Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ayaya Reveals Truth About Health Problems

Matsuura Aya, Merenge no Kimochi

Singer Matsuura Aya (25, photo right) spoke publicly about her health problems for the first time on her blog yesterday. She revealed that she is suffering from endometriosis, a common but little-understood condition that affects a woman’s uterus and which was diagnosed in 2007. “Ayaya,” as she is popularly known, is a former solo member the Hello! Project, although she originally auditioned to join Morning Musume in 2000. She quickly became one of the most popular young female stars of the decade, appearing in a wide variety of movies, dramas and commercials. Transexual talento Haruna Ai even built a whole career on a lip-synching Ayaya impersonation routine.

Matsuura graduated from Hello! Project in March of 2009 and played her last concert tour later that year, saying she was taking a break for “two or three years.” She has made few public, working mostly on TV. She starred in an ABC TV drama in April and was a regular on the NTV variety show “Merenge no Kimochi.” She has now stepped down from that show, and this week recorded her final appearance. The show (photo), on which she finally spoke about her health problems, will air on September 24.

Endometriosis is when the kind of tissue that normally lines the uterus grows on the ovaries, behind the uterus or on the bowels or bladder. Rarely, it grows in other parts of the body. This “misplaced” tissue can cause pain and very heavy periods and, if left untreated, infertility. The cause of endometriosis is not known.

Kobayashi Sachiko, Yamaguchi Moe
Never Too Late for Sacchan
Enka singer Kobayashi Sachiko (photo left) waited till the age of 57 to get married, the Sports Hochi newspaper revealed today. She is engaged to Hayashi Akio (49), CEO of regenerative medicine company TES Holdings and the couple plan to marry within the year. Sacchan, as she is popularly known, debuted way back in 1964 and has had such massive hits as 1979’s “Omoidezake.” Her incredibly flamboyant costumes have been a key feature of the “Kohaku Uta Gassen” show on NHK every New Year’s Eve for the last 32 years.

Divorce for Moe
Less happy news for ditzy talento Yamaguchi Moe (34, photo right) who recently filed for divorce. According to her management agency she filed the papers last week, ending her 6-year marriage to restaurant company president Ozeki Shigeo (36). Ozeki was arrested back in June for illegally running a “cabaret club” and was later fined ¥500,000. Yamaguchi retains custody of their two children.

Tokio Member Nabbed Without License

Yamaguchi Tatsuya, Kuroneko Yamato

Yamaguchi Tatsuya (39), a member of the popular Johnny’s Jimusho male aidoru group Tokio, is being prosecuted for driving with an expired license. We’ve all done it, forgotten to renew a lcense or a passport or ID card. But in Yamaguchi’s case, the punishment includes having TV commercials taken off the air. He has been appearing in CMs for two companies where driving is the central theme: for Yamato Unyu, better known as Kuroneko Yamato parcel delivery company, he played a delivery driver; and he was the main character in CMs for the Subaru Legacy model. Yamato have said they will no longer air the CM, citing their “social influence.” Subaru have replaced the Legacy ads with those for a different model and said they are looking at the

Yamaguchi was driving near Tokyo Bay on Sunday morning when he was stopped by police for making an illegal lane change. Only then did he realize that his license had expired on February 10. Police at the Shinagawa station plan to send the case to the public prosecutor’s office. Yamaguchi apologized for the situation at a press conference held at the Tokyo headquarters of the NTV network on Sunday evening.

A Rare Glimpse of Johnny

Johnny Kitagawa

Johnny Kitagawa, the reclusive founder and head of Johnny’s Jimusho talent agency, spoke yesterday for the first time about the recent intrusion in his luxury, and supposedly highly secure, Tokyo home. Police arrested Unotoro Toshio (52), a man of unspecified employment from Setagaya district of Tokyo, on August 17 for unlawful entry into Kitagawa’s apartment in a luxury skyscraper in Shibuya.

Kitagawa said he returned to his apartment to get his mobile phone and the man followed him through the building’s auto-lock entrance. When he got to his apartment, he found the man hanging around outside his door. When he asked who he was, the man replied “Kitagawa” before barging his way into the unlocked apartment and locking Kitagawa out for about half an hour until police arrived. The pop culture mogul said he never felt in any physical danger. “It seems the man knew my apartment because he had been here before doing work on the telephone.” The media coverage of the story has led to a loss of privacy for the seldom seen Kitagawa, who says he would like to move, “if someone will lend me the rent.” As the head of an agency that represents many of Japan’s top-earning showbiz stars, it’s unlikely that he’s too stuck for cash.

Apartments in the building originally sold for as much as ¥710 million ($9.5 million).

