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Japan Entertainment News - October 2004

Kohaku Favorites

The buildup has already started to this year's Kohaku Utagassen. The NHK New Year's Eve song spectacular has seen dwindling audience figures in recent years and the broadcaster is having a harder time than in the past attracting top stars. NHK carried out its annual poll of who people want to see in the lineup: topping the list of male stars was young enka singer Hikawa Kiyoshi (27), followed by SMAP, a couple more enka celebs - 40-time veteran Kitajima Saburo (68) and 33-timer Itsuki Hiroshi (53) - and soul balladeer Hirai Ken (32). The top female star was Tendo Yoshimi (49). In 2nd and 3rd were a couple of younger popsters, Utada Hikaru (21) and Shibasaki Kou (23), neither of whom have appeared on Kohaku. After them came enka singer Sakamoto Fuyumi (37) and pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (26), who has been on 5 times.

• "Casshern," the directorial debut by Kiriya Kazuaki (36), is to be shown at U.S. cinemas through major studio Dream Works. The news follows the recent U.S. debut of Kiriya's wife, Utada Hikaru (21), who sings the movie's title track.

• Kabuki actor Nakamura Jakuemon (84) is one of five people to receive the Order of Cultural Merit this year. Among 15 others commended for their contribution to culture were movie director Yamada Yoji (73) and theatrical director Ninogawa Yukio (69). Yamada was known for years as the director of the long-running "Otoko wa Tsurai Yo" movie series. But in the last couple of years he has made a very successful switch to period, samurai dramas.

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Shinsuke's Tearful Apology

Comedian Shimada Shinsuke (48) gave an emotional press conference on Friday to apologize publicly to the Yoshimoto staff member who filed assault charges against him. He admitted that he had been 100% in the wrong and renounced claims made by some that she had been rude and "asking for it". He said he had considered retiring from show business but had been talked out of it by his "sempai" (senior) Kamioka Ryutaro. As someone who has lived abroad and clearly has a strong personality, the 40-year old woman was brave enough to stand up to the star and behaviour that no doubt is common in the business. Comedians in particular regularly slap each other, though the woman's version of last week's incident was considerably more violent than Shimada's. Still, his tearful apology has been made, he has given a suitably remorseful performance, he has been given 10 days house arrest, and he hosts 8 different TV shows, so the matter will probably be laid to rest.

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Daisuke, Daisuki!

One of Japan's top baseball stars made a pitch of a whole different kind today. Seibu Lions star pitcher Matsuzaka Daisuke (24) and NTV announcer Shibata Tomoyo (29) held a press conference at a plush Tokyo hotel this afternoon to anounce their engagement. The couple have not tried to keep their 4-year relationship a secret, but the announcement is big news nonetheless. It comes shortly after Matsuzaka helped the Lions become Japan Series champion for the first time in 12 years. He also helped Japan win the bronze medal at the recent Olympics. The engagement follows a trend of star baseball players marrying TV announcers - other examples include the country's top catcher Furuta Atsuya and Nakai Miho, L.A. Dodgers pitcher Ishii Kazuhisa and Kisa Ayako, and Mariners star Ichiro and Fukushima Yumiko.

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Shinsuke Strikes Out

Comedian and variety show host Shimada Shinsuke (48) has been questioned by police after assaulting a female member of staff during the recording of a TV show. One of the biggest names in the huge Yoshimoto comedy empire, Shimada was a shadow of his boisterous self when reporters tried to interview him on his arrival in Tokyo on Wednesday night. He has 8 regular TV shows, but some have already been affected by the case. This weekend's recording of the TBS show "Bari Bari Value" has been postponed, for example. It seems that a 40-year old woman filed charges for assault on October 25 following an incident during the recording of an ABC TV show in Shimada's hometown of Osaka. The woman is not a regular Yoshimoto manager and Shimada is said to have flown off the handle at her "attitude." Sources say she has worked abroad and is "strong willed," a comment that wouldn't be made about a male employee.

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Japanese Trivia to Hit U.S.

