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Sunday, March 21, 2004

Jolly good show, Hidaka-san


Special to The Japan Times

At the entrance to the headquarters of concert-promoter Smash is an original poster for the Sex Pistols' "God Save the Queen" single. When the group did a reunion tour of Japan several years ago, Smash President Masa Hidaka had them autograph it.

News photo
Smash President Masa Hidaka, who was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his promotion of Britrish music in Japan

This may be the closet Hidaka had come to royalty before the British Ambassador to Japan, Sir Stephen Gomersall, paid a call to his office last December.

"I had no idea what he wanted," said Hidaka by phone, from his Tokyo office. "When he first sat down, he just talked normally about this and that, then suddenly he broke into this official speech from Her Majesty the Queen."

To his surprise, Hidaka had been chosen to receive an official honor from the Queen -- the Order of the British Empire -- for his promotion of British music in Japan.

"It was unbelievable," he said.

Music has become one of Britain's major cultural exports and the British government knows it. The British Council regularly cosponsors the Japan tours of up-and-coming, cutting-edge British acts. Even the the Queen herself has helped by handing out honors to many of Britain's most famous rockers, from Mick Jagger to Eric Clapton.

The first British act that Hidaka imported in Japan was Elvis Costello and the Attractions in 1983. Since then, Smash has brought everyone from Stereolab to Oasis to Japan. Almost on any given weekend night, somewhere in Japan, Smash has a band playing.

With the Fuji Rock Festival, inaugurated in 1997 and inspired by Britain's massive Glastonbury Festival, Hidaka has created, against all odds, one of the biggest cultural events in the Eastern hemisphere.

Smash was the first Japanese promoter to truly embrace the rock concert experience. Always a bit of a rebel, Hidaka broke with tradition by getting rid of strict security and allowing fans to dance or mosh.

His first visit to Glastonbury in 1985 was inspired as much by the festival's commitment to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (proceeds went to CND, a campaign Hidaka supported with a smaller festival in Tokyo) as by music.

The hippie/punk aesthetic of Fuji Rock isn't a commercial strategy but a reflection of Hidaka's personal style. Unsurprisingly, he counted one of the festival's regular performers, The Clash's late Joe Strummer, among his friends.

Thus his obvious delight with his honor is leavened with a little bit of embarrassment.

"I don't want to show off," he said. "This medal isn't just for me but for the whole company and my family and all the people who supported us through the years."

More than 140 people attended Hidaka's investiture, held March 12 at the British Embassy in Tokyo.

"As the Ambassador was pinning the medal on my jacket, I felt Joe's shadow. I wonder what he would think if he were still around."

And what will he do with the OBE medal? "I'm going to hang it with my Sex Pistols poster."



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