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Actor/talent agent Eido Sumiyoshi

by Judit Kawaguchi

Eighty-four-year-old Eido Sumiyoshi — aka Eddie Mohandas Sabnani, Eddie Arab, and Eddie Staire — is an actor and the founder of E-promotion, one of Japan’s first talent agencies specializing in foreign models and actors. The son of an Indian businessman and a Japanese interpreter, Eddie was raised by his grandparents in Hokkaido’s Otaru, where they owned Kaiyoutei, a famous ryotei (luxurious restaurant) frequented by Japan’s top movie stars. Although World War II put an abrupt end to the parties, it couldn’t break Eddie’s spirit, or his funny bones. He’s been winning hearts in every role in life that he’s ever played: soldier, dishwasher, tap dancer, advertising whiz and cook. Eddie’s favorite story has been playing out on the home front, where he and his wife have had starring roles for over 50 years.

I might not know how to be winner, but I know how to pick one. Success in life means you picked the right partner, and I sure did!

In war, how one survives makes absolutely no sense. I was hospitalized in the city of Hokko in Taiwan. Two U.S. fighters were dropping bombs on us, attached to parachutes. One fell about 10 meters from me and exploded with a huge bang. There was no time to run, so I had only hid under my blanket. When I peeked out, I saw it was covered with chunks of shrapnel. That little blanket saved my life, and I still don’t know how.

No matter how poor you are, get nice shoes and shine them well. Just after the war, I was washing dishes all day and working as an emcee at night. Once I was just about to deliver my funniest line when I glanced down, saw my beat-up shoes, and promptly forgot it. That’s when I knew that only good shoes would take me where I wanted to go — real far.

Marry the person with whom you can stay in a tiny room for a long time without going batty. Sure, love is the key, but the real test is whether you can lock yourselves in, throw the key away and still be sane in a few weeks.

Don’t even think of what a couple “should be.” Find your own special way together.

Once a soldier, always a soldier. Even now I move fast because I was a soldier. Soldiers are all fast. They have to be: If they stop, they get hit.

Good stories are always written with a bit of creative license. My wife, Keiko, and I met one night in 1960 on a streetcar in Ginza. When I got off, she followed me to a small park where we instantly kissed. She came to my house that night and never left. That’s my story. But Keiko says I followed her, and we dated for weeks before we kissed. Either way, it was love at first sight.

Starting a business is as easy as writing down a phone number. In the ’50s, I was working as an extra and met many actors with whom I exchanged contact details. Soon I had hundreds of names. I didn’t have any plan until one day I overheard a director saying that he needed 30 extras asap and didn’t know whom to call. Luckily I had my book on me, and soon I was in business as an agent.

I feel 25 because I think I’m 25. I may be located in Tokyo, but I am living in my own world: I’m a dandy in an old Hollywood movie. I’m Fred Astaire, and I am still dreaming of Ginger.

I never hang out with elderly people because then I would feel old, too. I go to Shibuya and Harajuku and buy hip-hop clothes for myself. I strike up conversations with kids on the street and we go to coffee shops and chat.

I don’t watch dramas — I make my own. Owing money is the hardest, worst drama and you don’t want to star in that show.

I’m always the boss. That is just my personality. I still don’t listen to others, except my wife — if only with one ear. Maybe if I used both ears, things would go smoother.

I don’t know why I’m alive and have no idea why I was born. I’m still searching for meaning in all this, like the rest of us.

If you’re bullied, try to enjoy it. Being “half” was sometimes more than enough for me. As a kid I was called a spy, but I also knew I was cute, so I didn’t cry. I smiled and went along with the tease. Besides, being a spy sounded so exciting that I didn’t mind much!

Play the race card if it leads to a starring role. In Japan, even today, foreign talents make more than Japanese. So I grew a beard, wore flashy clothes and got paid a lot. If it pays more to act like a foreigner, so be it.

You know things are good when you can do a number two in peace. During World War II, I was on a ship going from Japan to Taiwan, a journey that took us about two months as we had to avoid the enemy. When we wanted to relieve ourselves, we had to climb on the ship’s side with our backs to the ocean, hanging off the side of the ship with our hands grabbing the rail and our feet on small footrests on the ship’s side. The ocean was rough, so the ship would sink in and out of the waves. We had to be fast, or it would be us in the water not only our number twos!

Even a real playboy can turn into a real housewife. I flip pancakes for breakfast, cook soba noodles for lunch and prepare dinner almost every day. Keiko runs our business, and I run the house. Luckily for me, she went far, and I stayed in place.

Becoming a great man is the same as cooking a great curry . A curry needs a solid base, lots of good ingredients and tons of time, but the sad part is that since it takes forever, when it’s finally perfect, and ready to be enjoyed, you’re probably out of time. Or, even if you have time left, nobody’s hungry anymore.

Judit Kawaguchi loves to listen. She is a volunteer counselor and a TV reporter on NHK’s “Weekend Japanology.” Learn more at: http://juditfan.blog58.fc2.com/