(Wakayama Prefecture, 1955- )
Generally known simply by his first name, Sanma is one of Japan's noisiest and best-loved comedians and all-round TV stars. In fact, he has topped the NHK poll for most popular male star for three years in a row. But like fellow funny men Tamori and Beat Takeshi, Sanma doesn't really do much in the way of straight comedy these days. Rather, he presents variety shows that go for laughs more than anything else. More than any other comedian today, Sanma is responsible for the association of the Kansai ben (dialect) with comedy.
Born Sugimoto Takafumi in Wakayama in 1955, he spent two years under the rakugoka (traditional comic storyteller) Shofukutei Matsunosuke before becoming a comedian in his own right with the stage name Shofukutei Sanma (His family's business was connected with fish processing and sanma means 'mackerel pike'). Later he went to Tokyo but stayed less than a year before returning to the entertainment world in Osaka. He won the Japan Broadcast Entertainment Grand Prix in 1986.
Most of Sanma's shows feature the man himself running off at the mouth - which is full of more teeth than any human should be able to handle - in his famous loud, husky voice and usually spending half the program falling around on the floor in the standard Japanese reaction to a corny joke. Some of the most popular are Koi no Karasawagi (Much Ado About Love) and Sanma's Super Karakuri TV. The former feeds off his reputation as a womaniser and one of Japan's most famous bachelors, following his 1992 divorce from actress Otake Shinobu, with whom he has one daughter, Imaru.
Popular TV commercials have featured Sanma in a (simulated) coffee-time duet with Mariah Carey and talking up a storm for Japan Telecom. He is probably the TV star who is most popular across all age groups.