The Passing of a Koenji Legend

There was very sad news earlier this month, that struck close to home.

While we were not mateys, we’d tipped our hats to one other in passing numerous times over the better part of the last decade. That was, after all, a large part of his joie de vivre–being one with The People. Not only a local fixture at festivals, he was in character most days in between (at least as far as I can tell). I am, of course, referring to the local legend himself, Koenji Jack Sparrow.

His given name may have been Kazuo Horikawa, but he was far from your traditional Japanese Tokyoite. His hometown of Kochi, on Japan’s small Shikoku Island, may as well have been the Caribbean as he took cosplay to a whole new level he was so often in character.

I remember he used to work at a hair salon not far from Koenji Station’s south exit when I first moved here. He then ventured into Tokyo’s ubiquitous pastry industry in 2011 with the opening of Cake & Cafe Bar Pirates of Ryoumo in Nakano. More recently, I read that he was working at a female wrestler bar in Nakano.

There is a much more extensive article on Koenji Jack Sparrow over at Sankei News (in Japanese). My first photographed encounter with him may have been when I saw him in 2009 during Koenji’s Awa-Odori festival.

On July 7th, just after 3 am, he was dropped off by a taxi on Ome-kaido, the main thoroughfare between Shinjuku and western Tokyo’s bedroom communities (or ベッドタウン / bed town as they say in Japan). He crossed the road and was struck by an eastbound car heading into the city. He died about 12 hours later in the hospital.

What hits home even more for me is that he was hit in the same place I was hit four years ago, and around the same time of year. Half my body was broken and I lost a leg (so I’d make a great pirate) but I was more fortunate. I weighed a lot more back then and the doctor told me that’s what likely saved my life–that if I’d been built like an average Japanese guy, I would have died.

It was reported that he was in character at the time of the accident. To paraphrase the Sankei article, “Jack loved Koenji and Koenji loved Jack. He had a short life, but a full one.”

At least he died with his boots on.

Koenji Jack Sparrow in 2012
Koenji Jack Sparrow in 2012

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