Typhoon Michael (Jackson) storms Japan in first tour since `84

It's typhoon season in Japan, and Typhoon Michael has arrived. The arrival and concert debut of reclusive pop star Michael Jackson is being compared to Japan's seasonal storms.

On Saturday night 38,000 screaming fans waited in a Tokyo baseball stadium for Mr. Jackson's first public concert since 1984. Suddenly, the stage was plunged into darkness and music pumped out of the 30-foot bank of speakers on either side of the stage. A panel of floodlights rose from the stage floor and Jackson - dressed from head to toe in black with metal studs flashing from his leather pants - emerged eerily in silhouette.

With the first beat of an old favorite, ``Startin' Something,'' the crowd was on its feet. The sinuous star kept them on their toes as he moonwalked, pranced, and crooned his way through a repertoire of mostly old tunes, with only a couple of numbers from his new disc.

Music often took a back seat to a dazzling array of special effects, from laser lights to an on-stage disappearing act.

Jackson's legions of fans have waited since June, when the announcement came that the rock star would open his return tour in Japan. Almost 400,000 tickets to his month-long series of 13 concerts were sold out within hours.

Japan has become a required stop on the world tours of rock musicians from Madonna to Bon Jovi. Japanese, like Europeans, have been strong supporters of jazz. But rock holds first place in the hearts of Japan's youth. For the musicians, Japan is a good place to warm up before an audience unfailingly appreciative and well-behaved, if somewhat restrained by rock concert standards.

Teen-age girls are Jackson's most fervent followers. Hundreds have stalked his every step since his arrival last week. Wearing white gloves - Jackson's trademark - on their right hands, the girls hold vigil outside his hotel, hoping for a glimpse of their quarry.

But his draw goes beyond those who scream ``Mai-ke-ru,'' the Japanese pronunciation of his name. A 31-year-old stockbroker admitted to waiting 8 hours in line for his concert ticket. ``I just wanted to see him,'' the young man said.

Business is the not-so-hidden force behind the young star's return. The superstar sold 1.6 million copies in Japan of his 1983 album, ``Thriller.'' His just-released album, ``Bad,'' sold 150,000 copies here on the first day. Epic-Sony, the recordmaker, expects to sell 2 million copies this year alone.

The month-long Japanese tour is sponsored by Pepsico and Japan's national telephone company, NTT. Both companies have run promotions giving away tickets. Jackson has appeared on television plugging Pepsi, which runs second to Coca Cola in the Japanese market.

``Michael Jackson is a superstar for young people,'' says company spokesman Jyuzo Nimomiya, ``and we are hoping that the idea that Pepsi brought Michael to Japan will change the image of Pepsi.'' With Michael singing the virtues of Pepsi, sales doubled in July and August.

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