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JAPAN ZONE - October 25th 2002 - Issue #30
Newsletter of the Japan Zone website



The political world is in shock following the fatal stabbing of a Diet member. The five surviving abductees taken to North Korea two decades ago finally
returned to Japan. News cameras followed their every move and they have
dominated the headlines. But what happens next?

"Zico Japan" got off to an uncertain start against unfancied opposition. The much anticipated Japan Series starts this weekend.

Mark McBennett
Webmaster, Japan Zone

1. Japan Zone Updates
2. What's going on in Japan
3. Sports news
4. Gei-noh news

1. Japan Zone Updates
Profile: Izumi Motoya is called the Prince of Kyogen. He has helped create something of a revival in the 600-year old theater form. But after starting the year with a surprise marriage announcement, it's all gone downhill.

Our new Japan Forum system is leaner and meaner than the old BBS. You can create your own profile with photo or avatar, and there is a ranking system depending on how many messages you post. The Forum also has its own internal email system, and you can leave instant messages for other members. Anyway, it's all pretty cool so check it out:


2. What's going on in Japan

Dietman Ishii Koki (61) of Minshuto (Democratic Party) was stabbed to death while leaving his home in Setagaya ward, Tokyo on Friday morning. It is believed that he had received repeated threats from a member of the yakuza. Police are still searching for the assailant, who is said to be about 50.

While the five abductees who were allowed to return from North Korea were supposed to stay for only a short period, the Japanese government have decided that they will be allowed to stay permanently. North Korea wants them returned, probably to use as a bargaining chip in future talks on resuming diplomatic relations. All five left children behind, which complicates their decision. The parents of Yokota Megumi, who reportedly died about ten years ago, are demanding the return of their grand-daughter. She didn't return with the group of five due to delays caused by DNA testing to confirm her identity. In a tearful interview with Japanese TV, she said that she didn't think she could go to Japan but wanted her grandparents to visit her.

North Korea's admission to a US envoy that it had a nuclear weapons program, after years of denial, has yet again highlighted the difficulty of dealing with the secretive regime. Most Japanese now have mixed feelings on how best Japan should proceed, but most agree that all abductees and their offspring should return to Japan permanently.

Japanese scientific efforts were doubly honored with two Nobel awards being received in one year for the first time. The Physics award was won, for work on neutrinos, by Koshiba Masatoshi (76), who graduated bottom of his class in Physics at Tokyo University. The award in Chemistry went to the relatively young Tanaka Koichi (43). Tanaka in particular seemed bewildered by the whole thing. He is a researcher for the manufacturing firm Shimadzu.

The Nikkei Stock Average hit 19-year lows this month as uncertainty continues over government plans for dealing with the bad loans held by major banks. Economics minister Takenaka Heizo has come under fire from LDP elders and banks alike for his proposals, causing him to delay their release till the end of the month. But it is likely that his reformist measures are just the kind of strong medicine the economy needs in the long term.

Former construction minister Nakao Eiichi was imprisoned for two years and ordered to pay a fine equal to the 60 million yen he took as a bribe from a construction firm in 1996.

Owada Hisashi (70), father of Crown Princess Masako, was chosen to be one of the five judges in the UN International Court of Justice.

"Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" went on sale this week and immediately set a new record. At 2.3 million copies, the fourth novel in the series is the largest first printing ever in Japan. The first three books have already become the numbers 3,4 and 5 all-time bestsellers in Japan. No. 1 is "Totto-chan, The Little Girl at the Window" by veteran TV star Kuroyanagi Tetsuko. No. 2 is "Go-tai Fumanzoku" by the limbless Ototake Hirotada.

It's not actually in Japan, but the Hollywood remake of the Japanese horror classic Ring has become a big hit in the US, making the No.1 spot in the box office rankings. There are some differences between the two versions, but perhaps the biggest is the budget. The original cost about $1.5 million while the new version cost a whopping $70 million.

There is a proposal to build a new Tokyo Tower in the Ueno area, which at 600m would be the tallest in the world. The existing tower is a paltry 333m. The new tower is needed for broadcasting over the increasing number of high-rise buildings in the city. The plan calls for completion of the tower by 2007.

Outspoken women's rights campaigner turned politician Tajima Yoko became the second TV personality this year to quit Shaminto (The Social Democratic Party of Japan), after finding party life more restrictive than she had anticipated. The final straw was the party's poor response to the North Korean situation. The SDPJ has long maintained relations with the communist state but neglected the issue of the abductees, for which it recently apologized.

