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Hideki Saijo and me: remembering an exquisitely sensitive entertainer

The late singer Hideki Saijo, who passed away on May 16, 2018, at age 63. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- When singer Hideki Saijo's funeral was held on May 26 this year, I couldn't bear to go even though it was part of my job. Because I knew I would cry.

It was not that Saijo and I were always having fun together, but he was always considerate with me. He was an exceedingly sensitive man, and I remember each and every act of his kindness. I knew that, if I remembered these things, I would cry.

Whether whispered ballad or raucous rock, Saijo's songs reflected the man, scrupulously and exquisitely expressing his spirit.

At one mid-1990s "Red and White" show -- the annual year-end song competition televised by public broadcaster NHK -- I saw Saijo surrounded by people in the men's dressing room. The topic de jour was surfing, and Saijo was bragging.

"I was the one who taught (Ryuichi) Kawamura and (Takuya) Kimura how to surf," Saijo was saying of the two J-pop superstars, with both men standing right there. However, his words did not give a sense of discomfort. "Hey Kawasaki, you should try it too," he called out to me. When I said I wasn't interested, he replied, "Well, how about golf then?" When I turned that suggestion aside, too, Saijo said, "I'll give you the equipment, and we can practice together." I declined, but now that I think of it, I should have gone golfing with him at least once.

When he changed into his stage costume, he asked me, "How is it? Cool?" I complimented the outfit, and he replied, "Hey, there's no aonori (green laver) stuck in my teeth, is therrrrrrrrre?" He looked just like a child participating in a school cultural festival. Thereafter we went through the same routine every year, Saijo ever-playful and enamored of everything stylish.

Saijo also loved beautiful things. Once I saw him repeatedly balling up and then flattening out sheets of Kent paper. "I'm thinking of putting light bulbs in them and placing them on each step of the staircase in my house," he said. He was always doing that sort of thing. Gifts he gave to guests at his wedding reception were heavy glass blocks he had picked up in Indonesia. "Hey, they're beautiful, aren't they?" he said.

Even when he was in the midst of an agonizing rehabilitation program, Hideki liked to think of himself as a cool, beautiful guy. I think maybe he has finally been able to get back to being that "cool" Hideki Saijo, and I'm glad. Hey Hideki, I've still got that glass block. It's in the front hall at my house.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Kawasaki, Cultural News Department)

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