The big news going into the weekend was the engagement of Johnny’s Jimusho star Inohara Yoshihiko (31) and actress Seto Asaka (30), announced on Friday. The couple made it official at a press conference and of course it was all over the press on Saturday morning. Then Inohara appeared that same night with his fellow V6 members at a scheduled concert and revealed to the audience that he and Seto had got so caught up the media excitement that they had decided to change their plans and register their marriage the night before at a municipal office. V6, who along with SMAP and Tokio make up the trio of Johnny’s boy bands that established themselves in the 1990s, just started a nationwide tour on Friday. The couple first started going out about twelve years ago when they both appeared in the drama “Owaranai Natsu”, and had an on and off relationship before dating again seriously about five years ago. We reported the romance here on Japan Zone in May 2005 when they first acknowledged it in public. Seto takes her stage name from the Aichi prefecture city where she was born. She was scouted as a teenager and moved to Tokyo after graduating junior high school. After starting as an idol singer, she made a name as an actress in the mid-1990s and has been a constant presence in TV dramas and movies ever since.
• Meanwhile, the media has been wondering what the hell’s wrong with Sawajiri Erika (21). The hugely popular young actress appeared at a PR event on Friday, the opening day of her latest movie, “Closed Note”. But she scowled, kept her arms folded and spoke only three sentences the whole time she was on stage, leading veteran singer Wada Akiko (57) to lay into her on her regular Saturday morning show. “You can’t say just three sentences when you’re the star of the movie…and with your arms folded?!” said Akko, the so-called “God-sister” of Japanese showbiz. “I’ve never met her, but she reckons she’s a movie queen? Is she that full of herself? So, if I meet her, I have to call her Erika-sama? She must be quite a star.” (I have my own theory about why she’s being literally tight-lipped.)
Veteran actor and singer Kobayashi Akira (68) may be rethinking his decision to become a pro golfer. He made his debut as a pro on the senior tour yesterday, the first day of the season-opening PGA Handa Cup. He had a 2m birdie chance at the first hole but after missing it he says he put himself under a lot more pressure. By the end of the round, 11 bogies, 1 double-bogey and 3 triple-bogies left him with an embarrassing score of 94 (22-over) and trailing the field by eleven shots. His wasn’t the worst ever score on the senior tour – at least he managed to stay below 100 – but he was clearly unhappy that his confidence hadn’t produced the expected result. “Like when I’m on stage with a mike in my hand, I started off feeling good. But I hated my own poor performance.” From 1993, Kobayashi played in 23 tournaments as an amateur and the PGA made him an honorary member in February. He practiced hard for his pro debut during the summer despite a busy stage schedule. And a relatively large crowd and two TV cameras turned out at the Ibaraki Golf Club to see his performance. One of Japan’s postwar superstars, Kobayashi has a showbiz career that spans more than 50 years but has been repeatedly in and out of debt. It doesn’t look like golf will be providing him with any financial relief.
• Comedian Matsumoto Kouta (28) recently got into a sexual entanglement with a 16-year-old girl, according to today’s issue of weekly magazine “Friday”. The article says Matsumoto, one half of the popular duo Regular, and a group of other Yoshimoto comedians were at a karaoke facility at the end of August. When Matsumoto, who doesn’t drink, met the girl she told him she was 22 and the pair ended up in a nearby love hotel. Several days later, she called him and told him her true age. When she demanded that he return ¥5,000 she had lent him or she would go to the media, she says he threatened her. Yoshimoto denies all of the girl’s claims.
• Actress Watanabe Eriko (52) has changed her stage name to Watanabe Eri. She made the change on the advice of chanson singer and self-styled spiritualist Miwa Akihiro (72). Miwa told her that the medical problems she had been having since the start of the year would continue as long as she used her old name. Watanabe is currently in rehearsals for a stage production of Stephen King’s “Misery” that opens in Shinjuku tomorrow.
