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Actor Taye Diggs Talks About
His TDL and Japan Days

October 15th, 2006

Land of the Rising Star

American Way contributing editor

Land of the Rising Star

Day Break's Taye Diggs was just a struggling actor the first time he went to Tokyo. But what happened on that trip has kept him returning to where it all began. By Mark Seal.

So sang Taye Diggs when he starred in one of his first professional productions, a theme-park cabaret show called Sebastian's Caribbean Carnival at Tokyo Disney Resort. Diggs came to Tokyo from New York, where, one year out of Syracuse University, he was landing irregular work on Broadway and in episodic television. Then he auditioned and landed the gig with Disney c and he was off to Japan. Born in New Jersey and raised in upstate New York, he had a studio apartment in New York City, and the farthest he'd traveled from the States was to Canada. "I had no idea what to expect," he says. "I decided to take a chance and see the world." So there he was, in a straw hat, white top, and white slacks, acting as emcee in a faux Caribbean cabaret, singing Harry Belafonte's "Banana Boat Song" to theme-park audiences of mostly Japanese tourists.

Cut to October 2006: Diggs is starring in the new ABC series Day Break, a high--concept thriller whose premise mixes the best elements of 24 and Groundhog Day. Diggs's character, Detective Brett Hopper, finds himself in the middle of the worst day of his life ? again and again and again. Every morning, he wakes up to the same bad day, and only when he discovers what's wrong with his life ? and fixes it ? can he move on to a new morning. It's the kind of role that demands much from its star and the kind of role that most stars demand. So, if you haven't noticed, from Disney to Day Break, Diggs has made a quantum leap.

It all started after Sebastian's Caribbean Carnival. After returning from Tokyo, Diggs did time on Broadway and in television. Then came the role of Winston, the young Jamaican who falls for Angela Bassett's scorned older woman character in How Stella Got Her Groove Back. From then on, Diggs went big time, starring in movies like the Oscar-winning Chicago and the feature-film version of the Broadway smash Rent. Today, he lives in Manhattan with his actress wife, Idina Menzel (who stars as the Wicked Witch of the West in the hit musical Wicked), but he hasn't forgotten what he learned ? and where he went ? in Tokyo, a city he regularly returns to. Here's a weekend offstage in Taye Diggs's Tokyo.

So you went to Tokyo on Disney's dime?
I went over there and had amazing experiences, made really great friends, saved a bunch of money, and had a really great time. Sebastian's Caribbean Carnival was pretty hilarious. There were costumes and a number of Japanese dancers, puppets, characters, and the whole bit. It was what everybody did there, so nobody really felt that stupid. But Tokyo was overwhelming. I don't know how politically correct this is, but I had only been where there are either a lot of white people or a lot of black people or a lot of Latinos. It was just really, really interesting to see everybody Asian. Not only was I a minority, but the Caucasian folks around me were minorities as well. It was great just to have the roles kind of reversed, even more so than I was used to.

Where did you stay then, and where do you stay now?
Back then, I stayed at the Urayasu-Brighton Hotel. This was where Disney put us up when we first got there, and that's continued to be one of my favorite spots. It's in the area of Shin-Urayasu, which is a neighborhood that's kind of like a suburb in the States. You know, this major hotel was just smack-dab in the middle. You have to understand where I was coming from at that point in my life. Everything was just unique, but I specifically remember the bathroom; their toilets were electronic and did amazing things. The seat would heat up. I think there was, like, a massage function on the seat, and [there was] a bidet. I spent the first few minutes in the hotel room just figuring out that bathroom. Now, I love the Park Hyatt Tokyo, where they filmed Lost in Translation. It's a beautiful hotel with the most amazing restaurants I have ever eaten in, when it comes to hotel dining. They have everything from fresh sushi and traditional Japanese to a French brasserie and American cuisine. You name it, and it is all wonderful. Especially great is their beautiful contemporary restaurant, Kozue.