3. Sports news

New national soccer team manager Zico is of course an idol to millions of soccer fans but he has his doubters when it comes to whether he can improve on "Troussier Japan". It's his first managerial post and his debut, against low-ranked Jamaica, should have been a confidence builing exercise. And with midfield Golden Boy Ono Shinji scoring within the first ten minutes, that's how it looked. But the final 1-1 scoreline was probably a fair result. A shaky start.

This year's 23rd Toyota Cup, between European champions Real Madrid and South American champions Olimpia, will be the first to be held at Yokohama International Stadium. The December 3rd game will also be the first to allow extra time according to the European format.

There was a bit of an anti-climactic end to the baseball season. While the Japan Series starts this weekend, two of the stars appearing failed to clinch their places in the record books. Matsui Hideki of the Yomiuri Giants missed out on the the first triple crown since 1986 when he lost the batting title to Fukudome Kyosuke of the Chunichi Dragons. And Alex Cabrera of the Seibu Lions got stuck on 55 home runs for the year, becoming the second Pacific League player in so many years to match Oh Sadaharu's record.

The big confrontation for the Japan Series will be between Matsui and Lions pitcher Matszaka Daisuke, though the young hurler has been hit with injuries this season and may not be at his best.

Shinjo Tsuyoshi became the first Japanese player to appear in the World Series, playing in game 1 as a designated hitter for the San Fransisco Giants. The Giants won the game.

Sato Takuma won his first Formula 1 points, finishing fifth behind champion Michael Schumacher in the Japan Grand Prix. Sato drives for the Jordan-Honda team.

4. Gei-noh news
The annual Kohaku Uta Gassen (Red White Song Contest), held every New Year's Eve, is to be shortened. This year, it may start 30 minutes later, at 8pm. The last two years, the show has failed to reach its traditional 50%+ audience rating. Organizers are desperately trying to woo young pop diva Utada Hikaru to top the bill. Utada is scheduled to release a new CD in January.

In a decision in the court case between TV personality Nomura Sachiyo (70) and her estranged daughter-in-law, Nomura was awarded 1 million yen in defamation damages though she had demanded ten times that amount. "The Bravest Wife in Japan" was written by the wife of Kenny Nomura, who gave evidence to the authorities about his mother's tax evasion, for which she was arrested. But in a new development, the daugter-in-law has sued Sachiyo for defamation in one of her essays to the tune of - you guessed it - 10 million yen. Sachiyo is the wife of baseball legend Nomura Katsuya (69).

Rock group Glay have switched management from Pony Canyon to Toshiba EMI, and signed a Japan record 4-billion yen deal with the Virgin Records label. This beats the record of 3.3 billion held since 1997 by Dreams Come True. They later put on the most expensive gig in China's history, a 1-billion yen show for 35,000 fans in Beijing. It was their first performance outside Japan. They are scheduled to release a new CD in January.

Goto Maki (17), who recently left Morning Musume, is part of a new group Gomatto, with Matsuura Aya (16) and Fujimoto Miki (17), also members of the Hello Project troupe. And Morning Musume are to audition new members before the end of the year. It's believed that there are two spots up for grabs in addition to the existing twelve.

Wedding Rush
There has been a bit of a flood of marriage announcements this month. One of the biggest names was pop singer Hitomi (26). She will marry a former member of the hip hop group Gasboys, who now works for a design company. Earlier this year, the pair met for the first time in ten years and started going out.

On his third time around is producer Komuro Tetsuya (43), who is getting married to Yamada Keiko (30), the vocalist of his group Globe next month. Komuro only split up from his second wife Yoshida Mami (also a singer) in March. The weding will be on November 22nd (11/22), or "ii fufu" (good couple) in Japanese.

Uchida Yuki (26) and Yoshioka Hidetaka (32), who played a couple whose love finally won out after many years, are to marry in December. The wedding is to be held in the Hokkaido town of Furano, the setting for their epic TV drama series "Kita no Kuni Kara" (From the North Country).

Another gei-noh couple is actor Katsurayama Shingo (30) and actress Hosokawa Naomi (28), both of whose careers have been on the rise recently. It remains to be seen whether the new bride will continue her career.

