Born in Avellino and raised in Naples, Girolamo Panzetta found fortune on the other side of the globe : a television presenter , actor , writer and Italian dubber who lives in Japan , where he is now a true superstar. In Japan, Panzetta is everywhere. In a survey he was found to be the second most famous Italian after Leonardo da Vinci ! As a good “guagliò-partenopeo” has been able to make himself known in many areas: Japanese TV ( TV series from the cooking shows ) , fashion magazines , food (especially as the face of bread, pizza and Italian relish in Japan). Panzetta may be the stereotypical noisy and funny Italian abroad, but it’s his achievements overseas, that have earned him the title of “Knight of the Order of the Star of Italian Solidarity 2006” . Chapeau!
WAKAPEDIA’s GIROLAMO PANZETTA
For me, Girolamo is a wonderful person. My respect for him stems from my heart. Hugely popular in Japan, Girolamo is relatively unknown in his native Italy. And those Italians that do know of Girolamo tend not to think highly of him. Why is that? That’s because Italians don’t all just love women and aren’t only thinking of fashion and food.
Sometimes I think there is a little jealousy at play. But what sets Girolamo apart from all the other middle-aged men around the world: it’s his sparkle. When I see Jiro, he’s almost alight! The very fact that a normal bloke from Napoli has managed to do as much as he has demands to be respected. Saying that, whenever we try to get together in Tokyo he is always late, cancels at the last minute fairly frequently, so it’s difficult for me to totally respect him…
Sara Waka: Ciao! I’m SaraWaka… and you are?
Girolamo: I’m Jiro. A pleasure to meet you.
Sara Waka: No, no, no – not good enough. Your full name please!
Girolamo: Girolamo Panzetta.
Sara Waka: To Japanese people I would use the word “Idol” to explain what you do, but how best to explain your job to non-Japanese?
Girolamo: Yes, indeed, it’s a difficult question… Happiness! Tell them that I give people happiness!
Sara Waka: ?!! Give Happiness to the fairer sex?
Girolamo: Well that goes without saying. But recently I give plenty to men as well!
Sara Waka: Jiro… Ladies alone no longer can keep you satisfied?
Girolamo: No, no, no. I have no interest in men in that sense. I haven’t even ever touched another a man!
I’ve lived in Japan for 25 years now, and work in the fashion industry, the TV, in radio… adverts, communications. For me, communication is a wonderful thing. I especially love communicating with other people. When I lived in Napoli communication was something you could with anyone, anywhere. By the side of a road, at a bus stop – then way day, it became my job.
Sara Waka: Your job?
Girolamo: Yes! Well, yes, I began teaching Italian on Japanese TV. For ten years. How to put it… perhaps you could say I tore down part of the Japanese education system? NHK is a similar broadcaster to Italy’s RAI, but typically use university professors or academics and produce very official language learning programming. I changed all of that. I wanted to make a fun programme! Something a wide range of people would watch.
Sara Waka: I remember it well! Your Italian lessons we so much fun!
Girolamo: Yes. I wanted to make a programme that anyone could enjoy. Thanks to that programme, I began to take more care in how I dressed. Japanese TV wouldn’t spend too much on wardrobe, but I took that small amount and began to buy various items, and started to become my own stylist. And that is where my interest in fashion began. And that was the start of another beginning! I started receiving requests from various brands to wear their clothing on air. I think I was probably the first presenter on NHK to wear brands. Japanese TV tend to hide brands. In this way, I started appearing in adverts for a number of designers. I did it for no fee, and received lots of clothes instead. The way I dressed seems to leave a strong impression on Japanese people, which led to me appearing in fashion magazines. My “image” slowly began to take shape.
And not just magazines. I wrote books. For example, my guide to becoming a carefree Italian by Wani Press sold 2 million copies. With that book I wanted to draw the Japanese closer to Italian culture. And I’ve kept going. I written about 25 now.
Sara Waka: That many! But, G, when I write in Italian it’s full of mistakes, but you’re not that great at Italian either. Of course, I saying this as an Italian… J
Girolamo: What! It’s because all I speak now is Japanese! In some ways, I feel closer to the Japanese language now. But, Sara, please understand my Italian used to be a lot worse!
Sara Waka: What? Worse?!
Girolamo: I’m much better now. Telling the truth, the NHK Italian programme was a great education for me too! Especially in respect to Italian grammar. I was teaching myself Italian as I was teaching the nation of Japan.
Sara Waka: Well let’s just say Italian is a difficult language and leave it at that.
Girolamo: Yes, let’s leave it at that. Rewinding a bit: that Italian show led to me doing some fashion work too.
Sara Waka: Any favourite brands?
Girolamo: I suppose I like ETRO.
Sara Waka: Yes, I can see that matches your vibe. The vibe of a naughty old man!
Girolamo: YES! That’s why I like it. I also like DSquared2 and many Italian brands. And since then I created a magazine called LEON, a Japanese magazine using only foreigners who work for international brands.
Sara Waka: Tell us more about LEON.
Girolamo: It’s a fashion magazine for Japanese men. It’s focus is to teach Japanese people, who are attracted to overseas styles how to dress like us. But, truth be told, we not really showing how to dress like foreigners. Japanese stylists use our image to teach Japanese people how to dress properly in overseas brands. It’s been going for 12 years, that I’ve been on LEON’s cover. I could probably make the Guinness Book of Records for that!
Sara Waka: You were in the Guinness Book of Records!
Girolamo: Not actually in it. To get listed in the Guinness Book of Records costs 15,000 Euros so we’re not actually listed. But, at any rate, until about 10 years ago, no-one believed in this project. When you’re starting a magazine, the first three to four years are just investment. We were really quick! We covered our costs in the first year. A huge success. Even now, LEON is one magazine still doing well. And because I am always the cover model, I’ve become kind of a fashion symbol in Japan. This me! A fashion symbol?! Can you believe it? LEON is even sold in China and Korea.
Sara Waka: What are your views on fashion in Japan?
Girolamo: Hmm. What I think is great about Japanese fashion is their use of colour. Japanese people – different to Italians – are very good at using colorful clothes and creating great combinations. That’s because the way they wear clothes is different to Italians who stick to traditional and elegant styles. You can spot an Italian in Japan immediately. Because they are wearing elegant clothes with some blue somewhere. It’s cool, but always looks the same. But, Japanese people are much more contemporary.
Sara Waka: How about the ladies? Would you choose Italian women or Japanese ones?
Girolamo: Both! Italian women are nice! I love their passion and drama. Japanese ladies are shy at first, but get more and more direct as you get to know them. Sometimes they become more than you can handle! Especially if you start living with one after knowing them for a while! But, dating them – while giving them their space – and Japanese women are the best!
Sara Waka: Ha! Okay. Last question! Would you give me a kiss?
Girolamo: Ha! Before that, tell me what you think of my latest cologne?
(He leans over and points to his neck)
Sara Waka: ? What is it?
(at that moment, Jiro goes to steal a kiss, but I escape gracefully!)
Sara Waka: Nothing changes! You’re not a bad old man, but a naughty one!
Girolamo: I’m not sure such a naughty little girl should be saying that!
(Sara&Jiro collapse into laughter!)
Description & Interview: Sara Waka
Edited by: Federica Forte
Translated by: BJ Fox