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Tokyo Rock City: Let's Not Bring Down the Government

21 July 2006

Greetings from Tokyo!

With a sweeping silver mane that would be better suited to an aging rockstar rather than a prime minister, JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI is not only the most powerful man in Japan, but also a rock ‘n’ roll obsessive. A huge ELVIS PRESLEY fan since youth, (they even share the same birthday, January 8th!) Koizumi has belonged to the Tokyo chapter of the King’s fanclub for over 30 years along with his younger brother, MASAYA KOIZUMI. In 2001, he released Junichiro Koizumi Presents My Favorite Elvis Songs, a compilation with a digitally altered cover featuring the P.M. standing next to Presley. And while his trip last month with GEORGE W. BUSH to the hallowed halls of Graceland certainly made headlines, the most lasting symbol of Koizumi’s love for the King will probably be the life-size bronze statue he and Masaya helped erect in Harajuku.

I visited the statue just a few days ago, and although it’s tucked away in a hard-to-find backstreet, there was plenty of rock ‘n’ roll to be found in the surrounding areas. Behind Elvis stand the Rock & Roll Museum and the Love Me Tender store. The former is really just a shop that carries all kinds of music merchandise, and the latter is an all-Elvis all-the-time boutique. The male staff sport heavily-greased pompadours, and obscure Presley tunes play nonstop in the background. Next to the building is a visual kei record shop, Closet Child, which is like candy for me, coming from the States where such CDs are few and far between. Along with the music, they have a great selection of magazines as well. And, just around the bend, is the Sex Pot Revenge store, where I happened upon some of Tokyo’s hottest young rock fans.

While I was at the counter paying for a leather eye patch (facial coverings are all the rage here it seems), two sales associates began to chat with me. First the guy asked where I was from, and when I answered New York City, they “ooh”-ed with delight. (It made a lot of sense, given all the CBGB stuff they had there.) He continued, eager to use his English on me. “Do you like rock music,” he asked while miming the strumming of a guitar. After I nodded emphatically he wanted to know which bands. “Iggy Pop,” I said, trying to think of anything off the top of my head. “Sugoi!” they exclaimed, which translates basically as “Great!” He then pointed to my arms and said “Do you like tattoos?” “Of course,” I said as the beautiful bleached-blonde girl showed hers off and exclaimed, “We love tattoos!” (The P.M.’s grandfather, MATAJIRO KOIZUMI, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications in the Teens and Twenties, was also tattoo aficionado—he had a giant dragon tat on his back!)

Anyways, once I had gotten my change and was about to leave, she said, “Please come back!” and while smiling broadly, waved me out the door. I only mention this seemingly insignificant incident to show the enthusiasm of two particular Tokyoites with a burning love for rock ‘n’ roll. There’s a reason why the head of the nation sings “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You” at state dinners and likes X JAPAN and MORNING MUSUME. I haven’t ever heard of a world leader who has made rock music such a pivotal and public part of his or her life, and I haven’t seen kids so unabashedly amped about rock as I have on my trip. So to those still thinking the West has the upper hand on rock ‘n’ roll, I’m sure Koizumi would curl his upper lip, toss his salt-and-pepper shag and croon to them, “You’re so square.”