Category Archives: People in Japan

Famous people related to Japan, past and present.

Prince Katsura, cousin of Emperor Akihito, dead at 66

Prince Katsura, a cousin of Emperor Akihito, died of acute heart failure at a Tokyo hospital at 10:55 a.m. Sunday, the Imperial Household Agency said. He was 66.

The prince was taken to the University of Tokyo Hospital in a critical condition earlier in the day, the agency said.
He has been in and out of hospital in recent years due to illnesses such as blood poisoning and possible infectious diseases since suffering an acute subdural hematoma, a condition in which blood gathers around or inside the brain, in 1988.

Jane Austen was Japanese?

We all react differently to Jane Austen’s books: some of us love them, obsess, and some think she just wrote really unrealistic love stories. Japan, however, developed a unique relationship with the famous writer. Unlike her fellow countrymen’s ambivalence about her talents, Austen was welcomed during the early Meiji Restoration period. Early Japanese scholars and authors believed Austen depicted her works so accurately that she must had been highly regarded in her time. Unbeknownst to them was the fact that Austen was largely unrecognized as a writer during her life; it was not until 1817 that her works amassed a larger readership building the path for what would later be dubbed Austenmania.

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Japan was partially closed off under the Shogun rule until 1868 when it became open to Westerners again. Besides making its ports accessible, Japanese officials decided that the country needed to integrate Western ideas, customs, and business models. The campaign was meant to foster creativity and revive the country’s culture that had not contributed to the world ever since it exiled foreigners. Japan even expunged all foreign influence by relocating any Non-Japanese to Dejima, a 130-acre artificial island built in 1634 in Nagasaki. It sounds unlikely that Japanese during the Meiji restoration would even undertake translating or reading Austen’s works; after all, her focus centers on marriages, family dynamics, and social constrictions. How could the newly engaged Japan connect with these scenarios? The time frame between Jane Austen’s death in 1817 to Japan reopening its ports in 1868 is also another point that potentially could had stilted her fame from germinating as her works could had been lost, forgotten, or never been introduced to any eminent university in Japan.

Japanese students in Tokyo University were presented works by Flaubert and Zola and the social and existential ideas of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky that by the time Lafcadio Hearn, an early English literature professor at Tokyo University in 1896, gave lectures on Jane Austen’s “genius” Japanese students resisted him. They thought Austen works were outdated, trivial. Hearn also had his own reservations about introducing the Pride & Prejudice author to Japan, voicing: “I am not sure whether you [the Japanese] could like Austen or not. . . [T]he kind of life described, the suffering and the follies described, would probably seem very strange to most of you.” Hearn was obvious in signaling out that Japanese readers would not understand the nuances around marriages, proposals, and courtships because that was not the culture they followed. Austen’s descrition can muzzle any audience from understanding what is important because some relative background about the time period is needed to notice undertoned jokes. For example, in Emma, Jane Fairfax (the impoverished Miss Bates’s niece whom Emma dislikes) and her aunts arrive after the other guests have dined because they are impoverished gentry, but Emma can dine first as she is gentry. In other words, Emma is the cool lead in the lunch table and no one else can sit until she sits down. Not knowing the social customs, however, did not prevent Japanese readers from engaging with Austen’s wit.

Hearn campaigned for Jane Austen’s canonization in Japan, but it was Natsume Sōseki’s (夏目漱石) that established Japan’s love for her works. Sōseki had a tremendous impact on Japanese culture that he was honored by being printed on Japan’s currency until 2004. Sōseki considered Austen’s writing superior that of any “advanced writer,” declaring she captured reality’s undertone beauty. Sōseki fell for Austen’s writing because it mirrored his idea that nature (that is everyday life) must be presented to readers objectively rather than in florid banter and psychological runoffs. He nurtured Austen’s image in Japan and even based the literary ideal of 側転 きょうし (follow Heaven, forsake the self) on Austen’s novels.

