A Real Friend

WOW!! This isn’t going to mean much to my friends back home, but a few years back I went to see a live show at a small live house here in Shizuoka. the main performer is this guy that dresses up like a King and does covers of 70’s and 80’s hard rock tunes. The unique part of his performance is that he directly translates the lyrics into Japanese……….and it’s funnier than hell…….if you understand Japanese. Anyway, that evening he had a guy opening up for him that did all Beatles tunes. I was never a big Beatles fan but, I gotta tell ya, this guy was so good that I went out the next day and bought a few Beatles CD’s. He was on his own with an acoustic guitar. You could toss any request to him and BAM he’d play it without missing a beat. Didn’t have a song book with him with lyrics because he has them all in his head. On top of that, he kind of resembles Paul McCartney. My wife and I really enjoyed his performance.

Over the course of the next year the Beatles guy, his name is Naganuma san, came back to Shizuoka a few times and we were sure to be in attendance. I learned that he was actually in the number one Beatles cover band in Japan. I’ve also heard that his band actually played in front of Paul McCartney. I never asked him directly so I can’t confirm if that is true or not.

The next summer, Tomoko and I were celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary so we decided we’d go to Tokyo and catch his band playing in their usual setting. So far we had only seen him on his own or with one other person. We wanted to see the whole show so off we went. After the show in Tokyo I went down to the stage to say hi. Not sure if he’d remember us or not, but, I just wanted to say hey. So, we headed down to the stage and he came right to us. Knew exactly who we were and where we came from. We told him we were celebrating our anniversary by coming to see him play. He invited us to come to the after party with the band. We had a great time that night. About 30-40 people headed off to this restaurant down a back alley and we were treated to a private room for our group. I have to admit that I felt a little awkward being around so many people I didn’t know…..although that was probably because I was the only non-Japanese in the room. I kind of stick out in situations like that. Everyone was looking at me and I’d catch the occasional person leaning over to the person next to them, say something really quiet, and then that person look over at me. Curiosity I guess. Anyway, not too far into the party Naganuma san, stood up and did the opening speech for the party where he thanked everyone for their support and for coming out that evening. At the end of his speech he moved over towards us and said “This is Jim and Tomoko. They live in Shizuoka and have been to all of my shows there. Today is their wedding anniversary and they came all this way to spend it with us. Happy Anniversary!” to which the room erupted in a fury of applause and smiles all around. It also drew quite a few people over to us to pour us drinks. The mystery of the huge foreigner had been solved and everyone was now comfortable with me being there. We were there until around 2 in the morning but then Tomoko and I had to take off. We were dead tired from working all day then traveling to Tokyo. It was such a great time though and although I’ve thanked Naganuma san on every occasion that I’ve seen him since, he really doesn’t know how special he made that night for us. Our original plan was to go to Tokyo, see the band, then go back to the hotel, sleep, and return to Shizuoka the next day. Naganuma san, his bandmates, crew, and other friends/fans turned a simple night out into a grand affair that neither of us will ever forget.

Fast forward another year and a half, to last week actually. I’ve had Naganuma san on my friends list on Facebook for quite some time. We have the occasional message back and forth but in all fairness he doesn’t really know me other than someone that comes to his shows. But, he is always super nice and super friendly. Rewind a little here, he came to Shizuoka a while back with another singer/guitarist that was visiting from America. They came to Shizuoka and performed at our regular haunt. It was really cool when they were walking to the stage Naganuma stopped to say hi to us and he introduced us to the other guy. Nothing really out of the ordinary with that but it was just cool the way he did it. He said “This is my friend, Jim, and his wife, Tomoko”. He called me his friend. I know, it’s a very simple thing but it meant a lot to me.

Anyway, to get back to last week. Every year, in December, my musician friends and I get together and have a jam session dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. As you know, Lennon was killed on Dec. 8th. My friend is a huge Beatles fan so he organizes this each year. I’ve always just joined in because I like the atmosphere being with all my guitar buddies. Well, last week I sent a note to Naganuma san and told him that we were having this tribute jam session in memory of John Lennon and I told him that I’m sure that his schedule is probably already worked up for that day, but, I was giving him an invitation anyway. I never expected anything to come of it. He’s in the biggest Beatles cover band in Japan so I figured the weekend that John Lennon died would be taken. Even if it wasn’t, I never expected that he would actually come all the way from Tokyo for a small event like this. I made it clear to him that I wasn’t trying to hire his band to perform, I was inviting him as a friend. Well, this morning I got a note from Naganuma san, he’s coming to our jam session. I can’t even begin to explain how excited I am about this. On one hand I want to tell everyone that he’s going to be with us so they can come see him. But, at the same time, and a much stronger feeling, I don’t want to tell anyone at all. I have invited him as a friend and I don’t want him to feel that he has to perform. I want him to come down and jump in on songs if he feels like it and do a few tunes himself, like everyone else is expected to do. I don’t want him to feel that he is on the clock. So, I’ve decided that I’m not going to tell anyone other than the restaurants owner and the guy that is arranging all of this. I’m going to tell them not to invite extra people just because Naganuma san is going to be there.

I don’t know, guys, this news has really made my day. I now feel that Naganuma san is actually a friend and that I’m not just another fan in another city. I can’t wait to see him again and I hope that he enjoys the jam session with us. I hope he can just kick back and relax and have a good time. I also hope that this jam session takes him back to a time when he wasn’t doing this for a living, the days when him and his buddies would do…..well……exactly what we’re going to be doing, just hanging out with friends and enjoying some cold beer and some good music.

Y’all come back, I’ll leave a light on for ya.




ex-pat American living in Japan since 1991. Love to play guitar and billiards. Love my Cincinnati Bengals too. Who-Dey!!
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One Response to A Real Friend

  1. Lonnie L. Jones says:

    Excellent post Mully! I WAS a Beatles fan, so I’m jealous! I hope Naganuma san has the best time of his life at your jam session.

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