Japan Mourns Death of Sumo Legend Taiho

Japan was mourning on Sunday after the death of former sumo grand champion Taiho, who won a record 32 tournaments and became a hugely popular figure in the 1960s when the sport was untainted by the damaging scandals seen more recently.

Taiho, whose real name was Koki Naya, died of heart failure in hospital in Tokyo on Saturday, the Japan Sumo Association said. He was 72.

His death was front-page news in Japan, with the Nikkan Sports daily calling him “the strongest yokozuna (sumo grand champion) in history”.

“He was sumo history,” former yokozuna Chiyonofuji, whose 31 championships are second on the all-time list, told Kyodo news agency. “That one additional title he won, that was something beyond my reach. It is a measure of his greatness.” 

Read the rest of the story: Japan mourns death of sumo legend.

Hideki Matsui Retires

Japanese slugger Hideki Matsui, the Most Valuable Player of the 2009 World Series, announced his retirement today.

Matsui, 38, played professional baseball for 20 years – starring in Japan for a decade before embarking on a 10-year career in the US Major Leagues.

He was quick to make his mark with the venerable New York Yankees, becoming the first player in club history to hit a grand slam in his Yankees debut – against Minnesota on April 8, 2003.

Matsui played for three different clubs over the last three seasons, spending 2010 with the Angels, 2011 with Oakland and last season with Tampa Bay.


Kabuki Star Nakamura Kanzaburo Loses Battle with Cancer

Nakamura Kanzaburo, whose real name was Noriaki Namino, died Wednesday from acute respiratory distress. The popular film, TV, and stage drama actor was 57 years old. The Tokyo-born actor was the first son of Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII and started his kabuki days in 1959 at an early age of 3 as the fifth Nakamura Kankuro. He succeeded his father in a name-succession ceremony known as “shimue”, becoming Nakamura Kanzaburo XVII.

Kanzaburo quickly became known for his outstanding skills both as a “tachiyaku” male actor and an “onnagata” female impersonator. He possessed a desire to keep the kabuki art alive among the young people. He performed at the Theater Cocoon in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, where plays address a younger audience and were set to modern music. He also founded the Heisei Nakamuraza troupe composed of 100 all-male members that, while respected kabuki’s traditions, were bursting with energy and humor that call to mind the early days of the art itself, way back in the 17th century.

Last June, Kanzaburo revealed to the public that he suffered from esophageal cancer. Since then, he had undergone surgery and was getting treated. He has two sons, Nakamura Kankuro VI and Shichinosuke II, who are both kabuki actors. Kanzaburo received in 2008 the Medal with Purple Ribbon, an award from the Japanese government for accomplishment in the fields of arts, sports, and education.

Shizue Yamaguchi Dies

One of Japan’s first-generation female lawmakers Shizue Yamaguchi has died. She was 94 years old.

A company at which Yamaguchi served as president said on Wednesday that the former politician died on April 3rd of kidney failure.

The firm says, according to her wishes, the public announcement of the death was put off until October 31st, which would have been Yamaguchi’s 95th birthday.

Yamaguchi was born in Tokyo in 1917. She was elected to the Lower House of the Diet as a member of the now defunct Socialist Party in Japan’s first general election with women candidates in 1946.

Yamaguchi joined the Liberal Democratic Party in 1967. She served 13 terms as a Diet lawmaker and in key government posts including parliamentary vice minister.

She was awarded the U.N. Peace Medal in 1980 and the Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1987.


Legendary Japanese Director Wakamatsu Koji Dies

Legendary Japanese director Wakamatsu Koji has died, it is being reported, after succumbing to injuries sustained last Friday, when he was hit by a taxi in Tokyo. The 76-year-old filmmaker, oft-compared to French New Wave pioneer Jean Luc Godard, had over 100 films to his credit, with his latest, The Millennial Rapture, having just premiered at the Venice International Film Festival last month, and 11.25: The Day Mishima Chose His Fate set to play the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival in November.

Wakamatsu made a name for himself in the 1960s and 70s, as a driving force of the pinku-eiga softcore porn industry. Titles such as Go Go Second Time Virgin (1969) and Ecstasy of the Angels (1972) are widely revered as classics of the genre. In later years, Wakamatsu’s films turned more political, but he also achieved more widespread critical acclaim.Recent works such as 2007’s United Red Army and 2010’s Caterpillar were both received extremely well. As recently as this month, he was named Asian Filmmaker of the Year by the Busan International Film Festival. 

