Where I've Been

Why ‘Empire’s’ Jussie Smollett Was Taken with Tokyo

Japan is far from the soundstages of Chicago where Jussie Smollett films Fox’s musical drama “Empire,” but after getting a brief taste of Tokyo, he already knows he’ll be back.

“It was one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been,” says the actor and singer, who traveled around Japan in December while on his first USO Tour with fellow castmembers Taraji P Henson and Bryshere “Yazz” Gray. “It was just unbelievable how beautiful it was.”

Marriott TRAVELER caught up with Smollett at the Sundance Film Festival, in Park City, Utah, while he joined his sister Jurnee Smollett and the cast of “Underground” to promote WGN America’s series that debuted March 9. Jussie appears in the show.

The actor didn’t have much time to see much of Tokyo while promoting “Empire,” which returns on Fox on March 30.

It was one of the most incredible places I've ever been. It was just unbelievable how beautiful it was.

Jussie Smollett

“I had a day and I was able to explore a little but not as much as I would have liked to,” he says.

That meant not even being able to take a quick trip on Japan’s renowned bullet trains to check out other parts of the country while on the week-long tour, which had him stop to meet with military servicemen and women stationed at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Yokota Air Base and Misawa Air Base.

“I couldn’t do that,” says Smollett. “But I will definitely go back and see it the right way.”

While he didn’t have much time in Japan, what he remembers fondly is the people.

“I love the people,” he says. “I felt like there was such a sense of humility with them and there’s such a pride and respect for their own space. It’s so pristine and so clean. That can’t just be coming from the government. It’s got to be that there’s a certain sense of honor. They’re just so polite and so kind.”

Even the crowds who flocked to see him.

“After I did a show there (in club Ele, where he performed “You’re So Beautiful” and “No Doubt About It,” songs from the series), there was a huge crowd yelling,” Smollett says, “but they were standing in a perfect line. Each person waited and were so kind.”

Tokyo has now joined Jamaica as one of Smollett’s favorite places.

He travels to Jamaica every year to support the charity, the RuJohn Foundation, which helps Jamaican youth in rural parts of the country through educational initiatives. The foundation was created in honor of Ruth and John Tulloch, the Jamaican grandparents of Andrew Bachelor and Christina Bachelor.

“The land and the people are so beautiful and so kind,” he says. “Again, there’s a respect there. It’s cool.”