[From February Issue 2010]
In recent years more Japanese are becoming fans of people who are not especially well-known, but have specific charms. It ranges from weather forecasters to entertainers. Why are the Japanese bewitched by them?
Since 2007, NHK Service Center, Inc. has been selling calendars of weather forecasters. In the first year, they made a calendar showing both male and female forecasters. From the next year, however, the calendar only featured female forecasters, and in 2009 it added pictures of “weather girls” clad in yukata (kimono for summer). The first printed copies of the 2010 version have sold out and they have decided to print additional copies.
Dressed in casual-style clothes, NHK’s weather girls describe the weather in simple words. Because of their “friendly next-door neighbor” looks, they’ve become nearly as popular as TV entertainers. Especially popular is NAKARAI Sae, who is nicknamed the “7:28 Lover” because she always appears on TV at 7:28 p.m.
In November 2009 an event was held in Sakura-shi, Chiba Prefecture, where a female idol group called “Sakura-gumi” performed a concert and shook hands with fans. The group, made up of Japanese and Chinese members, sings and dances in ninja costumes. Although they just debuted in August, a number of avid fans turned up to speak to them and ask for handshakes.
“They came all the way from China and are trying hard in Japan, so I really hope they will succeed,” says a man who came by bullet train from Fukushima Prefecture. He is a fan of the Chinese twins in the group, SAKURA Ranmaru and SAKURA Benimaru. “They have a great memory because they could soon recognize me. They look a little skinnier than before, and I’m a little concerned about that,” says the man.
ASAMI Chiyuki is a singer who has released five CD albums and often appears on TV and radio programs. Moreover, she puts on a live show in Tokyo’s Inokashira Park on a regular basis. Asami is also surrounded by many supportive fans. When she was still unknown, for example, one of her fans taught her how to play the guitar. From another fan who worked at a hotel, she learned manners such as how to bow properly.
Even now, her fans help prepare for her concert at the park. They get to the park hours before the concert and set up by laying down sheets and arranging chairs. They also stand at intervals along the way from the station to the venue so as to guide new fans. They buy and bring things that Asami likes or that are good for her health as well as food from Yamaguchi Prefecture, where she is from.
“Chiyuki-chan is like my daughter,” says a man who became her fan on March 18, 2005. “When I walked out of the ticket gate, a voice caught my ears, a very natural singing voice which made me feel great,” he continued of the moment he first heard her perform. “When a TV crew is shooting, she gets really nervous. That makes me feel uneasy as well and I start praying, ‘Please sing well.’ ”
“Chiyuki-chan still calls me ‘Uncle’ even after she has become so famous,” says another man. “If it were not for her, I would have secluded myself in my house after retirement. But I started working again after I became her fan. With the money from that job, I buy her CDs and go to her concerts throughout Japan to support her. I’ve made friends with some of my fellow fans. So this is what I live for.”
KIMURA Junko, who lives in Tokyo, has favorite musical actors. “Rather than buying brand-name items or ready-made goods, I place special orders with stores,” she says about the gifts she gives them. “I think of something that he can hand out to other actors he works with and that will also make him happy. Or some food that is good for his health.”
Fans are often seen waiting outside of the stage door (the exit for actors) and giving them presents or asking for autographs. Kimura sometimes talks to the actors at the stage door before she decides what to buy for them. “When I read my favorite actor’s blog, it said, ‘I haven’t been eating enough vegetables lately.’ So after checking with him at the stage door to see if he wanted vegetables, I sent him a big box filled with vegetables,” she says.
“Fans observe us really well,” says SASAKI Nobuhiko, a top-class dancer who performs in the famous Imperial Theater and also choreographs musicals. “One time, I was feeling sick and had a mask on when passing through the stage door. Soon after that, new masks were sent to me. And another time, I was dancing naked from the waist up in a show. Then, a fan gave me a hand-made shawl that I could easily fling on and off.”
“I feel that behind such behavior on the part of fans lies the Japanese custom of guessing what others want, the custom of thinking about what the other person wants to receive, rather than what you want to give them,” says Sasaki. “For example, a fan sent vegetables and meat to a group of actors who can cook, but she sent sashimi along with paper plates and soy sauce to another group who can’t cook. When we look busy, fans never ask for autographs.”
Not all fans, however, are on close terms with actors, according to Sasaki. “Actors who like to have friendly relationships tend to get fans who will take care of small things for them, and those who like to be alone will attract those kinds of fans. But I guess there are more actors now who want to interact with fans naturally as human beings. That seems to be the case with the actors around me,” he says.
“I give stuff to the actors or wait for them at the stage door because I want to show my support for them, but I also want them to remember me a little,” says Kimura. “Besides, there are more actors who blog these days, and it makes me happy when the actors write about what I gave them, which is another reason for doing all this.”
“When I got the hand-made shawl, I was touched because it felt like my mother or girlfriend taking care of me,” says Sasaki. “There was also a girl who asked me to write a message for her ailing grandmother.” It might be Japanese fans’ tendency to like approachable entertainers and support them as if they were family.
Text: SAZAKI Ryo