I don’t know why, but I still remember seeing a couple of TV commercials from when I was a kid living on Okinawa before its reversion to being part of Japan.
One of the commercials was of crooner Andy Williams shilling for Ajinomoto, the trademarked name for the Japanese brand of flavor enhancer made of monosodium glutamate. You can’t really ask “why” when it comes to Japanese commercials and advertisements — but for some reason, the song’s inane lyrics had the line “Ajinomoto — My Family.”
The other was of the Osmond Brothers singing and dancing to hawk Calpis, the fermented milk beverage that, for reasons that become obvious when you say the word out loud, is known as Calpico on these shores. (FYI, I actually like the beverage, in spite of the name.)
Williams and the Osmonds, of course, have a professional relationship that goes back to the singer’s 1960s TV show, when he introduced the then-boys to the world as they sang barbershop harmonies. They followed him to Japanese TV, too. (Some of the Osmonds eventually followed him to Branson, Mo., too, but that’s another story.)
Now, decades later, I’ve learned a little bit about the story behind the story. Turns out that there was a pioneering Shin-Issei named Tadao Kimura who, with his wife, Kyoko, opened one of the first companies, if not the first, in the U.S. to produce TV commercials specifically for the Japanese market.
Kimura was the man behind both of those commercials. Turns out that Kimura was a pioneer in other areas, too, including commercial fishing in Mexican waters and as the inventor of the now-ubiquitous California roll type of sushi for which others have taken credit. How do I know this? Because I read it in a new book by his daughter, Mari Kimura.
The memoir, titled “Fish & Fashion,” is actually Mari’s story, but along the way she also divulges the accomplishments of her parents and her sometimes tortuous relationship with them.
Kimura’s self-published 367-page book, which just came out last week, is a very entertaining tale of growing up in post-WWII Los Angeles in a creative Japanese American family that included two sisters (Margaret and Yumi) and one brother (Bill). For example, just a little more than 10 years ago (December 2001) I wrote about “Asian Beauty,” a book written by Margaret Kimura, a veteran professional makeup artist.
Now, eldest sister Mari Kimura has written about the first half of her life up until her days as one of the top fashion stylists in Hollywood. It’s called “Fish & Fashion” because one part of her life detailed in her book deals with her father’s adventures (and misadventures) developing, as mentioned, commercial fishing in Mexico with the Japanese fishing industry. Mari was a pivotal part of her dad’s business, thanks to her on-the-job training in which she learned to speak fluent Spanish.
Told chronologically, a good deal of the book also relates her parents’ showbiz connections, including promoting concerts in the U.S. with Japan’s top singing talents of yesteryear, including Misora Hibari, Yukio Hashi, Yoichi Sugawara and others.
Her parents also shared office space with famed Hollywood conductor and arranger Nelson Riddle and, later, a screaming Bill Gates in the earliest days of Microsoft.
Mari, however, eventually had to break away from her parents’ grip to pursue her own muse and become a top fashion stylist whose works helped mold the image of such entertainers as Marlon Jackson (brother of the late Michael Jackson), Alyssa Milano (who was for a time quite popular in Japan as a singer despite having, at best, modest musical talents) and Earth, Wind and Fire. Just like her father, though, Kimura also had her share of misadventures, like having Milano’s mother steal the credit for the costumes used in the Japan photo shoots and having to take Marlon Jackson to small-claims court for failing to pay for his wardrobe.
There’s also a less-than-flattering tale involving Japanese songstress Seiko Matsuda and an exasperating encounter with someone who is back in the news thanks to his separation from his wife, namely Arnold Schwarzenegger, before he became the big-time action star and, later, California governor. Turns out Mari’s sister, Margaret, was Arnold’s makeup artist. It’s a long story and one you’ll have to get the book to read, but Mari details having to spend two aggravating days with Margaret, Arnold and his ego in a motor home during a windstorm in the desert while he was shooting a commercial for Japan’s Nissin Foods.
While there is much that is humorous, Mari also has some heartbreaking stories, too, including the death of her father and how he was cheated by unscrupulous business partners on more than one occasion.
Mari also details a spiritual transformation that she underwent in Mexico. Despite not being Catholic, she writes of how she found a new purpose in life in 1990 while visiting the Basilica de Guadalupe. Mari, who says she is somewhat clairvoyant, also details her metaphysical observations during her father’s funeral.
I spoke with Mari about the motivation for writing and publishing her memoirs. While part of it was to convey her unusual and fascinating experiences, part of it was to help raise funds for that aforementioned new purpose in life, which includes helping animals and preserving the environment.
“I am developing an environmental project, and I haven’t been having much luck with venture capital because all they want is guaranteed returns and this and that, and no one wants to take a risk to help the environment. It takes millions to develop this project,” Mari said.
The project, incidentally, is a ceramics-based filter whose properties can be used to purify water and separate water from oil, which could have been used during last year’s Gulf oil disaster. Mari also credits the divine inspiration she had to help the environment for giving her the insight on how to mass-produce the filters. So, “Fish & Fashion” tells an entertaining life story but also might do good by helping raise some needed capital to keep pushing this filter technology forward.
“Fish & Fashion” sells for $14.99 in softcover or $8.99 as a downloadable ebook; just visit Amazon online or FishAndFashion.com.
As a special offer, however, I have two copies of the book available for two lucky “Into the Next Stage” readers. It’ll be a random drawing, but anyone interested in getting a copy of “Fish & Fashion” just needs to send an email to the address listed below in the tagline for terms and conditions. Basically, though, you’ll need to promise to write me back with your impression of the book (and cover the cost of postage). The deadline to send me an email will be May 19.
Until next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
(George Toshio Johnston has written this column since 1992 and can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect policies of this newspaper or any organization or business. Copyright © 2011 by George T. Johnston. All rights reserved.)