Despite years of child molestation accusations and deep financial difficulties, Michael Jackson could always count on one nation for unquestioning fan loyalty and lucrative advertising deals — Japan.
His death in California on Thursday at age 50 shook the country. Many Japanese TV channels switched to special programming and a major Japanese online retailer was flooded with orders for Jackson's recordings. The top government spokesman and other ministers expressed their condolences.
"He was a superstar. It is an extremely tragic loss. But it is fantastic he was able to give so many dreams and so much hope to the people of the world," said Health Minister Yoichi Masuzoe.
Jackson chose Japan — the biggest pop music market in Asia — for his first public appearance after he was acquitted of molestation charges in 2005, a delicate period in his career when his marketability had started to tank elsewhere.
Appearing at a ceremony in Tokyo in 2006, Jackson choked up before fans screaming "I love you" as he accepted a Japan MTV "Legend Award." He later visited an orphanage on a trip largely untarnished by the bad press he had received back home.
Japan has long been famous for the royal treatment it gives visiting foreign musicians, and the courteous and deferential coverage it gives to American celebrities. Reports of Jackson's court proceedings didn't fascinate the Japanese as much as his high-spending late-night shopping spree at an electronics store and his visits to Tokyo Disneyland after the park had closed.
Steve McClure, the former Tokyo bureau chief for Billboard magazine, said Japanese fans are fiercely loyal, even with stars who have fallen from grace elsewhere, and that was likely an attraction for Jackson.
He often visited Japan and showed a lot of affection for his fans there; he often became tearful when met with emotional displays from cheering Japanese crowds.© AP