Before actor Ian Moore gets on any train in Tokyo, he's careful to peek inside and check the carriage. Chances are his face is plastered on an advertisement in there somewhere, not quite sufficiently hidden behind the mustache and green-and- white helmet that for the last six years have transformed him into one of the most recognized marketing icons in Japan: the Navitime Navigator, mascot for an online satellite-navigation service.

"I'll be standing on the train and I'll look up and it's like, there's the Navitime thing again," the 54-year-old from Durham, northeast England, explained to The Japan Times last week. "People realize, but they're Japanese, so they don't just come out and say, 'Hey, you're Navitime.' They whisper to each other and gesture in my direction. It's kind of embarrassing."

Not that Moore isn't used to being recognized, or that he doesn't enjoy it. It wasn't long after he arrived in Japan in 1976 (with little more to recommend him than a young Japanese wife, £1,000 [¥150,000 at current rates] and a love of Bruce Lee films) that he started taking on offers from friends to appear on TV programs. First it was "a show on TV Tokyo about international marriages," he recalled. Then, in 1984, he got his first regular gig: as a member of the English-Irish team on "Appare Gaijin Donpishari!!" ("Bravo, Foreigner, You're Spot On!!") — one of the first of the popular foreigners-bashing- Japan programs.