Namie Amuro

Born on September 20, 1977 in Naja, Okinawa, Japan, Namie Amura is not only known in the Entertainment industry for being a Japanese R&B singer and former actress, but also, she is a fashion icon. She is indeed one versatile artist. Before even talking about her success stories and career life, let us first talk about her personal life and know her better. In this way, we would know who and what inspired her to become an artist and strive to become who she is now.

Amuro, unfortunately, didn’t grow up with a complete family behind her. She was raised solely by her mother Emiko Taira. Amuro didn’t get to spend much time with her father since she was just 4 years old when her parents decided to divorce. Being alone and responsible to raising her child, Taira ventured into various types of work just to be able to provide for her three children. She was once a nursery school employee and a bar hostess. We can say that her family’s situation led her to pursuing a career that she wasn’t totally expecting. She was just 12 years old when she was discovered. She was, at that time, visiting her friend and Masauki Makino, a talent scout, thought that she can really sing. This talent scout wasn’t just a normal employee in an agency; Makino was actually the owner of Okinawa Actors School, which was a known performing arts school. Being discovered by the owner, Amura decided to enroll in the school. Two years passed and she became part of the Super Monkey’s, an idol group that consists of five other girl members.

Admittedly, the success of the group wasn’t instant. It was rather slow that resulted to the need of changing the group’s name. Amuro’s name was incorporated mainly because it was during that time that she was at her peak of popularity. Super Monkey’s then became known as the “Namie Amuro with Super Monkey’s”. Indeed, this helped the group in their aim of getting the trust of the public. Though she was the main talent of the group, Amuro still participated and appeared in various television dramas and small films.

In 1997, Amuro announced her done marriage with Masaharu Maruyama, member of the band TRF. The public was even more surprised because she was, back then, three months pregnant. This great change in Amuro’s life didn’t stop her from continuing her career. Not to mention, before the year ended, she won the Grand Pix Award of the Japan Records Awards again for her first single “Can You Celebrate?”.

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The Kabuki

A Japanese dance-drama, Kabuki is probably one of the most well-known forms of entertainment in the country. If we simply hear people talking about it, the first two things that will come into our minds would be the involved drama and nevertheless, the elaborate make-up of the performers. If you happen to be new to hearing this, then don’t confuse yourself with the various distinctions given to it. At times, it is known to be “the art of singing and dancing”. Sometimes, it is only remembered when the skill “kanji” is mentioned. Kanji, as stated, is the skill that always goes with the idea of kabuki theatre. It is the skill that performers are known for, skills that involve singing and dancing.

Kabuki: Depicting a land of contrast and contradiction

There is just so much history when we talk about Kabuki. With this, I would just like to focus on its history that falls after the Meiji Period. It was starting 1868 that massive cultural changes occurred in the country. There is the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, samurai class elimination, and Japan’s relation to west. This relation was believed to have greatly contributed to the re-emergence of Kabuki. This relation as well marks the start of the increase in reputation of this theater among upper classes, leading to it being able to touch modern tastes.

Unfortunately though, Kabuki was briefly banned after World War II. It was in 1947 that the ban was cancelled. Today, Kabuki is still very much popular because of how it effectively portrays the beauty of Japanese drama. Nonetheless, the popularity of this theater as well led to it appearing even in anime and other works of Japanese popular culture.

Now, to better understand the Kabuki Theater, it is a must to first familiarize ourselves with the three main categories namely jidai-mono, sewa-mono, and shosagoto. Jidaimono or history plays are known for how it exhibits major events in Japanese history. This category focuses on stories of the pre-Sengoku period. On the other hand, Sewamono is more of a domestic theme. It is focused on depicting post-Sengoku stories. Laslty, Shosagoto involves dance pieces. With all these being known, surely, every taste is satisfied through the Kabuki Theater. Remember though that most often than not, these plays usually last an entire day. At times, plays are shorter to allow sequencing, making it more interesting for the audience. I’m quite sure that you will enjoy watching Kabuki, as this will for sure make you more interested in Japan’s history and culture.

