Hana Yori Dango (Boys over Flowers)

What can measure the popularity of manga series Hana Yori Dango written by Yoko Kamio in the early 1990s? The Hana Yori Dango franchise has a great number of popular merchandise. It has its own Japanese live action adaptation which made many faces in today’s entertainment industry very popular. Furthermore, it even has its own animated series which was released much earlier than the live action adaptation. In fact, it is one of the only Manga series that has been reproduced multiple times. Popular broadcasting stations all over Asia, particularly the most popular from Taiwan (A.K.A Meteor Garden) and South Korea (Boys over Flowers) had made their own renditions of the Hana Yori Dango franchise. Though the concept of their stories changed a little bit, the overall essence of the plot still exists. There is even a rumor of an American rendition for the said franchise.

The reason behind its worldwide popularity would be the irresistible and dreamy group called the F4. The story is set in an elite school for the children of prominent families where the F4 (a.k.a Flower Four) are the children of Japan’s most elite and the school’s richest donors. On top of the fact that these boys are super rich and popular, they also seem to have received all possible gifts from the heavens because of their handsome, gentleman-like looks. This may also be among the reasons why their group is very popular.

Domyouji from different renditions (top left – Anime, top right – Meteor Garden Taiwan, bottom left – Hana Yori Dango Japan, Bottom Right – Boys over Flowers Korea)

With their popularity and wealth comes a great deal of power which somewhat turned them into the Kings or Princes of the campus. They go through lengths to bully other students from the school, especially those they think that cross them. In fact, everyone was afraid of them. They were especially afraid of the leader of F4 and the son of the wealthiest – Domyouji Tsukasa. They seem to have perfected their rule over the campus until their worlds started tumbling when a feisty girl entered their school. For the F4, especially Domyouji, everything seems to feel right and wrong at the same time.

These characters seem to have gained popularity for all ages and gender because of their fantasy like lives. Everyone wants to be a son or daughter of a wealthy family and become second-generation heirs to large and powerful corporations. On top of that they are very attractive. Since this combination does not really happen in real life, it has somehow become a fantasy for many of the fans. Furthermore, many girls wish to be like the female lead role who is fierce and has caught the sweetest, most romantic and richest out of the F4. It is like a fairy tale come true – finding a prince in this modern world.

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The inspiring life of Hisako Nakamura

Hisako Nakamura is probably one of Japan’s most popular practicing Buddhist who has touched many lives through her works and her struggles. Many would think that no other person can be more influential than the great Buddha himself and many of his followers including the Dalai Lama. Unless people would understand the way Hisako Nakamura has lived, perhaps they could understand why she had become influential and inspiring for many Japanese.

Nakamura was born into a poor family in 1897 in Takayama city, Gifu prefecture in Japan. It is known, at the time, that the changes in temperature in this part of the country are very severe with their winters among the most aggressive out of all. Nakamura, at the young age of three, got frost bite on her feet and hands. At the time, her frostbites developed into idiopathic gangrene. Soon, her limbs were all amputated at the young age of four. Her survival in these ordeals is the most amazing because at the time there were no anaesthetics and for a child of four to survive amputation without it is truly a proof of her with and courage.

Sewing without hands

 

 

The physical pain through her sickness was not the only thing that she had to endure. The first of this would be the loss of their father who died from over fatigue and over work just to collect enough money for her medical expenses. Furthermore, as she was growing up she was continuously being taunted by other children in the village calling her an animal due to her disability. Because of this, she was determined to prove to them that she was a normal human being – training herself to eat using chopsticks without her hands. Seeing that she was successful in doing so, her mother was determined to teach her how to live a normal life and be productive despite what she went through. So, she learned how to do calligraphy, sew clothes, do household chores despite the lack of both arms and legs.

She worked for the circus for most of her life showing off to the audiences that even a woman who lost four limbs will still be able to perform normal tasks. Because of her work she was able to travel and meet a number of people who introduced her to the true way of life. It was when she met Hellen Keller that she was truly awakened to buddhism. She strove to become a beautiful lotus flower, knowing that it will not become what it is without the muddy water it lives in. She realized that her disability and all that she went through in life were not hardships but blessings for her to attain her true goal of being a lotus flower.

image by nakamura-hisako.co.jp

Child Star: Mana Ashida

At such a young age, Mana Ashida may be one of the most intelligent and talented actresses of her generation. For the entire length of her four year career, she has received prominent roles for popular films in both the local and international film industry. Not only that, she also has received a number of awards before the age of 10. In fact, she is one of the most popular Japanese actresses of all time and the highest paid child actor in the country.

