Theater: “Banana Boys” at the Factory Theatre Toronto (review)

Nina Lee Aquino gets great performances out of her cast in Factory Theatre's latest production of Banana Boys, writes Richard Ouzounian.

The Star (by Richard Ouzounian):

There are at least 10 reasons you ought to go see the new production of Banana Boys that opened at the Factory Theatre Studio Theatre on Thursday night. Since the venue is small (100 seats) and the run short (until Nov. 22), I suggest you plan to see it right away. Here’s why:

The Script

Leon Aureus’s adaptation of the game-changing Terry Woo novel about the lives of five Asian Canadians still has all the punch it ever did. Maybe even more so, as people today assimilate externally while their internal workings remain truer to their origins than ever. The end of each act may still seem a bit repetitious, but the overall effect is powerful.

The Direction

I’ve been pretty tough on Nina Lee Aquino in recent years, but her direction of Banana Boys shows her at her best. She’s totally connected to the material, gets great performances out of her cast and stages it in a really imaginative way. It looks very 2015, which is just the right idea.

Darrel Gamotin

He plays Sheldon Kwan, the guy who’s says he’s willing to give up everything for the right girl but proves better at dumping them than keeping them. Warm-hearted, but kind of soft-headed, Gamotin has all the right feelings but all the wrong moves. A really touching job.

Matthew Gin

Gin has one of the toughest jobs, playing the author surrogate who grudgingly goes into medicine to keep his parents happy when he’d rather be an author. He looks like the preppiest of all the guys, but there’s some truly dark stuff bubbling underneath. He’s a multi-level performer.

Oliver Koomsatira

The character of Dave Lowe is the hardest to take in the play: sexist, racist, horribly violent and always in your face. Here’s the surprise, Koomsatira makes us understand and empathize with him without softening any of the hard edges. Frightening but magnetic.

Simu Liu

It’s Rick Wong’s funeral that frames the play. No spoiler here, you see his body as soon as you enter the theatre. Wong is the most seemingly successful one but driven by unspeakable demons. Liu lets us see the man’s power as well as his pain. A great juggling act.

Philip Nozuka

Luke Yeung is one of those Peter Pan boys who never commit and never grow up. Nozuka is perfect in the role, as charmingly playful as a puppy, but just as mischievous as well. Nozuka delivers all that with style but lifts the curtain to let us see the emptiness inside as well. He’s a fine young actor.

The Production

This is part of the “Naked Season” at Factory, where physical trappings aren’t supposed to matter a lot. It may not work on some shows, but it’s perfect here. The uncredited costumes are perfect (especially Nozuka’s Power Rangers T-shirt), the simple set is versatile and Jennifer Lennon’s lighting is flashy or subtle as needed.

The Anger

This is a very funny show and very touching as well, but you’re going to walk away remembering the anger. Every one of the cast has at least one major eruption of long-hidden rage, all related to issues of racism that have been ignored or repressed. It’s a powerful and frightening message.

The Audience

I attended the final preview, which was packed, enthusiastic and heavily weighted toward the under-30 crowd. Those qualities are so seldom visible in Toronto theatres that you have to cheer when you see it happening. If you feel like you don’t belong at most plays in the city, try this one out.

Info

By Leon Aureus. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino. Until Nov. 22 at the Factory Theatre Studio, 125 Bathurst St. factorytheatre.ca or 416-504-9971

Playbill: Casting and advertisement of Yellowface play “The Mikado” stirs controversy amongst Asian community in NYC

 Playbill (by Michael Gioia):

When a flyer advertising The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players‘ December production of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘s The Mikado — featuring four Caucasian actors portraying Japanese characters in the classic Gilbert and Sullivan opera — was sent out to theatergoers, members of the Asian community took offense.

Playwright and blogger Leah Nanako Winkler was among the first to speak up, posting (from memory, not directly quoting) her conversation with NYGASP artistic director Albert Bergeret, in which he explained that out of the approximately 40 members of the company, only two actors are of Asian descent.

Erin Quill, a former Christmas Eve in Broadway’s Avenue Q who bills herself as “The Fairy Princess” on her Fairy Princess Diaries blog, also responded to the planned production, stating that when she saw the NYGASP’s last production of The Mikado, it was not “historically accurate” in its presentation and that Gilbert “wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant.”

Instead, Quill said that artistic director Bergeret added a character called The Axe Coolie (“coolie” is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at one time in America, yet the show is set in Japan), a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male Asian shouting “High Ya.”

She told Playbill.com that while some actors in that production were “just in a costume and doing their track, others were taking special delight and making a large effort to use stereotypical behavior. There was pulling of the eyes, there was shuffling of feet, there were exaggerated gestures in many regards, but when one cast member both pulled his eyes and gnashed his teeth — it was clear that this production had nothing to do with Gilbert and Sullivan any longer, it was an excuse to indulge in caricature that was degrading and hurtful.”

She concluded that the company “played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage.”

Since both posts began circulating the Internet, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players pulled the season brochure post on their page and issued statements explaining that they have taken in the “constructive criticism” and are meeting on how to proceed with the production.

David Wannen, the executive director of NYGASP, explained to Playbill.com via phone that the actress on the cover of the brochure (who has asked to remain nameless) is of Asian descent and that the Caucasian actors inside the brochure are not “manipulating” their facial features to appear Asian (therefore, they are technically not painted in Yellowface, a form of theatrical makeup used to represent an East Asian person).

According to the company’s casting policy, “Qualified singers of all ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are encouraged to audition in all appropriate categories. There are no ethnically specific roles in Gilbert & Sullivan.”

