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Yusaku Maezawa: Japanese spaceman with a taste for art
Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa reacts during the announcement by Elon Musk to be the first private passenger who will fly around the Moon aboard the SpaceX BFR launch vehicle, at the SpaceX headquarters and rocket factory on September 17, 2018 in Hawthorne, California. Japanese billionaire businessman, online fashion tycoon and art collector Yusaku Maezawa was revealed as the first tourist who will fly on a SpaceX rocket around the Moon. DAVID MCNEW / AFP.

by Kyoko Hasegawa


TOKYO (AFP).- Billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, confirmed as SpaceX's first Moon tourist, is a former wannabe rock star now worth $3 billion with a penchant for pricey modern art as well as space travel.

The 42-year-old tycoon, chief executive of Japan's largest online fashion mall, is the country's 18th richest person, according to business magazine Forbes.

His Instagram feed is peppered with shots of his luxury living -- including private jets, yachts and designer watches, but also his beloved art.

Maezawa hit the headlines last year when he bought a Jean-Michel Basquiat masterpiece worth $110.5 million.

But he also often features in the tabloid glossies for his celebrity love life.

He used to date the ex-wife of professional baseball player Yu Darvish, pitcher at US major league team Chicago Cubs and is now reportedly with Japanese actress Ayame Goriki.

The entrepreneur has a passion for modern art and splashed a record sum for Basquiat's 1982 "Untitled", a skull-like head in oil-stick, acrylic and spray paint on a giant canvas.

Maezawa founded the Contemporary Art Foundation in Tokyo and was on the 2017 list of "Top 200 Collectors" of the ARTnews magazine based in New York.

He insists he is just an "ordinary collector" -- despite his extraordinary bank balance. His purchases are born out of love and driven by gut instinct, rather than the instructions of any art advisor.

"I buy simply because they are beautiful. That's all. I enjoy classics together with the history and stories behind them, but possessing classics is not the purpose of my purchase," he told AFP in an interview last year.

And rather than squirrel the work away, he loaned it out to museums including the Brooklyn Museum, in the artist's hometown.

"I hope it brings as much joy to others as it does to me, and that this masterpiece by the 21-year-old Basquiat inspires our future generations," he said.

Art was high on his mind when he announced he would blast into space on a SpaceX rocket in 2023, saying he would invite six to eight artists from around the world with him.

"They will be asked to create something after they return to Earth. These masterpieces will inspire the dreamer within all of us," he told reporters.

He has already shown his appreciation for Musk's space programme, tweeting his congratulations for the successful launch of Falcon Heavy in February.

"I am moved that I shared the historic moment on the scene. I am so thrilled and encouraged I can't put it into words," his tweet said.

'Routine work'
As a young man, Maezawa had aspirations in the music world and was a drummer with a band named Switch Style, which made its debut in 2000.

In an interview with corporate affairs website Nippon Shacho, he said he eventually discovered that the business world was more creative than music.

Writing songs, releasing albums and touring the country performing was "gradually becoming routine work," he told the website.

"We were about to become salary worker-like musicians," he said, referring to the famous Japanese "salaryman" businessman.

Even before the band's debut, he was dabbling in business, founding Start Today, which operates online fashion shopping site ZOZOTOWN.

Start Today is now a publicly listed company with 900 employees according to its website.

He said his company has grown because he and his staff "are doing what we enjoy."

"We love clothes, and we love our colleagues who love clothes. We are doing business as an extension of our hobby," he said.


© Agence France-Presse





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