The popular Fuji TV variety show "Toribia no Izumi" (Well of Trivia) is to make its way across the Pacific. The show, which is subtitled, "Wonderful Useless Knowledge," presents little-known facts to a panel of celebrities including comedian Tamori. They indicate their approval by pushing a button that let's out a "hehhh" sound, which indicates surprise in Japanese. The more "hehhh's" it gets, the more prize money is sent to the person who sent in the trivia. A dubbed version of the Japanese show is to air on the U.S. cable channel Spike TV from November 11, with an original American version scheduled for next April. The English version will use the word "hey!" The Fuji TV show became a sleeper hit in a late-night slot in 2002 and was moved to the "golden time" of 9pm from July of last year. A Taiwanese version is also set to start next month.

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The Lion Kings

Fans in the entertainment world heaped praise on the Seibu Lions baseball team, who won their first Japan Series in 12 years yesterday. "Leo" fans include legendary actress Yoshinaga Sayuri (59), who said she actually went to see them play at Seibu Dome 3 or 4 times during the season. Singer Matsuzaki Shigeru (54) watched the final game 7 in his car on the Chuo Expressway. He was delighted that the team won in its first year under manager Itoh Tsutomu (42), an 11-time Golden Glove player in the Lions golden days of the 80s and early 90s.

• It seems that actress Tanaka Hiroko (photo, 33) has been married for the last four years, the Sankei Sports newspaper revealed this week. She owned up when it was revealed that she is four months pregnant, which will obviously affect her future work schedule. She is quite popular, in an NHK afternoon schedule kind of way.

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TIFF Kicks Off

The 17th Tokyo International Film Festival kicked off at the weekend. In addition to the usual screenings in Shibuya, this year also sees the Roppongi Hills complex hosting many entries. Roppongi's Keyakizaka Dori street was lined with a whopping 200m-long red carpet and 6,000 people turned out to welcome such local beauties as Matsu Takako (27), Matsuzaka Keiko (52), Hasegawa Kyoko (photo, 26) and Ueto Aya (19), all of whom were dressed to the nines. Prime Minister Koizumi Junichiro gave the opening speech, and said he used to go to the cinema at least once a month before becoming leader, but now has no chance to. The festival opened with a screening of Yamada Yoji's latest samurai pic "Kakushi Ken, Oni to Tsume" (Hidden Sword, Demon's Claw), starring Matsu and Nagase Masatoshi (38). The prize money has been increased to $100,000 this year, the highest among the 11 major international festivals. The panel of 6 judges is led by Yamada, and the winner of the main Grand Prix award will be announced on October 31.

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Shoken Arrested for Traffic Accident

Actor Hagiwara Kenichi (54) was arrested on Friday evening for professional negligence resulting in injury after he caused a traffic accident. The accident happened in Yokohama when Hagiwara, who was on his way home from work and hadn't slept for over 24 hours, got out of his lane on a curve and hit a motorcyclist riding in the opposite direction. The 46-year old man suffered serious injuries, including a broken leg and possible spinal injury. Hagiwara had been wrking on the shoot of his directorial debut, the movie "Sankotsu" (Scattering of Ashes) in which he also stars. The actor, known by the nickname "Shoken" got his start as vocalist of the group The Tempters back in the 1960s. After the group broke up he became a star of TV and movies. The traffic accident is his second - he injured a motorcyclist while driving drunk in 1984.

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Takeshi to be a Grandpa

Director/actor/comedian Kitano "Beat" Takeshi (57) gave a press conference at a Tokyo hotel on Thursday to announce that his daughter Shouko (22) recently married and is to have a baby next spring. The former singer and her new husband, a 25-year old chef at a Tokyo restaurant, registered their marriage on October 5. Takeshi gave a typically comical performance, questioning whether he really should have over the family fortune to "some cook." But he also indulged in the sentmental, saying he hoped his grandchild would say "my grandpa was amazing in so many ways." Shouko made her debut as an actress in her father's film "Hanabi" in 1997 under the name Matsuda Shouko. The next year, she reached No.10 in the charts with a single produced by X Japan's Yoshiki. Another single followed, but in 1999 she went to the U.S. to study and her career was put on hold.

