Saijo Hideki, the Ultimate Entertainer

Hideki Saijo photo courtesy of Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California

Relaxed, coiffed and dressed stylishly in a skinny tie and patent shoes, Hideki Saijo does not look the least bit jetlagged from a 10-hour plane ride. Speaking fondly of his career, band members and memories of San Francisco, he is completely at ease, which would make sense, given that he has entertained and performed in front of audiences and thousands of fans worldwide since he was a teenager.

Since his debut in 1972 at age 16, with the song “Koi suru Kisetsu” (“A Season to Love”), Saijo has released 86 singles and 99 albums throughout his career, as well as “Vegetable Wonderful,” a downloadable single. Saijo is also an accomplished actor, starring in numerous musicals, movies and television drama series. His latest work, “Tsubasa,” directed by Shinichi Nishitani and Mamoru Ohashi, aired in Japan on NHK from March through September of last year.

Saijo arrived in San Francisco to perform for the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California’s 55th annual JCCNC New Year’s party on Jan. 16. Approximately 30 years has passed since Saijo’s last trip to San Francisco, which he noticed has changed considerably since then. “Walking around, I see that there are definitely more Asian and Japanese people than there were in the past, and I am amazed at their strength. Being here [to perform] for the [JCCNC’s] Shinnenkai [New Year’s celebration], I think about the determination and work that was involved for [Asian] people back then to create the foundation for people now to succeed.”

With a career that spans more than 30 years, Saijo has toured and performed in places all over the world, including Hong Kong, Brazil, Thailand, Bangladesh and in South Korea in 1988 for the Seoul Olympics. He has also collaborated with numerous artists in Japan, including SMAP and Gackt, as well as overseas artists, such as Barry Manilow and the Manhattan Jazz Orchestra.

Saijo has also covered many hit songs, such as “Careless Whispers” by Wham!, “Bailamos” by Enrique Iglesias, and most famously, “Y.M.C.A.” by the Village People, which skyrocketed Saijo into fame in 1979. His favorite collaboration, he says, was with Japanese music artist Yoshiki, leader of the famed rock band X Japan. “Never being one myself to really use it for my music, I was deeply impressed with the skill in which he incorporated technology to his art. It was a great learning experience for me.”

While he has enjoyed great success with his career, Saijo has also had setbacks, suffering a stroke in 2003 during a concert tour in South Korea. And though he has since recovered, and is back to performing and acting, this incident changed Saijo’s outlook on life significantly. “I pay more attention to the smaller things in life. I value life much more than before, and am thankful for it,” he said. He smiled, adding, “I don’t kill bugs anymore.”

Saijo’s future plans, while not set in stone, most definitely include live overseas performances. His next engagement is a performance in Korea, immediately following his performance in San Francisco.

Saijo continues to enjoy his personal and professional life by maintaining a theme of having fun throughout his life. He clearly loves his work and his family, speaking fondly of his band members and of his incredibly musical children, who have the ability to learn and play music by ear. But Saijo believes having fun isn’t just about personal enjoyment. “[It’s] not just for myself, but for others. It’s important to have fun with what you do. Because if it’s not fun for yourself, then it’s not fun for anyone else.”

Spoken like a true entertainer.

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