What brought you to Japan? I came here for the magic. Osaka is home to some of the best close-up magicians in the world.
What’s your favorite Japanese word or phrase? I like Japanese tongue-twisters; my favorite is the most difficult one I have found so far: Kono take-gaki ni take tatekaketa no wa take tatekaketakatta kara take tatekaketa. I like tongue-twisters because they show off the sound of a particular language and are also a good mind coordination exercise.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? A couple wanted to throw an expensive birthday party for someone named Alex. We prepared plates of Kobe beef and a huge cake with “Happy Birthday Alex” written on it. The couple and six of the restaurant staff then started singing “Happy Birthday” to Alex, who turned out to be a dog.
What’s the most outrageous thing you have ever done? I drew 凶 (kyō, worst luck) fortune-telling papers three times in a row. I laugh about it now but when it happened, I seriously wondered if my imminent demise was near.
If you could design an outfit for anyone in history, who would it be? I would love to have designed the outfit for the first ape in history to have worn clothes.
What was your most embarrassing moment? I once left my entire costume set on the train.
You opened Azurmendi in 2005, when you were only 27. How has the restaurant evolved? The first years were really hard. I wasn’t known, but I had a great responsibility to succeed for my staff. At times, I felt like I was being controlled by the restaurant, but it was a process of learning. You have to break a lot of plates before you can dance with them.
What’s the strangest question you’ve ever been asked in your line of work? There may be no strange questions if you approach them in the same way as you would a koan (a zen riddle). Like this one: “Did you ever use a chasen (bamboo whisk for tea) as a shaving brush?”
What would you take to a deserted island? A hair straightener. Bad hair days really make me miserable.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever been asked as an interpreter? I was asked to interpret for a witch. This was for a film called “The Craft,” which was about witchcraft. Also, I was asked to interpret for the Dalmatians in the live-action film of “101 Dalmatians.”
Nao Yazawa is your pen name. Where did it come from? And why do you have a cat as your Twitter icon? I wanted a unisex name, so I did away with the character ko and took the character tani from my hometown Kojiya. The cat icon is taken from a four-panel manga I did about my adorable cat, Moco.
How important is the role of guests in a tea ceremony? What is their function? The guests are absolutely vital. No guests, no tea! Guests inspire their host to make and serve the best bowl of tea for them, and for guests to partake of the bowl with humbleness, gratitude and respect.
What is it like in the photographer’s pit mid-show? If everything is going as planned, then you will only hear the clatter of shutters. If something is going wrong, then there is a lot of swearing — but only in English and Italian!
Describe your most embarrassing moment. When I was in elementary school, I thought I’d lost my underpants after a swimming class and gave up looking for them. However, when I returned to the classroom, my teacher pulled out my underpants in the front of the entire class and asked who owned them. I was too embarrassed to raise my hand.
The record company you co-founded, Profile Records, produced the rap group Run DMC’s first album. How did that happen? Rap music wasn’t popular at the time, and smaller independent companies were taking advantage of that opportunity. We signed them after they were turned down by 20 other places.
What do you want to be if you are reborn? An American pop singer. I used to dance and I just think it would be so cool to be able to sing and dance like Beyonce and entertain a huge crowd.
What’s the best way of training for cycling? Any tips? Go out for a ride with my friends and then celebrate finishing with a cold beer.
What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received? A boy in preschool said to me, “That is not chocolate.” I’ve never forgotten such insight.
What are the differences between the food scenes in New York and Tokyo? In New York you ask, “Where do you want to go?” But in Tokyo you ask, “What do you want to eat?”
Do you have any words of advice for young people? Only listen to intelligent people. Every idiot has the chance to share their ideas nowadays but there are few really worth listening to.
This week’s 20 Questions was compiled with the assistance of Erin Moran.
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