours?



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