Playboy Magazine (2005.04): Part 2
Talking with Ohmura Katsumi, photographer & good friend
P: So, is it because you don’t want to write depressing songs, or because you don’t know how to?
F: Neither, it’s just that sometimes when I hear people say: “No Music No Life”, I’d think if there was a famine and people were dying from starvation, then music like all other forms of entertainment, can do nothing to help. There are more important things other than music in this world.
P: In other words, when your survival is at stake, music is no longer a necessity, right?
F: Putting aside the spiritual and psychological benefits of music, I believe that music along with movies and photography, all belong to an affluent environment where the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter are already available. Even so, that is no excuse for songwriters to skimp through their work. We still need to work our absolute best to create a good song, even if it is might not be appreciated by many people sometimes.
P: Like when there is a mismatch between the message you want to convey and what the listener wants to hear?
F: There may be different ways of conveying the message, but it will get communicated to the right people in the end. When I write my music, it is not the one million sales that is pushing me forward, but the harmony (resonance) formed with my listeners when the thoughts in my creation are successfully conveyed to them.
P: Talking about resonance, this reminds me of the close relationship between you and your radio listeners. Like the time (of the earthquake) when the train was derailed, one of the passengers actually called up your radio programme during the accident.
F: When I received his call, I felt the most important thing was not to treat it as an exclusive news story and bombard him with questions about the quake or the accident. Rather, I wanted to think of ways to help him relax and calm down. He might have already called his family and girlfriend, but the main point was, my programme was also one of the targets he phoned. Mine is not a news programme, and being someone whom he had wanted to talk to at that critical time, it was imperative that I should be there to shoulder that uneasy moment together with him.
P: Were you happy that you were the one chosen to go through that period of anxiety with him?
F: Rather than ‘happy’, it was more of a special moment for me. I could really feel how crucial and highly regarded I was at that time.
P: It’s the same in song writing, isn’t it? It all relies on communicating your feelings to each other.
F: Yes, it’s feelings like these that have kept me going in music creation for past 15 years. Without it, regardless of how popular the songs might be, I would give up.
P: Are numbers a form of motivation for you?
F: They can be, but numbers alone aren’t enough to make me happy, after all quality preceeds quantity. I have always insisted on quality first. Having said that, I am conscious of the numbers all along. When we have a hit, the mood (of the staff) at work is totally different! But when I first came to Tokyo, I couldn’t grasp the meaning of these big numbers. As a provincial local, I’d thought that since ARB and Southern All Stars were both able to fill up the 2000-seat Nagasaki City Auditorium (Kokaido), they were just as popular. It was only after I came to Tokyo, that I found out SAS were much bigger in sales.
P: It’s important for the CDs to sell.
F: It is very important. During the first album, Producer Shirahama-san (白浜さん) said to me: “Fukuyama, here are the sales numbers for our CD and here are those for SAS. They (SAS) are indeed outstanding. I know you like Rock music a lot, but that alone is not enough to go on. We need to spend a huge amount on production expenses whenever we make a record, as well as the help of a lot of staff. In the end, music creation is not a process that belongs to one person alone. For you to have the chance to release your CDs, we need people to finance it and that depends on how well your CDs can sell.” Up to now, I am very grateful to Shirahama-san for teaching me this.
P: But when you’ve got over 2 million in sales, there’s a pressure on yourself to keep it up. Even a small drop in sales will seem like a failure.
F: It’s true there are different standards set in the numbers. For me, the more people know about a song, the more successful it is.
P: “Niji” and “Sakurazaka” are widely known songs!
F: There are many hit (albums) in the world which may have songs that nobody knows. This is something I really dislike. What pleases me most is when people know and can sing my songs, so to me, selling CDs is simply a means not an end.
P: Once your CDs can sell, you’ll get much more freedom with your spending.
F: Well, we did see lots of news about financing problems last year, didn’t we? Sports club mergers; billionaire wealth etc. At that time, I tried to think about how I would spend the money if I had such a lot of it.
P: Ever thought of forming your own sports team?
F: Not at all, never. I was considering using the money on further studies.
P: There’s no need to go back to school anymore!
F: But there’re still such a lot of things I want to know and learn. I watched a DVD about the universe recently, produced by NHK. It was very interesting. There are so many different views and opinions about this universe, I really want to see more images of it, not CG images in sci-fi stories, but to go to NASA and see the real stuff.
P: You really like astronomy, don’t you? When we were in LA recording your album, I remember you went out (of the studio) to look at the night sky and couldn’t stop admiring how beautiful the stars were!
F: It was especially beautiful since there are no lights around.
P: You just kept on looking and wouldn’t leave! I was wondering at that time, if you were really as touched by it or simply pretending. Even when we were in the car, you requested for the car lights to be switched off so you can have a clearer view of the night sky. I thought, isn’t that a bit over the top?
F: Do I need to pretend to anyone?!!
P: When you write in your songs that you want to go see the stars, you really meant it.
F: I absolutely mean it.
P: In the eyes of Fukuyama-san, what do you think is your greatest weapon?
F: I guess most people would say it’s my looks! True, appearance is a major factor in the entertainment world. I’ve got to thank my parents for it. But I can’t be contented with just that. Of course, I’m sure there’ll still be plenty of work opportunities if you just have good looks, or, if you just have good guitar skills. But to have both, would give you even more chances, right? That’s my goal. However, to be honest, I don’t think my appearance is as good as they say.
P: It’s wonderful that you can keep so cool about your assets.
F: Back at home in Nagasaki, it’s always the sports team captains the girls liked, so I don’t think I’m that attractive. It was only after coming to Tokyo, that I was once introduced to an actress and she praised me with: “Good shape.” I was stunned. Isn’t that a praise for women? What does it mean when you use it on a man? That I’ve got a good figure?
P: Do you care a lot about how other people think about you?
F: I have always believed that the type of person we are, is decided by the people around us. If we were to live in a place where there is nobody else, I don’t think we’ll ever know what type of person we are. Our identity is created through our contact with others. I’m rather relaxed about how other people think of me. All along, I’ve heard a lot about other people’s opinions of Fukuyama Masaharu. It’s quite different from what I think myself. I guess I really haven’t exposed my inner thoughts to people. I’ve been overestimated in some areas and underestimated in others.
P: A novelist once said that there are only 2 villages in this world. One where beautiful and handsome people live, and the other for ugly persons. Which do you think you belong to?
F: Well, of course I have to be a prince in Handsome village! No-one will ever believe me again, if I don’t say that!
P: Everyone adores the inhabitants of Handsome village but popular people also have their worries too!
F: It’s not necessarily a good thing for a man to be handsome. The moment he gets labelled as an outwardly attractive person, people will stop trying to understand what he’s like inside.
P: Then do you dislike being called a handsome man?
F: I don’t dislike it. To me, it’s “oh so, that’s what people think”. But when I first came to Tokyo, I didn’t know anything, so I was terrified to be thought of as a fool who’s just got the looks.
P: So that’s why, up till now, you still feel you need to further your studies and learn more.
F: As I said before, I don’t want to be contented with just looks. Perhaps my quest for knowledge on the universe arises simply out of curiosity, but there are just so many things in the world that I can learn from other people. It’s alright if we don’t know something, what’s important is to listen when people teach us.
P: Have you ever thought that you would become the Fukuyama of today?
F: I don’t really think about what I’d be like in the future, but even so, I would never have expected the way it turned out.
P: Can you foresee now what you would like to do in the future?
F: Only one thing, to continue to sing and play the guitar. Lately, I can’t stop every time I start writing songs. It is such a pleasure, just like children building sand castles in the park.
~ The End ~