Popular actress Sato Aiko got married yesterday, her 30th birthday. She and Numata Takuma (29), a riding instructor and the son of a riding club owner, registered their marriage at a town hall in Chiba Prefecture and then faxed the news to the media. They plan to hold a wedding ceremony and reception next spring. The couple met in June 2006, when Sato took up horse riding after experiencing it for the first time on a TV variety show. She says she plans to continue working, and fittingly her first job is as a guest on an NHK Satellite horse racing broadcast. Sato won a nationwide beauty contest at the age of 15 and made her acting debut the following year. She has been a popular star of movies, dramas, variety shows and TV commercials for the last decade.
• In her latest setback, enka singer Mori Masako (48) has been hospitalized with acute pneumonia and has had to cancel several concert dates. She made a dramatic comeback last summer after an attempted suicide and divorce in 2005 brought a messy end to her long marriage to singer Mori Shinichi (59). In 1986, that marriage had effectively snuffed out a blossoming singing career that promised to make her one of Japan’s greatest stars. After the split, she threw herself back into her career with a frantic schedule of concerts, TV drama roles, and PR events that finally seems to have taken its toll. She’s due to release her 3rd comeback single on October 3 and has many TV and radio appearances booked.
• Actor Namioka Kazuki (29) revealed yesterday that he is not only married but also the father of one child. He wrote on his blog that he and his wife met while studying at Waseda University and dated for five years. They tied the knot in November 2006 and held a ceremony in her hometown of Fukuoka on New Year’s Day. They had a baby girl on September 24. Namioka is known for TV action hero “tokusatsu” roles, such as Shiro Jin’no/Demon Knight in “Genseishin Justirisers” and Shishimaru/Lion-Maru in “Lion-Maru G”. He has appeared in movies such as “Pacchigi!”, “Densha Otoko” and “The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift”.
• Talento Kubo Keiko (35) is finally pregnant. After a year of fertility treatment, the former Fuji TV weather girl announced the happy news that she is expecting her first child next February. She and JBL Super League basketball player Kita Takuya (35) married in May 2006.
Talento Tanaka Minako (40) revealed yesterday that she and actor Okada Taro (33) recently got married. In a fax sent to the media, she said that they registered their marriage on September 12, her birthday. Tanaka received a lot of media attention when she debuted as a singer in the mid-1980s due to the fact that her eyes and long legs had been insured for ¥100 million. Hers was one of the most commonly seen faces on TV and in magazines during the peak of Japan’s “bubble economy”. In recent years she has been working mostly in TV drama, as has Okada. The two met about 15 years ago as they live in the same neighborhood. They still have their separate homes but are thinking of buying a new house together.
• The Spice Girls are to release their upcoming hits album first in Japan but have not announced any dates here in their one-off world tour, which starts in Canada on December 2. The “Greatest Hits” album will go on sale here on October 31, but as the group split six years ago it’s doubtful that they see much of a boost to their present total of about 2 million albums sold in Japan. And fans will no doubt be upset that the Asian leg of the tour includes only Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. But the enduring popularity, or notoriety, of Victoria “Posh Spice” Beckham will at least guarantee plenty of publicity. She is currently in Japan promoting her cosmetics brand “V-Sculpt”.
• TV Asahi announcer Ito Rie (32), a presenter on the “Yajiuma Plus” show, is taking maternity leave as she is five months pregnant. She and a construction company employee married on Christmas Eve 2006.
• Is it just me, or is actress Sawajiri Erika (21) not showing her teeth for a reason? I’ve seen several photos of her at PR events this week and she never shows her usual big smile. My guess is that she’s having her teeth done, as she has that distinctive “yaeba” look with crooked eye teeth. Possibly paid for by her reported wealthy IT entrepreneur boyfriend, Takashiro Tsuyoshi (43).
