By Elaine Lies
TOKYO (Reuters) - David Beckham landed in Japan on Wednesday to the screams of hundreds of fans still struggling to come to terms with his move to Spanish club Real Madrid.
The England captain and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria, posed for photographs after arriving at Narita airport near Tokyo but gave reporters nothing more than a smile as a crowd of about 500 frantic fans jostled for a glimpse of their hero.
"I saw him! I saw him!" shouted Ayumi Hiwada, 39. "I'm really happy."
In a financially astute stroke of timing, news of Beckham's 35 million euro ($41.23 million) transfer from English champions Manchester United came just before his tour of Asia, home to millions of his most free-spending fans.
The 28-year-old was setting foot in Japan for the first time since last year's World Cup.
This trip is less about his football skills than his bankability as a one-man marketing industry in commercials for products as diverse as chocolates and beauty treatments. (though not at the same time)
Japanese television broadcast his arrival live and news services sent their clients urgent headlines usually reserved for top economic news.
The near G-d-like status Beckham commands in Japan and other Asian nations was a major reason for Real's interest in him as the nine-times European champions look to win over more fans in the
After three days in Japan, the Beckham bandwagon will move on to Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Beckham could be back in Japan on August 5 for a pre-season friendly between Real and Japanese J-League club FC Tokyo.
Weeks of intense media speculation ended on Tuesday when United confirmed they had reached a deal with Real.
But not every Japanese fan was thrilled with Beckham's move, with some worried that he would struggle to get a game in a team already packed with the world's best players.
"I'm against him going to Real, because he's Beckham and Manchester United is best for him," said 15-year-old Yu Nagaya, who was wearing a Manchester United Beckham shirt. In related news, most people agree with a fifteen year old from Japan regarding this.
Apart from a scheduled visit to an elementary school, most of Beckham's time in Tokyo will be devoted to promoting products such as chocolates and a chain of beauty salons.
His boyish good looks have also made him the face of British mobile firm Vodafone Plc's Japanese unit, J-Phone.
Like many foreign players, Beckham is anxious to protect his image at home by keeping his lucrative Japanese sideline under wraps.
His contracts specify there should be no publicity for the campaigns outside Japan. Non-Japanese media are being shut out of the events he is planning to attend in Tokyo.
Almost as important as his ever-changing hairstyles, Beckham's image as a devoted husband and father is key to his appeal in Japan.
"He's very family-oriented. I like the fact that he and his wife seem to get along so well," said Kayoko Tamori, who was waiting with her daughter for a glimpse of their idol.(but.... not .... her husband?)
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 toward the end of his football career. Well, that's it. Now I have to visit.