Nogami Toyoichirō (野上 とよいちろう), under Sōseki’s tutelage, translated Pride & Prejudice (高慢と偏見) for a Japanese audience in 1926. Toyoichirō’s wife, who went under the pen name Yaeko Nagomi, proofread her husband’s translations because she read the original English version under Sōseki’s supervision and guidance. During the Meiji restoration, however, some Japanese worried that Western beliefs and customs were dominating their culture, suppressing Japanese from creating a new powerful identity. But Austen’s novels connected with Japanese readers because her works revolved on decision, using sense and logic, and finding happiness by keeping to one’s morals. At the time, the West was courting Japan similar to Mr. Wickham’s flirtations with Elizabeth Bennet: accepting a hasty proposal would only hinder Japan from contributing to the world. Possibly, it was this contrast between Austen’s novels and what the Japanese felt at the time that made her works popular. Yaeko Nagomi (やエコ 和み), for example, was so enamored with Austen’s writing style that she mimicked it for her novel, マチコ (Machiko). She wrote in her journal: “Every time I read [Pride & Prejudice], I admire it more than before…this is, indeed, a novel true to nature…I had hoped that the quality of my next novel would match at least that of Austen… If I reached such a level of accomplishment, I would surely congratulate myself.”

Machiko tells the story of a modern Japanese Elizabeth Bennet, Machiko, who must decide whether to marry the cultural industrialist Kawai (Mr. Darcy) whom she “judg[es] to be incapable of distinguishing” his friends from his enemies or the revolutionary activist Seki (Mr. Wickham), who “attracts her strongly both ideologically and physically.” Machiko, however, unlike Pride and Prejudice, uses the industrial Japan in the throes of economic crisis and workers’ militancy as the main background that propels Machiko to decide between being a industrialist or a revolutionary. Yaeko’s Machiko is one of the earliest spinoffs of Jane Austen’s work in Japan. The second was Kurahashi Yumiko’s 夢の浮橋 (The Bridge of Dreams, 1971) where she fused the Austen story with classical Japanese narratives.

In Japan, it was not until 1950 that Iwanami, a prestigious publishing house, made available a second Pride & Prejudice translation by Akira Tomita. This particular translator saw the book as an educational novel and “the best social novel in the world.” Though Japanese admired Austen’s works and satirical voice, they also made dialogue changes to fit verbal expressions that a Japanese audience would understand better. These translations were commercially successful because they maintained Austen’s witty spirit without changing the entire novel’s flow or adding any archaic language.

The history of Austen’s translated adaptations is important because it let’s us see that even though we are different ethnicities, culturally we value similar customs: morality, justice, and marriage.. Japan made Austen Japanese because her works connected with their literary and cultural beliefs. It was her early admirers and translators that initiated her fame that had it not been for them she would had remained unknown in Japan. Today it seems unrealistic for someone to not know Austen. Japan made her their own, Spain the same, and Americans too, nurturing new readerships and even greater devotees.

Hiroshi Yamauchi, who turned Nintendo into a Video Game Powerhouse, Dies at 85

Hiroshi Yamauchi, who transformed his great-grandfather’s playing-card company, Nintendo, into a global video game powerhouse, died on Thursday in Kyoto, Japan. He was 85.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, the company said.

Mr. Yamauchi, who led Nintendo from 1949 to 2002, was Japan’s most unlikely high-tech success story. Named president of the family business at 22, he steered Nintendo into board games, light-emitting toy guns and baseball pitching machines – fruitless forays that he later attributed to a “lack of imagination” – before the company arrived at arcade games.

Its Donkey Kong and the original Mario Bros. became hits and gave rise to Nintendo’s wildly successful home video game business.

The Nintendo Entertainment System, a console first released in Japan in 1983 as “Famicom,” unseated early leaders in the video game industry, selling more than 60 million units thanks to shrewd marketing, close attention to product quality and a crop of games based on unlikely yet endearing characters that soon became household names.

