Matsuda Seiko (Fukuoka Prefecture, 1962- )
When Japanese hear the term burikko, the first person
that comes to mind is Matsuda Seiko. Describing
an adult woman who acts cute and girlish, usually to appeal to
men, the word captures the essence of how many Japanese women
have traditionally acted to attract the man of their dreams. In
the case of Seiko-chan, the target wasn't a guy but stardom,
and buckets of it. Often compared (in Japan anyway) to Madonna,
Matsuda does have one thing in common with the queen of pop
- the ability to manipulate the media and ride the storms of criticism
that periodically come her way.
Born Kamachi Noriko in a small town in Fukuoka, southern
Japan, she had the same dreams of becoming a pop singer
as her schoolfriends but also had enough ambition to do something
about it. She beat out 4,500 fellow 16-year olds to win a regional
CBS-Sony sponsored talent contest but her civil-servant father refused
to let her go to the nationals. But encouraged by a record company
executive, she continued taking singing lessons and travelled
alone to Tokyo in 1979 to audition, successfully, for the Sun Music
talent agency. CBS-Sony gambled on the newly named Matsuda Seiko
with a huge 70 million yen campaign that included her face and
debut single on a TV commercial spot. Sales of over a quarter
of a million copies for that single alone and revenue of over
8 billion yen in her first year proved the gamble to be a wise
During her peak, and the heyday of the idols, in the '80s Matsuda
racked up an amazing 24 consecutive No. 1 singles. As her fame
grew so did the number of burikko girls across the country, causing
a lot of consternation among feminists but at the same time becoming
a defining phenomenon of the decade. Matsuda, meanwhile, was also
pursuing the man of her dreams, fellow idol Go Hiromi.
The media was abuzz for several years with rumors about when
this 'couple of the century' were going to name the day. But Go
was a traditional country boy who expected the hugely ambitious
Matsuda to give up working after marriage. Eventually, in 1985,
she married actor Kanda Masaki, who proved to be more ready to
make sacrifices for his wife's career.
During their 12 years of marriage, it was Seiko who constantly
grabbed the limelight, though for unexpected reasons. Rather than
settle into married bliss, she got involved with reportedly dozens
of men. Also, long determined to make it in America she crossed
the ocean alone 1988 only to fail miserably. But with her new-found
freedom and perhaps in imitation of Madonna, she developed a whole
new persona, that of the straight-talking, independent woman.
But after her reported affair with popular star Masahiko Kondo
led Kondo's girlfriend and number one Seiko-rival Nakamori Akina
to attempt suicide, her stock was in serious decline. She started
a long affair with out-of-work actor Jeff Nichols and was even
seen in public in Tokyo with him, her mother and
young daughter Sayaka. A later breakup led to Nichols publishing
several tell-all books.
Another media frenzy grew of her affair with dancer Alan Reed
but when her husband defended her and their marriage in a press
conference the effect was startling. Suddenly Seiko was a victim
of the media and increasingly a heroine of the growing women's
movement. A well-timed saucy TV commercial put her in the headlines
and her star was rising again.
Further attempts to break into the US market included an album
on Mercury Records in 1995 and a blink-and-you'll-misss-it
appearance in the blockbuster
Armageddon. Her divorce from Kanda in 1997 was followed by a short-lived
marriage to a dentist (who conveniently also has a clinic in the
US) and a make-up duet with Go Hiromi, on a comeback trail of
his own. It's been a long time since Japan experienced 'Seiko
fever' but this model of pure ambition will be with us for some
time to come. Her daughter Sayaka made her official
singing debut with Sony Music in early 2002, having already caused
a media flurry by appearing in a TV commercial in Summer 2001.
The media speculated about the legend would carry over to another
generation, but as with so many showbiz families, it wasn't so simple.
Sayaka has had a few regular gigs, including one hosting a show on the
local Disney Channel. But after a spat with her mother in 2005, she
put her career on hold.
Meanwhile, Mom continues to look and act like she's the young idol,
wearing shocking pink mini-skirts and doing long shows for her
still-impressive legions of fans. The photo above was taken during
a June 2006 concert, with Seiko still strutting her stuff at 44.