Wild West comes to Far East
Cowboy wannabes hold a hoedown.
KUMAMOTO, Japan (AP) -- Yoshinao Tsuji has just one regret in life. He wanted to be born a cowboy.
He has the gear. The black leather chaps, order-made by Navajos in Arizona. He's got the turquoise accessories. The boots, the big Stetson hat. For one month every year, he lives on a dude ranch.
"I love everything about horses," he says, insisting on being called "Johnnie." "If only I wasn't a city boy from Kyoto."
Johnnie isn't alone.
Cowboys and cowgirls from across Japan turned out by the thousands recently for "Country Gold," an annual event in the foothills of Mount Aso, a southern Japan landmark, that has become probably the biggest homage to the Wild West this side of Tucson.
The show had all the fixings of a real hoedown.
Miss Montana Rodeo had her own tent, where she spent the day signing autographs. There was a grub wagon, selling barbecue and beans on tin plates, an advertisement for recently un-banned American beef imports. And there was enough Jack Daniels flowing to fill a pool.
"It's amazing," Chris Wormer, a guitar player with the Charlie Daniels Band, said as he looked out from the stage into a sea of cowboy hats and bright bandanas. "These people are really into it."
An older bunch
Japan's country crowd is a decidedly older bunch.
The music is a big draw, but many of Japan's Western wannabes say they were captured by country because they grew up on Western movies when they were kids, which places the demographic firmly in the 50-plus range.
"I just couldn't get enough of the Westerns," Johnnie, who is 63 and wears a long gray goatee, said as he saddled up his ride for a trot around the venue. "I knew that was the life for me."
Another factor in the Japanese country scene's small but devoted following is the tireless effort of one man -- "Charlie" Nagatani, who founded the Country Gold festival 18 years ago and, with his band, the "Cannonballs," is this country's top country singer.
This year's Country Gold event, held in an open-air arena 560 miles southwest of Tokyo, drew about 20,000 people.
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