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Home Run for Chiharu

"Talento" Niiyama Chiharu (23) is engaged to marry Kuroda Satoshi (29), an infielder for the Yomiuri Giants baseball team. The marriage registration and wedding ceremony are to be held during the baseball off-season. Sources made a point of saying that the couple have been going out for a year, and also that Niiyama is not pregnant and the pair are not living together, two things that seem to come before most celebrity marriages in Japan. Niiyama made her debut at the age of 15, when she won a talent scout audition for the HoriPro agency, beating out 43,000 other hopefuls. Kuroda started his career with the Seibu Lions, moving to the Giants in 2002. He has yet to become a regular starter.

• Tom Cruise, in town to promote his latest movie "Collateral," became the first foreign celeb to make his mark outside Yurakucho's Hibiya Chante cinema in downtown Tokyo. Cruise put his handprint in the Nemu no Hiroba, and to mark his special status, it was gold instead of the usual silver. It was the first new addition in almost 12 years, and was made in recognition of Cruise's contribution to Japanese cinema through his work on "The Last Samurai."

• Meanwhile, Godzilla is to get the same treatment in Hollywood. With the world premier of his last celluloid appearance, "Godzilla, Final Wars" to be held in the U.S. next month, his star is also to be inducted to the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard.

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Shape Up Bride

Kajiwara Mayumi (37), formerly a member of the "sexy group" Shape Up Girls, held a wedding reception with her new husband, golf shop owner Kakuta Hiromichi (33), at a country club in Ibaraki prefecture on Tuesday. The couple married in Fiji on October 7 after going out for three years. Asked to compare their feelings on married life to golf, Tsunoda called it a "hole in one." The best Kajiwara could manage was a "nice birdy." They plan to register their marriage in Japan on November 22 - 11/22 is read in Japanese as "ii fufu" or "good husband and wife."

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Speed Mama

Former Speed member Imai Eriko (21) has given birth to her first child, a baby boy, at a Tokyo hospital. She married Shogo (24), vocalist of the hip-hop group 175R, in June after a relationship of about a year. Next month will see the release of her first greatest hits album "Single Collection - Stairway." Speed, the Okinawa pop group that got their start as backup singers for Amuro Namie (26), were one of the biggest names at the turn of the century. They broke up in 2000 and have played only charity events since.

• The silly award season is back. Among this year's "Megane Best Dresser" award winners for people who look good in glasses were Cutie Honey actress Sato Eriko (22), retired news reader Kume Hiroshi (60) and popular golfer Miyazato Ai (19). And the "Best Leathernist" award went to actress Ishikawa Asami (27) for looking good in leather.

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The Nomura's

Never ones to avoid the limelight, the family of baseball legend Nomura Katsuya (69) got plenty of press coverage when they took their latest addition for her first shrine visit. Third son Katsunori (31), who has managed to hang in as a player due to his father's support, and his wife brought their 5-month old daughter Sayako to the Hie Jinja shrine in central Tokyo for her traditional "o-miya mairi." The elder Nomura is now manager of the Sidax company team, after a series of tax evasion scandals and court cases involving his acid-tongued wife Sachiyo (72) forced both to give up their main jobs - he as manager of the Hanshin Tigers, she as a TV celebrity. Their other sons are U.S.-based baseball agent Don Nomura and estranged son Kenny, from Sachiyo's first marriage. Sachiyo was sued for libel by her daughter-in-law in 2001.

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Tying the Knot

Actor Takahashi Katsunori (photo, 39) and half-German model Nakanishi Hanna (24) tied the knot at the weekend. The couple registered their marriage at the local municpal office and held their ceremony in the afternoon at Aoyama Gakuin University, the groom's alma mater. Takahashi is best known for his role as "Salaryman Kintaro" a TV adaptation of the best-selling manga series. He was on record as saying he wanted to marry before he turned 40 - he made it with just two months to spare!

• Another 39-year old getting hitched at the weekend was actor Tsurumi Shingo (39). His bride Hitomi (29) is a former employee at a retirement home. The couple held their ceremony and reception at the swanky Hotel Okura in central Tokyo. They will probably register their marriage this week.

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Happy Days in NYC

New York-based R & B singer Kubota Toshinobu (42) this week married a 31-year old employee of a Norwegian company. The couple have been going out since Ms. A moved to N.Y. as a student five years ago. She is expecting a baby in December. Earlier this month, Kubota became the first Japanese artist in 24 years to record an appearance on "Soul Train." He moved to the U.S. in 1989 and made his debut there in 1995. He has released three albums there so far. The most recent, "Time to Share" was released just last month. His biggest hit to date was the 1996 single "La La La, Love Song," which sold over 2 million copies in Japan.

