On Sunday 8th November 1998, I met my childhood hero Masaaki Sakai, the actor who played Monkey.... To see lots of photos from this historic day, check out the The Day I Met Monkey! - Photo Gallery page. To see the autographs that we got during this meeting, see the Monkey Autographs - Masaaki Sakai - The Day I Met Monkey page.
Here is my account of this day, which I sent as an email to the Monkey Mailing List on Monday 16 November 1998:
"Hi everyone! I'm currently on holiday in Japan (Kyoto at the moment), and I thought I'd let you all know about my meeting with Masaaki Sakai 8 days ago. It was such an overwhelming day that it's difficult to put it into words, but here goes anyway...
On Sunday 8 November 1998, I met Nikki Brown at Tokyo station, and we travelled to Mizusawa in Iwate prefecture, which in Northeast Japan. All the way there, we were totally overwhelmed at the thought of meeting Masaaki. We went to the Plaza Inn there, where Masaaki Sakai would be performing his lunch show and dinner show that evening. We'd already reserved our tickets by fax, and Nikki's friend Yoshi asked them (in Japanese) by fax if they could arrange for us to meet Masaaki, and get his autograph and photo.
When we arrived there, there was a display outside with a big picture of Masaaki on it, so naturally we took photos of each other standing next to it... We went inside, and told the receptionist our names. She had a very 'knowing' smile; she looked like she knew something we didn't, like she was trying to keep a secret...
Anyway, the time was 1.45pm, and we knew that Masaaki was currently doing his lunch show in the hotel. The receptionist told us to take a seat until 2pm. The reception area was empty, and we both suspected that Masaaki was going to suddenly appear there to surprise us, so we were both really excited and nervous as we waited there.
2pm came, and we were shown to our rooms. I went over to Nikki's room, and in doing so immediately locked myself out of my hotel room; I was so flustered that I didn't know what I was doing. I had to convey the message to a cleaner that I was locked out and could she let me in using her key; eventually, after doing lots of ridiculous gesturing and some Pictionary, I was let back in.
We were told that we should go downstairs to the restaurant (1st floor) at 6pm, and that we'd eat at 6.20pm, before watching Masaaki's dinner show (on the 2nd floor) at 7.30pm. So we had 4 hours to wait... We were thinking that maybe Masaaki would appear at our hotel rooms, so we were afraid to shower in case he turned up while we were in there. We had no idea when we'd meet Masaaki; all we knew was that it'd be sometime that day.... Eventually, we both showered quickly; I was in and out and fully dressed and shaven in about 3 minutes!
We could have gone out for a while, but we didn't in case we missed Masaaki. We sat and chatted about Masaaki and how nervous we were for most of the afternoon. We could think of nothing else.
While in Tokyo, my friend Rintaro had helped me find the original Monkey Magic record, and also 2 very old Masaaki Sakai records, so I had these with me for him to sign, in addition to my Magic Monkey cover and also the dinner show ticket that I'd collected that day.
We both had gifts for Masaaki. Nikki had brought a birth chart she'd drawn up for Masaaki, some strawberries (!), and a fan letter. I'd brought a box of Kendal Mint Cake, and also Nikki gave me a "drama plaque" to give him; you know the 2 black-and-white faces, one happy, one sad. I don't know the proper name for this plaque.
Eventually, 6pm came and we went downstairs to the restaurant, carrying all our gifts and things. It was a very plush French restaurant, and we given a table next to the window (there was a fountain outside). This was a 5 star hotel, and it showed. The waitress came over to take our order, and while she was there, the hotel manager came over, and assisted us with our ordering of our meals. He told us: "After your meal, at 7pm, I will escort you to Mr Sakai, and at around 7.15pm, you will meet him."
We were totally blown away by this; we were going to be *escorted* to Masaaki Sakai by the hotel manager. We were both shaking, and counting down the minutes to 7pm... While we were sat there, we noticed that there were only 3 other groups of people eating in the restaurant, and they were all eating from a buffet in the centre of the room. We were the only ones being given waitress service. Also, I expected that we'd have our meal in the room where the dinner show was, and we'd watch the show there afterwards.
Looking at our dinner show ticket, it was clear that there's going to be at least 2000 people there at the show, but where were they all? Were they all in the dinner show room eating, and we were being given special treatment? In a word, yes (more on this later).
7pm eventually came, and the hotel manager returned, and escorted us to the 3rd floor where we'd meet Masaaki. We both followed him, totally stuck for words. Eventually, we got to the 3rd floor, and we were surprised that there were a few people standing around there, including 2 people (hotel staff, one of which was the 'secretive' receptionist I talked about earlier) with professional cameras. The hotel manager chatted to us, and told us that Masaaki would appear through the lift doors sometime in the next 15 minutes. We couldn't take our eyes off those lift doors!
Time and time again, the lift arrived, and Nikki and I sat on the edge of our seats in anticipation, but it was always someone else. Some people passed through the room, while others stood around, as though they were going to watch the event that was about to take place. An old guy came over, and the hotel manager, introduced him to us as his boss. He chatted with us, and we told him how nervous we were. The hotel manager made sure we knew how to say, "My name is...." in Japanese, so we could introduce ourselves to Masaaki.
Then, at around 7.15pm, the lift doors opened, and a few people came out; I thought, "Oh, it's not him again", but from behind them came Masaaki Sakai!!!!!!!!!! How Nikki and I remained conscious I'll never know, we both started hyperventilating and our bodies started racing with adrenaline; the hotel staff were grinning at us. Masaaki Sakai was there, wearing a bright red dinner jacket, and he was walking towards us, smiling!!!