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Oda Yuji

Oda Yuji was born in 1967 in Kanagawa Prefecture. Oda was undeniable athletic and was simply assured of a promising future in sports. Unfortunately, he had this terrible knee injury that left him to do one thing – reconsider his ambitions. Just like anyone who is somewhat sure of what he wants, it was definitely hard to accept that at one instant, he had no choice but to stop and start over again. Time, we may say, is good to him, as it wasn’t that difficult for him to pursue an acting career.

He started by entering a drama school where he learned the basics. In 1987, he made his first debut movie Boom Boom Boom where he played a role of a school dropout. In 1991, he was fortunate to have given his lead role in smash TV romantic comedy Tokyo Love Story. At that time, this movie was a hit and was simply a great opportunity for him, leading him to becoming an overnight star. There are more to the list of movie and it was during the 90s that Oda was given his biggest roles. He starred in various renzoku dorama or drama series such as Okanae ga nai and Mahriu no Tsuki. In 1997, he was given a role in Odoru Daisosasen, a TV cop comedy-drama, which surprisingly was a smash hit. The following year, a spinoff movie of the same name was released and became a box-office hit.

Aside from being a renowned actor, Oda was as well wanted in various TV commercials. One of his most popular appearances would be in DoCoMo mobile phone company where he became the pitchman. Also, he pursued singing for most of his career even if he wasn’t really smooth in carrying a tune well. More to his movie/acting career would be his revival movie in 2003. The movie was a sequel of his box office movie and was even better than the original. It was even considered to be Japan’s all-time-box-office smashes mainly because of its star-studded cast and the hype that was given for its release. In 2004, Oda again was given another big role. He announced that he will soon star another drama series since Tokyo Love Story.

The success of Oda was undeniable and for his case, overwhelming. He is fortunate that even if we all know that his passion is for sports, he was still able to be good in something else. His efforts and willingness surely led him to becoming the man that he is now.

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Hikaru Utada

Born on January 19, 1983, Hikaru Utada is a known Japanese American singer, songwriter, arranger, and even producer. We can say that the love for music was innate for this very talented artist, as his parents were as well active in the industry. He is the only child of Teruzane Utada, a record producer, and enka singer Junko Utada, known to for her stage name Keiko Fuji. What makes their family’s relationship more interesting is that Hiraku and her mother used to do recordings together. They even released songs under the band U3, also known as Utada 3.

It was only in 1996 that Hikaru was given her first ever solo project entitled “I’ll be Stronger”. Not only that this was her first project, but also, what makes it more fulfilling for her is that she personally wrote the song. Though, this song wasn’t really known to be made by her and was rather released under the name “Cubic U”. Not to confuse though, this name is just a mathematical reference to her, as she is known to be the third Utada “power”, a pseudonym given to her when she was just starting in the business. Hikaru became known as Cubic U. Holding on to the name, she released her debut single entitled “Close to You”, a cover of The Carpenters’ song. Not long after, she was then given the chance to take another step in her career leading to the release of her debut album “Precious”.

The success story of Utada is something that every artist hopes to experience and achieve. More to her personal life would be her married life. On September 7, 2002, she decided to settle down and marry Kazuaki Kiriya, a photographer and film director. The relationship of these two wasn’t at all instant. Kiriya has been Utada’s senior for almost fifteen years and even directed some of her music videos. Their marriage was something that the public felt so happy about. Unfortunately, the hoped happy ending turned to a depressing divorce. On March 2, 2007, the couple announced the divorce and explained that the reasons behind the separation are personal changes, difference in viewpoints, and lack of communication because of their busy schedules. A lot has happened to the lives of these two public figures. Recently, just last February, Utada announced that she is again engaged and will soon get married.  Now for sure, everyone is again hoping for a happy ending!