Utada Hikaru's U.S. debut album "Exodus" has made the Billboard charts. It ranked at No.5 in the chart for new artists, and No.160 on the overall chart. Billboard magazine pointed out that it was unrealistic to expect even someone who is a huge star in Japan to be able to replicate that kind of success in the U.S. But it added that the talented, new York-born Utada could be an exception.

• Popular celebrity Sakashita Chiriko (28) is romantically involved with one of the staff on one of her five regular TV shows, according to the weekly magazine Friday. Already linked with comedian Tamura Atsushi (of London Boots), Yomiuri Giants baseball player Nioka Tomohiro and a company employee, it seems that the real man in her life is a beefy 25-year old cameraman on the Fuji TV show "Moshimo Tours."

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Hikki an Adult Star in New York

Singer songwriter Utada Hikaru (21) has been doing the rounds in the U.S. media. She made an interview appearance on CNN's entertainment show "The Biz" on Wednesday. The show was also braodcast on the Japanese channel CNNj. The interview, in English, was conducted in a studio in New York, where Utada was born and spent her youth. Her debut U.S. album "Exodus," which she released on the Island/Def Jam label under just her family name, went on sale on October 5. Among her comments from an interview with the Washington Post: "When I dress girlie in New York, I always feel like I look like a hooker just because I'm Asian."
Washington Post article: "Leaving the Girl Behind"
Interview with Dan Wong, with sound files and song samples

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Hope High for Hirai

Big things are expected for the latest album from smooth balladeer Hirai Ken. "SentimentaLovers," his first original album in two years, is set to go on sale on November 24. It includes the biggest hit single of this year, "Me wo Tojite" (Close Your Eyes), which sold over 900,000 copies. All of Hirai's previous three albums ("The Changing Same" - 2000; "Gaining Through Losing" - '01; and "Life Is..." - "02) have been million sellers and the new title is expected to achieve at least the same level of sales.

• Natsukawa Rimi's hit single "Namida SouSou" has become the fourth-longest chart entry of all time. Currently at No.78 in the Oricon charts, it has stayed in the Top 100 for 123 weeks, ranking second among female solo artists. It first went on sale in April 2001. The No. 1 long-seller is Nakajima Miyuki's "Chijo no Hoshi," which charted for 181 weeks.

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Takarazuka Sports Day

The Takarazuka theater troupe held a sports day to celebrate its 90th anniversary, the 20th such event in its history, at Osaka Castle. The all-female troupe, which has hordes of fanatical - and mostly female - fans, last held an "undokai" in 1984. In 1998, it added a fifth sub-troupe, so this year a total of 520 current members and students at the Takarazuka school took part. Even the actresses who normally play only male parts wore skirts, a rare sight for fans. the overall event was won by the Moon Troupe, with top star Ayaki Nao taking the MVP award.

• There were a couple of press events yesterday for tear-jerking dramas featuring couples. Matsuda Seiko (photo, 42) and Funakoshi Eiichiro (44) play the parents of a child with Down Syndrome in a TV dramatisation of a true story. It airs on NTV on October 26. And Takeuchi Yuko (24), who stars alongside kabuki actor Nakamura Shido (32) in the new movie "Ima Ai ni Yukimasu," says she was moved to tears when she read the original novel.

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FuyuSona A Big Seller

The official soundtrack for the hugely popular Korean soap opera "Fuyu no Sonata" (Winter Sonata) has stacked up sales of over a million albums, a first for a soundtrack. The previous best was 832,000 for the Fuji TV drama series "Long Vacation," that starred the always popular Kimura Takuya. To be fair, the FuyuSona sales figure is actually for three separate versions of the album, the first of which has been on sale since July 2003. The series has aired several times on NHK and has made a household name of its stars Choi Ji Woo and especially Bae Yong Joon, known simply as "Yon-sama". He is now a huge star in Japan, particularly among housewives, and has appeared in several TV commercials. He is one of the flagbearers for a Korea "boom" in music, movies and TV.

