Time for Mona to Don the Watermelon Again?

Japan Zone is back after a relaxing family vacation. Here’s a roundup of the main stories since the last entry on July 8.

Yamamoto MonaThe career of Yamamoto Mona (32) has taken yet another dramatic – and familiar – turn. She’s been put on indefinite probation by her management agency following a new romantic scandal. Yamamoto became a newscaster on the News23 show in late 2006 but really hit the headlines when she was fired just days later due to an affair with a married politician. After laying low for a few months she reappeared, thanks largely to the support of top star Kitano “Beat” Takeshi (61), whose Office Kitano represents her. She even donned a watermelon on her head as a sign of repentance and to indicate that she was ready to do anything to get her career back on track. This plus her beauty and intelligence helped her become a regular on the variety show circuit, though she is officially described as a freelance announcer. But then a story was published in a women’s weekly magazine that she was having an affair with Yomiuri Giants baseball star Nioka Tomoharu (32). She sent out a fax saying there was no “physical” relationship, but that hasn’t convinced too many people. Kitano has so far refused to comment on the story. Singer Wada Akiko (58) was among the more critical celebrities, saying she is now known not as a “free” (the Japanese word for freelance) announcer but as a “furin” (the word for extra-marital affair) announcer.

• Veteran rocker Imawano Kiyoshiro (57) has canceled all live appearances this summer to undergo treatment for cancer. The singer was treated for cancer of the throat in 2006 and returned to the stage in February of this year. Now the cancer is said to have appeared in his left hip.

• A man was recently arrested for attempted extortion involving caramel. The incident involves the limited availability of the hugely popular “nama kyarameru” candy, which is produced at the Hokkaido farm owned by talento Tanaka Yoshitake (50). The product, which sells for ¥850, is available at Chitose Airport and the farm itself, though only in small quantities. The suspect is accused of demanding 100 boxes by telephone, threatening violence if he was refused.

• Young actor Koide Keisuke (24) recently underwent emergency surgery for appendicitis. But just four days later he was back at work, taking part in filming of the final episode of the popular TBS drama series “Rookies.”

• Former martial arts fighter Sudo Genki (30) held a wedding reception in Tokyo on July 14. Sudo, now a talento, and his wife Ai (23) got hitched last November.