AKB48 Set a New Record

AKB48, Flying Get

Further strengthening their position as the dominant force in J-pop, female aidoru group AKB48 have seen their latest single sell more than a million copies on its first day of release. “Flying Get” shot straight to the top of the Oricon daily rankings with some 1,026,000 copies sold on August 23. According to Oricon it’s the first time a single has broken the million barrier on day one, though they’ve only been running a daily chart since 2009. The previous highest sales figure was by “Everyday Kachuusha” in May, also an AKB48 release. That single set a new record for weekly sales with 1,334,000 copies sold. “Flying Get” is the group’s fourth million-selling single.

Shinsuke Quits Amid Yakuza Scandal

Shimada Shinsuke

The Japanese entertainment world was rocked yesterday by the sudden retirement of Shimada Shinsuke (55), one of the country’s most talented emcees. This was no simple retirement, but came about due to revelations about the comedian’s ties with the yakuza, Japan’s criminal underworld. Specifically, during an investigation back in 2005 police found letters and photos that tied Shimada to one of the senior members of the infamous Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza organization. Over the following years, Shimada communicated with the crime boss by email, expressing concern following an arrest in Osaka for bid-rigging and even thanking him for wining and dining at his restaurant. When former boxing world champion Watanabe Jiro was arrested in 2007, information retrieved from his mobile phone also led police to Shimada’s shady connections.

At a hastily arranged press conference at the Tokyo offices of Yoshimoto Kogyo yesterday, Shimada said that retirement from showbiz was the only reasonable way forward for him, though he tearfully insisted that he believed he had not done anything wrong. He said that the trouble began more than a decade ago, when an on-air statement got him into trouble with a right-wing group and Watanabe and his Yamaguchi-gumi friends helped resolve the situation.

A skilled and funny presenter, Shimada was the anchorman for several regular variety shows and the networks went into a frenzy to try and make last-minute adjustments to their schedules. His various TV and other commercial contracts meant that sponsors also had to get to work withdrawing any ads featuring him. Shimada, who was involved in street gangs as a youth and has always had a rebellious image, has shown his darker side in the more recent past. His career was threatened back in 2004, after a female Yoshimoto employee made assault claims against him and took him to court. Several years later he was ordered by a Tokyo court to pay compensation to the woman.
Related stories:
Shinsuke Ordered to Pay for Assault (Sep. 22, 2010)

Korean Stars Turned Away


Two K-pop groups had major immigration hassles on entry to Japan yesterday and one was forced to return to South Korea. The 6-member group Beast arrived at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport around 11am and were scheduled to make a surprise appearance at a preview screening of the movie “Shanghai” in Marunouchi around 6pm. The group were to perform the song “Fiction,” the movie’s theme for its Japan release. Starring John Cusack, Gong Li, Chow Yun-Fat and local big names Watanabe Ken (51) and Kikuchi Rinko (30), the movie opens here on August 20. The movie company was informed around 4:30pm that Beast would be returning home, and as the audience at yesterday’s event knew nothing of their planned appearance, Watanabe and Kikuchi were called upon to extend their on-stage discussion.

Beast first visited Japan in July 2010, performed their first solo concert here last November and have been back several times since, never having any trouble with immigration. They are scheduled to come again this weekend for a stadium concert in Niigata by several K-pop acts, including the hugely popular female groups Shojo Jidai and Kara.

Meanwhile, another K-pop group, the 4-member F. CUZ, were held at Haneda immigration for hours yesterday. The group arrived to promote the release of “Never Let You Go,” their Japan debut single, and were scheduled to attend an event in Tokyo from 2pm. Hundreds of mostly female fans waited several hours for their arrival, but it was after 6:30pm before the group’s paperwork was finally cleared. The event has been rescheduled for this morning.

Leah Strikes Back

Leah Dizon

Good news for fans of one-time talento Leah Dizon (24). It was announced this week that she is making something of a comeback in Japan and is hoping to pursue an acting career. She shot a series of TV commercials for Shonan Cosmetic Surgery Clinic in New York earlier in the summer and they will air in Japan from the end of this month. Now a single mother, Dizon still has the youth and the looks to make it again in Japan (a la Amuro Namie) but it remains to be seen whether her fans are still interested.

The half French-American, half Chinese-Philippina fits very well with the exotic “not quite Japanese” look that has been popular in this country for the last few years. Born in Las Vegas and raised in Los Angeles, she had no real connection with Japan but through clever self-promotion online and plenty of bared flesh she built a fan base here. She became known as the “gravurekai no kurofune” or “Black Ship of the Pin-up World” and she started spending more time in Japoan from 2006. Soon she had best-selling photo books and released several singles and an album. An appearance on NHK’s “Kohaku Uta Gassen” show on New Year’s Eve 2007 confirmed her commercial relevance. But within a year she let her private life derail her meteoric rise, getting married to a Japanese stylist and having a baby in quick-fire succession. It came as little surprise when the marriage ended last year and Dizon left Japan for the U.S. with her 2-year-old daughter in tow.

