Dozens of Japanese guests have touched down in Sicily for an eccentric billionaire’s four-day long birthday party that is infuriating locals – because he has bought out Palermo’s hotels and cultural attractions for himself and his 1,400 guests.
Kaoru Nakajima has hired out several of the city’s oldest and most iconic landmarks – including opera houses, theatres and centuries-old hotels – to mark his 73rd birthday, and has invited scores of associates and acquaintances to join him.
Video shared by La Giornale di Sicilia showed dozens of Japanese guests arriving at Palermo airport on connecting flights and private jets; the airport terminal was filled with the sound of people speaking Japanese.
When interviewed one woman simply said: ‘Enjoy Sicily, ciao,’ before smiling at the camera.
Ushers in suits and wearing lanyard identity badges shepherded guests towards a fleet of luxury minibuses with blacked out windows for the half-hour journey from Palermo airport to the city centre.
Japanese guests landed at Palermo airport in their dozens for Kaoru Nakajima’s eccentric 73rd birthday party
Users wearing suits and lanyards could be seen gathering the guests before loading them onto private buses with blacked out windows for the journey into Palermo itself
Kaoru Nakajima (pictured) made his fortune by rising up the ranks of AmWay, the American multi-level marketing firm
The 73-year-old billionaire was once pictured with pop legend Mariah Carey in 2013
He was seen rubbing shoulders with several local politicians before and after a performance
The event is being organised by Milan based firm 9pm which is owned by concert promoter Jimmy Pallas.
Pallas has worked with huge names such as Elton John, Genesis, AC/DC, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Iron Maiden and Celine Dion.
On his website he writes: ‘I am the owner and CEO of 9PM and have been producing events on the various Fields of Play from 1976.
‘I have been involved as Producer, Director and Event Coordinator and have successfully delivered thousands of events.
‘In these years, we created teams of the best warriors to guarantee define and deliver built tailor made events with many distinguished Clients, Agencies, Companies, Famities (sic) and lnstitutions, always merging as one team.’
The presence of Nakajima, who made his fortune in US multi-level marketing firm AmWay, in Palermo has split opinion on Sicily.
Many locals are furious that the billionaire has hired out the likes of the Teatro Massimo, Italy‘s largest opera house and one of the largest in Europe, for himself.
He has also hired out the Politeama Theatre, and went as far as to order extra custom seating so that his guests could dance and dine in the 132-year-old institution, at a reported cost of 37,000 euros (£32,244).
Nakajima, who was once pictured with pop superstar Mariah Carey, will be housing his 1,400 guests at both the five-star Villa Igiea, on Palermo’s beachfront, and the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, just a few miles away.
He is said to be feeding them with a banquet prepared by a celebrity chef, and last night entertained them with a performance of Don Giovanni conducted by the acclaimed Riccardo Muti, who is said to be a close friend of the birthday boy.
Nakajima is said to have organised a concert by Matteo Bocelli, the son of the legendary Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli.
The billionaire managed to hire out several of Palermo’s oldest and most iconic cultural institutions
His guests will be staying at the luxurious Villa Igiea, which lies on Palermo’s coastline
His guests will also be staying at the Grand Hotel et des Palmes, which is located just a few miles away from the Villa Igiea
Nakajima has hired out the Teatro Massimo, one of the most iconic cultural institutions in Palermo for a private rendition of Don Giovanni
He went as far as to spend over 30,000 euros on extra, custom seating in the Politeama Theatre so his guests could dance and dine
Several close friends and family members were seen posing for photos outside the Teatro Massimo
His extravagant birthday bash has angered the locals, however, and has left officials asking how Nakajima was allowed to hire several iconic venues.
Furious Sicily regional president Renato Schifani slammed Palermo mayor Roberto Lagalla for agreeing to the four day shindig.
Visibly irritated, he stormed: ‘Why weren’t the competent authorities notified in advance about all this? I’m perplexed as to why two theatres have been hired at great expense and can only hope the money paid goes to charity.