Read the rest of the story: Hiroshi Yamauchi, Who Steered Nintendo to Dominance, Dies at 85

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XPuR3o66ztc

Studio Ghibli’s Hayao Miyazaki Retires from Anime

Leading Japanese animation film director Hayao Miyazaki will retire from movie production, it was learned Sunday.

According to participants in the ongoing Venice International Film Festival, Studio Ghibli Inc. President Koji Hoshino told a press conference in the Italian city that Miyazaki, 72, will retire with the latest full-length film, “The Wind Rises” (Kaze Tachinu), released on July 20. The movie, which features the chief engineer of the Zero fighter plane used in World War II, has become a box office hit drawing an audience of over 6.49 million as of last Monday.

After producing the “Future Boy Conan” (Mirai Shonen Konan) television animation series in the late 1970s, Miyazaki started his career as a movie director with “Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro.” Later, he launched Studio Ghibli and released many animated features.

With Ghibli, Miyazaki helmed the feature films Laputa: Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, and finally, The Wind Rises. He also co-produced Takahata’s directorial efforts and directed smaller projects such as the “experimental film” On Your Mark and Ghibli Museum Shorts such as Mei and the Kitten Bus and Mr. Dough and the Egg Princess.

Spirited Away remains the highest earning film ever at the Japanese box office, 12 years after it opened in 2001. It won the Academy Award for Best Animated Film in 2003.

Project Phoenix Kickstarter: A Japanese Role Playing Game Set to Change the Future of Gaming

Project Phoenix announced earlier this week of their plans to set up a Kickstarter, a Japanese role-playing game (JRPG). The big difference with this project is that it’ll be combined with Real Time Strategy (RTS). The future of gaming is set to be changed with the founder of Creative Intelligence Arts, Hiroaki Yura in the head of the game development.

Uniting top game developers from the West and the East, Project Phoenix takes on the JRPG genre with art direction from Kiyoshi Arai, best known for Final Fantasy XII and XIV. Music is set to be headed by Nobou Uematsu, the legendary composer of the Final Fantasy series. This is the first independent game project Uematsu will be commited to.

“For 25 years, I’ve been working on a lot of video game music like the Final Fantasy series. This is the first time I’ve worked on an independent game,” says Uematsu, Project Phoenix’s lead composer, adding, “Although it’s fun to create a game within a large company, I’ve always been interested in being able to work in a small, passionate independent games team. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The team members in charge of development have quite the impressive credits of which include Halo 4, Final Fantasy series, World of Warcraft, Star Craft II, Diablo III, L.A. Noire, Soulcalibur V, Steins Gate and the Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya.

A few other members are yet to be announced of which includes a secret designer from one of Japanese leading anime mecha title who had changed pop culture influence in the world. Project Phoenix Kickstarter seelks $100,000 in funding for programming and artistic development of the game. Check out Project Phoenix for more information on the game set to change the history of Japanese role playing game.

Hotaru-bi no Chakai: A Tea Gathering in the Fire of Fireflies

For anyone set to visit Kyoto this weekend, there’s one event Japanese haven’t failed to celebrate at the Shimogamo Shrine. Wondering what this is? Here’s all you need to know about the Hotaru-bi no Chakai.

Shimogamo Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Japan which is located north of Kamo and Takase Rivers of north-central Kyoto. The shrine dates back to the prehistoric periods and the first reference of the Shimogamo was of a fence repair dating back to 2BC.

The shrine has served as a central religious aspect for Kyotoites. It has said that the shrine played a significant role in the Heian period when prayers for the capital where held in that area. In countless tales, of which includes “Tale of Genji”, Shimogamo Shrine has been featured.

Today, this Kyoto shrine has been registered under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Shimogamo contains 52 building all of which are recognized as iconic Cultural Properties. A number of events take place at the Shimogamo Shrine of which include the Hotaru-bi no Chakai

About Hotaru-bi no Chakai:

Hotaru-bi no Chakai is the event held at the beginning of June which is a special tea gathering done amidst the glow of live fireflies. “Hotaru” translates to firefly while “bi” refers to fire. “Chakai” on the other hand means tea gathering. This event shows the true essence of Japanese tradition where one of its aims is the preservation of Tadasu no Mori, “The Forest of Justice,” which surrounds the Shimogamo Shrine.

