Friday, June 2, 2017

Unwrapping Bob Strickland, Kyoto's Resident Mummy Actor and Restaurateur

Bob Strickland (center) poses for a photo with rock star David Bowie, who often visited Kyoto.

In 2015, I blogged about the Japanese horror TV series Kyofu no Miira (1961), which is about a reanimated mummy. The series starred an American named Bob Strickland in the role of the mummy, and shortly after I became aware of his part in the series, I set out to contact him.

After doing some research, I found that he lived in Kyoto and owned a restaurant in the area. I made a call to the restaurant and spoke with his widow, Tokiko, who informed me that Strickland had died the year before.

Bob Strickland (second from the left) at his company, Continental Trailways Bus System.

It wasn't until the end of last month that I was able to return to Kyoto and set aside enough time to visit the restaurant myself in an attempt to find out more about Bob Strickland. I was warmly welcomed by Tokiko, who made available her various scrapbooks about her late husband and their restaurant. The following information about Strickland and his restaurant were culled from the various clippings found in the scrapbooks, as well as my conversations with Tokiko.

Bob Strickland in between former Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Muriel Humphrey.

Bob Strickland was born in Capitol Hill, Oklahoma. His family moved to California during his youth. There he attended Long Beach City College and Long Beach State College, from which he graduated in 1956. During his time in Los Angeles, Strickland worked as a bank clerk.

Former President Bill Clinton and Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks (and his family) have been among the many patrons at Ashiya Steak House.

In the beginning, Strickland arrived in Japan with the intention of becoming a student and probably had no expectations of becoming an entertainer. After arriving, he learned Japanese for about three years at the Kyoto Japanese Language School. He also studied Japanese art history simultaneously at Kyoto University. While a student, Strickland worked various jobs in the area to earn a living.

Bob Strickland and his wife, Tokiko.

Strickland eventually became a member of a comedy troupe called Warai no Okoku (Kingdom of Laughter) in Osaka where he apprenticed under Gannosuke Ashiya, a popular Osaka comedian. This apprenticeship more or less required Bob to become a gofer for Ashiya. Together, the two appeared on TV, the stage, and in three movies, and Bob drew attention for his performing in a regional Japanese dialect.

 The outside of Ashiya Steak House in Kyoto. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Two and a half years later, Bob was presented with the stage name Ashiya Ganta, which was likely the first time an American (or even a foreigner) was given such an honor. Given the boundless appreciation that Strickland had for his mentor, Bob legally changed his name to Robert Ashiya Ganta Strickland.

Tokiko remains busy at Ashiya Steak House to this day. Photo by Brett Homenick.

Not long thereafter, Strickland became the president of Continental Trailways Bus System. Moreover, Strickland and his wife, Tokiko, also founded Ashiya Steak House in Kyoto. Strickland designed the restaurant himself down to the smallest detail. The building itself was extremely old, having been unoccupied for about 10 years. His wife wanted to modernize the restaurant, but Strickland refused and wanted it to remain as authentic as possible. He even went so far as to wear a kimono and bow to his patrons in the traditional Japanese way.

Yours truly with Tokiko at Ashiya Steak House.

The high-priced steakhouse and gallery has attracted a number of celebrities and luminaries since its opening in the 1960s, including: former U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Henry Fowler, former Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R-PA), former U.S. ambassador to Italy Clare Boothe Luce, and of course many Japanese movie stars like Ken Takakura. More recently, former President Bill Clinton and actors Tom Hanks and Clint Eastwood have dined there.

I had a wonderful time meeting Tokiko at Ashiya Steak House, and I'd recommend it to anyone who can afford spending a couple of hundreds of dollars on a delicious steak dinner. (Suffice it to say, it is most certainly not for travelers on a budget.) I'm also pleased to have unwrapped the mystery of the American actor who starred as a mummy in a Japan TV series more than 50 years ago.

2 comments:

  1. Bob was my downstairs neighbor when I lived in Huntington Beach,Ca. He was an amazing character. He was only 16 when he joined the Navy to become a fighter pilot and flew with the Black Sheep Squadron during the Korean War. He had some amazing stories.

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    1. Thank you so much for dropping by! If you have any other memories, please feel free to share them. Many thanks again!

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