SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says the first passenger on a private space flight around the moon will be a Japanese billionaire who also happens to be a rock musician and art collector.
Yusaku Maezawa is the founder of Zozotown, Japan’s biggest fashion retail website. He’s Japan’s 18th-richest person, according to Forbes, which estimates his net worth at $2 billion.
Maezawa, 45, is paying an undisclosed amount of money to be the first commercial passenger to fly around the moon on SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), the company announced via webcast in 2018. The mission is scheduled to launch in 2023, and Maezawa is paying for the fares of up to a dozen total passengers.
Initially, Maezawa had stated his intention to fill the mission, called dearMoon, with an entire roster of artists, who the billionaire said would create works of art reflecting their time in space. However, Maezawa recently announced that the project has evolved and he will now choose eight of the crew members for the mission through an application process that is completely open to the public.
The dearMoon website lays out two “key criteria” for prospective applicants looking to land a spot on Maezawa’s space flight, which will take roughly a week to fly to the moon and loop around the celestial body before returning to earth.
Applicants must first prove that they have a specific pursuit or interest that can be advanced by a trip to the moon, while applicants should also “be willing and able to support other crew members who share similar aspirations,” Maezawa said on Tuesday.
Applicants must pre-register by March 14, with final interviews slated to take place at the end of May
“Ever since I was a kid, I have loved the moon. It’s always there and continues to inspire humanity,” Maezawa said on Monday.
Musk tweeted a photo of himself with Maezawa when they first announced the trip in 2018.
So, who is Maezawa? It turns out being one of SpaceX’s first tourists is not the only interesting thing about him. (In February, SpaceX announced that billionaire entrepreneur Jared Isaacman will lead the first-ever all-civilian space flight that’s set to launch at the end of 2021.)
Growing up near Tokyo, Maezawa attended a prestigious high school, where he took up drumming and formed a hardcore punk band, Switch Style, which released its own EP album in 1993 while Maezawa was still in school.
Maezawa decided he was not interested in a traditional career after he constantly saw “salarymen” (Japan’s white-collar workers) looking miserable on his commute to school. “Looking at the gloomy salarymen on the train every day, I thought, ‘I never want to be like them,’” Maezawa said in a June 2018 interview.
Instead he skipped college and headed to the United States for a brief stint with his girlfriend at the time, who was studying abroad in California. While in the U.S., Maezawa obsessively collected American music that was not widely available in Japan; his tastes leaned toward America’s hardcore punk scene of the 1980s, including bands like Anthrax, Biohazard and the Dead Kennedys.
While frequenting music festivals in the U.S. Maezawa realized the business opportunity in selling music merchandise, like CDs and band T-shirts.
In 1995, he returned to Japan with his collection of American music and an idea to import CDs and vinyl records of his favorite bands from the U.S. to sell in his home country. “I wanted to share my favorite music with everybody,” Maezawa told Forbes in 2011.
Maezawa started a mail-order business out of his home in Japan, making a catalog of items like CDs, records and band-related merchandise. He worked from his kitchen table, packing and shipping orders himself, he told Forbes.
He balanced the mail-order business with his music — he was again playing shows with his band, Switch Style, which released full albums in 1997 and 1998. Maezawa told Forbes that he didn’t mind splitting his time, “because I didn’t really think I was in the retail trade,” he says. “I was in the music business, and I was happy with it.” (There appear to still be some videos of the band on Youtube.)
The business started out small, but by 1998, Maezawa had built up enough customers to hire 10 employees. He officially launched the company as Start Today — taken from an album by the New York hardcore punk band Gorilla Biscuits — and in 2000 he launched the company’s first website.1:26Here’s what it will be like to travel to Mars in Elon Musk’s spaceship
Also in 2000, Maezawa’s band, Switch Style, signed with the record label BMG Japan. The band released another album that year, and another the following year, but he eventually grew tired of repetitive routine of touring and recording with the band. “This is the same as being a salaryman,” he says he remembers thinking at the time.
After 2001, Maezawa focused solely on Start Today, which continued growing, eventually launching the Zozotown apparel website in 2004. Maezawa decided to branch out into fashion after he noticed that his Start Today employees always wore trendy clothing to work, and he figured hip apparel would also appeal to the company’s customers.
Zozotown took off to the point that Maezawa shuttered the music arm of Start Today in 2005, two years before taking the company public. He told the Japanese publication President in 2014 that some of the hardcore punk music Start Today sold was “not suitable for the company image in going public.”
Today, Zozotown parent company Zozo Inc. is a public company valued at more than $9 billion. In 2019, Maezawa sold his majority stake in the company he founded to SoftBank for $3.7 billion.
Maezawa’s business started with his music collection, and he says he tends to “buy things on impulse” based on what he’s passionate about, like music. He believes that following your passion will ultimately lead to success. “I find that if I pursue my interest, then money follows,” he told Christie’s in 2017. “I believe that the pursuit of one’s personal interests has to come before pursuing money.”
Along the way, Maezawa has expanded beyond collecting music to collecting art, paying a record $110.5 million for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat at Sotheby’s in 2017. The billionaire’s art collection also includes multi-million dollar works by artists like Jeff Koons and Alexander Calder.
Before opening up his moon trip to the public, Maezawa stated that he wanted the flight around the moon to inspire works of art. He said he would look for “some of Earth’s greatest talents,” including painters, musicians, film directors and fashion designers.
“People are creative and have a great imagination. We all have the ability to dream dreams that have never been dreamt, to sing songs that have never been sung, to paint that which has never been seen before,” Maezawa wrote at the time on a website dedicated to the ”#dearmoon” project. “I hope that this project will inspire the dreamer within each of us.”
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