More than two decades after his death, Ishihara Yujiro still looms large for many people in Japan. Organizers of a Buddhist ceremony to mark the 23rd anniversary of his death were concerned that the event might draw an unmanageably large crowd. So rather than hold the ceremony at the temple in Yokohama where he is buried, they decided to reconstruct the building at the National Stadium. Some 35,000 people, hundreds of whom had lined up overnight, got seats in the stadium while tens of thousands more waited for hours to get in from the neighboring Meiji Koen park, the Aoyama gate and Jingu Gaien. Shortly after 9am, Ishihara’s widow Makiko (73) and several top Ishihara Gundan stars addressed the crowd. Actors Watari Tetsuya (67), also president of Ishihara Promotions, Tachi Hiroshi (59) and Kanda Masaki (58) all worked with Yujiro in his heyday, while Tokushige Satoshi (30) debuted in 2000 when he beat more than 50,000 audition hopefuls to be chosen as the “21st Century Yujiro.” Next up were 120 Buddhist monks, who chanted sutras for the best part of an hour.
Meanwhile, in the crowds outside, which had more than a few elderly people, tempers often boiled over in the heat and humidity typical of the Tokyo summer and dozens were treated for heatstroke. Once the ceremony had finished, the crowds were slowly allowed into the stadium to place carnations in front of the temple and buy what was left of the various Yujiro goods on sale. A choir of 300 were split into three groups to take turns singing Yujiro’s hits for a full 12 hours until the event finished at 10pm. Conspicuously absent yesterday was Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro (76), Yujiro’s elder brother, who was busy with the upcoming municipal election, though his three sons were in attendance. Organizers were vague on what the event cost, giving numbers between ¥10-20 million, but with a final headcount estimated at almost 120,000 people, it was no doubt a success.