Talento Nagai Hidekazu (37) got himself in trouble with Philippine police earlier in the year, according to today’s issue of weekly magazines “Flash” and “Josei Jishin”. The magazines report that in May the popular comedian and a friend visited Manila, where the two picked up a pair of local girls and took them to a hotel. The next day local police took the Japanese pair from their hotel for questioning, as the girls were only 17 and underage. During questioning a Japanese interpreter arrived and persuaded Nagai to pay an out-of-court settlement to the equivalent of ¥10 million. It is believed likely that he was the victim of a so-called “badger game”, in which a man is tricked into a compromising situation for blackmail. Such cases involving Japanese tourists are said to be common in Southeast Asia. The revelation gives a new perspective on Nagai’s recent decision to leave his wife and 2-year-old child behind and go to New York for a year, where he is said to be studying English. His management agency have confirmed the fact that Nagai paid the money in Manila and that a court case is ongoing, but refused to comment further until they had gone over the magazine stories.
• Former Speed member Imai Eriko (24) announced on her homepage at the weekend that she and Shogo (27) of the band 175R are getting divorced. Sources say they plan to file for divorce within days and that Imai will have custody of their 3-year-old son. The couple have been married since June 2004.
• Hey! Say! JUMP is the latest boy group to be launched by Johnny’s Jimusho, and the members were presented to the media yesterday at Yokohama Arena. With ten members, aged between 12 and 17, it’s the largest group put together by the agency that has brought you SMAP, Kinki Kids and many more, and the JUMP in the group’s name is short for Johnny’s Ultra Music Power. Member Okamoto Keito (14) is the eldest son of Okamoto Kenichi (38), a former member of Johnny’s group Otokogumi. The agency originally formed Hey! Say! 7 as a short-term project, with the gimmick being that all seven members were born in the current Heisei era (2007 is Heisei 19 in the traditional Japanese calendar). The idea seemed to work and the group will make their CD debut on November 14 with the single “Ultra Music Power”, which will also be the theme song for Fuji TV’s broadcasts of the Volleyball World Cup. The group will have their first “solo” concert at Tokyo Dome on December 22.
• Yamamura Koji’s “Franz Kafka, A Country Doctor” became the first Japanese anime short to win the Grand Prix at the Ottowa International Animation Festival, one the four major festivals for the genre. The 20-minute film is to be shown in Japan from mid-November. Yamamura (43) was previously nominated for an Academy Award for 2002’s short “Atama Yama” (watch it on YouTube).
Actress-singer Sawajiri Erika (21) had a pretty good weekend. Her latest single under the stage name Erika has entered the Oricon chart at No.1, making her the only female artist to have their first three releases top the chart. The song “Destination Nowhere” has also been chosen as the theme for the late-night TV Asahi drama “Mop Girl”, due to start on October 12. The popular actress, whose mother is French-Algerian, is also a fashion leader for young women. She went for a twist on the traditional look on Sunday, wearing a rose-themed kimono to a PR event for her upcoming movie “Closed Note”, which opens in theaters on September 29. Sawajiri made her recording debut last year with the hit single “Taiyou no Uta”, from the drama of the same name, but using the stage name Kaoru Amane. In July, she switched to her own first name and had another hit with “Free”, making her only the second female singer to start with consecutive No.1 singles, and the first since top idol Yakushimaru Hiroko (43) in 1983. The circle of coincidence is complete if you remember that Yakushimaru played the mother to Sawajiri’s heroine in her breakthrough drama “1 Littoru no Namida” (1 Litre of Tears) in 2005. The young actress has also found time for romance with a wealthy older IT entrepreneur, as we reported here just a few days ago.
• Actress and former top idol Ohba Kumiko (47) revealed on a TV show yesterday that she and dancer Takahashi Tetsuya (41) have been divorced since December 2005. The couple had been married since 1999. Ohba became a national star in the late 1970s following her leading role in the TV series “Cometto-san”, but retired as a singer in 1979. In the early 1990s her restaurant business failed and huge debts forced her to declare bankruptcy in 1994.