Mana Ashida is one of the most popular child stars in all of Japanese entertainment. She has a career in acting, voice acting, singing and even hosting. Mana-chan as many of her fans, family and colleagues call her was born on 2004 and started a career in acting at the young age of 6. When she was younger her parents immediately found that she has a number of talents, shown for her love of singing and dancing. Pretty soon, she started learning how to perform roles.  Her first appearance was in the ABC Short Movie 2 where many experts of the industry complimented her on her talents. Soon, she gained the lead starring role in the television drama Mother. Soon she also starred in the drama Sayonara Bokutachi no Youchien which definitely launched her career. In all of Japanese drama history, she was the youngest to ever gain a leading role. As impressive as it is, she already set a record just at the beginning of her acting career.

Young and darling Mana Ashida

Now that she is an established actress that every fan loves, she started exploring newer avenues to show her talents. In 2011, she sang the song “Maru Maru Mori Mori” with her co-actor Fuku Suzuki. This song was the theme song for a television drama called Marumo no Okite and it became an instant hit! At the same year, she has also started a career in variety show hosting because of her great ability to share her knowledge and her talent. During her spare time, she reads a significant number of books making her much more intelligent than her age.

Despite all of that, it is apparent that she is only reaching the peak of her career. In 2012, she voiced the female lead character in a live action adaptation of the Magic Tree House Series. She also sang the theme song of the series Jewelpet Kira Deco.  She ended the year with a bang when she had her first solo concert at the Curian Shinagawa General Citizen Hall in Tokyo. By 2013, she also debuted in Hollywood by playing the role of young Mori Mako in the film Pacific Rim. 

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The Legacy of Yoshiko Yamaguchi

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One of the most famous Japanese stars, Yoshiko Yamaguchi, passed away this month. Known worldwide as Shirley Yamaguchi, Yoshiko was, as many superstars of the past, an accomplished film actress, stage actress, and singer.

Born in 1920 in Manchuria, Yoshiko’s parents were among the Japanese colonial elite. It was in Manchuria that she first gained fame, becoming internationally recognized only after the war. Her most notable appearances were in Akira Kurosawa’s Scandal in 1950, and as lead on a short-lived Broadway musical. She was married to Osamu Noguchi, an acclaimed Japanese-American sculptor.

shirley02

But Yoshiko’s legacy goes far beyond her work on the silver screen. After leaving show-business, she entered politics as a member of the Japanese Diet, representing the Liberal Democratic party.

When she left politics, she continued to help people, especially women, by working with the Asian Women’s Fund, serving as Vice President in the organization that provided atonement for the Japanese comfort women of the war.

Yoshiko Yamaguchi also wrote an autobiography, My Life as Li Xianglan which includes an account of her early life in Manchuria living as a Chinese national. She was 94 when she passed away.

Mao Asada is Japan’s Ice Queen

The title of Ice queen seems cold and heartless but that is not who Mao Asada is. She was nicknamed the Ice Queen because she is Japan’s Number One figure skater. Her gracefulness in the rink, her smooth twirls and triple axels have amazed both local and international fans.

It was her dream to become a competitive figure skater and even the Ice Queen did not get purely natural talents to reach her dream. She started studying classical ballet at the young age of three where she learned pretty much all her graceful movements and dances. In 1995, she switched from ballet to skating because she seems to be much comfortable on the rink than on a stage. Her first competition was in 2002 when she joined the novice national championships in Japan. As expected, she won first place. From her impressive win, she was invited to compete at the junior championships but only landed 4th. Her win in the 4th place earned her another invitation but this time in the senior national championships. In this competition, she placed 7th.

In her career which has been going on for more than 15 years, she has been to international competitions winning gold. She has been a three time World Champion winning spots in the 2008, 2010 and 2014 competitions. She also gained four-time Grand Prix Final champion in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2014. She was the 2005 World Junior Champion and Six-time Japanese National Champion making her one of the most highly recognized athletes in all of Japan.

In that 15 years as well, she had been setting records all over the world. She was the first junior girl to land the triple axel in the 2004-2005 Junior Grand prix Final. She was 15 at the time and was already considered as one of the most prominent figure skaters in the world. Her next goal was to win medals in the Winter Olympics. Sadly, she was 87 days too young to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics and it was only years later that she would be able to fulfil her dreams.

In the 2010 Winter Olympics, she was closely rivalled to Gold Medalist Kim Yuna from Korea, gaining only a silver medal. She wanted to make a great come back in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games but only placing 6th overall. However, she broke the world record for the short program scoring 78.66 in the World Championship. Because of this, she won her third world title with a score of 216.69. Sadly, she took a break from all the pressure and limelight after this World title.

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Why many dislike Gouriki Ayame

Anyone entering the showbiz industry must understand that not everyone will be fully loved. In one way or another, there will always be a group of fans that will be hating and bashing the celebrity for a variety of reasons. Gouriki Ayame is a Japanese actress and fashion model who debuted in 2007 for a role in the TV drama ChocoMimi. Ever since her debut, she has been receiving both good and bad comments from the fans. Some of them may be reasonable but the others are just pretty unusual.

