Monthly Archives: February 2012

Nakajima a No-Show in Court

Nakajima Tomoko

The Tokyo District Court yesterday yesterday ruled against troubled comedienne Nakajima Tomoko (40, photo left), who again failed to show up in court. She was sued last month by a real estate company for damages and almost a year’s unpaid rent on an office in central Tokyo. Yesterday’s verdict was that Nakajima must pay almost ¥6.5 million and leave the premises. She has until the end of April before being forcibly evicted. On a leave of absence for almost a year due to unspecified health problems, Nakajima has also failed to pay rent on a nearby apartment that she is said to be currently sharing with a female fortune teller and several members of that person’s family.

Nakajima renewed the contract on the office last May but never paid the renewal fee or subsequent rent. The real estate company has received a variety of excuses since last September, such as moving company errors and a claim that her apartment had been burgled and police had told her not to move. The owners of the apartment are actor Motoki Masahiro (46) and his wife, actress Uchida Yayako (36). They have also sued for payment but no court date has yet been set.

Outside the premises yesterday, a man was seen selling t-shirts with a somewhat inaccurately translated message for the star, “Get out of the Control,” referring to the widespread media assumption that Nakajima has been brainwashed. She also put on a considerable amount of weight even before disappearing from TV screens last year (photo right).

Nakajima’s management agency, Shochiku Geino, say they don’t plan to fire her but have been unable to contact her for some time. They recently agreed with two of the major TV networks to formally remove her from the lineup of four regular TV shows. “Shittoko!” has been running on TBS since 2003 with the comedy duo Othello – Nakajima and Matsushima Nahoko (40) – as the hosts. But Matsushima has been on maternity leave since late last year and the network said yesterday that regular guests talento Nakao Akira (64) and rakugoka Katsura Zakoba (64) are leaving the show and it will be completely overhauled.

Scott Bros. to Make 3/11 Feature

Ridley Scott, Life in a Day

It was announced yesterday that Fuji TV are teaming up with the Hollywood director brothers Ridley (74) and Tony Scott (67) to make a documentary feature on life one year after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. The film, expected to be released overseas this autumn, is in the style of Ridley’s 2011 project “Life in a Day.” That film used footage shot by thousands of amateurs in 192 countries and uploaded to YouTube. It was described as “a historic cinematic experiment to create a documentary film about a single day on earth” (see trailer below).

The Japan project has seen the distribution of 200 cameras to people in the western part of Tohoku, worst hit by last year’s natural disaster. On March 11, they will film themselves and the world and people around them, and contributions are also welcomed from outside Japan. Submissions can be uploaded to YouTube between March 11-25. The idea for the film was proposed to Scott by Fuji TV chief producer Hayakawa Takayuki, a native of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture. A percentage of the box office from the movie will be donated to relief efforts in Tohoku.

Bunta Retires From Big Screen

Sugawara Bunta

Veteran stoic actor Sugawara Bunta (78) announced yesterday that he has effectively retired from the movie business. He held a press conference after attending an event to honor firefighters and said that in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011 he could no longer see any point in making movies. Last year he stepped down from the lead role in Yamada Yoji’s latest project “Tokyo Kazoku” and yesterday he spoke about how he and Yamada (80) had discussed the decision, “The director agreed with me.” Sugawara also revealed that he had been hospitalized in the winter of 2011, causing him to reevaluate his career. He is a native of Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas worst hit by the quake and tsunami.

Sugawara has almost 200 movie titles to his name but, like his contemporary Takakura Ken (80), will always be best remembered for his roles in hard-boiled yakuza movies, particularly Fukasaku Kinji’s “Jinji Naki Tatakai” (Battles Without Honor and Humanity) series of the 1970s. In recent years he has done about one project a year, including voice roles for a couple of Studio Ghibli animations, but has not been a leading man on the big screen since 2003’s “Watashi no Grandpa.” He did leave the door open slightly for himself yesterday, saying that he is open to considering future projects on their merit.

