Japan’s Amasan, sea women, show their mermaid skills

SHE is the modern mermaid, the living apparition that so taunted sailors and mariners for centuries. But instead of scales and fins, her honey-tanned skin is barely concealed by a saturated white cotton wrap, as sheer as transparent silk in the clear summer water. Her delicate face, disguised with an antique diving mask, is the first to go under, followed by a perfectly round bottom and then her feet, pointing skyward like a Bolshoi ballerina’s en pointe.


I’m watching this scene, not as I should, from the shore off Japan’s Toba City, but on a hazy television screen. A scratchy, 40-year-old documentary is screening in the little museum dedicated to the ama (or amasan, sea women), its walls decorated with nawa (rope), oke (shallow wooden tubs) and tegane (metal tools) for detaching awabi (shellfish).

Toba is one of the few remaining locations around the Japanese coastline where the ama work regularly, fishing in the traditional freediving method for abalone, clams, crustaceans and seaweed.

The idyllic scene has transfixed me, much as the first Western sailors must have been hundreds of years ago when they first caught sight of these athletic, uninhibited women diving in and out of the sea as if they were born to it. Actually they were. The ama begin diving in their mid-teens and continue well into their 40s and 50s, often with their daughters by their side.

In 1954, when the young women were still entering this arduous yet honourable tradition, noted Japanese scholar and ethnographer Professor Kunio Yanagita documented 24 sites around Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu where the ama still practised their traditional skills. But rather than as a field study for academia, it was popular culture and modern mythology where the ama flourished.

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Police issue warrant for Minako Komukai

Police revealed on Tuesday that an arrest warrant has been issued for talento Minako Komukai (25), who is suspected of violating the Stimulant Control Law. Komukai’s whereabouts are currently unknown.

Last October, police uncovered a narcotics trafficking organization that was selling drugs on the streets of Tokyo’s Shinagawa ward. So far, more than 10 members of the organization have been arrested, including some men of Iranian nationality. More than 20 male and female customers have also been arrested. According to investigators, Komukai is said to have also been a customer, and police decided to issue a warrant on charges of transfer.

Komukai was previously arrested in January 2009 on charges of use of stimulants. She was found guilty in court in February 2009, and she received an 18-month prison sentence, suspended for 3 years. Since the sentence is still under suspension, she will have to serve the term if she is again found guilty.


Shingo Katori to star in FUJI TV’s “Getsu 9″

SMAP’s Shingo Katori (34) will star in Fuji TV’s next Monday night drama series, it has been learned. The currently untitled series will have Katori playing a marriage agency advisor who prides himself on bringing together countless couples, with his motto of "the man who sells happiness." Meisa Kuroki (22) and Naohito Fujiki (38) have also been cast.

The screenplay is said to be an original love story. Kuroki plays one of Katori’s clients, though she is "too beautiful" – the agency’s advisors are not used to finding a match for someone like her. Although Katori begins to fall for her, he puts his effort into trying to set her up with the rich and handsome lawyer played by Fujiki.

This is Katori’s fourth time starring in one of Fuji TV’s "Getsu 9" dramas (Mondays 9:00pm). For Kuroki, this will be her first appearance in that time slot.

The series is scheduled to premiere in April.


Yutaka Mizutani and Ran Ito’s daughter makes acting debut

The daughter of actor Yutaka Mizutani (58) and actress Ran Ito (56) will be making her debut in show business with a couple of dramas. The 20-year-old Shuri has been cast in "3 Nen B Gumi Kinpachi Sensei Final" (TBS) and "Sayonara Bokutachi no Youchien" (NTV), both set to air in late March.

"3 Nen B Gumi Kinpachi Sensei Final" is the last episode of the long-lasting "3 Nen B Gumi Kinpachi Sensei" series, starring Tetsuya Takeda (61) as a junior high school teacher. It was just announced last week that Hey! Say! JUMP member Keito Okamoto (17) will be playing one of the main students. Shuri has also been cast as one of the students, having passed the audition despite being five years older than the character she plays.

"Sayonara Bokutachi no Youchien" is a drama special that was revealed in January, which has child actress Mana Ashida (6) as the youngest lead ever in a Japanese drama. Shuri will play a nurse, affectionately loved by the students at the kindergarten where the story takes place.

Shuri grew up learning classical ballet from a young age. During her time as a student at an international school in Tokyo, she also went abroad to study ballet in England. She had originally aimed to become an internationally active ballerina, but an injury led her to give up that dream. She said that she developed an interest in acting as a result of watching her parents’ dramas and television appearances when she was younger.


Emi Takei to star in “Asukou March!”