• Ladies of different generations were swooning over the weekend. Veteran French heart throb Alain Delon (71) came all the way to Japan to appear on the Bistro SMAP segment of Fuji TV’s weekly “SMAPxSMAP” show. The segment will air on October 8. Meanwhile, the younger ladies will have their chance at the end of October when British singer James Blunt (33) will visit Japan for the second time. But only 600 fans will be able to attend a free concert in Tokyo, where Blunt will perform songs from his recently released second album “All the Lost Souls”. The event will also feature the first screening in Japan of the documentary “Return to Sarajevo”, in which Blunt returns to the city where he served as a soldier with the British army in 1999.
• Talento Hagimoto Kinichi (66) is making his return to radio. It’s been 19 years since he last hosted the “Kin-Don” show that made him a star. He will return to the Nippon Housou network from October 4 to revive the talk show, though this time the focus will be on his current passion, baseball. He is the owner of the popular amateur team Ibaraki Golden Golds.
Not only are they Japan’s biggest-selling artists by far, but B’z are huge even by world standards. Sales of over 75 million albums and singles puts them in 7th place in the world, and no one can deny they have earned the right to become the first Asian artists to be inducted on the Hollywood Rock Walk. The announcement today coincides with the 19th anniversary of their debut release and shortly before the release of their 44th single “Super Love Song” on October 3. The duo, vocalist Inaba Koji and guitarist Matsumoto Takahiro, plan to take part in the induction ceremony on November 19. The only Japanese on the Walk to date are businessmen: Kakehashi Ikutarou, founder of instrument maker Roland, and Korg founder Kato Tsutomu. Established in 1985, the Hollywood Rock Walk is a collection of handprints, signatures, and memorabilia from Rock ‘n Roll’s greatest musical performers and innovators, who have contributed the most to forge the integrity and promote the growth of Rock ‘n Roll as an art form. Inductees are chosen through secret ballot by those surviving among the existing 175 honorees, who include Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Eric Clapton and Van Halen. B’z nomination had some help from inductee and friend Steve Vai, with whom they have performed. The Rock Walk is located on Sunset Boulevard, in the outer lobby of Hollywood’s Guitar Center.
• Fuji TV announcer Masai Maya (30) gave birth to her first child yesterday at a Tokyo hospital. The announcement came from her husband, actor and model Maekawa Yasuyuki (33), now the proud father of a bouncing baby girl.
• Actor Sato Ryuta (27) is dating a 21-year-old “OL” beauty, according to today’s issue of weekly magazine “Friday”. The young lady in question is said to have previously worked on TV but is now an “office lady” or company employee. Sato’s agency clarified that the couple have been dating since the end of last year.
Actress Sawajiri Erika (21) has been spotted on a steamy date with a much older IT entrepreneur. She and “hypermedia creator” Takashiro Tsuyoshi (43), the man behind the media launch of the Roppongi Hills complex and Sony’s Aibo robot, were photographed by reporters from women’s weekly “Josei Seven”. They were seen kissing in Takashiro’s Porsche on their way to dinner, after which they both returned to his Tokyo home. Sawajiri was seen leaving the next day. The couple have reportedly been dating since the end of last year and have traveled abroad together. The popular young actress, whose mother is French-Algerian, made her breakthrough in 2005 with the Fuji TV melodrama “1 Littoru no Namida” (1 Litre of Tears) and the movie “Pacchigi!”. She is also a singer, using the alias Kaoru Amane, though she recently started recording using just the name Erika. Her latest movie, “Closed Note” opens on September 29. Takashiro was previously linked with actress Sato Eriko (25).