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The Girl's Still Got It

Today is Taiiku no Hi (Health/Sports Day), a national holiday
A couple of singers who had their heyday in the 90s showed that they still have plenty of fans. Amuro Namie (27) turned up in Tokyo's trendy Shibuya area for a series of PR events yesterday. Her arrival sparked chaos in the huge crowd in front of the 109 building and forced police to cancel her 5-minute appearance after just 2 minutes. Another afternoon event was cancelled altogether. She did turn up at the local HMV to perform her new single "Girl Talk/The Speed Star," also part of the PR tie-in with a cosmetics brand.

• Suzuki Ami (22) has kicked off her first tour in four and a half years. She will play at six college festivals, and started with Nihon University in Tokyo yesterday. "Amigo" was a big star in the late-90s but disputes with her record label and a series of court cases put her career on hold for several years. She made an official comeback in April with her first single in over three years. She is still unsigned to any record label, but Avex president Matsuura Katsuhito was seen at yesterday's event.

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Puffy Kick Off US Tour

Pop duo Puffy have started their second U.S. tour, kicking it off at Webster Hall in New York. About 1,000 fans turned out to see Ami and Yumi, who are also promoting a new show set to start on the Cartoon Network from November 19. "Hi Hi Puffy AmiYumi" features the pair as animated characters, and the soundtrack goes on sale on November 16. Ohnuki Ami (31) spoke to the audience in English saying it was great to be back in New York two years after their last tour. They play Los angeles and San Fransisco on Sunday and Monday. They have already slated another U.S. tour for next spring.

• meanwhile at home, we have just had the biggest typhoon in several years. Typhoon #22 dumped huge amounts of rain on Tokyo yesterday but couldn't stop Devilman! The new live-action movie version of the popular manga and anime opened on Saturday, and 600 people came to the Toei 1 cinema in Marunouchi to see the director and cast greet the audience after the first showing.

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Nishida Wins Libel Case

The Tokyo District Court ordered the magazine publisher Bungeishunju to pay actress Nishida Hikaru ¥1.1 million compensation for libellous articles and advertisements. Nishida's lawyers had sought ¥24 million, following an article which appeared in the Shukan Bunshun magazine in April 2003 suggesting that Nishida and the president of a cosmetics firm were having an affair. The magazine published photos of the two taken at the company's shareholder meeting, and also ushed the story in its advertisements for the magazine. Married in 2002 and now living in the U.S., Nishida's image has long been that of the typical "girl next door."

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Tomomi's Back on Track

Ditzy pop star Kahara Tomomi (photo, 30) not only spells her name differently (it used to be Kahala) but is with a new record company and back in the charts. Her latest single "Kimi ga Ireba," with Universal Music, entered the Oricon singles chart at No.15, her 23rd chart entry. It is the first cover of a Korean song to make the charts in 21 years. Kahara has had an up and down career that peaked under the Svengali-like eye of producer Komuro Tetsuya in the mid-90s. The two also had a brief romance, and the breakup led Kahara to problems with her weight, sleeping pills and a rumored suicide attempt.

• Actress Mizuno Maki (34) is four months pregnant, a funny coincidence as she plays a pregnant woman in the latest series of the TBS police drama "Kochira Motoikegami-sho" that starts next Monday. She married LDP politician Gotoda Masazumi (35) in March.

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Giants Pull Small Crowd

The waning popularity of baseball's Yomiuri Giants continues. Never having strongly contended for the Central League pennant didn't help, but this season's 12.2% average audience rating for night games is the lowest ever since Video Research started analyzing the figures in 1965. That year, the Giants won the Japan Series and the figure was 23.3%. In 1987, when they won the pennant race, it reached 27.1%. This year's ratings and the team's failure to advance to the postseason is all the more disappointing for fans as this year the team had spared no expense to put together arguably the most impressive lineup of power ever seen in Japan.

