TOKYO: Japanese fans, some making the late switch from Manchester United to Real Madrid jerseys, packed Tokyo's main airport as David Beckham and his celebrity wife arrived yesterday to kick off a tour of the Far East.
The England captain, whose move from Old Trafford to Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid generated a storm of media attention, and wife Victoria, who was “Posh Spice'' in pop group The Spice Girls, will film commercials in Japan before heading to Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand.
More than 1,000 fans – mostly young women – and journalists were waiting in the airport arrivals hall swarming with police and privately hired security guards.
“I got here at 8 a.m.,'' said student Fumi Yokoyama, after waiting seven hours to catch a glimpse of her hero. “I couldn't get a photo of him but it was worth the wait just to see him.''
Beckham enjoys rock star status in Japan and the other parts of Asia and a glimpse was all even the luckiest fans got.
Surrounded by bodyguards, the Beckhams moved quickly through the airport and were whisked away to their hotel in Tokyo.
“He's just so much more exciting to watch than Japanese players,'' said Mari Kobayashi, who waited three hours to catch a fleeting glimpse of Beckham. “He's gorgeous!''
Some of the fans were already wearing Real Madrid jerseys to celebrate Beckham's move, though more wore the old Red Devils version.
Before the arrival, officials said they were prepared for a mob scene. “This is a special case,'' Narita airport spokesman Kunio Hasegawa. “There are already a lot of fans here.''
Beckham, who had just recently finished a promotional tour of the US, said on Manchester United's website that he was looking forward to the Asia trip, his first since the World Cup, which was co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.
“I had such a good time in Asia last summer at the World Cup and have been looking forward to returning,'' he said. “With such great fans all across Asia, I'm sure it's going to be a memorable trip.''
The England captain was reported as saying he was so impressed by the reception he got during last year's World Cup that he would consider a move to Japan towards the end of his football career.
In Japan, Beckham is referred to as “Beckham-sama,'' which translates to something like Sir Beckham.
According to a report in the Asahi, a major newspaper, Beckham is here as part of a two-year promotional deal with two Japanese companies worth a combined 1 billion yen (US$8.5 million).
Beckham will be in Tokyo through Saturday before flying on to Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, and Bangkok.
Beckham's minders have banned international media from his promotional events to shield the star midfielder from questioning about his move.