TV personality Katsumata Kunikazu (37) has married former stewardess Kamoshita Sumiko (29).

Formerly with Fuji TV, Yagi Akiko (37) became the 8th TV presenter to get married this year. She married a 38-year old financial company worker based in New York.

Busty pinup girl Koike Eiko (21) has hinted that she and pro wrestler boyfriend Sakada Wataru (29) may marry later next year.

There is a rumor that actress Tsuruta Mayu (32) will marry an artist in December.

Artists Behaving Badly

Nishikawa Takahiro (38) formerly of the pop group Dreams Come True has been arrested twice. The first charge was for assault against his sister-in-law and the second for the possession of stimulant drugs. Nishikawa had been pursuing a solo career since leaving DCT earlier this year. He and his DJ brother had been working on a CD, but the two seemingly fell out over the jacket design.

A former lead guitarist of the superstar pop group The Jaguars has been arrested for possessing and using marijuana. The Jaguars was one of the most popular music groups in the 1960s. Hisayuki Okitasu (57) has admitted to the allegations. "I used the drug to get rid of mental frustration," he was quoted as saying. "The drug made me happy and more sensitive about music." He added that he used the drug "almost daily."

More Bits and Bobs
Actor Asano Tadanobu (28) graces the cover of the Asian edition of TIME magazine this week as "Japan's favorite (disfunctional) son".

Former pinup girl Kato Reiko (33) announced that she is five months pregnant. She married pro golfer Yokoh Kaname (30) at the beginning of the year.

Also in the family way is Yuki (30) of the now defunct pop group Judy and Mary. She and Yo-King, vocalist with the popular band Magokoro Brothers, married two years ago.

One step ahead, as she often was as a marathon runner, Matsuno Akemi (34) has given birth to a baby boy. Matsuno discovered she was pregnant on live TV last year, only to have a miscarriage.

Sayaka (16), daughter of pop star Matsuda Seiko (40) was recently in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan making her first movie, titled Dragon Head.

Bon Jovi are to be the first foreign artists to play a five-dome tour of Japan. They will play Sapporo, Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka Domes next January.

With vocalist Mina taking a maternity break, pop group Max have added new member Aki (21) and have started a national tour.

The Panasonic Globe Theater in Tokyo, which used to host Shakespearean plays, has been bought by Johnny's Jimusho. Johnny's has produced just about every top boy band in the country over the last twenty years, including current favorites SMAP, Tokio and Arashi.

A twenty-year age difference doesn't seem to bother actor Kuroda Arthur (41) and former child star Adachi Yumi (21).

SMAP's recent 11-venue concert tour was completely sold out and drew 1.15 million fans, setting a new Japanese record for a single tour.

Top Takarazuka stars Koju Tatsuki (31) and Nagisa Aki (33) retired from the all-female theater troupe.

Actress Kudo Yuki (31) is appearing in the Nippon TV drama "Psycho Doctor", her first role in seven years. She's playing alongside heart-throb actor Takenouchi Yutaka (31).

"Mister Yoshimoto" Kimura Masao (56) has quit the country's biggest comedy talent agency, where he was director.

Rinne (21) has left the trio Country Musume, "sister group" to Morning Musume.

TV channel TBS is to start major construction around its central Tokyo headquarters next year. As a result, the popular Akasaka Blitz concert venue will be torn down.

Actress Umemiya Anna (30) recently appeared on the talk show "Oshare Kankei", her first TV appearance since getting married and having a baby daughter.

Oricon Daily Single Chart (October 23rd)
1. Kuraki Mai - Fairy Tale
2. Nick Carter - Now Or Never
3. Nakajima Miyuki - Otogi-banashi, Fairy Ring
4. Crystal Kay - Almost Seventeen
5. Maha 25 - Music Box

Kuraki Mai turns twenty next week but is already a huge star, especially among the junior and senior high school set. She debuted in 1999 with the million-selling "Love, Day After Tomorrow". It says a lot about the relaxed Japanese university system that, now she has passed the entrance exam for Kyoto's Ritsumeikan University, she is expected to play live and appear on TV a lot more. Nakajima Miyuki is a veteran whose career started back in 1975. She is one of the few artists to have had No.1 hits in each decade since. Maha 25 are a five-man unit who formed in Yokosuka in 1996. Their web site describes them as "a collage of hip hop, hard core, electro, thrash and reggae".

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