Yamada’s movie, loosely based on the Ozu Yasujiro 1953 classic “Tokyo Monogatari” (Tokyo Story), had been scheduled to start shooting last spring, but due to the natural disaster that has been delayed until this year. It is now scheduled to start next week and no doubt it will have seen some script changes to reflect the much changed mood of post-3/11 Japan. The project recently lost actress Ichihara Etsuko (76), who stepped down as she is due to undergo surgery. Such are the risks of working on a project with a lead actors in their late 70s, I guess.
Related stories:
Ichihara Drops Out of Yamada Movie (Feb. 6, 2012)

Death of an Onnagata

Nakamura Jakuemon IV

The world of traditional kabuki theater yesterday lost one of its great veterans. Nakamura Jakuemon IV, the oldest onnagata in kabuki, died of pneumonia. He was 91. Born in the 9th year of the Taisho era the eldest son of Ohtani Tomoemon VI, he took to the stage for the first time at the age of six using the name Ohtani Keitaro. He enlisted in the army in 1942 but soon after he reached the front line he was informed that his father had died when a regional theater collapsed during an earthquake.

After the war, he became an onnagata – an actor who specializes in female roles – and succeeded to his father’s stage name in 1948. But a couple of years later he switched to the big screen and as Ohtani Tomoemon VII became a major star until 1955. That year he returned to kabuki and was adopted by the widow of Nakamura Jakuemon III, who had lost her son and the heir to her late husband’s name during the war. In 1964 he succeeded to the name Jakuemon IV.

Jakuemon was the recipient of multiple cultural, Imperial and government awards and was named a Living National Treasure in 1991.

Four Leaves Ko-chan Dies of Cancer

Four Leaves

Japan lost one of its first – and most controversial – aidoru stars yesterday as former “Four Leaves” leader Kita Koji (photo, 2nd from left) died of liver cancer at a Tokyo hospital. He was 63. He is survived by a wife and 13-year-old daughter. He had been undergoing immunization treatment against the disease since it was diagnosed in May of last year, but kept the cancer secret from all but his closest family and friends.

Real name Matsushita Koji, Kita was an Olympic hopeful gymnast in his youth. But economic reality forced him to try a variety of jobs before being bitten by the showbiz bug. He became a roadie for the early Johnny’s Jimusho group Three Funkies in 1964 and followed the group from Osaka to Tokyo. Two years later he was scouted by Johnny himself and Four Leaves was formed, with Kita’s stage gymnastics bringing a whole new dimension to the pop music of the time. The group made their recording debut in 1968 and became the first in a chain of successful singing and dancing Johnny’s aidoru groups that continues to this day. One period when aidoru groups went into decline was the late 1970s and that led to the breakup of Four Leaves in 1978 and Kita leaving Johnny’s Jimusho the following year. Kita later revealed that the decline in his career was compounded by years of stimulant drug addiction that led to his arrest in 1979.

Years of drifting in and out of showbiz were followed by the publication of a book, “Hikaru Genji e,” in 1988 that was a scandalous expose of Johnny’s Jimusho and portrayed Johnny Kitagawa (80) as a sexual predator on the young boys under his charge. The next few years would see a lot more of this kind of revelation, although by this time the company was so powerful in the showbiz world that the stories were largely ignored by the mainstream media. Kita – by now married three times – mellowed somewhat in the mid-1990s and Four Leaves finally reformed in 2002. They performed regularly until the sudden death of Aoyama Takashi in 2009.

Four Leaves
Kita continued to update a blog until his death. His management agency posted the news of his passing on his blog yesterday, along with his final entry dated Tuesday. In it he said he’d had a happy life and asked fans not to grieve for him. He signed off by poignantly addressing Johnny Kitagawa and his sister Mary: “Thank you. I’m grateful to you.” Speaking to reporters yesterday fellow Four Leaves member Orimo Masao (58, photo right) said that he learned of it only at the end of last year when he visited his old friend in hospital, while Egi Toshio (59, photo left) said he knew nothing until the end of January.

