Trekkin' in Japan

April, 2004

April, 2004, TOKYO - I have appeared at Star Trek conventions throughout the world - in Europe, Latin America, and, of course, all over North America - except for the one obvious place for me. I had never done a Star Trek convention in Japan. I speak Japanese. I visit Japan frequently. I even attended summer school in Tokyo in my youth. Most relevantly, I am an American proud of my Japanese ancestry. Yet, I have never been invited to appear at a Star Trek convention in Japan - until I got a call last year from an entrepreneur/Star Trek fan named Kyouichi Iwahori.

Iwahori-san flew into Los Angeles for a lunch meeting to share with me his plans to open a shop for collectors of sci-fi movie props in Tokyo and to produce the very first Star Trek convention ever held in Japan. He is a man of grand visions. And, I learned, he is a man who achieves his dreams. His business credentials were evident, and, as I spoke with him, I quickly sensed that he was a genuinely knowledgeable Star Trek fan as well. He knew each episode of the show, line for line, action for action. He even owned a yacht that he had named Star Trek.

I flew into Narita International Airport to be greeted by Iwahori-san and his team of crack professionals. On our way to the hotel, I was informed that there would be a delay in the opening of his Hollywood Prop Shop due to some construction problems but that there would instead be a gala pre-opening party across the street from the shop. That was fine with me.

The convention was to be held in the town of Toyama, where Iwahori-san controls the Civic Auditorium. We were to stay at a hot springs spa resort overnight in that town. That sounded fabulous. This would be a wonderful visit to Japan.

Toyama is on the Japan Sea side of Japan less than an hour flight northwest of Tokyo. It is fabled for its superb seafood as well as its natural mineral springs. That night we dined at an enchanting rustic inn sampling the many exotic delicacies unique to the area. Where else can one savor the subtle flavors of a "fire fly squid," a squid caught only at night by the glow that it sends out, or a fat, bug-eyed fish as delicious as it is ugly. The spa resort was reached after a winding night drive up to the top of a rugged mountain. I was exhausted after my travels. Changing into a "yukata," or cotton sleeping kimono, I went straight to bed.

There can be no more glorious way to greet the new day than a morning soak in a steaming outdoor mineral spring. Gazing out at rugged, ancient rock outcroppings and gnarled old pine trees with the town of Toyama off in the distance below was the most relaxing way to prepare for a full day of a Star Trek convention.

The elements that make up a Star Trek convention are the same the world over - the autographs, the talk, and the promotional visits to the local radio stations and newspaper offices. There are, however, cultural distinctions with each one. For this Star Trek convention in Japan, I dressed in my suit and tie. The talk was formally organized. Iwahori-san conducted an interview/conversation with me on stage which was projected on a giant video screen behind us to accommodate the audience in the vast auditorium. At the end of our conversation a cute young fan came onstage and presented me with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers bigger than he was. There was much bowing up and down. Backstage, he gave me a sketch of the Starship Enterprise that he had drawn himself. The autograph line was well planned and orderly and the fans were politely enthusiastic. This was distinctively a Japanese Star Trek convention - as punctual and efficient as their fabled bullet train operation. This is one convention that will remain in my memory. I will have to share my experience of this convention with my colleagues from the show. I know they will want to do one here too - but they'll have to start brushing up their Japanese.

We flew back to Tokyo that evening. As we drove into the great metropolis from the airport, I was dazzled by the soaring new office towers that had gone up in formerly low rise districts of the city. Shinagawa was now a shining new city of corporate headquarters. Roppongi, a lively entertainment district now had a new mega-complex of luxury hotels, apartments, international shopping, an art museum and a towering centerpiece high rise tower visible from anywhere in Tokyo. The economic vitality of this city never fails to impress me.

Iwahori-san's collector store, The Hollywood Prop Shop, was almost ready to open - but not quite. The display shelves and counters were not yet in. Some of the merchandise had not yet arrived. There was the hustle and bustle of staff in hectic preparation. After a quick inspection of the premises, I quickly got out of their way. The shop was well located - right in the busy Nishi Roppongi district. It should do well. If the gala pre-opening party was any indicator, the venture should be a smash success. Star Trek fans I had met on previous visits to Japan were there to greet me as an old friend. Stars of Japanese action movies were mingling with wealthy collectors. The buffet table was laden with delectable Chinese food. The speeches were generously congratulatory. The evening was a happy launching of an enterprise boldly going where Star Trek had not ever gone before - to the very heart of sci-fi collectors' Tokyo.

Iwahori-san topped off the trip with a final unforgettable experience. It was a visit to the futuristic National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation. The museum showcases a vision of humankind's future of exploration, balanced with care for the environment; of experimental daring tempered by awareness of its consequences. Going through the exhibits was, at once, inspiring and challenging.

The Director and Chief Executive Officer of the institution was no less than a man who had himself been out in space, Japan's astronaut, Mamoru Mohri. I had met him on a visit to Okinawa in November 2000. My great luck on this call was that it happened to coincide with the visit of another space scientist, the woman astronaut from Japan, Chiaki Mukai. It would have been a rare treat just to visit an astronaut but to meet two astronauts - both from Japan - was an unexpected stroke of good fortune. Director Mohri amusingly observed that he considered me his "senior" because he saw me out in the galaxy years before he ever got out in space to the International Space Station. I demurred. I stated that Astronaut Mohri is a 20th century spaceman and I, as Sulu, played a 23rd century star trekker, so, in fact, he is three hundred years my "senior" - and my inspiration as well.

Life moves in fascinating ways. We were brought together in this museum of the future by the vision and genius of Gene Roddenberry who gave birth to "Star Trek." His creation merged time and space and still continues to have an effect. A student in Japan saw an actor portraying a spaceman of the future on television some years back. Today, he, as a genuine astronaut, and that actor share a convivial visit - 21st century fact and 20th century vision, meeting at a museum of the future in Tokyo, Japan. The power of human imagination makes wondrous things happen. Domo arigato Iwahori-san for your fantastic hospitality and my very best wishes for the success of your enterprise.

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