‘These sort of large scale events should go before a public order committee and yet there was no meeting held in advance.’
He continued: ‘Neither the prefect of Palermo or the city’s head of police were I formed ahead of this event taking place and they should have been with more than 1,000 people attending. I just hope that all goes well but this is certainly a very serious situation and it must never happen again.’
Seperately, Schifani told an Italian news agency: ‘I’m a liberal person who has always been open to the private sector but there’s a limit to everything.’
He added that he was worried that Nakajima hiring out so many institutions so quickly may lead to other ultra-wealthy individuals doing the same.
‘In this way we are opening an unprecedented window, which could lead to other private individuals requesting similar treatment,’ he said.
On the Facebook page of local paper Palermo Today the story attracted hundreds of mixed comments from locals annoyed at the event.
Casemiro Bellone said: ‘Welcome to Palermo and all its beauty, and welcome to whoever brings jobs to our city. But with all due respect to our illustrious guest I do think the royal box at the theatre should be for heads of state.’
Marco Borbone Desantis said: ‘I’ve lived in Palermo all my life and I’ve never managed to get a ticket for the theatre. Now he has come from the other side of the world and gets in. Something isn’t working.’
Agostino Marino wrote: ‘Everyone writing, thank you for choosing Palermo but did the people who write it understand that it won’t bring prestige or anything else?
‘He only showed off his power through his money because he is rich and can do it for the rest his presence is of no use and will not bring anything except money to other rich people who don’t care about the city. Palermo will always remain dirty, abandoned and disadvantaged, thanks for what exactly?’
Guisi Maniscalco said: ‘Who knows if this money he is bringing will be invested into the city. Let’s hope so.’
His birthday plans were initially meant to be held in 2020 for his 70th birthday but were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic
Nakajima was seen sporting an ornate cane as he was escorted into an exclusive box in the Teatro Massimo
He was seen grinning as he told local reporters: ‘Palermo is beautiful’
Not all were against the party, though. Antonina Rita Minafo welcomed the visit and said: ‘To all those who criticise… Remember that if this man leaves with a good memory, others will probably come and it means work and jobs.’
The billionaire, sporting an ornate cane, was seen being shown to an exclusive box in the Teatro Massimo, with the assistance of several people.
He was seen rubbing shoulders with several local politicians before and after the performance.
His friends and family, meanwhile, were seen posing for photos outside the venue.
He told an Italian media outlet shortly after the performance: ‘Palermo is beautiful.’
Despite his cheery outlook, not all had gone according to plan.
Arrangements for a massive banquet on Sunday were scuppered after it was revealed that the celebrity chef he hired to cater for his guests was under house arrest for allegedly selling drugs out of his Palermo restaurant.
His plans, which were initially meant to be held in 2020 for his 70th birthday but were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been so disruptive that Sicily’s symphonic orchestra was moved to a smaller, less prestigious venue to make way for his extravagant celebrations.
He sold his stake in AmWay and later founded two of his own MLM companies
He entertained his 1,400 guests with a concert by Matteo Bocelli, the son of the legendary tenor Andrea Bocelli
His wildly extravagant plans were initially set to go ahead in 2020 to celebrate his 70th birthday
Aside from being a billionaire, Nakajima is also a singer and a composer, having won a top prize at the seventh World Popular Song Festival, Japan’s version of Eurovision.
He has written several motivational books, including ‘Important Life Lessons I Learned from the Superelite’ and ‘Destiny awaits you to decide.’
He rose through the ranks of multi-level marketing company AmWay when it expanded into Japan in 1979, and made his fortune after selling his stake in the company, before later opening up his own companies.
AmWay (American Way) – America’s largest MLM – sells household and beauty products, and convinces customers to become paid distributors of the products.
Nakajima was one of the company’s best sellers when he worked for them.
In the 1990s he made Amway history by doubling the sales of his group of roughly 750,000 distributors, and at one point was reported to bring in 40% of the company’s business in Japan, and 12% of the company’s global business.
‘My future is so bright that it’s almost scary,’ he told interviewers at the time.