Monthly Archives: April 2012

Golden Week Holidays

Most businesses in Japan close down for the annual Golden Week holidays. This year, the holidays run from April 29 to May 6. Japan Store will remain open for business but during that time most of our suppliers will be closed so deliveries of orders will probably be delayed. We will do what we can to get orders shipped out as quickly as humanly possible but we ask for your patience over the next week or so.

Shioya’s Love Triangle

Tominaga Ai, Shioya Shun, Sonoyama Makie

Actor Shioya Shun (29) looks every bit the playboy and it seems he’s been living up to the part. Just days after model Tominaga Ai (29, photo left) spoke happily about her relationship with the actor, she was livid to find out that not only was there another woman in his life – talento and “food researcher” Sonoyama Makie (34, photo right) – but the pair have reportedly been discussing marriage. Last Friday, after news of the couple broke in the weekly gossip magazines, Tominaga spoke happily to reporters about the relationship and mentioned it on that day’s edition of the live Fuji TV afternoon show “Shiritagari.” But by Monday she was blogging that there was no romance and that she and Shioya were now just friends. The media are waiting to see whether she’ll address the issue on tomorrow’s edition of the live show.

Tominaga and Shioya started dating after appearing together at a benefit event last year for the Great East Japan Earthquake. But sources say that Shioya and Sonoyama also started seeing each other around the same time and that he has promised to get married. The contrast between Tominaga’s icy beauty and Sonoyama’s more housewifey image adds some spice to the story. Shioya made his screen debut in 2002 as the lead character in the TV kids action series “Harikenger” (aka “Power Rangers: Ninja Storm”). He won a best newcomer award for his lead role in the popular 2005 movie “Pacchigi!”

Dragon Ash Bassist Dead at 46

Ikuzone of Dragon AshIt was reported this evening that musician Baba Ikuzou (46), better known as Ikuzone the bassist with rock band Dragon Ash (profile), died of a heart attack several days ago. A funeral service has already been held by family and relations and a memorial service will be held in the near future. Baba was found collapsed by a family member in the recording studio in his Tokyo home on the evening of April 21. He was rushed to a hospital but was declared dead of acute heart failure shortly before 11pm.

Dragon Ash was formed in 1996 by Furuya Kenji and Sakurai Makoto when both were still in junior high school. Baba was taken on as the group’s bassist even though he was 30 at the time, making him something of a mentor for his young bandmates. It took a couple of years, four singles and the addition of DJ Bots before the band got their break with the Top 10 release “Let yourself go, let myself go.” A couple of months later, they had no less than three singles in the Top 10. Of those, “Grateful Days” went on to become Japan’s first ever rap single to make it to No.1. The song was one of several in which the band included samples of US rockers The Smashing Pumpkins. Dragon Ash had a maturity way beyond their years and with their mix of rap and metal they quickly established themselves as a cut above the rest of their local competition. They solidified that success with a series of successful releases and commercial tie-ups over the next decade, expanding from a quartet to a seven-member band in 2003.

AKB48 Continue Asian Expansion

Itano Yumi, Inoue Waka

The AKB48 phenomenon is continuing to expand throughout Asia. It was announced at a meeting for about 2,000 fans in Shanghai over the weekend that the city will be the base for the third international franchise and the sixth in all. A handful of AKB48 members, including Kojima Haruna (24) and Abe Maria (16), were at the event to perform but knew nothing of the surprise announcement. Auditions for the new group, to be named SNH48, will be held in China in the autumn and the group is scheduled to be launched on December 8, the same date as the debut performance by the original group. Similar groups have been created in Jakarta in Indonesia (JKT48) and the Taiwanese capital of Taipei (TPE48), the latter being scheduled to start in the summer. AKB48 performed their first full concert in Shanghai last September and opened an official merchandise store in November. Popular member Itano Tomomi (20, photo left) and others performed a “mini live” show there in February.

