(Osaka, 1960- )
Who is the most popular woman in Japan? The usual lineup of beauties and pop stars probably come to mind. But in 2001, according to NHK's annual ranking, the No.1 female personality was Hisamoto Masami, affectionately known as Matchami. What's more, she knocked the beautiful Matsushima Nanako off the top spot and beat TV's favorite aunty Wada Akiko and pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi. The skinny, buck-toothed comedienne is best known for her lack of shame when it comes to slapstick. Indeed, she can get down and dirty with the most raucous male stars like Beat Takeshi or London Boots and is often seen doing armpit or crotch jokes on variety shows. Her husky voice also contributes to an image which is about as far as you can get from the idealized, demure Japanese woman.
Like many of Japan's top comedy stars, Hisamoto was born in Osaka. While she certainly lives up to the motormouth image of the stereotypical Osakan, she is said to be the "quiet" member of her family. I've only seen her younger sister, also a presenter, once on TV but that could certainly be true. She went to the elite Kinran Women's Junior College, where she was a typical "hime-sama" (literally, princess). She worked as a bar hostess but was popular less for her looks than for her sense of humor. A turning point came when a surfer boyfriend decided to break up with her. He said her gift for making people laugh was wasted on just him and she should be entertaining big audiences. Her father (see photo below), though also possesed of a great sense of humor was against her following such a career. So one day, at the age of 21, she left home saying "I'm off for a drive!". She didn't stop till she reached Tokyo and applied to the Tokyo Vaudeville Show theater group.
Before her interview, she managed to lock herself in the toilet and turned up late. When asked if she could actually do anything, she replied "Well, I'm full of energy!" The interviewer was suitably impressed and she joined the group. She was teamed up with Shibata Rie, who became a close friend and is another comedienne who appears regularly on variety shows.
Three years later in 1984, she and three other members, including Shibata, formed the WaHaHa Honpo comedy team and almost straight away they had their first regular TV slot, on the "Konya wa Saiko" show. She tells a story of how a guy she was sweet on came to see her perform on stage with WaHaHa. She went through real mental anguish about performing routines that would never be allowed on TV in front of the guy. Dealing with those feelings helped her develop the professionalism that has enabled her to survive and thrive in show business. She has several regular time slots on TV, including on Tamori's lunchtime institution Waratte Ii Tomo and Ainori.
Over the years Hisamoto's popularity has grown as Japanese women have become more liberated and able to speak their minds. She lists drinking as a hobby and the ability to have blackouts as one of her skills. Hisamoto is a kind of spokeswoman for the cruder side of the female personality that most Japanese women dare not show in public.
Photos courtesy of Chukyo TV