Celbrity Life is not all Wine and Roses

Nakajima Tomoko, Izumi Pinko

Troubled comedienne Nakajima Tomoko (40) is now officially unemployed. As we reported here at the end of last month, Nakajima is currently being sued for millions of Yen in unpaid rent on her apartment and office and hasn’t appeared on TV for almost a year. The first hearing on the case was held at the Tokyo District Court on February 14 but neither Nakajima nor a representative showed up. A decision in favor of the real estate company is expected on the 28th of this month.

But although she wasn’t working or getting paid, Nakajima was still officially listed as a presenter on four regular variety shows. It was revealed yesterday that her management agency recently agreed with NTV and TBS that she would formally step down from her two shows on each network.

One half of the comedy duo Othello, Nakajima is said to be sharing her apartment with a female fortune teller who dictates her every move. One celebrity friend who recently visited her said that she has been turned against her comedy partner Matsushima Nahomi (40). “I don’t even want to see her face,” she reportedly said.
Related stories:
Money Problems No Laughing Matter (Jan. 31, 2012)

Pinko Sees Red
Actress Izumi Pinko (64, photo right) seems to have forgotten that she got her showbiz start as a young entertainment news reporter. At a press conference to launch her new book “Minna Nayanderu” (Everyone’s Got Problems) she was her usual jokey self until one young female reporter dragged up an unpleasant memory. When asked if she ever meets the child born from her husband’s extra-marital affair, Izumi lost her rag and ended the conference, spitting, “I don’t want to talk to this brat! Why should I have to speak to her?” Izumi and her husband (62), the head of a clinic in Tokyo, have been married since 1989. The scandal that almost led to divorce happened in 1995 when he admitted that he had fathered a baby with another woman.

Boycotting Amazon Japan

Amazon Japan sells whale meat products
Amazon Japan sells whale meat products
Following an expose by the highly regarded Environmental Investigation Agency of whale and cetacean products sold through Amazon Japan, a wholly owned subsidiary of Amazon Inc, we here at Japan Store have decided to no longer purchase anything from Amazon until the company imposes a ban on such products.

Not only do we object in principle to the sale of such products and the unnecessary hunting of dolphins, whales and other cetaceans, but scientific analysis of the meat being sold reveals that it consistently contains levels of toxins far exceeding the safe levels dictated by the Japanese government. And these products often contain meat from endangered and protected cetacean species, or meat that is not specifically identified and is likely to be dolphin or porpoise.

You can read EIA’s extensive report here:’s Unpalatable Profits

We encourage you to leave a message on Amazon’s Facebook wall here: on Facebook

I should mention that unfortunately Rakuten also has thousands of listings for whale and cetacean food products – almost 2,800 if you search for 鯨 (whale) and almost 1,200 if you search for 鯨肉 (whale meat). While Japan Store is not affiliated with Rakuten, we do source some of our products there and a boycott of the service would have a serious impact on the operation of this store.

And for the record, Yahoo! Japan also sells these products.

Mark McBennett
Owner, Japan Store

Update: It’s only been half a day since I posted this blog entry and the news just came in – Amazon Japan have removed all whale and whale-related food products from their online store. It remains to be seen if this will be a permanent move and whether Amazon Japan will issue a formal policy statement. But still, wow! Social media pressure rocks!

More Showbiz Babies

Angela Aki, Terajima Shinobu

Singer-songwriter Angela Aki (34, photo left) is the proud mother of a baby boy. She broke the news on her blog earlier today. Aki married her music director in March 2007.

