Danny Choo could have become a celebrated luxury footwear designer like his father, Jimmy Choo, if he had not discovered a Japanese video game console in his teens. It was this little gizmo that changed his life forever.
"I suddenly took to the game and really wanted to find out more about it," said Choo, recalling the moment he came across the 16-bit machine. "At that time there was no internet, so I had to go to Japanese bookshops. And there I was able to find magazines about games and anime. That got me interested in Japanese pop culture."
From his fascination with a Japanese game console, Choo now dedicates much of his time promoting Japanese pop culture around the world through his work, particularly his website (www.dannychoo.com) and TV programmes.
Choo was recently in town as a guest speaker at the Thailand Game Show 2013 _ an event that drew a considerable number of Thai gamers, both children and adults alike. With his good sense of humour, Choo delivered a lively talk and filled the seminar room with smiles and laughter.
The 40-year-old said that his life now is a far cry from what it was like when he was a child. Born to Malaysian-Chinese parents and raised in London, Choo grew up in a number of foster families as his parents were too busy making ends meet. And the young Choo was bullied for most of his childhood.
He was not exposed to Japanese culture until his late teens when he picked up an imported Japanese game machine which made him fall head over heels in love with Japan. In order to understand the language used in the games as well as in the comics, Choo taught himself Japanese which, he said, was fun and fulfilling at the same time.
His love for Japan encouraged him to find a job in a Japanese restaurant in London while he was studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, where Choo met the love of his life.
"At that time, I did as much as I could to submerge myself in Japanese culture. I rented videos of Japanese TV shows and they had commercials in them. When I heard the commercials, I really felt at home. I also played video games and did many different things to immerse myself in Japanese culture," he said.
Choo's first-time experience in the Land of the Rising Sun was in 1993 when he finally had a chance to visit the country. To him, Japan is a great mix of modernity and tradition. In 1997, Choo decided to relocate to Japan. With his talent and interest in the web, Choo was employed as a computer engineer at Japan Airlines before moving to Amazon as a website manager, and then became a computer graphics product manager at Microsoft.
But being the son of a world-famous shoe designer, has Choo ever thought of following in his father's footsteps?
The Tokyo-based anime expert said he actually briefly worked with his father, designing and making shoes. But the problem was that his passion was simply for Japan.
"I decided to pursue my passion, learn Japanese and make my way to Japan. My dad is totally supportive. He believes young people should work hard and earn other people's respect," Choo said.
In the end, he decided to set up his own media production company, Mirai Inc. The venture's main focus, Choo explained, is to share Japanese culture with the world through his website, television programmes, products and conferences.
One of the company's outstanding achievements is a television programme called Culture Japan, which basically talks about aspects of life in Japan. Broadcast all over Asia on Animax Asia Network, the show is produced, directed and presented by Choo himself. His aim is to act as a bridge, introducing Japan to audiences worldwide.
"It's basically sharing my life in Japan _ where I go, what I eat," Choo said of Culture Japan. "I take photos and share them with the world so people can see what it's like in Japan."
Recognised also as an avid fan of games and as an inspiration for many young Thai gamers, Choo does not see video games as a threat to students' academic standards.
Rather, for Choo, playing video games is more than just about children having fun. Game playing is, in fact, an essential part of their learning and development.
"Playing games is important," said Choo, who is also director and presenter of Japan Mode, another TV show introducing Japanese lifestyle topics, broadcast on Star World. "Playing games is very creative. It inspires people. It's like you are inside a little adventure as well.
"So games are good, but in moderate doses _ just like coffee or tea. Students can play games but maybe not for many hours. I think the important thing is that they can play games without it affecting their studies.
"Children these days are in an environment where they are very fortunate," he added. "They can get hold of information whenever they want. When I needed information about Japan 20 years ago, I had to go to libraries or ask somebody. But now information is everywhere. It gives people a great opportunity to learn as much as they can. But, unfortunately, despite such a great opportunity, most people don't try to learn as much as they should. I think kids need to think long-term, take advantage of such technology and study as much as they can."
And for Choo, the advent of cutting-edge technology also provides a great opportunity for Japanese pop culture to spread and become more popular on an international scale.
Japanese pop culture is no longer limited to games or comics _ it also comprises things like anime and computer graphics along with various cultural aspects connected with them, such as cosplay and drawing.
"When new technology comes out, it generates more aspects of Japanese culture. Technology has really enabled people to discover more about Japanese pop culture," he said.
And for Choo, Japanese pop culture is simply a medium through which he communicates with people worldwide.
"Because of Japanese culture, I meet a lot of different people," Choo said. "Because of my interest in Japanese pop culture, I met my wife as I wanted to speak more Japanese, so I worked in a Japanese restaurant. And because of my interest in Japanese pop culture, I am here in Thailand to share this culture. And I go all over the world because of my passion for Japanese pop culture. So Japanese pop culture is, for me, like a medium for people to meet each other."
About the author
- Writer: Arusa Pisuthipan