Here is my story. I'm from Toronto, and I now live in Japan (since 2004).
Firstly, here's a brief recounting about how I got interested in musicals in general. I'm born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Back in 1991, Canadian Airlines was a major sponsor of the Toronto production of the Phantom of the Opera, then starting Colm Wilkinson. In the autumn of 1991, my grandfather (who lived in Japan) passed away, and it turns out that they were playing the Original Canadian Cast Album of Phantom non-stop on one of the audio channels on my flight to and from Japan so I ended up listening to the soundtrack for 14 hours each way between Toronto and Tokyo. I saw the Toronto production of Phantom a few months later, and I've enjoyed listening to and watching musicals ever since.
On to Les Misérables. Sometime in 1992, I bought the Original Broadway Cast recording of Les Misérables, on audio cassette in Rochester, New York, of all places, which coincidentally featured Colm Wilkinson, whom I recently saw at the (then) Pantages Theatre as the Phantom. Although I have come to appreciate the Phantom score much more since then, at the time, the music in Les Misérables was much more approachable and easier for me to understand and to relate to. (I was 11 years old at the time). When I find some music that I like, I will listen to it over and over thousands of times and as a result, I end up quickly memorizing each song. Unfortunately, I missed the various Canadian productions of Les Misérables that played on and off at the Royal Alexander Theatre downtown. I still have a copy of an Ad in the Toronto Star stating "Final Toronto Performances this week" which gave me much anguish in that I wasn't able to see the show. At the same time, I had also started listening to other recordings (OLC Phantom, OLC Miss Saigon, OLC Les Mis) that I borrowed from various libraries. I also obtained copies of the Japanese Cast Recordings of Phantom and Miss Saigon which were interesting, but quite unapproachable since I could only understand about 5% of what was being spoken at the time. Flash forward to the summer of 1994 (and tens of thousands of repeated listening to these cast albums), I had just finished grade 8 and the Canadian school year was over and I went on summer vacation in Japan. Unfortunately, since the school year is arranged differently in Japan, I had to go to a local school in Japan for two weeks because they couldn't have me "wandering around aimlessly" when I should be in school. (Considering that I am visually indistinguishable from Japanese people born in Japan, I suppose I had no choice in the matter.) However, luckily, knowing that I liked musicals, my cousin bought me tickets to see Les Misérables which was playing that summer in Tokyo at the Imperial Theatre. (At that time I was actually more interested in seeing Miss Saigon which I had already seen in Toronto, but had closed in Tokyo already earlier in 1994.)
So in August 2014, I saw Les Misérables for the first time, in a language that I didn't really fully understand at the time. However, knowing the synopsis very well and all of the key songs from my repeated listening to the OBC, I had no issue following the story and I was totally and utterly impressed by the visuals, stage direction, lighting and the amazing cast. (The cast I saw was basically the Japanese "Red" Cast album of 1994, except Javert was played by Kiyotaka Imai of the "Blue Album." The 1994 cast is probably one of the strongest Japanese casts ever assembled in my opinion.)
Another cousin of mine bought me both of the cast albums and over the years, these two cast albums were also listened to many thousands of times and are still in my ipod today. Before this summer trip in 1994, I had pretty much given up trying to learn Japanese at all because the obstacles in learning the language seemed incredibly insurmountable, especially in Canada. (As all Asian kids growing up in Canada can probably relate, pretty much all of us got forced against our will to take "heritage" language classes on Saturdays. Since we couldn't watch any Saturday morning cartoons, this produced a bunch of bitter asian kids who weren't really interested in learning their parent's mother tongue at all.)
However, the summer of 1994, of which Les Misérables was a large part of, inspired me to learn Japanese. The next three years were a blur of reading dictionaries, listening to musicals in Japanese and befriending any Japanese speaker that I met. I did a one year exchange program at a Japanese high school and by the time I returned to Canada, my Japanese was fluent. When went back to Canada in the summer of 1998, the 3NT was playing an extended stop with Colm Wilkinson playing Valjean and I ended up seeing the show in Toronto 4 times that year. During University, I caught the 3NT in various locations such as the National Arts Centre in Ottawa or in Buffalo as well. I stayed in Canada until 1 year after graduating from university, when I learned that Miss Saigon was to be remounted in its original form in 2004 and that was the main "kicker" for me to move to Japan. (Les Misérables is my second favorite musical after Miss Saigon.)
I Since 2004, Les Misérables has be remounted at least 5 times and I've seen the show here in Tokyo at least 30 times since then. 2011 was a special year for me since I went to London for the first time and caught the show at the Queen's Theatre for the first time. (I noticed how much smaller and compact the set was compared to Toho's set, but the cast was amazing, despite the revised orchestrations.) Also, a few weeks later, I had the chance to catch the 25th Anniversary Tour in Washington DC at the Kennedy Center. I remember being really underwhelmed by both that cast and the revised staging, particularly Gavroche's death which at the time was not visible on stage.
2013 was another special year for me in regards to Les Misérables. The show was remounted in Tokyo, but this time, using the 25th anniversary staging. I wasn't looking forward to the show remembering how disappointed I was with the show in Washington two years earlier. I was pleasantly surprised that the directors had continued to develop the show and updated many of the details which bothered me before. The cast was very strong as usual and they had implemented the revised version of Gavroche's death as well. Unfortunately, due to the popularity of Tom Hooper's film the previous year, the show sold out quickly and I was "only" able to see the show 6 times in Tokyo that summer. (The theatre is actually just 5 minutes from my office...) I wasn't about to give up, so I went to see the Seoul production which was playing simultaneously only two hours away by airplane where I saw two performances. Since I don't understand any Korean, I focused on watching the acting, the staging and physical production which were slightly different from the Tokyo production. One example of the slightly different staging is that Éponine got shot returning to the barricade, as opposed to jumping in front of Marius to block the shots fired at him. The Korean production was similar to the US Tour where the stage did not wrap against the two walls on either side of the stage, so all of the action (Valjean released Javert etc.) took place within the bounds of the proscenium. Apparently, the revised version of Gavroche's death was first implemented in Korea and the physical "wrapping" of the stage was first implemented in Tokyo. Both of these were implemented in the Toronto Production which I saw 6 times in December 2013. That was the year seeing the show 14 times in three different countries.
The last time I saw the show was in December 2014 where I saw all of the incremental changes made in Korea and Japan implemented and further improved on Broadway. (First time seeing the show on Broadway!) To be perfectly honest, I prefer and miss the original Caird/Nunn staging and I probably won't get a chance to see it again before the rumoured "upgrade" to the flagship London production takes place. However, I am quite happy that the directors have allowed the show to evolve and improve gradually since I first saw the production in Washington. The Japanese production will be remounted once again this Spring, and it will have been 21 years since I first saw the show at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo, back in 1994. I have high hopes that this year's production will be just as good as my experiences in the past.