Moonstruck Japan tycoon to blast off on 1st SpaceX trip

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SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, left, shakes hands with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, right, after announcing him as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, Monday, Sept. 17, in Hawthorne, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk, left, shakes hands with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, right, after announcing him as the first private passenger on a trip around the moon, Monday, Sept. 17, in Hawthorne, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Tokyo (AP) — The Japanese billionaire who Tesla chief Elon Musk says plans to blast off on the first-ever private commercial space trip aboard the SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket often makes headlines in Japan. The SpaceX mission, set for takeoff in 2023, is just the latest exploit in tycoon Yusaka Maezawa’s colorful and ambitious career:

Maezawa, 42, is the chief executive of Start Today Co., which he founded in 1998 as a CD sales business when he was still in his 20s. The company pioneered e-commerce in Japan and now runs the popular fashion mall Zozotown, selling various, relatively affordable clothing brands. Annual sales totaled more than 98 billion yen ($890 million) in the fiscal year that ended in March.

Forbes magazine estimates Maezawa’s wealth at $2.9 billion. In a nation where billionaires are relatively rare, he gets attention for his celebrity friends and for zipping around in a private jet and a fleet of sports cars. Such flamboyance is uncommon in a country where even very rich men often keep a low profile.

Maezawa’s trademark defiant but disarming style may be rooted in his start as a musician, playing drums in indies rock bands. The punk band he was in, called Switch Style, signed with a major Japanese record label. He opted out of attending prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo to pursue music and then started his own business selling imported CDs. The name of his company was inspired by the title of an album by the American punk band Gorilla Biscuits.

Maezawa has invested lavishly in art, collecting works by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, among others, and in designer-brand furniture from abroad. He paid $110.5 million for Basquiat’s 1982 painting of a graffiti-like black and blue rendition of a human skull, a record price for an American artist, at a Sotheby’s auction last year. “When I saw this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art,” Maezawa said at the time. He had set the previous auction record for a Basquiat, in 2016, when he paid $57.3 million.

Maezawa has recently shown off a wearable technology called the Zozosuit, the centerpiece of his Zozo fashion brand. Customers first order a black, body-hugging outfit covered with white dots. They then take a smartphone photo wearing the outfit which is used to do a full body scan, determining shapes and sizes with a special app. Choices are still limited to basic pants and shirts for now, but that could change.

Maezawa says the planned trip to space is a way “to inspire the dreamer in all of us.” He plans to take six or eight artists, architects and designers with him. He hasn’t said who they might be or how much he is paying for the trip. The idea is for those creative minds to see the moon up close and planet Earth from afar. Maezawa says he has often wondered what Basquiat might have drawn if he had traveled into space. “I choose to go to the moon, with artists,” Maezawa tweeted both in Japanese and English.