Inoue Waka to Wed Director

Inoue Waka to Wed Director
Actress Inoue Waka (31, photo right) is engaged to marry movie director Izuka Ken (33) on her birthday. According to today’s edition of the Sports Hochi newspaper, management for Inoue say the pair are planning to tie the knot on May 13. The two met on the set of the movie “Arakawa Under the Bridge,” which opened in theaters in February, and started dating in May of last year. A former pinup girl, Inoue was widely known by the nickname “wakapai,” a reference to her large bust size. That plus her “beestung” lips helped her make her showbiz breakthrough in 2003. The following year she became a regular on the popular Fuji TV daily afternoon show “Waratte Iitomo!”

Morning Musume Still Going Strong

Morning Musume

There’s life in the old dog yet. In the last few years the media and marketing machine known as Morning Musume (profile) has been largely eclipsed by the new kids on the block, AKB48. But they certainly haven’t gone away. MoMus, currently in their 15th year, have been around since before nearly half of of the current members were even born. No doubt it’s that ever-changing lineup that helps the aidoru group maintain a young fanbase, and they can certainly still shift a few singles. Their latest release, “Renai Hunter,” has entered the Oricon weekly singles charts at No.3, making it the group’s 49th consecutive Top 10 single. Despite their longevity and massive sales achievements, this is the first time for them to have sole possession of a major record, and it also means they’ve knocked J-pop diva Hamasaki Ayumi (33) out of her share of first place.

The new single will be the last to feature current group leader Niigaki Risa (23) who, although she joined at the time of the fifth lineup change in 2001, is the oldest and longest-serving member. She will be “graduating” from the group on May 18.

Elsewhere in the Oricon rankings, male aidoru group Sexy Zone are on top of the singles chart with “Lady Diamond” and Domoto Tsuyoshi (33) of the duo Kinki Kids is atop the album chart with “Shamanippon.”

X Japan are Golden Gods

X Japan are Golden Gods

Rockers X Japan were named as this year’s Best International Band at the Golden Gods Awards yesterday. Started in 2009 by the rock magazine Revolver, the awards were held on Wednesday night at Club Nokia in downtown Los Angeles. Not only were X the first Asian artists to be nominated for the award, they beat a lineup of established names familiar to anyone into the heavy rock genre: Rammstein (Germany), Sepultura (Brazil), Lacuna Coil (Italy), Behemoth (Poland), and Meshuggah (Sweden).

Drummer and band leader Yoshiki was on hand to receive the award from the members of Anthrax, one of whom quipped “You know this is a setup” before reading X Japan’s name among the nominees. Yoshiki didn’t respond to (or didn’t understand) the underhand comment and made a simple acceptance speech. “Thank you Revolver, it’s hard to pronounce. Re-vol-ver, right?” he said. “Some people might have heard of us, we’re from Japan. Our band name is X Japan. We toured North America in 2010, and did our first world tour last year… We are planning on doing another world fucking tour.” He finished up by thanking the band’s fans, saying, “We’re going to keep on rocking. And we fucking love you.”

But while X have a cult status at home and a fanatical international fanbase, imagewise they will probably always struggle to find acceptance among mainstream rock listeners. That was evident from the subdued applause given to the hair-flicking and characteristically effeminate Yoshiki. And someone should tell him that throwing a few F-bombs into your speech isn’t going to help much.

Saito Keiko Remarried

Saito Keiko

Actress Saito Keiko (50) remarried at the end of last year, the Sports Hochi newspaper revealed today. The former Japan Airlines campaign girl tied the knot with the president of an advertising company last November and are living together in Tokyo with Saito’s 11-year-old daughter from her previous marriage.

While studying psychology in the education department at Kumamoto University in 1982, Saito’s bronzed body and good looks helped her beat 800 hopefuls for the high-profile job of JAL Okinawa Campaign Girl (photo left). This break gave her a chance to get into showbiz, and by the following year she was appearing on TV as the “solutionist” on the TBS show “Quiz Derby.” She went on to be come a regular face on the variety show circuit and established herself as an actress in movies and dozens of TV dramas. In 1994 she was named the year’s Best Supporting Actress at the Nikkan Sports Movie Awards. In July 1997 she married a businessman and they had a child in 2000, but the marriage ended in 2008.

