Ambassador of Japan Heritage Featured

Published in On Japan  
Ambassador of Japan Heritage Photograph courtesy of Marty Friedman

Ambassador of Japan Heritage

When I first started to become feverishly interested in Japan, I never dreamed I would eventually play at the legendary Budokan. Well, that’s not entirely true. It was within the realm of possibility. I was a rock musician, and so if I reached my musical goals I could wind up at the Budokan, somehow. When I eventually played there, I felt like all the struggles of being a musician had paid off big time.

Even so, nothing prepared me for what was to come after that concert. Of all things, this long-haired, rock-and-roll guitar player from the East Coast of America was inaugurated as the first non-Japanese Ambassador of Japan Heritage by the Japanese Agency of Cultural Affairs.

What exactly is that, you ask?

Well, I asked my manager the same thing when he excitedly told me that I got the gig. He told me that I was chosen along with the New York Yankees’ former superstar Matsui Hideki, pop-culture icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, actress Emi Takei and others to take on the title of Ambassador of Japanese Heritage. Our term will last all the way up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In a nutshell, we are to be official representatives of Japan while in the country and abroad, through the promotion of the country’s sites, traditions and things that make Japan so unique.

There are so many jaw-dropping places with stories of rich cultural value here. What is odd to me is that even though I thought I had seen every facet of Japan, I’ve not yet heard of several of the places I will promote. Even after having toured the country and having lived here for over 10 years, Japan remains truly endless for me.

So I really wondered why I was chosen for this. There are plenty of people who know way more about Japanese things than I do. There is no way to know what the “powers that be” saw or read that made them choose me. But I have some theories.

In general, the Japanese are quite humble, especially when it comes to things they are very accustomed to, like their daily way of life and surroundings. Oftentimes they don’t acknowledge how special something is until someone passionately points it out to them. In the interviews and programs I’ve done, I have often spoken about the things I like about Japan. When I do, my Japanese becomes very straightforward and even comes off a bit strong at times. I believe when I speak that way the listener feels it’s very convincing and they take a second look at the things in life they wouldn’t normally pay much attention to. Also, because Japanese is my second language, I tend to use few idioms and just get straight to the point. Since I tend to leave the “softening” colloquialisms out, as a result, I wind up sounding a bit brash, even aggressive. But when that aggression is attached to extolling the virtues of some part of Japanese culture, it comes off as very honest and, apparently, it seems to really drive the point home.

I have a feeling that it’s my way of speaking that got me the gig, so to speak. Honestly, I would be a representative of Japan anyway, whether I received this official title or not. I already feel like a representative of America when I’m in Japan. At the same time, I am the go-to-guy when people want to know what it’s really like to live in Japan as a foreigner. I guess there’s no way for a Japanese person to be knowledgeable on that topic.

Anyway, I’m here to tell you that Japan is everything you ever dreamed it could be – and way more. tj

The complete article can be found in Issue #279 of the Tokyo Journal.

Written By:

Marty Friedman
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