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Sawajiri Erika

An active model and singer, Erika Sawajiri was born on April 8, 1986. Aside from being a notified singer, she was also an actress and became first known when she appeared in “1 Litre of Tears”, a nonfiction Japanese Television drama. In this show, she played a role of a girl who is suffering from spinocerebellar degeneration or SCD, an intractable disease. More to her personal life would be her family life. Youngest of three children, Erika is a daughter of a Japanese father and an Algerian-born French mother of Berber extraction. Erika was highly interested in horseback riding even as a child mainly because she was exposed to such activity, as her father owned sixteen racehorses.

Erika was just 9 years old when her father disappeared for no given reason at all. When she was in her third year in junior high school, her father returned but unfortunately died from cancer, also in the same year. Another unfortunate event would be her second eldest brother’s death when she was just in her first year in high school. These two events, we may say, greatly changed the way she worked and considered things presented. Despite all those, Erika strived and became known for her undeniable talents.

We all know that stardom is never permanent and sure. Erika’s popularity suddenly changed when a controversy was made known to the public. On September 29, 2007, she was talked about due to her terse manner of answering reporters’ questions. She was greatly criticized by the Japanese press, making her realize that she needed to apologize to clear herself out and nonetheless, save her career. There were more to the controversies that Erika faced. No doubt, these controversies slowly resulted to her declining popularity. In simple terms, her haters increased in number and for a long time, she was labeled as arrogant, disrespectful, and impolite. It is sad that after all her hard work, Erika, at one instant, had to go through all those – just goes to show that being a public figure goes with knowing how to hide those unlovable parts of yourself to be accepted and loved.

Indeed, Erika was both famous and infamous. Though whatever it is, she still managed to move on and still found someone to love her despite that bad reputation and even after being given the distinction “Most Hated Japanese Actress”. She was married to Tsuyoshi Takashiro, a media creator, on January 20, 2009. Their marriage was registered on an auspicious day which could probably explain why their relationship stays strong. Well, after all, she still deserves to be happy!

Images by jkfilmjapan in WordPress and jdorama

The Pachinko

They say that gambling can really get addicting. This is one thing that Japan didn’t forget to consider, even taking it to the next level. How did they do it? Well, through the so-called Pachinko. Aside from being an obvious gambling device, it is as well a form of recreational arcade game, which actually makes it more inclining to use. If you are aware of the vertical pinball machine, then the Pachinko will not be at all new to your eyes. It looks similar to it but what makes is different is that it doesn’t have flippers and uses small balls.

Pachinko Machine

How does it work? The player will just need to fire the balls into the machine. These balls then cascade down reaching certain locations. These balls can be captured by the forest of pins or could actually just trigger the release of more balls. The game’s aim is to capture as many balls as possible. The good side is that these balls correspond to prizes. Who doesn’t look forward to prizes, right?

Pachinko parlor

Now, we all know that prizes make games more interesting. With this, let’s talk more about the involved prizes! Winnings, in this game, are in the form of balls. Throughout the game, the players are able to capture balls and aim to get as many as they can. Once they feel that they’ve captured enough, I am sure that they wouldn’t want anything else but to get the prizes that they deserve. How can one claim the prizes? The player simply needs to call a parlor staff using the call button found at the top of their station. The player will then surrender their obtained balls to the parlor staff which the staff will then bring to an automated counter. The counter will then identify the number of balls the player won and even the number of machines they used. The staff will then hand a voucher or card to the player; this stores the number of balls obtained by the player. The player can then claim the prizes by simply exchanging the voucher/card at the parlor’s exchange center. There is a wide variety of prizes, from as simple as pens and cigarette lighters, to electronics and bicycles. Luckily though, if you have won so many balls, you might actually be given a special prize. What is this? The best prize ever – money! 400 balls correspond to 1500 yen and this is usually offered outside the parlor.

