​An American TV star in Japan

Dave Spector was a child actor from Chicago who later found fame as a "gaijin tarento" on Japanese television.

CBS News

Could an American-born celebrity be famous overseas while remaining virtually unknown here at home? Seth Doane sends us the answer in this Postcard From Japan:

In Tokyo, at least when with Dave Spector, there's no such thing as a simple stroll -- surrounded by people who want his picture. "I might need a helicopter," he joked.

If you're wondering who Spector is, then you probably have not seen much Japanese television over the past 30 years.

Doane asked, "You're so recognizable here in Japan. Is it strange to take a trip back to the U.S. and be a relative nobody?"

"A complete nobody! But then there's so many Japanese overseas now. If you get lonely you can just go to a duty-free shop," he laughed.

He's a former child actor from Chicago who first came to Japan on a business trip as a TV producer in 1984, and found a niche.

He joined the ranks of what's called "gaijin tarento" (or "foreign talent") on TV. It's a holdover from the 1980s when there was a fascination with foreigners who could speak Japanese.

The thing is, 30 years later, he's still at it.

"I guess I'm the guy to go to for just about everything," Spector said. "And I'm on every day, just about on all the channels."

Spector invited Doane to one of his weekly appearances on TBS' "Sunday Japon." He hasn't missed a show in 13 years.

This 90-minute live broadcast is full of energy, and fits right in on Japanese TV: "It's very fast-paced," said Spector, "and the screen is cluttered with a million things. Little windows of people. It's like a hamster on crystal meth, you know?"

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Dave Spector with Tom Cruise on the Japanese series, "Sunday Japon."
TBS

Spector hosts a news roundup that's often celebrity-focused. But when Doane visited, Spector was looking at a serious topic: the "right to die," explaining the difference between federal and state laws in the U.S.

There are Americans in Japan who have told Doane, "I know who Dave Spector is; he says he's representing the American perspective, but he doesn't represent me as an American."

"Right, well, you could say that about just about anybody," replied Spector. "But usually what I say is more an overall representation of what is going on in the States and what is being said, and interpreting it for Japanese audiences."