Tell us who you are and why you’re in Japan?
I am a “multi-tarento” actor and entertainer who performs in all contexts: from street to stage and on screens both large and small.
Why did you come to Japan?
My first experience here was completely unexpected. After graduating from Ringling Bros. & Barnum & Bailey’s Clown College in 1993, I was offered a gig at Korakuen Amusement Park in central Tokyo. I arrived a few weeks later and met my wife on the very first day! Prior to that, I had never thought much about Japan—let alone the idea of working and living here. Eventually, I developed a strong affinity for the country and culture and have called Tokyo home since 2005.
What do you think are the major differences between show biz in Japan and in the US?
The difference that affects me most is the lack of a union for foreign actors. A union would help to ensure fair treatment in casting, on set and with salaries. There are applicable labor laws, but there is no organized body to monitor or enforce them. If you speak out and assert your legal rights you may “win” once, but you’ll be blacklisted and lose in the long run. A union with admission standards could also potentially raise the professional bar higher and as I like to say, put the talent back into tarento.
Do you have any advice for performers/actors who want to try their luck in Japan?
To be honest, there really aren’t the opportunities here that there used to be. Event and festival gigs are few and far between and there are very few parts for foreign actors on TV or in films. Additionally, the market has been saturated with amateurs who inadvertently push rates and standards down. If it’s your dream to be “Big in Japan” then go for it, but keep your day job!
Your company name has an interesting-looking name (in Japanese). What does it mean?
It’s a serendipitous pun on my name, Gaetano, that fits both my vocation and character. The first character is “gai” as in gaikokujin (foreigner) and the second is “tano” meaning tanoshii (funny).
You’ve spent a lot of time in Tohoku in the last 12 months. Tell us more about your work there.
My motto is, “Changing the world, one smile at a time,” and as a clown, I knew I could make a unique contribution to the relief effort. Children are especially susceptible to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, so I toured Tohoku with shows and workshops designed to heal and empower kids affected by the disaster. In the last year I visited 85 locations and interacted with almost 8,000 kids. The program gave young victims permission to be kids again and their smiles and laughter gave their caregivers and communities renewed hope for the future.
For information on Guy Totaro and how you can help his Tohoku relief project: www.supagaijin.com