Hotarubi no Chakai

For the event, around 600 fireflies are released over the stream called Mitarashigawa which serve as invites to the grandiose tea gathering. Usually, a reservation is required for one to attend the ceremony but there are other programs of the Hotaru-bi no Chakai open to the general public.

If you are ever in the area, make sure to check the Shimogamo Shrine. Other than the Hotaru-bi no Chakai, the ancient “Juni-hitoe” where 12 layers of the kimono will be shown and various dance performances are set for the night. Twenty long established stands also sell around the area at 1pm where the popular Kyoto souvenir, yatsuhashi and the common rice dumpling, mitarashi dango is being sold.

Jackie Chan the Japanese Drunken Master with Kirin Beer

The beloved master of Kung Fu and action-packed films, Jackie Chan is known for insanely crazy stunts and the strange kid cartoon. However, Japanese beermaker Kirin has made Jackie Chan look hilarious for a 7 minute short film involving beer and Tokyo. It’s Drunken Master all over again!

Here’s something not all Jackie Chan fans see every day. Japanese beer maker, Kirin instils the help of martial artist Jackie Chan and Shoko Nakagawa for a short film. Interestingly enough, all this was to promote and advertise Kirn’s Nogodoshi Draft Beer.

Probably the best part of the short film is the typical one liner from the guy holding a fan. Of course, Jackie Chan comes in to save the day in his iconic Drunken Master style with a staff causing the villain to explode after being launched in the air.

The short film might not be enough to bring on the urge to drink Kirin’s special Nogodoshi Draft Beer but the direction and choreography definitely did the short justice. Fans of Chan will certainly remember him as the Drunken Master and commemorate it with a Kirin beer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=aecV7oQGx8w

Fans of Chan might as well thank Kirin’s ordinary 34-year old office worker, Kazuo Ishida, for the idea. The seven minute video was done all thanks to a 39-item checklist by Ishida in hopes for his dream to come true. The original checklist is as follows.

  • Dream 1: I want to be a kung fu action star…
  • Dream 2: …and work with Jackie Chan.
  • Dream 3: The leading lady should be Shoko Nakagawa (Shokotan)…
  • Dream 4: …the main villain: my buddy from university.
  • Dream 5: I want a scene where Jackie, Shokotan, and I are eating together.
  • Dream 6: Jackie is drinking tea.
  • Dream 7: I want to use like a chair or something in a fight.
  • Dream 8: And I’ll hit a bunch of guys with it like bam, bam, bam!
  • Dream 9: Then I want break that chair.
  • Dream 10: I want Jackie Chan to do something cool in the end scene. Ummmm….
  • Dream 11: I want the bad guys to come to kidnap Shokotan.
  • Dream 12: I throw narutomaki at someone.
  • Dream 13: Hmm, I definitely want to use a chair to fight.
  • Dream 14: And I want to break a table.
  • Dream 15: A bad guy should say “I’ll remember this!” as he runs away.
  • Dream 16: Of course, they come back to get revenge.
  • Dream 17: I want that same bad guy to say “Boss! It’s him!”
  • Dream 18: Then we go outside and there’s like 100 enemies.
  • Dream 19: Before fighting I flick my button off like a badass.
  • Dream 20: I don’t want to be good with nunchaku… for comedy. Annnnnnd….
  • Dream 21: Something should fall all over one of the bad guys.
  • Dream 22: I do some cool kicks.
  • Dream 23: Then I knock one guy into a huge group of enemies.
  • Dream 24: A guy comes out with, like, knives for hands.
  • Dream 25: I fight him with vegetables, you know, for comedy.
  • Dream 26: I do some team work with Jackie.
  • Dream 27: Shotokan makes a cute face.
  • Dream 28: Oh, and I definitely want to do something with wires.
  • Dream 29: I’d like to throw a guy off a roof.
  • Dream 30: I want to do a real stunt. Let’s see….
  • Dream 31: A bunch of old-timey pots should break.
  • Dream 32: Then I give a “thumbs-up.”
  • Dream 33: Then I want to do that pose, you know, the one from that movie [Drunken Master].
  • Dream 34: I want to train on one of those wooden men things.
  • Dream 35: And do sword practice in front of a sunset.
  • Dream 36: But get this! Then I lose…
  • Dream 37: and say “Duì bù qǐ” to Jackie.
  • Dream 38: In the end Jackie finishes off the head bad guy.
  • Dream 39: Then there’s and explosion and… That should do it.