Manda Hisako Buries Husband

Manda Hisako at her husband's funeral

It’s been a tough week for popular actress Manda Hisako (53), who recently lost her common-law husband to cancer. Sasaki Chikara, CEO of the major apparel company Link Theory Japan, died of the rare scirrhous gastric cancer on August 9. He was 60. His funeral was held yesterday at the Aoyama Sogijo funeral hall in central Tokyo. About 2400 people were in attendance, including A-list celebrities and sports legends. Manda said, “We learned the name of the disease only in June, and from that point on I was praying it was just a dream. Even now, part of me wishes it was just a scene from a movie.” She added, “He was Superman to me, but now he’s dead. That’s something I and the children have to come to terms with.” During the funeral procession, New York-based trumpeter Hino Terumasa (68) played “When The Saints Go Marchin’ In” and “Furusato.”

Manda is a former Miss Universe Japan (1978) who made her acting debut on NHK in 1980, starting a solid career that included dozens of TV dramas, movies and commercials. Her relationship with Sasaki was first reported in February 1987 and caused a scandal as he was already married with a child. Manda gave birth to their first child in New York later that year. A couple of years later, Sasaki formally acknowledged the son as his own and got a divorce. It was reported earlier this month that Sasaki had another child with an unnamed woman.

Exchange Rates & Prices

Falling Dollar
As you may know, the Japanese yen has been an increasingly strong currency for the last few years, especially as the U.S. dollar has weakened. So for a Japan-based export business like us, it is obviously important to keep a close eye on exchange rates. And every so often the yen hits a level against the dollar where we have no choice but to raise our prices or go out of business. This happened recently as the dollar fell below the 78-yen level. The debt ceiling crisis in the U.S. was one big factor and the dollar rebounded dramatically once that was resolved, but only temporarily it seems. As I write, it is below the 77-yen level and so we are forced to adjust prices accordingly.

Where possible, we look for another way to avoid passing the cost on to you, the customer. One way is to open a wholesale account with us, which allows you to enjoy significant discounts even on smaller orders, and bigger savings on bulk orders. In most cases, the only condition is that you have completed at least one regular order with us. Contact us if you’re interested in applying for a wholesale account and we’ll do whatever we can to help you battle that rampaging yen!

Japan Loses 2 Music Stars

Jo Yamanaka, Ujigami Ichiban

Aging rockers came out in droves yesterday to attend the wake of singer Jo Yamanaka (photo left), who died this week of lung cancer at a Yokosuka hospital. He was 64. The cancer was first discovered in February 2010 but rather than undergo surgery, Yamanaka was treated with radiation and chemotherapy. He remained active, joining friend Uchida Yuya (71) earlier this year in a campaign to support those who suffered in the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. His final concert performance was at the Crocodile live house in Harajuku, Tokyo on May 5. Other attendees at his wake included Kabuki Rocks star Ujigami Ichiban (photo right) in full character makeup.

His house in Kamakura burned down in September 2010, and he turned to friends Uchida and his estranged wife, actress Kiki Kirin (68), for support. They helped him find a new house in Yokosuka and also introduced him to a hospital in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima. He was hospitalized after he suffered a cardiopulmonary arrest in mid-July and never fully recovered.

Yamanaka was one of seven siblings, though the only one of mixed race as his father was a black G.I. He started out as a pro boxer before becoming the vocalist of “group sounds” band 4-9-1 in 1966. He fronted “Flower Travelling Band” from 1968, performing rock songs in English before the genre had taken hold in Japan. The band also performed in the U.S. and Canada, the first Japanese popular band to do so, in support of Emerson Lake & Palmer. They broke up in 1973, and only reformed in 2008. In September 2010 they released their first album in 35 years. Yamanaka is best remembered for theme song of the 1977 Matsuda Yusaku movie “Ningen no Shomei,” in which he also performed an acting role.

Japan’s music world also lost another singer this week, with the death from pancreatic cancer of enka star Hiyoshi Mimi. She was 64. She was best known for such 1970’s hits as “Otoko to Onna no Ohanashi.” In the 1980s she was a regular, along with Yamamoto Linda and Abe Ritsuko, on the legendary comedy show “Oretachi Hyokinzoku.” At a concert in Nagoya in May 2010 to promote a new single, she first revealed that she had undergone surgery for cancer.