Aki is the daughter of Aki Kiyoshi, founder of the Aeon chain of English conversation schools, and an Italian-American mother. Born in Tokushima Prefecture, she started playing piano at the age of 3. She spent her high school years in Hawaii where she was into surfing and the music of Nirvana and Green Day. While at university in Washington D.C. she attended a campus concert by Sara McLachlan and decided that she wanted to pursue a career in music. She had her breakthrough in 2001 when one of her tunes was used in a TV commercial but it wasn’t until September 2005 that she made her major label debut with the single “Home.” She had her first Oricon chart topper with the 2007 album “Today.”

In March 2007 she announced that she was getting married, while also revealing for the first time that it would be her second marriage. Her husband was the music director assigned to her by the Epic Records label, though he has since become a freelancer.

Meanwhile, also on the road to motherhood is actress Terajima Shinobu (39, photo right). Her management released a statement today saying she was pregnant and that this was the reason for the cancellation of “Real Thing,” a theatrical production she had been scheduled to begin on May 11. In typical Japanese fashion, the statement was not an announcement of glad tidings but an apology to Karasawa Toshiaki, other cast members, fans and everyone inconvenienced by the development. The show’s cancellation had been previously announced but no reason had been given.

Terajima is a multiple award-winning actress both at home and overseas. She took the Best Actress award for Caterpillar at the 60th Berlin Film Festival in 2010. She is from a traditional kabuki family – her father is actor Onoe Kikugorō VII, her mother the actress Fuji Sumiko, and her brother the kabuki actor Onoe Kikunosuke V. She married French art director Laurent Ghnassia in 2007.

RIP Awashima Chikage

Awashima Chikage, Morishige Hisaya

Veteran actress Awashima Chikage died this morning of pancreatic cancer at a Tokyo hospital. She was 87. With almost 100 movie roles to her credit, she was best known for her role in the 1955 movie “Meoto Zenzai” and was considered one of the great beauties of postwar Japanese cinema. Her most recent work was the 2010 movie “Haru’s Journey.”

Born Nakagawa Keiko in Tokyo in 1924 she was a graduate of the all-female Takarazuka theatrical troupe. After leaving she joined the Shochiku movie studio and made her big screen debut in 1950 in Shibuya Minoru’s comedy “Tenya Wanya.” With her light and breezy style she created a whole new category of actress in such such satirical comedies as “Jiyuu Gakko” and “Honjitsu Kyuushin.” In 1955 she teamed up with Morishige Hisaya, one of the biggest stars of the era, and played the role of a geisha in the Toyoda Shiro film “Meoto Zenzai.” The role was her stepping stone to major fame. She later reunited with Morishige in the so-called “Ekimae” movie series and finally in 2001 as the central elderly couple in “Last Dance” (right photo).

No Stopping AKB48


The J-pop juggernaut that is AKB48 shows no signs of slowing down, though cracks are showing in the persoanl lives of its members. The latest single release from the female aidoru troupe, their 25th, is their seventh to top the 1 million mark in sales and the sixth in a row. “Give me Five!” made No.1 on the Oricon daily singles chart on February 14, almost broke the million barrier on its very first day of release and then obviously did so the following day. It is the first million selling single of the year. The so-called “graduation song” is aimed at those who will be leaving school or college in the coming month or so. It’s also the first single to feature AKB48 members in a band format, with Takahashi Minami and Maeda Atsuko on guitar and Ohshima Yuko (23) on bass (photo).

But Takahashi’s name was doing the rounds on the web for a very different reason last weekend when her mother was arrested for “obscenity” with a middle school boy – a story largely ignored by the mainstream media. This follows the recent expulsion of two members for the crime of hanging out with guys their own age after photos appeared online (see below).

Meanwhile, not to be outdone by their Tokyo sisters, the Osaka-based equivalent NMB48 also saw their latest release hit the top of the charts. Oricon’s single rankings for Feb 20 show that “Junjo U-19” is the group’s third single in a row to reach the No. 1 spot.
Related stories:
An AKB48 Scandal (Jan 31, 2012)