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The Life of Aska

Shigeaki Miyazaki, more popularly known as Aska, was born on February 24, 1958 in Ono. This Japanese singer-songwriter is known for his numerous contributions in the Music industry. He was actually best known for his involvement in the very popular music duo Chage and Aska. Being a composer, he was simply idolized by many. He made songs hit the top of the charts. Some of these principal hit songs are “Morning Moon”, “Love Song”, “Say Yes”, and “Meguriai”. His talent in composing was inevitable and this skill was simply, we may say, a big plus to his career. Not to mention, his released singles were written by him, well half of the number. Indeed, he was a singer but we can say that he is more successful as a writer. More to his great works were evident in the late 1980s when he wrote songs for Hikaru Genji.

When 1987 came, he started to begin his solo career. Indeed, he was successful. Let’s set aside his writing/composing career and talk about his, nevertheless, successful singing career. He was known for his song “Hajimari wa Itsumo Ame” or in English, “The Start is Always Rain”. This song, in fact, reached no.2 on Oricon and reached over 1,160,000 sold copies; surely, the support given to this song and to him were undeniable and overwhelming.

More to his singles are My Mr. Lonely Heart in 1987, Midnight 2 Call in 1988, Hajimari wa Itsumo Ame in 1991, Seiten o Homerunara Yugure o Mate in 1995, Every Day of Your Life and ID in 1997, Hana wa Saitaka in 1998, and Anataga Nakukotowanai in 2009. Some of his studio albums are Scene in 1988, Scene II in 1991, Never End in 1995, Scene III in 2005, and Kimi no Shiranai Kimi no Uta in 2010. He as well has carious compilation albums which include Aska the Best in 1999, Scene I & II in 2005, and Scene of Scene: Selected 6 Songs from Scene I,II,III in 2006.

Unfortunately though, his fame didn’t end well. Aska was arrested for possessing illegal stimulant drugs in his apartment, though Aska denied the news and charges. We can say that Aska denied that he is a drug addict but still there are those that hoped that such news didn’t come out; his popularity was in no doubt affected. Nothing changes; his contributions in the Music industry, especially his contributions to the career of other artists, will always be remembered.

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Takakura Ken

Oda Goichi, more popularly known as Takakura or “tough one”, has been an actor since 1955. First working with the Toei company at age 24, his first role was a salaryman and gangster. It was timing that he spent the times growing up in Kitakyushi in Fukuoka which was also the time that he was starting his career in the entertainment industry. What made things easier for him is that during those times, movies about the underworld were booming. Since then, he became evident in films. Various roles were given to him and still, he was able to make people see that acting is something natural for him. Indeed, he was fortunate to have such talent and we can say that he was assured of a good future. Nevertheless, he found the need of finishing his education; it was surely admirable of him to still see the purpose of it even if stardom was enough to keep him going. Unlike his fellow 60s yakuza star Tsuruta Koji, Takakura graduated from Meiji University.

Aside from being studious, Takakura never failed that part of him that was driven to work and be of purpose. Aside from graduating in a prestigious university, he was as well a virtual teetotaller. We can say that his experiences back when he wasn’t in the industry formed him to becoming really natural in acting. His perseverance and commitment, we may say, made him successfully portray his more often than not violent roles.

If you take time considering the span present between his starting year and the year when he left his first handler/company, you will see that he was definitely assured of a great fortune, having been able to appear in over 180 films. These appearances, take note, often involve the most popular yakuza movie series; he was in demand and this is something we are sure of. Obviously, in this over a hundred movies that he appeared in, he was given varying roles. He had the chance of playing a baseball manager role, a station master, a cop, etc. It was quite obvious as well that his image was somewhat maintained in all his roles mainly because most often than not, he played this role that is aggressive and at times, requires him to do bad things but always for a good reason. The trust given to him and the efforts exerted just to keep that good image made him known for this kind of respected father-figure. This figure made him wanted simply because it is this kind of father that Japan finds lacking today.