What are you favorite locations or sites in the city?
The Great Buddha - that was pretty incredible to visit. It was cast in 1252 AD and weighs around 200 tons. You hear about Asian culture and that everyone is a Buddhist, but it's amazing to actually go to an Asian country where they take it so seriously and to actually see this culture in person. The Buddha is in Kamakura. It's a huge bronze Buddha just sitting at the top of these stairs. To know that it is respected so much that people go and see it, not only as a landmark, but also to have it attached to their spiritual beliefs ? it's kind of humbling. You can also get a pretty amazing view of the city from the 45th floor of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office. Not a bad place to get oriented, and it's free.

Since you're a Disney alumnus, I suppose you would recommend visiting Tokyo Disneyland?
If you have kids, yeah. I haven't gone back there, but it's doing quite well. The Japanese love it. The thing is, everything is in Japanese, but the kids love the American characters. They have Prince Charming, Cinderella, and Snow White, and Disney brings people over from America to play these roles. They are like minicelebrities over there. They have to sign autographs, and the kids just love them. It's called Tokyo Disney Resort. There's a sea park, too, and of course they have a magic castle. But the whole thing is just Japanese-style. Nobody is pushing. Everyone is much more considerate over there and kind of disciplined.

What other attractions do you love?
Something else that tripped me out at the time was this indoor, man-made beach in -Miyazaki, which is about a 90-minute flight from Tokyo. It's called the Miyazaki Ocean Dome. It's the world's biggest indoor water park. There are palm trees and sand and this huge retractable roof. It was basically an indoor beach with sand and then this kind of created wave. You can surf and hang out. There are rides and this water track where you can get an inner tube and just play in the surf. You can also go to the Tsukiji fish market, where they have the tuna auctions and where you can eat the world's freshest sushi for breakfast. It's just the craziest thing to go and hear the language, everybody selling and buying and peddling his or her wares. I was just getting introduced to sushi and all of that when I went there the first time. I played it pretty safe, but upon visiting, I started to enjoy it.

Where would you go to experience the great outdoors in the city?
Ueno Park is where you would go to see the cherry blossoms in cherry-blossom season. It's one of the biggest public parks in Tokyo and has the -Tokyo National Museum, the largest museum of Japanese art in the world, as well as a zoo and a shrine. The museum is amazing. I was so used to museums in the States. It was quite interesting to be there and to have everything in the context of Japan. Most of the artwork there was about the history of Japan and Asia. But Ueno Park is famous for its more than 1,000 cherry trees. It's beautiful during cherry-blossom season. There is a parade and festival and the whole nine yards.

What about lunch?
Kitazawa Club is a sushi restaurant close to the Park Hyatt Tokyo. It has two levels: One is more formal, sit-down, traditional Japanese; the other, where we ate, is a sushi bar with a very cool, casual dining level. The sushi was the best I've ever eaten ? so fresh. No one in the restaurant spoke English, so we had to point to the menu and hope for the best. We definitely ordered things that were mysterious, but it was all fantastic. The sushi chef was sort of like the Soup Nazi, as he was not welcoming of our attempt to speak the language, but he warmed up to us by the end of the meal. The club also has the best sake in Tokyo.

What can you buy in Tokyo that you can't buy anywhere else?
Ariba is the area where you go specifically for electronics. There are stores there where you can buy Japanese-made electronics that have not reached America yet ? video cameras, computers, and things of that nature. That was kind of cool to know that. It's a huge community with a bunch of different electronics stores all together, one after the other. Ginza is another incredible shopping area in the city; it's the most expensive part, as is Shibuya. The biggest department store is called Tobu, in the area called Ikebukuro. It's a city in itself. Harajuku is where you go for the trendy shopping. They have some really good restaurants as well. Roppongi is the shopping, restaurant, and nightclub district for the young people. That's where you can see whatever the latest trends are. Everybody is into the crazy outfits and -cutting-edge style.

