Guy Perryman Visits NAZOBAKO Tokyo


Invite Japan

In this personal blog post, our GM Dennis discusses the time his old boss came to play an escape game, and how that made him reflect on the lessons he carried throughout his career

Springtime in Tokyo… everyone emerges from hibernation and runs into old friends and colleagues that they have not seen in ages.

That’s what happened to me a few weeks ago at the Irish Festival in Yoyogi park. As a Tokyo citizen since 1996 (yeah, that’s a long time), these events are always an opportunity to take stock of what the movers and shakers of the city are up to. On the one hand, I don’t know as many people as I used to. People who are fresh off the boat and getting into their life in Japan are rubbing shoulders with us old-timers. Through their eyes, the town is new and exciting. Through mine, I cannot help but think about the years of friends and parties that I have been lucky enough to have enjoyed in this very spot.

“Dennis! Hi!!!”

It had been years since I had heard that voice say my name. It was my former boss Guy Perryman. After a moment getting over our mutual shock, we instantly fell into our familiar rapport that we had built over many years working in radio together.

I met Guy only a month after moving to Tokyo. Back then he was a DJ at the Virgin Megastore in Shinjuku, a place that I would come to know very well in the coming years. With Guy’s guidance, I became a radio producer and founding member of a small start-up radio studio and station based in Omotesando. This lead to a full-time gig for me working with Guy at Virgin Megastore as a DJ and producer.

This was the period in my life when I learned how to be creative, efficient, and resourceful. Virgin Megastore is long gone , but in those days, it was a big, glossy retail space that was the place to discover music culture. You could get in touch with the sounds that shaped the streets of Tokyo and the vibes all across Japan. However, behind the scenes, it was still a retail space. While the image was high-end, our equipment in the DJ booth still consisted of basic, off-the shelf machines. As much as I would have loved a fancy, expensive recording studio in order to learn sound production, the truth was that I developed my skills using a few CD players, an old reel-to-reel tape machine, a stack of MD players, and some quick button pushing in order to create commercial spots for our radio station. It was this ability to create high-quality work using the basic tools on hand that I have come back to over and over in my career.

Fast-forward to our meeting in the park. Guy has since continued to make an amazing and successful career as a radio DJ, voice talent, and event producer. For my part, I moved away from radio and DJ work since the Virgin days. I worked for 10 years at a theme park, developing programs and events for kids, before coming to Nazobako in late 2016. Even though I have not been on-air for more than a decade, I still use all of those scrappy skills I learned when I was in the booth and on the mic. As a Game Master, NAZOBAKO manager and program developer for team building events at Invite Japan, I must use my wits to create exciting, fun and surprising content using simple, yet innovative methods.

As we were catching up, I invited Guy to Nazobako to try our Samurai Espionage escape game. He accepted my offer, but was sceptical. Like many people who hear the phrase Escape room, he had images of something confusing, slightly sinister, possibly claustrophobic. What he did not expect was something fun.

Of course, we always want to keep our game rooms a secret–the fun of discovering what is inside is the whole point. This always leads us into a tricky situation: we want people to know enough about our escape room in order to be curious, but not so much that it spoils the discoveries inside. Guy proposed a nice solution. What if he played the game and recorded the experience for his listeners on InterFM? As host of a daily morning radio program on 89.7 – helpfully titled The Guy Perryman Show – he is always looking for unique experiences to share with his listeners. This could be a fine idea.

From the moment that Guy put on the Sherlock Holmes inspired costume players don to get into the adventurous spirit, he could see that this was going to be different from his expectations. He hastily grabbed a magnifying glass for the picture, but found that it was just the prop he needed to get into the spirit. When it came time to make the recording for his radio program, I was not surprised to see the efficient, practical ingenuity I learned from him many years ago. His fancy radio equipment was simply the recorder on his smartphone.

Our Game Master Yuki welcomed Guy into the dark room to set the stage for his game. He was still literally in the dark about what to expect. Yuki started the timer, gave him one last “Good Luck!”, and walked out the door, closing it with a solid thud. When the lights came on, he could finally see the adventure that was in store for him.

At this point that my radio producer brain kicked in. While I wanted Guy to have a genuine experience in his first escape room, we had to do a little bit of radio production trickery. Firstly, listening to someone be confused on the radio is not fun. While our games are designed for teams of 2~5 players, Guy would be doing this one by himself – a challenge that almost no one other that Game Masters is tasked with. Since he was alone, I decided to be in the room with him, gently (quietly) guiding him and making sure that his radio recording would be an interesting listen. I really enjoyed seeing my old friend and boss discover the secrets of our Samurai Espionage. As he started to take in the room, he gave voice to all the thoughts that run through a player’s head when an escape game starts. He started off describing the room broadly, but this gave way to some smaller details that would eventually show the path forward. He found a letter. He noticed a display of swords. He picked up a Samurai helmet. He checked a locked cabinet. He was well on his way to discovering all of the secrets.

But we don’t want to give anything away! While Guy was recording himself solving puzzles, he was saying codes and locations of clues out loud. This was expected and I knew that we would be able to edit these details out later. However, when I mentioned this to Guy, he was surprised to think about how many secrets there were! He had been so focused on the challenge in front of him that he forgot to edit himself in the moment. I was so pleased to see this side of my friend. Our goal is to create “Aha!” moments for our players and this one was very special to me.

After his escape (or failure, I won’t tell), we sat down in the Samurai Espionage room for an interview. Being interviewed by Guy was a trip! Here we were sitting down just like the old days, but in such new circumstances. He asked me about the insights we Game Masters have that come from watching so many different kinds of people play our games. We talked about the different kinds of games out there and what keeps players looking for that next challenge to solve. We also got into the unique opportunity for Japanese companies to use escape games for team building. This training concept certainly exists in Japan, but it is often difficult to find programs that hit the sweet spot between engaging, insightful, challenging and fun. Now that Guy had seen for himself what an escape game was really like, he was totally on board and couldn’t wait to come back and try again. Maybe next time, with a little more help.