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Hatsune Miku

Developed by Crypton Future Media, Hatsune Miku, sometimes referred as Miku Hatsune, is humanoid persona voiced by a singing synthesizer application. With the use of Yamaha’s Vocaloid 2 and 3, Saki Fujita’s vocal samples were taken and controlled at a pleasing pitch and tone. Note that Saki Fujita is a known voice actress in Japan. What happens after all samples are obtained? These are then contained in a single phonic which would then create full lyrics and phrases. The synthesizer engine is responsible for the altering of the samples’ pitches with the help of the keyboard style instrument located within the two involved Vocaloid programs.

Standard Miku illustrated by KEI

Hatsune Miku, as stated, was developed by Yamaha, though the marketing aspect was not entirely made possible by them. The marketing of the product was left to the studio that created the Vocaloid itself. This strategy didn’t really entirely removed Yamaha out of the picture because the company still maintained that degree of promotional efforts, making marketing more effective. As for sales, it was initially high, so high that Crypton could not satisfy the demand. The success of this, we may say, pop star technology was just overwhelming. In fact, 3000 sales reservations were made only in the first 12 days of sales. How amazing is this, right?

The success of the device and the undeniable support given to this great invention led to it being developed in 2010. The Hatsune Miku Append was added to Miku. This made the concept much more interesting as it contained a package of six different tones namely soft, sweet, dark or mature, vivid or cheerful, solid or loud, and light or innocent.   3d animations then followed through the developed program MikuMikuDance. This individual/freeware software program resulted to the boom of fan-made and derivative characters that definitely made its existence more high-tech and nonetheless, interesting.

To date, Miku’s popularity remains and is still seen in various anime shows. Miku is in fact part of the manga series where Hatsune is able to explore many possibilities and venture in numerous adventures. Surely, Miku is one invention that will remain wanted and nonetheless, will continuously be developed to make its existence more applicable to the changing interest of people and even culture.

Image by Vocaloid

Bunraku: The Best Kind of Puppetry

Are you a fan of Puppet Theater? Then you missed a lot if you haven’t witnessed Bunraku in Japan. Bunraku is considered to be the most developed and popular puppetry in the world. The rise of this kind of theater is evident mainly through the difference in the way it is presented. Unlike the puppetry show that exhibits Pinnochio, this doesn’t involve the usage of strings or just like those in the early days where puppeteers were hidden behind a curtain. Bunraki involves larger puppets, half the size of a normal person. Who operates the show? Well, there are three puppeteers which usually focus on the main characters involved.

We often think that puppet theater or shows are made primarily to entertain the young ones. In Japan, the purpose goes beyond simply entertaining the kids, as these usually involve culture and history, more specifically those that deal with the conflict present between social obligations and human emotions. These two are best presented through the Japanese theme of giri and nunjo.

Puppet plays are not merely just products of the great minds of the Japanese but also is believed to depict a great part of the country’s history and culture. As early as the 10th century, puppet shows are being observed in the country. Entertainers from Awaji Island present plays in various cities, most often in Osaka and Kyoto. It was during the Edo Period that Bunraki became known. It is still known until today as a show that combines puppetry, joruri, and musical accompaniment, which are all precisely executed by the three-stringed shamisen.

A scene from a Bunraku puppet theatre play

The Japanese found such kind of theater really entertaining which resulted to it being known until now. It was since the Meiji Period that the support given to this entertainment became overwhelming. It is continuously gaining popularity. Bunraki operated continuously through the funds coming from the sponsorship the government and the revenue from both the National Theater in Tokyo and Osaka’s National Bunraku Theater.

National Bunraku Theater

It was in 1966 that the National Theater opened and became the first and permanent home of Bunraku, reaching to more than 150 years now. It is unfortunate though that just like any success story, there will always be inevitable problems. As the popularity of Bunraki reaches its peak, there seems to be a shortage on craftsmen who create the puppets. What makes things worst is that there is an evident difficulty in finding replacements for these craftsmen mainly because today’s generation doesn’t find the idea appealing.

Images by ifiimages and architravel