• "The Kano sisters (photo) once got ¥500,000 each just for two hours. All they had to do was talk about the movie in front of the media." - Movie distribution company spokesperson, on how much some celebrities get paid to turn up at events such as movie premieres and brand-name store opening parties. (Shukan Post magazine)

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Ayu Repeats as Best Jeanist

J-pop star Hamasaki Ayumi (26) has been chosen as the female Best Jeanist for 2004, for the second year in a row and her fourth title in all. One more, and she will be the first woman to enter the award's hall of fame, home of SMAPers Kimura Takuya (31) and Kusanagi Tsuyoshi (30). Taking the male prize was Kinki Kids member Domoto Tsuyoshi (25). Other winners were event producer Yamamoto Kansai (60), model Hasegawa Rie (30) and Livedoor CEO Horie Takafumi (31). Wearing ripped jeans, Ayu was quizzed about her ongoing relationship with Tokio's Nagase Tomoya (25), but refused to comment. Meanwhile her latest single has entered the Oricon chart at No.1. "Carols" is her 21st chart topper, giving her a share of second place in the record books with Nakamori Akina, and on the heels of Matsuda Seiko, who has had 25.

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...And He Was a She

Transsexual celebrity Carrousel Maki (61) is now officially a woman. Under a recent change to the law, she was allowed to legally change her sex in her family register. Real name Hirahara Tetsuo, she is one of nine children born to a Hokkaido family. After making a debut at 15 and working in gay bars across the country, at the age of 29 she went to Morrocco to have a sex change operation. On returning to Japan, with feminine looks and an unmistakably male voice, she became a star of TV, movies and stage. In recent years, she has made headlines for drug arrests.

• "2046," the new Hong Kong movie that features SMAP's Kimura Takuya (32), is set to open here on October 23. Compared to the version that showed at the Canes Film Festival in May, the "local" version will feature a lot more scenes of Kimutaku, increasing his on-screen time from a mere 7 minutes to about 20. Directed by Wong Kar Wai and starring Tony Leung and Fay Wong, the movie was a full five years in the making and was beseiged with problems. The final reels only barely made Cannes, and the screening had to be delayed as a result.

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Kampei Fails to Go the Distance

Comedian Kazama Kampei (55) has said he's had enough of the Spartathalon, after failing to finish the 246 km race from Athens to Sparta. Having run the first 75km in nine hours, he was 20 minutes over the allotted time and disqualified. He has competed in the race seven times since 1988, completing it three times. The full distance must be completed within 36 hours, and only about 20% of runners make it to the finish line. For anyone interested in seeing more of this self-proclaimed "gag machine" and his variety of whacky characters, he recently launched a new web site at Aheahe TV (Mostly bilingual, some sections Japanese only).• The popular Hello Kitty brand has spawned thousands of merchandising products, such as stationery, purses, pajamas and other items for kids, and even household goods and cars for older fans. Now it will soon start appearing on a new platform: a MasterCard debit card. "Freedom! You can use the Hello Kitty Debit MasterCard to shop 'til you drop," the card's Web site enthuses.

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Supermama Ai

Supermodel Tominaga Ai (22) is four months pregnant and is to marry this month. The father is a Japanese in his 20s who is currently working in Paris. The couple will register their marriage when he returns to Japan later this month. The happy event is almost concurrent with her upcoming appearance in the eagerly-awaited movie "Devilman," set to open on October 9.

• Yasuhara Shinichi (30), manager of the TV personality Sonomama Higashi (47) has been arrested for sexual relations with a 15-year old high school girl. He met her on an online dating site, where he claimed to be a porn movie actor. According to police, he has admitted to up to 20 such liaisons.

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Ichiro's the Man!

Seattle Mariners outfielder Suzuki Ichiro (30) has become the new record holder for hits in a single season. He got singles in his first two at-bats against the Texas Rangers this morning (Tokyo time) to take him to 258, bettering the record set by George Sisler in 1920. After acknowledging the standing ovation from the capacity crowd at Safeco Field, he went to shake hands with the Sisler's daughter and grandsons, who were in the front row.

• Meanwhile at home, last night the Chunichi Dragons won their first Central League pennant in five years. They will meet the winner of the Pacific League playoffs in the Japan Series.

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Hajimete no Romance

Actress Ono Mayumi (23) is having a secret romance with actor Sasaki Kuranosuke (36), according to the weekly magazine Friday. The pair both happen to live in the same Tokyo apartment building. Ono made her breakthrough with her beaming smile on the "Ha-ji-me-te-no ACOM" TV commercial. It has been running since 2002. Sasaki's career is also on the up, after appearances in several recent hit Fuji TV dramas. But it was said to have been an appearance together on an NTV drama during the summer, which included a kiss scene, that sparked off their relationship.

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