The time I became a music emperor's disciple
Working for Dreams Come True would have been a dream come true for most Japanese people. My dear friend Aoka went nuts when she found out I was interviewing for the company that manages them. She collected every album they ever released and made me listen to all of them. She was such a huge fan that she insisted on becoming my coach. Before stepping into the MS Artists' offices, I had no idea who they were beyond the vague familiarity with their name. Oddly enough, no one ever asked me about my knowledge of the band. In fact, I think they preferred that the people they hire not be fans. If you are a big fan of the band you work for, it can cloud your judgment and cause you to do stupid things like asking the most famous singer in the country to sign a picture for your cousin. Aoka desperately wanted for me to introduce her to the members. She wanted to become a singer and pop idol more than anything in the world. That was precisely the reason why I could never bring her to any official functions. The second I did that, I would have been fired immediately.
The first thing you need to know about the super famous is they value their space and privacy. To them, it seems like the whole world is waving their arms at them and trying to get their attention. It can be incredibly exhausting. They need their own space to escape all of that. If someone in the inner circle had brought by anyone who had the faintest whiff of fanatical fandom, they would have been immediately tossed out the door. The only way Aoka was going to meet the band was if she married me. She is a beautiful and charming woman, so that wouldn't have been so bad. As a family member, she would have had plenty of chances. I could have introduced her as my wife if I didn't already have one who the band adored. Some people don't mind meeting the friends and cousins of the staff. Dreams Come True was not that kind of organization.
Masa, the band leader, ran things with all of the strictness of a military general. I think he must have read Machiavelli's book, The Prince, at one point because he definitely ruled with an iron hand. ALL of the staff feared him, including the band members, and rightfully so. Although he has greatly mellowed out over the years, he used to be something close to a monster in his youth. In my naivety, I resented him for that. Only now do I understand it may have been necessary to keep his empire running for as long as it has. The music business is full of duplicitous people. Everyone wanted his money or influence. That's why I made a very strong point of not asking him for anything. I only broke that vow twice. One was trivial, but the other was not. I will tell you about it in another story.
Because of the way Masa treated the staff, it made total sense that I would be the target of their hatred. I have no idea why, but Masa treated me differently. He was kinder and gentler to me than he was to the others. They did not like that at all. For example, during gatherings with the artists, the staff were supposed to stand at attention in the background and not be seen unless needed. It should have been part of my training, but NOBODY told me. So, when Miwa, the lead singer, and Masa called me over to taste some delicious sake they had gotten, I said, "Hell yeah! Let me get a taste."
The next day the managers were furious. They called me into the office and screamed at me for an hour. "Why did you drink that sake!!!" They shouted. "Ummm, because Miwa offered it to me," I responded. I mean, come on! I was not wrong. At least I didn't think so. By the Japanese rules of cultural engagement, I had committed a grave sin. As the newest member on staff and as a foreigner, I was supposed to be at the very bottom of the hierarchy, but I was drinking premium sake like I was on the top. They hated me for that. Again, it wasn't my fault. If someone had trained me, I would have politely refused Miwa, no matter how cute she sounded when she asked. Then again, I might have broken the rule anyway, even if they had trained me.
One day I was asked to go to Masa's house to give him and Miwa some tips on pronouncing English lyrics. They are both great English speakers; they just needed a few pointers. Masa requested that I be the one to do it. As the Emperor of MS Artists, no one could refuse his request. A few days before I was supposed to go, I was taken into the yelling room, aka, one of the meeting rooms. One of the older managers looked me sternly in the eye and said, "They are not your friends. You are not to talk unless you are spoken to. If you are spoken to, you are to keep your answers short and simple. NEVER talk about your private life and NEVER ask about theirs. Do you understand!" I nodded that I understood. On the day that I arrived at Masa's house, I had broken all of the rules within the first 20 minutes. There was no way I would have been able to sit in the same room with another person and act like a robot. I think that's why I would make the world's worst butler.
Masa asked me all sorts of questions about my thoughts and dreams. He wanted to know what I wanted to do inside the company. I gave the standard answer of, "I hope to learn as much as I can from my seniors." He looked at me and said, "WTF are you talking about. This is not a school." I responded, "Of course you are right, but I am new to the business, and I want to know the business. If no one will teach me, then I want a project I can call my own and use that as the way to learn." He suddenly let out a big grin and patted me on the back. "That's what I was waiting to hear." From now on, you won't be working for the guys in the office. You will be reporting directly to me.
As soon as the managers had gotten word of what happened, they poured on the negativity. Masa had made me even more of an office leper. Just a few weeks before that, I was told by my supervisor that I was his dog and that I should wait for his command when I asked if I could go back to New York to learn more. That dog comment hurt too deeply, and I was ready to quit until Masa swooped in to save me. I was out in the cold with absolutely no support from my seniors. I was left to fend for myself, but at least I had a fighting chance. I really do owe him a lot.