Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Ken Hirai

Ken Hirai is the king of Japanese R&B, one of J-pop's booming genres. Although he is a "pure-blooded" Japanese, his curly hair and distinctively Caucasian profile set him apart from other J-Pop singers. He released his debut album, 'un-balanced', in 1995. One of his singles was used as the theme for ...

Ayumi Hamasaki

"Ayu" is instantly recognisable for her unfeasibly large eyes, which some tabloids suggest are surgically enhanced. A master of self-promotion, she has patiently built her reputation by frequently changing her clothes and hairstyle (she's responsible for Japan's cowboy hat craze). By writing her own lyrics, she has managed to set herself apart ...

Karaoke

In only 20 years, karaoke ("empty orchesta") has become synonymous with modern Japan. As the legend goes, it was born in Kobe, when a canny restauranteur encouraged customers to sing over a backing tape when his act didn't show up. This is probably rubbish though. Japan's karaoke culture's way ahead of the ...

Takuya Kimura

Actor/singer/TV star Takuya Kimura, popularly known as "Kimutaku", is a member of pop-group SMAP and Japan's biggest male star. He is regularly voted Asia's best-looking man and is a major sex-symbol in Asian gay culture. However, he is an atypical heart-throb. In his frequent acting roles, he performs his own stunts, ...

Takarazuka

Takarazuka is an all-female theatre group which performs lavishly-staged, Western-style musical shows. Because all of the performers are women, it provides an interesting counterpart to kabuki, Japan's all-male theatre tradition. Just ...

Seiko Matsuda

Seiko Matsuda (real name Noriko Kamachi) found equally excessive amounts of popularity and scandal in the 1980s. In that decade, she racked up 24 consecutive number one singles and filled more column inches than anyone else in Japan. She perfected an alluring sexy/demure image that won her many male fans and ...

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