Funky Monkey Wedding
Also recently married is DJ Chemical (29) of the J-pop trio Funky Monkey Babys, who broke the good news on his blog yesterday. His family run a Buddhist temple and he chose April 8, the birthday of Buddha, to tie the knot. His described his bride only as “a 30-year-old former musician.”

Voice Actor Aono Takeshi Dies

Aono Takeshi

He was the voice of Chibi Maruko’s doting grandfather, Tomozo (top right), among many other anime roles. Actor Aono Takeshi died at a Tokyo hospital on Monday afternoon of multiple brain hemorrhages following surgery. He was 75. He previously underwent heart bypass surgery in 2010.

Aono was a native of Hokkaido and his strong accent caused him to miss out on many TV roles when a young aspiring actor. After an acclaimed performance in a theatrical production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” in the early 1960s, he landed the lead role in a dubbed version of the U.S. western show “Bronco,” dubbing the voice of Ty Hardin. Over the years he made occasional appearances on screen, including in the 2001 NHK taiga historical drama series “Hojo Tokimune,” and he was chairman of the Gekidan Geikyou theatrical troupe. But his stock in trade was his many established roles as a, often voicing the roles of villains or old men. He regularly dubbed the voice of “Back to the Future” star Christopher Lloyd. His vast range of anime characters included Kamisama (Dragonball Z), Nurarihyon (Gegege no Kitaro) and Sanada Shiro (Uchuusenkan Yamato, bottom right). Until health problems forced him to step down from many roles in 2010, he was working on such popular animes as Naruto, One Piece and Gintama.

Things Get Ugly for Sacchan
Kobayashi SachikoEnka star Kobayashi Sachiko (58) yesterday made her first public appearance since the recent scandal concerning her management agency, performing as a guest at the 60th birthday celebration concert by singer/songwriter Sada Masashi (60) at the Saitama Super Arena. Kobayashi recently fired Sekine Yoshie, her long-time friend and president of Sachiko Promotions for more than 30 years. The decision came reportedly at the suggestion of her new husband – she married the CEO of a medical company (50) last November – who was angry about the lavish and wasteful expenses on Kobayashi’s often hugely extravagant stage costumes. The result looks like being an ugly legal battle that is currently dominating the entertainment news wide shows.
Related stories:
More Wedding Bells and Babies (Nov. 16, 2011)

RIP Yasuoka Rikiya

Yasuoka Rikiya

One of the most likeable “bad guys” of Japanese TV and movies has passed away. Actor Yasuoka Rikiya (photo right) died yesterday of heart failure at a Tokyo hospital. He was 65. He had a history of liver problems and was diagnosed with the rare and severe Guillain-Barré syndrome in June 2006. In August 2010, after being diagnosed with liver cancer, he received a partial liver transplant from his son Rikito (26, photo left), himself an aspiring actor. Rikito spoke yesterday about how he learned last December that his father’s cancer had reappeared. As is common practice in Japan, Rikiya was not told hat he had less than a year to live and dreamed of making a recovery and appearing on the big screen with his son someday. He started writing a blog in February and had been traveling with his son. The photo above was taken when they went drinking together for the first time. His last job was an interview for a women’s magazine at the end of March and last Friday, the day he was hospitalized, he had been scheduled to meet with publishers about plans for an autobiography.

Yasuoka started a rock band with friends while a high school student in 1963. A third dan in karate and 2nd dan in judo, he became a kickboxer in 1969. The following year he was recruited by actor Umemiya Tatsuo (74), star of the “Furyo Bancho” yakuza movie series, to play the supporting role of Apache in several of the movies. Yasuoka’s height and heavy build meant that he would forever be typecast in those kinds of roles. He certainly didn’t mind, adding to his own legend with catchphrases like “I love drink, women and fighting” and he was said to drink 20 beers and 4 bottles of whiskey a day. But he was able to show his lighter side, going very much against type as the character Hotateman (Clam Man) in the hugely popular 1980s comedy show “Oretachi Hyokinzoku.” His face may be familiar to western movie audiences through his supporting role in Itami Juzo’s 1985 classic “Tampopo” and Ridley Scott’s 1989 thriller “Black Rain.”