With some of his aides/minders close by, he came up to us, and we stood and shook hands with him. I said "Kombanwa" (good evening), and introduced myself, "Watashi no namae wa Howell dess", and Nikki followed afterwards. I then read out my little piece in Japanese which Nikki's friend Yoshi had kindly translated for me: "I am from England, and I am a big fan of your NTV tv show Saiyuuki. Everyone I know in England loves Saiyuuki too. Please can I have your autograph and a photo taken with you?" Nikki remarked afterwards that Masaaki was listening to me really attentively, and when I asked him for an autograph and photo, he said "Hai! Hai!" (yes! yes!) The hotel staff kept taking photographs of us with Masaaki throughout all this.
We were motioned towards the other side of the room, where we presented Masaaki with our gifts; he looked really surprised and taken aback. He said something like "presento? presento?"
After this, he chatted to us in English, asking us where we came from, how long we would spend in Japan, and also if Nikki and me were married!
Nikki gave him one of the records for him to sign, and it was clearly over 20 years old, maybe even 30 years old, and Masaaki looked really young on it, and was wearing a 'fashionable' hat. He looked at it in amazement, and examined the sleeve to find out what year it had come out. After this, he signed all my things, and then said he had to go downstairs to do the show.
Immediately after this, the hotel manager escorted us to the room where the dinner show was being held, and took us right down the front, where we given the 2 best seats in the house, which were both empty, sat just 1-2 metres from the stage. After we sat down, the music started, and the show was about to start.
It began with a slide show. The screen showed the year "1946", along with a photo of Masaaki when he was a baby, followed by various other photos of him as he was growing up. Eventually, it got to 1976, just 2 years before he made Monkey, followed by other later photos. After all these photos, at the very end, a photo of a monkey was shown briefly, and everyone roared with laughter (a reference to "Monkey"!).
Then Masaaki appeared on stage, beaming, and began singing a song in Japanese. Nikki and I were having the time of our lives, sat right in front of the stage. At the end of the song, he looked at us and said "These are Japanese words", and grinned. I think the next song was Pretty Woman, sang in English. During this song, he pointed and smiled at Nikki.
He told some jokes, sang lots of other songs in Japanese, then started talking about a song "Danny Boy" that he was about to sing in English, with his backing singers. He told his backing singers that me and Nikki were English (I'm Welsh in reality, but I wasn't going to bother about that now), and one by one he asked his backing singers to say "Danny Boy" in an English accent, and he asked me to judge how well they said it. I said "Hai" (yes) to all of them.
Later on, he sang "My Way" in Japanese, did some funny tricks during intermissions in a song (pulling a tablecloth from a table full of plates, throwing polystyrene bricks into the air and catching them in a 'row' so to make a horizontal 'wall', throwing olives in the air and catching them on a plastic spike in his mouth, and playing tunes using a bicycle pump by squeezing the end of the tube differently to produce different notes) which were all hilarious. He also got a young Japanese woman up on stage to do percussion during a song, which was funny.
I don't remember exactly when, but at one point in the evening he sang "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" in Japanese too.
He talked to the audience lots more, and showed slides of his 2 daughters, and of his father, who was also an entertainer. He then sang a song in tribute to his father, as lots of pictures of his father were shown on the screen behind him, including one of a young Masaaki on stage with him.
He sang some songs that were songs he'd done when he was in the band The Spiders back in the 60s/70s. After these, the hotel manager crept across to us, and handed us each a bouquet of flowers to hand to Masaaki. At the end of the song, I stood up and went to the edge of the stage and presented Masaaki with my flowers, to which he thanked me and shook my hand, and Nikki then did the same.
He then started talking to the audience, and I spotted the words "BBC", "Saiyuuki", and "Monkey Magic". He turned to us, and said "I'm talking about you!" He then stood at the edge of the stage and clapped us, along with all the thousands of people in the audience. This was an incredible moment!!! Masaaki Sakai was applauding us!!! Not too long after this, the show ended, and as Masaaki was giving his final bows, he smiled and winked at Nikki and me before leaving the stage.
The hotel manager appeared again, with lots of drinks for Nikki and me. Everyone else was leaving, and we sat there having some drinks. We looked around and noticed that everyone else had eaten in the dinner show room, but we had been given special treatment and eaten separately from them, probably so that they could surprise us with the best seats in the house.
Some Japanese people who were sat near us shook our hands as they left the room.
The hotel manager appeared again, and offered to escort us to the hotel bar. We were taken past all the hotel staff who stood in a long line, and they all bowed to us as we went past. We felt like royalty - we were given so much VIP treatment that night!
We sat in the bar, with our glasses of hot sake, and the hotel manager joined us.
He told us that, in addition to the photos that were taken of us when we met Masaaki earlier, we had also been photographed when we presented the flowers to Masaaki during the show. He took our addresses, and said the hotel would send us the photos when they were developed.
He told us that Masaaki *never* meets fans, and that when the hotel told him about us, he kept saying "They're from England? England?" He was so intrigued and overwhelmed that he agreed to meet us. We also found out at this point that it was *Masaaki* himself who'd insisted that we given front row seats for the show!! How overwhelming is that?!
We sat in the bar, drinking our sake, discussing what had been the greatest day of our lives; nothing could ever beat this day...
The next day, as we checked out of the hotel, the hotel receptionist presented us each with a Masaaki Sakai poster and also a large piece of card with his autograph on!! He thanked the hotel staff so much, and left.
On the train journey back to Tokyo, words escaped us; how could we possibly describe the day we met Masaaki Sakai to anyone? I've tried to describe it, but really, you had to be there :O)
Many thanks to Nikki, her friends Yoshi and Shingo, the hotel staff, and of course Masaaki Sakai (the "Great Sage" himself), for arranging this day for us. A day I will never forget as long as I live..."