One of the probable and most understandable reasons why she is most hated is the fact that she has played a number of main female roles for live action adaptations of popular anime and manga for the past few years. According to the opinion of many journalists, fans are appalled by the idea that she has played multiple live action roles. This is based on the idea that many fans have a fantasy of who they wish to be the actors if ever their favourite manga would be turned into a live action adaptation. If their fantasies and visualizations of the adaptations don’t involve her, then there is definitely some sense of disappointment. Furthermore, she is most disliked because many of the fans claim that she does not give enough life to the characters that she play and eventually “ruin” the essence of the adaptation. This, again, is another source of disappointment. However, the fact that she is awarded so many roles for adaptations may be a sign of her underrated talent. She won’t land big roles if she is not in any way talented.

Ayame playing main role for adaptation of Biblia

Many people actually comment (sadly some do so very rudely) at her physical appearance. This is a great source of conflict among the fans for some think that she is beautiful, while others don’t. The way some fans perceive her appearance may be affected again by their disappointment towards her. Since they already dislike her, she will not be in appealing to the disappointed fans. But this is actually disproven when she was awarded with “Japan’s Most Beautiful profile” award.

Since many fans see her in so many movies and shows, as well as seeing her in many advertisements and commercials, for some fans the disappointment will be difficult to forget. It is difficult to say whether what they say about her are true or not since everyone looks at things differently; however, despite this she stays strong and positive where she does not let the hate comments get to her.

Take the World by Storm, Arashi

Over the past decade, Asian boy bands have been bouncing back to popularity since the time of Backstreet Boys.  These men belong to Japanese Pop idol groups who perform a wide range of music genres. Interestingly enough, the Japanese boy band Arashi landed the first spot in the Top 10 Asian Boy Bands. Who are they and what made them so popular? The name Arashi directly translates to Storm and it is very appropriate because they took the Japanese fans by storm! The targeted marketing thrust of Johnny’s Entertainment was to “Create a storm throughout the world” with the use of their breath taking talents.

This idol group was formed under Johnny’s Entertainment Talent Agency in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1999. They are consisted of five members namely: Aiba Masaki, Matsumoto Jun, Ninomiya Kazunari, Ohno Satoshi and Sakurai Sho. Their debut single of the same name gained the top spot in the Oricon Weekly chart and sold over half a million copy. Their next single, which was released in 2000 again debuted in the number one spot. In only their first official year in the industry they already made two number one singles and even had their first official concert Typhoon Generation.

Sadly, from 2002 to about 2005, the group suffered declining sales. Starting from the top of the charts, they dropped numbers to lower rankings. It was a dry spell that continued for almost three years. The good thing was that in the brink of their break up, they started looking for opportunities to increase the sales of their album. They did so by daringly captivating the international scene. It was in 2006 when they started releasing their music outside of Japan. Soon fans from Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Thailand were listening to their album. This move proved to be a promising success when the first 10,000 copies of their album were sold out just on the first day in South Korea.

Seizing the opportunity, they started holding concerts all over Asia with their first in Taipei, Taiwan. The most impressive thing about their international fame was that because of the more than one thousand Korean fans who gathered at the Incheon International Airport during their Jet Storm tour, more concerts were immediately decided. Their concert tickets were amazingly sold out within an hour. Out of these, there are about 150,000 who booked tickets online. Now that they have been in the industry for almost 15 years, they continue to touch the hearts and souls of their fans through their music.

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First Same Sex Marriage in Tokyo Disneyland

Marriage is a changing institution. Over the past decade there had been significant changes to the way people look at getting married. There has been the addition of a great number of people who get married at different churches due to the proliferation of the new acceptance to changes in religion. The next thing that happened was the legalization of divorce which has significantly changed the statistics of the population of married couples in Japan.  The newest addition to the change in the institution of marriage is the consistent lobbying of LGBT regarding their rights towards marriage. Almost all religions and societies in Japan are open about LGBT; however, not that many of them are quite ready to legalize same sex marriage yet.

The couple with Minnie and Mickey

Though many nations in the west started legalizing same sex marriage of the past few years, Japan has remained silent regarding the matter. This is the reason why it was a surprise when social media started posting about the same-sex couple who got married in Tokyo Disney land in 2013. The first question in everybody’s mind was “Has Japan finally legalized same sex marriage?” Sadly, the answer to this would be no.

Koyuki Higashi was married to her partner Hiroko and was joined by their family and friends as they hold a ceremony in the Cinderella Caste at Tokyo Disneyland. Higashi is a stage actress and was a popular LGBT rights activist. According to her statement, though the ceremony that they held meant a great deal to the couple, the Japanese government does not recognize it as a legal union because there such kinds of marriage ceremonies do not have any legal standing in Japan. They may choose to be together and live together as a married couple, but there are no legal protection and recognition for this. Same Sex marriage is not stated in the Japanese Law on Marriage. This means that in all their documents, they would still be considered as Single.