Shishido Kavka: Meet Japan’s Famous Drummer, Singer and Model

Little drummer girl she is not, Shishido Kavka proves that she’s more than just the average J-rocker. Don’t let the name fool you though, Shishido Kavka is 100% Japanese and she’s already made a name for herself in Japan. For one, this girl can rock the runway and the stage.

Despite being born in Mexico, Kavka was raised in Argentina and Japan. At the young age of 14, Kavka tried her skills on the drums before going pro at the mere age of 18. All thanks to Kenji Ohshima of The High Lows and producer Satoru Horade, Kavka is now one of the prominent Japanese drummers in the business. Having played in more than a handful of Jrock bands, Kavka has settled for a solo career with her debut release of “Aisuru Kakugo” in 2012.

Shishido Kavka isn’t only popular for her drum playing abilities. Thanks to Kavka’s svelte and tall figure, the 27-year old has already walked for large-scale shows such as Tokyo Runway and Kobe Collection.

Model, Drummer, Singer
Model, Drummer, Singer

Being a well-known drummer and model, what more could Kavka ask for? Well, Kavka’s skills don’t just end there. This beauty also has the powerful vocals to boot. Shishido’s single, “Kiken na Futari” was used for the drama series “Doubles~Futari no Keiji” which catapulted her even more into the limelight.

Fans will be seeing more of this J-rocker and her music in the years to come.

Leading Kabuki Actor Ichikawa Danjuro Dies at 66

Leading Kabuki actor Ichikawa Danjuro died late Sunday of pneumonia at a Tokyo hospital according to his son, Ichikawa Ebizo. Speaking to reporters in front of his father’s home in Tokyo on Monday morning, Ebizo described Danjuro as a man “who cared about people around him before caring about himself. He was a person of great love.”

He had been recuperating from pneumonia but his condition became critical in mid-January. He was 66.

Danjuro, whose real name was Natsuo Horikoshi, was born in Tokyo as the first son of Ichikawa Danjuro XI. He made his debut in 1953 at age 7.

Danjuro is a stage name taken on by kabuki actors of the Ichikawa family, and is considered the most prestigious of the kabuki stage names. Most members of the family have been blood relatives, although some were adopted.

Recognized for his outstanding theatrical skills, Danjuro won fame for his performances as a “tachiyaku” male actor together with “onnagata” female impersonator Bando Tamasaburo.

Danjuro also contributed to boosting the popularity of kabuki by giving grand name-succession celebrations, including a series of performances at the Kabuki-za Theater in Tokyo that ran for three months, an unusually long period for such celebrations. He is also the only kabuki actor to have given shumei performances abroad, staging them in U.S. cities such as New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

He was popular for his grand and expansive style of acting and successful performance of a number of roles that the line of Danjuro specializes in, such as Benkei in the play “Kanjincho” in the Kabuki Juhachiban (The Kabuki Eighteen), a series of plays which showcase the specialties of the Ichikawa family.

Danjuro was also and actor outside of kabuki. He appeared in period TV dramas and theatrical plays throughout his career.

Danjuro received many awards including an award from the Japan Art Academy, the highest-ranking arts organization in Japan, in 1988 and the Medal with Purple Ribbon, a Japanese government award given to people who have made outstanding contributions in academic fields, sports and the arts, in May 2007.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2qIyYbnQwU&feature=player_embedded