• The full lineup has been announced for next month’s 20th Tokyo International Film Festival. Among the contenders competiing for the Tokyo Sakura Grand Prix are: Nakai Yuu’s “Habu to Genkotsu” (Bloody Snake Under the Sun), starring Miyazaki Aoi; the Chinese-Japanese “Ho-oh, Waga Ai” (Crossing Over), directed by Jin Chen and starring and produced by Nakai Kiichi; and the Iranian adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, “Hafez”, directed by Abolfazl Jalili and featuring Aso Kumiko. The festival runs from October 20 to 28. For more info, see the festival’s official website.
• Billy Blanks (52), who became a household name overnight earlier in the years with his military-style Tae-Bo exercise regime, is back in Japan. Over 100 fans turned out to welcome him at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. This time he’s here to promote the single “Boom Boom Wonderland” and will launch a nationwide tour on September 22. Appealing to his growing legions of Japanese fans, he says this time around he’s incorporating sumo moves into his exercises. His previous visit generated a huge boost in sales of his DVDs.
Tokyo Jihen, the rock band fronted by singer Shiina Ringo (28), are to provide their first movie track. The song “Kingyou no Hako” (The Goldfish Box), taken from the band’s upcoming album “Goraku”, was written by keyboard player Izawa Ichiyou (31) and will be used as the ending theme for the thriller “Mouryou no Hako” (The title translates roughly as A Box of Evil Spirits). Directed by Harada Masato, the movie is the second in a trilogy and follows 2005’s “Ubume no Natsu”. It has a stellar cast that includes Tsutsumi Shinichi, Abe Hiroshi, Shiina Kippei, Kuroki Hitomi, and Tanaka Rena. is based on the bestseller of the same name by Kyougoku Natsuhiko, and Shiina is known to be a big fan of his work. She remembers how reading his novels while commuting was the only real pleasure she had when she first came to Tokyo. Izawa says he had already written the song when he was approached about the project and was amazed by how it seemed to fit the story so well. Only then did he read the novel for the first time. Shiina has previously provided movie music as a solo artist for last year’s “Sakuran”. “Goraku” goes on sale September 26 and “Mouryou no Hako” opens on December 22. (Watch the movie trailer)
“Oshiri Kajiri Mushi” is the latest silly kids song to make the Oricon Top 10 and is currently sitting at No.8. The title translates as “Butt-Biting Bug” and that’s basically what it’s about. It’s popularity is helped by an annoyingly catchy chorus and a funny video. The song aired during preschool kids’ shows on NHK’s educational channel, which has launched several similar hits over the years. The biggest was definitely “Dango San Kyodai” (The Three Brothers Dango) in 1999, which became one of Japan’s best-selling singles of all time. (Watch the Oshiri Kajiri Mushi and Dango San Kyodai videos)
Model-turned-actress Yamada Yu (23) made her live singing debut yesterday at an event that also featured her younger brother. She was a surprise guest at the “Shibuya Girls Collection” in Tokyo, a combination of fashion and live music. She performed five songs, including her latest single “Fiesta! Fiesta!”, during which she was joined by dancer Sam (45). The TRF member, and ex of Amuro Namie, seems to be working more as a choreographer for other artists these days. Among the other names featured in the event were Yamada’s brother Shintaro (20), who is also a fashion model, and actress Horikita Maki (18), currently appearing in the drama adaptation of the girls’ manga “Hanazakari no Kimitachi he” on Fuji TV.
• In the latest development of her tumultuous life, actress Nami Etsuko (56) has married for the third time. A source says she and her new 57-year-old husband, who met while working on a drama several years ago, tied the knot on Sunday. A former ballet dancer and singer, Nami is known as much for her private life as her dramatic career. She was previously married to Village Singers member Hayashi Yutaka from 1970-72, and to a movie producer in 1975. They had one son, actor Namikawa Kouta (31), but the marriage ended in 1988. In 1996 she underwent cosmetic surgery on her breasts but lost both nipples after suffering complications, and sued the hospital. In 2004 she suffered from osteoarthritis in her hands and feet.