Read the rest of the story: Japanese Director Wakamatsu Koji Dies After Collision With Taxi.


Japan-Britain Duo Win Nobel Medicine Prize for Stem Cell Discovery

Shinya Yamanaka of Japan and John B. Gurdon of Britain won the Nobel Medicine Prize on Monday for their groundbreaking work on stem cells, the jury said.
The pair were honoured “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent,” it said. The two discovered “that mature, specialised cells can be reprogrammed to become immature cells capable of developing into all tissues of the body,” it said. By reprogramming human cells, “scientists have created new opportunities to study diseases and develop methods for diagnosis and therapy,” the Nobel committee said.

Gurdon is currently at the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, while Yamanaka is a professor at Kyoto University in Japan. Because of the economic crisis, the Nobel Foundation has slashed the prize sum to eight million Swedish kronor ($1.2 million, 930,000 euros) per award, down from the 10 million kronor awarded since 2001.

Last year, the honour went to Bruce Beutler of the United States, Jules Hoffmann of Luxembourg and Ralph Steinman of Canada, for their groundbreaking work on the immune system.

This year’s laureates will receive their prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on December 10, the anniversary of prize founder Alfred Nobel’s death in 1896.

Rice Riots to Revolution to the Status Quo during Japan’s Taisho Era

In the summer of 1918, “rice riots” swept the country. They began in a fishing village on the Sea of Japan in remote Toyama Prefecture. By September, some 2 million people in hundreds of municipalities had taken to the streets. They looted, bombed, demonstrated, struck.

The immediate cause was wartime inflation, especially the soaring price of rice. Rural and urban alike, the poor reeled. In the cities, factory hands toiled long hours for low pay under slave-like conditions. Industrialization comes at a cost and they were paying it. “The most violent strikes in Japanese history occurred in this period,” writes American historian Herbert Bix (in “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan,” 2000).

The Russian Revolution was in full swing. Authorities were alarmed. Was Japan going Bolshevik? Some 25,000 “rice rioters” were arrested. Suspected ringleaders were hanged. The liberal newspaper Toyo Keizai Shimpo editorialized in disgust, “Unfortunately the political process in our country works effectively only for the property-owning minority. … In one sense it is possible to say that those without property have no government at all.”

Read the rest of the story: Revolution was in the air during Japan’s Taisho Era, but soon evaporated into the status quo.

Japan’s Prince Tomohito of Mikasa Dies

Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, one of the most outspoken members of Japan’s royal family known for his fierce opposition against letting a woman ascend the throne and a self-professed alcoholic, died Wednesday, according to the Imperial Household Agency. He was 66.

Kyodo News/Associated PressPrince Tomohito in May 2011.The prince, the eldest cousin of Emperor Akihito, had suffered from health problems for about two decades. He had 16 cancer-related surgeries since 1991 and battled alcoholism for half his life. He had been hospitalized since December and underwent two surgeries this year alone. During the most recent procedure, in March, doctors removed cartilage blocking his throat after the prince complained he had difficulty swallowing. The official cause of death was not disclosed.

The grizzled, goateed prince grabbed headlines when he publicly admitted his problems with alcoholism: “I’m Prince Tomohito, the alcoholic,” he said, mimicking the self-introducing mantra of Alcoholics Anonymous, during a lecture in northern Japan in 2007. He continued to talk openly about his condition, considered a taboo subject in Japan, discussing it candidly during multiple press interviews. He said that it began as a teenager, but intensified later as problems arose within the imperial family, according to media reports at the time. His dependency was a ongoing struggle. In 2009, he was hospitalized for alcoholism five times within a six month period.

Read the rest of the story: Outspoken Japan Prince Tomohito Dies.


Dragon Ash bassist IKUZONE dies of heart failure

Baba Ikuzo, better known as the bassist IKUZONE of the band Dragon Ash, has suddenly passed away at the age of 46. An announcement on the group’s official website on Tuesday night revealed that IKUZONE died of acute heart failure on the night of April 21st.

IKUZONE had collapsed in his home studio and was discovered by his family. He was quickly taken to a hospital, where his death was confirmed at 10:55pm.

Dragon Ash was scheduled to perform at the Okuma Beach Fest 2012 event in Okinawa on April 28, but due to IKUZONE’s death, they have canceled their appearance.

IKUZONE was one of Dragon Ash’s founding members in 1996, along with Kj and Sakurai Makoto.