Fashion model and actress Emi Takei 17 has been given her first starring role in a television drama series, with a show tentatively titled "Asukou March!" The drama is a live-action adaptation of Kaori Akiyamas manga "Asukou March! ~Kenritsu Asuka Kougyou Koukou Koushinkyoku~," which currently runs in Shueishas magazine YOU. Takei plays Nao Yoshino, a girl who fails the entrance exams of her target high school. She winds up enrolling in a technical high school called Kenritsu Asuka Kougyou Koukou, also known by the nickname "Asukou." Out of the 148 entering freshmen, only three are girls, and Nao is the only one in her class. The supporting cast for the show has not yet been revealed. The series will start in April, in TV Asahis Sunday 11:00pm time slot. Takei has been a model for SEVENTEEN since 2006. As an actress, she has appeared in a handful of dramas, including the currently airing "Taisetsu na Koto wa Subete Kimi ga Oshiete Kureta" on Fuji TV.


Takanori Nishikawa to be lead in “Okusama wa 18-sai” live-action remake

The shoujo manga series "Okusama wa 18-sai" is getting another television drama adaptation, this time starring 40-year-old musician and actor Takanori Nishikawa also known as T.M.Revolution. His co-star will be young actress Natsuna Watanabe 21. The original manga was written by Miyoko Motomura in 1969-1970, and it was turned into a successful drama series from September 1970 to September 1971 with Tetsuo Ishidate and Yuko Okazaki as the leads. The comedic story tells of a Japanese language teacher who is secretly married to one of his high school students. The new remake is Nishikawas first time starring in a television series. His co-star Watanabe, who shortened her stage name to just Natsuna a couple years ago, recently gained some attention for her nude role in the first live-action "GANTZ" movie. A total of four episodes are planned. The first half-hour episode will air on satellite channel Fuji TV TWO on March 27 at 10:00pm. The remaining episodes have not yet been scheduled for broadcast.



Burglar caught sporting his Hello Kitty sandals

A 36-year-old truck driver suspected of involvement in hundreds of burglaries in Gunma and Saitama prefectures between 2004 and 2010 was likely wearing Hello Kitty sandals during the crimes, just like when he was arrested, Saitama police have said.

Masakazu Kanda, currently on trial for theft and other charges at the Saitama District Court, was wearing pink sandals bearing the famous feline character when he was walking on a street in Saitama Prefecture in June 2010, catching the eye of police officers after footprints collected from residences where burglaries had taken place showed the perpetrator was wearing Hello Kitty sandals.

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Kana Nishino, queen of chaku-uta, hits 25 million downloads

Singer Kana Nishino (21), who is sometimes called the "queen of chaku-uta," has just reached an impressive milestone. Since her debut, her songs have been legitimately downloaded a total of 25 million times in a variety of formats, from chaku-uta ringtones to mobile video clips to full-length songs for the PC.

Nishino made her debut almost three years ago on February 20, 2008, with the single "I." This means that, on average, her songs have been downloaded approximately 23,000 times each day, though the bulk of the downloads actually happened within the past year. Based on data from download service Recochoku, Nishino was the #1 artist of 2010 in the chaku-uta and chaku-uta full categories.

Nishino also recently announced that she will hold her first Nippon Budokan concert on September 8, as the final show of her 16-city tour that starts on July 29.


Harajuku – Where trends draw the crowd

For several decades, the trendy Harajuku district in central Tokyo has been a magnet for young people seeking the latest fashion trends and also for those who want to express their own style.

From imported luxury brands to "fast fashion," tiny individual stores offers shoppers and browsers a huge range of fashion goods, turning the area into Japan’s fashion mecca.

Following are some basic questions and answers about Harajuku.

Where is Harajuku?

The area is in Shibuya Ward and can be reached by train or subway. It is actually hard to identify the boundaries of Harajuku because the name itself has not been used for addresses since 1965.

In general, many people tend to view the intersection of Meiji-dori and Omotesando avenues as Harajuku central. Those places are located between Jingumae 1-chome and 6-chome.

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EXILE’s AKIRA to act in NHK’s taiga drama “Gou”

AKIRA (29) will become the first member of EXILE to act in one of NHK’s taiga dramas, it has been learned. He will appear in the ongoing series "Gou ~Himetachi no Sengoku~" in the role of Toyotomi Hidekatsu, one of the husbands of the main character Gou, who is played by lead actress Juri Ueno (24).

Historically, Hidekatsu was the nephew of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He became the second husband of Gou after she divorced Saji Kazunari, but Hidekatsu died shortly after that during Japan’s invasions of Korea. Gou later married her third and final husband, Tokugawa Hidetada, played by Osamu Mukai (28).

As an actor, AKIRA has appeared in a few films and television dramas. Last year, he received Best New Actor in the 19th Japan Movie Critics Awards for his role in the 2009 film "Chanto Tsutaeru."

AKIRA’s appearance in "Gou" will start with the series’ 17th episode, scheduled to air on May 1.