I've been a fan for more than 2/3 of my life and have come to know a lot of people who've met Michael Jackson. I've also met others who have had close encounters like I have. Everyone has a different experience and a different story.
I happened to be in the right place at the right time and made a wrong decision.
Here's how my story begins...
I studied abroad for the first time in 2004. Through winning a scholarship from an international study organization, I was presented with the unique opportunity to live with a host family in Tokyo, Japan for a summer. I was seventeen, super nervous about going to Japan, and it was my first time leaving the United States. Unlike most homestay situations, my host family and I made the perfect match.
In a way, I’ve always believed that my study abroad experience was more a gift of family, than it was a language study experience. To put it simply, I struggled a lot during adolescence in having a relationship with my real mother. There has always been a disconnect between the two of us since I can remember. I always dreamed of having a stronger and more compassionate relationship with her. It never happened. But, I did meet my host family that year.
|My host family and I, 2004.|
I sometimes feel that meeting my host mother was some sort of divine intervention. Although she and I have never had much in common, she had the gift of making me feel loved, protected, and special.
In May of 2006, after completing my freshman year of college, I flew to Japan to visit her.
Most days, I would spend relaxing and talking with her. Sometimes we would watch classic movies on TV over endless cups of green tea. Others we would spend evenings together cooking and watching baseball games. The one thing we did every single night without fail?
We always ended up watching the evening news together.
On the evening of May 26th, 2006 there was a segment on Fuji TV news that showed a van driving through a dark street in Tokyo. I remember clearly, the broadcast of at least forty people chasing the van frantically. Word on the street was, they were chasing Michael Jackson.
Unbeknownst to me, Michael had flown to Japan on the exact same week as I had. This was to be his first public appearance made since his acquittal in 2005. Finally! I thought to myself, my chance to show how much I really loved Michael.
I suppose part of my desire to meet him stemmed from my sadness about not being at the trial. Now hear me out, I did see Michael perform live in 2001 at the 30th Anniversary show (read about my experience here) but, never up close. Among my fan friends, I was one of the only people that hadn’t truly seen him in person. Of course, it was a choice I made. To prioritize school and work and other things over traveling to California. Looking back, I do wish I could have gone out to support Michael during those times.
Michael’s statement about his visit to Japan was short but, I remember the excitement I felt while reading it.
"I look forward to my visit to Japan because I have so many fond memories of my visits there. I thank MTV Japan for this honor, and Mr. Morris for spearheading this visit. I look forward to seeing old friends, and saying hello to my huge fan base in Japan, who, like my other fans around the world, have for so many years consistently shown their love and support to me and my family."
(Source: The Washington Post. May 25, 2006. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/25/AR2006052501834_pf.html)
With the help of my host family, I found out how to get to Yoyogi Olympic Stadium where the award ceremony was to be held. And even better, how to get a spot on the red carpet. With a borrowed cell phone, my Sony Cybershot camera, and an anticipation I’d never felt before, I made my way to meet my hero.
MTV Japan VMAs.Tokyo, Japan.May 27th, 2006
On a rainy afternoon, wearing my Jackson 5 t-shirt (a bright pink I figured would be enough to stand out and catch Michael’s attention), I stood at the red carpet.
I was fortunate that my host sister was willing to go with me. We waited together to see all the celebrities come in. She wasn’t an MJ fan but, was curious enough to see what Michael looked like in person. The other celebrities entered one by one, each less recognizable than the last to me. Rihanna was also there and did a performance of “Pon De Replay” during the pre-show. I love Rihanna but, when Michael was there, it was as if no one else really mattered. To be honest, I had never been very familiar with Japanese pop culture so, I didn't even take photos of anyone else. I was saving my attention for Michael.
|My only photo from where I stood that day.|
One hour passed. Then two…. Three…. Four…
After five hours, it seemed as if all the celebrities had already entered the building. People on the red carpet next to us also started to filter out and leave. It was cold, it was rainy, and it was over an hour into the start of the live VMA broadcast. Still no sign of Michael.
The organizers announced something after six hours of us standing there. My Japanese wasn't good enough to understand at the time so, I had to rely on a translation from my sister...
Michael wasn’t coming.
She noticed the tears in my eyes and gave me a hug. I will always remember how I felt leaving that red carpet. We’d take four steps and I would turn my head back around. I wanted so badly to see his car... or ANY car show up. I needed an excuse to run back to where other fans still waited. The chance never came.
We walked a few blocks down to Kyushu Jangara Ramen shop in Harajuku. As I trudged through the rainy streets of Tokyo, I remember feeling angry inside. Michael had never ever disappointed me before but, that day, I felt betrayed. As silly as that sounds, during those years, I took everything very personally.
I don’t remember much else of what happened that evening. I was disappointed but, tried to keep a smile of appreciation on for my host sister. She wasn’t a fan but, waited with me all that time.
We arrived to my host mom’s house and she almost knocked me down at the front door with eagerness. “How was it?! Was he all that you imagined in person?”
I spoke softly, “He never came… Michael didn’t show up at the red carpet today.”
She looked at me with confusion and brought me into the living room. The three of us sat down, as she rewound the recording she had of MTV that day.
There he was.
|Michael arriving at the red carpet at Yogogi Olympic, 2006.|
I watched Michael getting out of a black limousine with his publicist, Raymone Baine, the tears began to fall. He had on a sharp but modern looking black satin blazer, adorned with crystals and an even more brilliantly sparkling arm band. He arrived just at dusk. The sky was the first thing I noticed when I watched that video. We realized that we’d probably missed Michael by 10 or 15 minutes.
I skipped watching the evening news that night and retreated to my bedroom.
I was crushed.
As I laid in my bed, I heard my host mother scolding my sister. I have much more compassion for her now than I did at the time. I was so hurt. I felt she should have waited with me. I realize now though, that her decision wasn't intentional. She couldn't have known.
|Mementos from that day.|
|Michael arriving at the red carpet at Yogogi Olympic, 2006.|
10 years ago, I almost met Michael Jackson.
I still can’t watch the footage of him arriving at Yoyogi Olympic without getting emotional.
The stars aligned for me but, things didn’t work out as I had hoped and dreamed. For a long time, it upset me that I missed this opportunity. My experience in Japan that year is my very own fleeting moment in time. A time that most people have and reminisce often about.
What if I had done this? Or that? Would anything have been different?
It took me years to write this story and to realize …
I am a Michael Jackson fan that has never met him. And that’s okay.
Have you ever had a close encounter meeting Michael? Have you ever felt less of a fan for not having met him in person? I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments below.