Interestingly enough, they were the first Japanese same sex couple who ever dared to make their marriage public. Furthermore, they are also the first lesbian couple who ever got married in Tokyo Disneyland.

In a way, it is encouraging that such a conservative country such as Japan has recognition towards homosexuality. In fact, there are some local governments that ban discrimination in the work place regarding this. Sadly, not all the Japanese have the same sentiment and there is still a great taboo regarding homosexuality. All in all, what Higashi and her partner did was an encouraging move towards the recognition of same sex relationships in Japan.

image by the huffington post

First Robot Priest

The continuous development of robots in Japan has been gaining wide attention. The world has been influenced by a great number of robots replacing people in jobs like bank tellers, cooks, and cleaners. In fact, one other popular humanoid robot which is used in commercial businesses would be robots made by Kokoro; the robot works as a receptionist and can answer many of tourists’ questions. However, one of the most intriguing robot infused scenario involves the first wedding in Japan which was ministered by a Robot priest. A couple in Japan in 2010 was married by a robot priest called the “i-fairy”. It is the world’s first robot conducted wedding ceremony where it wed a Tokyo couple, Tomohiro Shibata and Satoko Inoue.

Many religious ministers were appalled by the idea of a robot replacing them in their religious duties questioning the fact that robots have no sympathetic nor empathetic emotions towards such an emotional and sacred event such as a wedding. They may have the technical know-how of how wedding goes, but not the true abilities of real human religious ministers. One popular article on the internet shows a conversation between the popular Cleverbot and a religious minister.

Before everybody starts hating on the couple and the robot’s makers for apparently changing the dynamics of marriage, readers must understand that both Tomohiro and Satoko work in the robotic industry and take these robots as very important characters in both their lives and careers. Owing a debt of gratitude towards the artificial intelligence, they decided to repay their debt by having one of these robots marry them. The couple claims that the robots are the reason they met each other. Both of them believe that sooner or later, robots would become more integrated in the lives of people. Satoko Inoue and Tomohiro Shibata works for Kokoro Ltd and the I-fairy is one their many products.

Robot ministered wedding

I-fairy is not intended to become a priest and was only re-programmed to be able to wed Satoko and Tomohiro on that fateful day. This kind of robot was actually intended as an machine assistance to help visitors and tourists on trips and the like. The Japanese actually expects that the industry would expand in the coming years and continuously become an integral part of the people’s lives. This is especially true since Japan is one of the world’s fastest aging societies. Experts are truly doing what they can so that robots will be taking on jobs that the dwindling number of young people cannot fill-in.

image by the guardian

Ken Watanabe, A Visit to Hollywood

Ken Watanabe is a popular Japanese actor who has made his name in Hollywood. He was born Kensaku Watanabe in 1959 in Niigata Prefecture in Japan. Both of his parents were teachers where his mother was a teacher of general education and his dad a teacher of calligraphy. During his young life, he was able to travel to different places in Japan making him more open to the lives and stories of other people.

Acting was actually not his first choice. In fact, he wanted to enter Musashino Academia Musicae in Tokyo after he graduated from high school. There are two hindrances to his musical dream. First, he never received any formal education for music and second, the sickness of his father made it difficult to find enough money for his tuition in such a prestigious school.  Instead of a career in music he focused on another possible alternative for his talents – acting. At the same time when he realized that he can’t pursue his dreams as a conservator, he began his acting career by joining a Tokyo-based theatre troupe. This is where he got his first big break when he was cast as the hero (main lead) in the play Shimodani Mannencho Monogatari. This role can either make or break his career, with so many critics and experts watching. But, he did not fail to impress and actually gained many popular and positive reviews. Years later in 1982, with his continuously progressing career in theatrical acting, he landed his first TV appearance in Unknown Rebellion. Soon, he also gained his first samurai role in Mibu no koiuta. Just two years in the Television screen, he already made his first feature-film with MacArthur’s children.

Ken Watanabe

It was in 2003 when he started appearing to the Western audiences when he was cast in the film The Last Samurai. Film producer Yoko Narahashi was impressed with his talents that he was immediately cast for the role. In fact, his acting was so extraordinary that he earned an Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor. This is a proof of how truly talented he is when he landed a nomination for a prestigious award winning body for his first year in Hollywood.

He immediately rose to fame appearing in popular films such as Memoirs of a Geisha, Batman Begins, Inception, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Godzilla and many more. As his influence gained popular attention, he also gained advertisements for Yakult, NTT DoCoMo and American express. He was even featured in the 50 Most Beautiful People of People Magazine in 2004.

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