Where would you go for a quintessential Japanese experience?
Oedo Onsen Monogatari is a Japanese spa that you should try for the experience. It's a spa and theme park all in one, which is unlike anything you could ever experience here with a robe on.

Now that we're mellow, what do you suggest for dinner?
To this day, one of my favorite restaurants in Tokyo is a spot called Capricciosa. It's an Italian spot. I don't know what they do, but it's some of the best--tasting Italian food. I don't know if they mix it with an Asian flair or what. They have huge portions, and the taste of this food was -unlike any Italian food I had ever tasted. I can only attribute it to the fact that it was Japanese-made. They have tons of different kinds of pastas and pizzas; you would assume it was just a normal Italian joint. I remember they had these rice balls with cheese and tomato sauce that were unbelievably delicious. Any spare time I had, I was always at Capricciosa- ? if I had time and an empty stomach.

Italian in Tokyo? What about sushi?
Well, of course they have these local sushi bars that are on the street, and you don't know what their names are ? you just go in and order. I love a spot called Naru in Shibuya; it's a Japanese-style restaurant. All of the sushi chefs would yell out the welcome, and it seems that the entire restaurant would scream "Welcome!" in Japanese, and then when you leave, they would say the same thing, like, "Thank you for coming." There are various dishes, but I love the sushi and shabu-shabu, which comes with a bowl of boiling-hot water; they give you raw meat and vegetables, and you dip the meat and vegetables in the water and cook them. Go there with a group of people, and it's a party feel. At the same time, you feel like you're in traditional Japan. You have to kneel at the low tables and get served. Morimoto is the original Iron Chef. You sit in front of the grill with 20 people you don't know, and it's great Japanese cooking. The chefs put on an impressive show in front of you, and they do something magical with the lobsters to create the best lobster dish you've ever had. It's worth the money, and it's extremely entertaining. They just opened a Morimoto in New York, which is also delicious, but this Tokyo dining experience is the real deal.

What's there to do at night?
I love Roppongi,- which is one of the major areas you go to when you just want to hang out and party. There is a spot that we checked out called Harlem, because I enjoy hip-hop and R&B. Harlem is in Shibuya, and it's a trip. You go in and it's like you are in a hip-hop club in the middle of Manhattan, but everybody is Asian. The dress is on, the music is on, and so is the dancing.

Where else would you go to check out music?
Jazz is really big there. The main [place] is the Blue Note Tokyo. It's like the main spot if you want to go for jazz. It's the Tokyo cousin to the famous Blue Note in New York but with a bigger location. All top-quality, big-name guys go there. Another jazz spot I went to was the New York Bar, which was in the movie Lost in Translation. It's in the Park Hyatt somewhere on floor 50--something. You feel like you are in some kind of a spy movie from the way it looks. Everything is really dark, dark wood, with huge windows. Just a really beautiful place.

That's where Bill Murray met Scarlett-Johansson in the movie. They were both drinking alone at the bar, right?
Right, both separate from each other, looking at each other, and then, finally, one approaches the other, and I think she maybe whispered something. That was great. The Park Hyatt has the most amazing view of the city. It blew my mind how large Tokyo is; the city spans as far as the eye can see. You can see Mount Fuji from there. When I was there the first time, I climbed it. That was amazing. My two cousins and I climbed Mount Fuji, all the way to the top. I have no idea how long it took, but we brought the proper clothing and the proper snacks, sweaters, and whatnot. We started climbing in the evening and climbed all throughout the morning.

You climbed Mount Fuji at night?
All night long. There are six ascending trails to the summit of Mount Fuji. The Kawaguchiko Trail is the most popular. Along the way, we stopped and took a nap. We did not get done until the next afternoon.

Why did you do it at night?
That is what we were told to do. I don't know. Maybe the temperature; maybe it was too hot. People do it for spiritual reasons, but we did it just to say that we had done it. That's something no one can take away from us ? the fact that we climbed it. Not many people in the world have climbed to the top of Mount Fuji.

-- Source: American Way Magazine

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