MARTY FRIEDMAN: 'Key To Living Happily Outside Your Home Country Is Realizing That You Will Never 'Belong' To Another Culture'

July 5, 2024

Former MEGADETH guitarist Marty Friedman, who has been living and recording music in Japan since 2003, has reflected on being an American living outside of his original home country.

The 61-year-old musician marked Independence Day by sharing a message that addressed his experiences being immersed in a very different culture. He wrote: "Happy 4th of July!

"Some of my activities as Ambassador of Japan Heritage are speaking or playing at cross-cultural events, like I just did here in Tokyo. These things often make me reflect on being an American living outside of America.

"When you tour as much as I do, you'll find that there are Americans living in all sorts of different countries," he continued. "If there is one thing they have in common, I believe it's that they all are glad to have been born in America, just like most people are glad that they were born in whichever country they were born in. It's natural. Having that foundation, makes it easy to explore other countries and cultures, because you instinctively want to leave a good impression of your home country to people wherever you go.

"One thing that I believe is key to living happily outside your home country is that realizing that you will never 'belong' to another culture — and that's not a negative thing at all. I talk about this in great detail in my upcoming autobiography. (shameless plug) Being able to co-exist within a culture you were not born in is extremely rewarding. Yes you are different, but you bring unique things with you that are valuable to people in your new surroundings. This is not because I'm any kind of 'rock star', it applies to all people, as everyone has built-in knowledge that is valuable to people of other countries.

"I was lucky enough to be live in Germany for a while as a kid, so I had first hand experience being an outsider in an unfamiliar place," Friedman added. "It was a wonderful life lesson in co-existing. I'm here to tell you that if it is your dream to explore other cultures on the long or short term, at any age, you should go for it!"

Friedman first became known as the lead guitarist of the heavy metal band MEGADETH, which sold over 10 million copies and earned multiple Grammy nominations during his tenure. His overwhelming love of Japanese music and the Japanese language, in which he became fluent, led him to move to Tokyo more than two decades ago. He soon became a fixture on Japanese TV, featured in hundreds of television programs, commercials and even motion pictures. In 2017, the Japanese government appointed him Ambassador Of Japan Heritage, and he is the first foreigner ever to receive this title. With his home base in Tokyo, he continues to do concert tours around the world every year.

In a March 2023 interview with Greg Prato of Consequence, Friedman was asked what it is about Japan that drew him there in the first place. He responded: "It was definitely the music. I wanted to make Japanese music, and the only way to do that is to be here and be completely immersed in it. When I came here, I got very lucky and I joined the band of one of my favorite Japanese singers, Aikawa Nanase. So, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, pretty much as soon as I got here — six or eight months or something. And that just put my foot right where I wanted to be in J-pop music. I started to work with all of my favorite artists and all of my favorite producers playing live and recording and writing music. And then once I branched into doing television, the whole world really opened."

Friedman also talked about his status as a popular television personality in Japan. He said: "I didn't start off wanting to do that at all, actually. Like I said, I joined the band of one of my favorite J-pop singers when I first got here, and when you do that, people start seeing you. That kind of started a lot of new eyes coming on me, and one of the new eyes was a television production company that put me on a new show. I was initially not really into doing it, because I wanted to just focus on playing music — J-pop music. J-pop, when I say the word 'pop,' it's really very heavy metal. There's a lot of heavy metal influence. People get scared when they hear the word pop, but there's guitar going crazy in it. I was loving it. I wanted to concentrate on that, but they said, 'Just try this TV thing. Your Japanese is very good, and you have a very interesting viewpoint. Just give it a try.' And the first thing out of the box was a really big hit. It was a show called 'Heavymeta-san', which turned into 'Rock Fujiyama'. It lasted for six seasons. For a new show, it's unheard of. So, other offers came up, and my management over here started filling things up, and the next thing you know, more people know me from television than music. And it's still the case… Doing television has facilitated the fact that I can leave for two months and tour America with my own music — and not have any problems with that. It's allowed me to live the exact life that I want to do. It's given me a lot of freedom. Of course, you never know when people come up to you, what they know me from. But my real gig is making music, and I love making music more than anything else."

Back in November 2021, Friedman was asked if he experiences culture shock when he returns to his former home country of America. Marty said: "When I moved to Japan, I completely was encompassed by Japanese culture. No one I worked with spoke English. No one around me spoke English. The only time I spoke English was when I was doing international promotion or international tours or international interviews. So 24/7, it was all Japanese. And when that goes on for years and years, you start to dream in Japanese. My wife's Japanese, and we speak only Japanese. So, cultural things also become a part of you, because when you live somewhere, you become a part of the culture. And the things that matter in Japan are not the things that matter in America. Or the things that matter in Europe are not the things that matter in South America. So things that matter on a day-to-day basis are different. So culture 'shock' is kind of a shocking word, so I don't really feel shocked. But I feel like I'm very blessed, because when I go to America, I'm an American, so I can feel all the great things about being American. But I've lived in Japan for [more than] 20 years, and before I came here, I've been in so many Japanese situations that there's a definite part of me that is really a part of the Japanese culture so I can really feel both of them.

"You should never think that you're trying to belong," he continued. "Because it doesn't matter how perfect my Japanese is — and it's not perfect — but I'm never, ever gonna be Japanese. I feel a part of me is definitely influenced by Japan very much, but if your goal is to belong in another society, I think you're gonna be let down very, very much. Because as hard as you try, Japan is a one-race society and you just look different and you're born in a different place and you have different things in you. So the goal is not belonging; the goal is to add what you have to Japan. If you're trying to belong to something like that, I think you're gonna be let down. But it's not a letdown. You only really belong to yourself. And belonging to something is overrated. So I think you'll enjoy your Japan experience a whole lot more if you celebrate your differences while understanding Japan and enjoying the great things that you're able to enjoy about Japan. And don't be let down when sometimes people are not necessarily so friendly to foreigners. This happens to every country. You just have to let it be; it's just the way it is, especially with older generations. They're, like, 'Oh, the world is changing. Now there's English in the taxicabs. Oh my God.' People fear change. But you can't let that bother you. It's never bothered me once. I'm completely fine being a gaijin [a Japanese word for foreigners and non-Japanese citizens in Japan, specifically non-East Asian foreigners such as white and black people]; it hasn't stopped me from anything. So culture shock, it's not really as bad as people think it is. I enjoy being in America, and I enjoy being in Japan because both things have given me a lot of great things in my life. So learning English — English is the language of the world, so that's helped me everywhere. But in Japan, it's the opposite — in Japan, Japanese is the language, so it's a must. So culture shock is not really that big of a thing."

Following his move, he landed a starring role for a new TV comedy "Hebimeta-san" ("Mr. Heavy Metal") and its spinoff, "Rock Fujiyama", which ran for six seasons and propelled him into the living rooms of Japan's mainstream. He has since appeared in over 800 TV shows, movies and commercials, including a two-year campaign with Coca-Cola for Fanta, authored two best-selling novels and was the first-ever foreigner to be appointed as an ambassador of Japan heritage and perform at the opening ceremony for the Tokyo Marathon. At the same time, Marty has continued his career in music with several solo albums in addition to writing and performing with the top artists in Japanese music, racking up countless chart hits, including a No. 1 with SMAP, two No. 2 songs with MOMOIRO CLOVER, a No. 2 with SOUND HORIZON — just to name a few.

Happy 4th of July! Some of my activities as Ambassador of Japan Heritage are speaking or playing at cross-cultural...

Posted by Marty Friedman on Thursday, July 4, 2024

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