While the company has held various auditions over the last five years, they said it would be “hard” to get a “demographic percentage of how many actors of Asian descent audition, and of those how many are cast.” Regardless of race or culture, the company casts “based on merit alone, and how that merit fits into the needs of a repertory company.”

In a statement issued to Playbill.com, NYGASP explained, “The original plans for the production have been worked on by an independent committee of the board who scanned The Mikado for offensive material and practice. It was determined that the practice of Yellowface makeup — using make up to appear Asian — was the most offensive practice brought to light by the Asian-American community. As part of a policy that is generally outlined by the statement on the website, we agreed to instruct the cast to avoid this practice specifically. Makeup that was appropriate for the stage without the manipulation of features or complexion. We also agreed to go ahead with the wigs and costumes of our traditional production. Obviously, from the reaction to images on our promotional material, this distinction was not able to be seen and was not satisfying to this community.

We are listening to the response we have received. The Executive Committee of the Board is meeting to discuss a strategy and policy going forward. We have taken this issue extremely seriously since the outcry last summer (2014) and remain committed to doing so.”

On the company’s Tumblr page, they addressed the community’s concerns, stating, “We have attempted to keep the satire in our production of The Mikado as true to the original intent as possible; that is, using the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the setting for satirizing the very real people of Victorian England.”

They added that, in terms of casting for the company’s repertory nature, “There is no separate casting for parts in specific plays. NYGASP cast members are G&S specialists who must be able to play Japanese villagers in The Mikado one day, British sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore the next day and Venetians in The Gondoliers the day after that. The music, the libretti, the stage direction, the singers’ interpretations, the sets, the costumes and the staging must all combine to create the belief that each actor indeed becomes multiple different characters across the spectrum of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imaginative works.

“NYGASP exists to nurture the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – not to preserve the past unthinkingly, but to show how much G&S can still teach us about the foibles of human nature that are both geographically universal and timeless. We believe passionately that these enduringly entertaining works of 19th Century England – of which The Mikado is the best known – continue to speak to every generation that watches and listens with an open heart.”

By email, Quill added, “No Asian American disputes that The Mikado is a staple of the G&S canon, nor that the music is lovely. The Mikado, in mocking British mores of the time, says many things about being an individual, about standing up against petty tyrannies, that love will find a way no matter what age you are, and that ultimately if you speak your truth to power, reason will prevail. (Yes, there are large amounts of ‘poo’ references in the names of characters and the town itself. At the time, it was funny, now it is a bit of a ‘groaner.’)

However, the execution of any production that allows exaggerated makeup, inaccurate costuming, and mockery of Asian people is not, in this day and age with Hamilton, Allegiance and School of Rock, acceptable. When you view the current Lincoln Center Theater performances of The King and I, and see how beautifully APIs [Asian-Pacific Islanders] can inhabit a show that is, yes, a standard of the MT [musical theatre] canon, then you can see the authenticity of a pan Asian representation and what it brings to a production.

“We, the Asian Americans, do not want to ‘take away’ your precious Mikado – we want you to do better. We want you to stop constantly mocking us and telling us by your actions and deeds that Yellowface remains part of your theatrical lexicon. We want you to make any production of it, smarter, less full of stereotypes – more full of the respect G&S were trying for.”

Wannen said, “I really believe that the issue is a larger issue, obviously, than who is Asian and who isn’t. We’re dealing with this on a global level and listening to this outcry.”

– See more at: http://www.playbill.com/news/article/casting-and-advertisement-for-the-mikado-in-nyc-stirs-controversy-amongst-asian-community-362609#sthash.40bZcHo4.dpuf

“Ghost in the Shell” to hit the stage with a Tokyo theatre adaptation

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RocketNews 24:

Similar to how some of Ghost in the Shell’s characters can slip their consciousness into new bodies, the enduring science fiction franchise has gone through many incarnations. Starting with the manga by creator Masamune Shirow, the enduring science fiction hit has been an animated theatrical feature, TV anime, and series of direct-to-video anime shorts, plus has served the basis for a handful of video games.

The franchise might even end up with a Hollywood live-action version with Scarlett Johansson playing the lead role. Before that, though, Ghost in the Shell is getting a stage adaptation scheduled to be performed in Tokyo.

Each format of Ghost in the Shell has its own tone and series of events, and the stage version will be taking its cues from Ghost in the Shell: Arise–Alternate Architecture, the updated TV broadcast version of the original video animation Ghost in the Shell: Arise,  with its focus on the circumstances leading up to the formation of Public Security Section 9, the department the series’ principal characters are eventually attached to.

Directing the stage version will be film director Shutaro Oku, who also directed plays based on the Persona 3 and 4 video games and is set to direct the stage adaptation of the Blood-C anime this summer.

Handling the script will be Junichi Fujisaku, well-versed in the world of Ghost in the Shell by virtue of serving as supervisor for Ghost in the Shell: Arise and screenwriter for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

The Ghost in the Shell stage show will open at the Tokyo Metropolitan Theater (Tokyo Geijutsu Gekijo in Japanese), located in the capital’s Ikebukuro neighborhood, on November 5, and is scheduled to run until November 15. Exact times and ticket prices have yet to be announced, but organizers have put out a statement that no live stream or DVD of the performance will be available, so if you’re interested in seeing the world of Ghost in the Shell come to life, clear out your calendar and head to Tokyo this fall.

George Takei to donate part of proceeds of his Broadway production “Allegiance” to Japanese American National Museum

AsAm News: 

Actor George Takei is working his social media magic for a good cause and for his legacy project.

He launched an Indie Go Go campaign this weekend to support his Broadway production of Allegiance, the story of a Japanese American family ripped apart by the loyalty questions asked while they were incarcerated in World War II.

Takei’s goal is to raise $250,000 and in just two days, he’s already raised nearly $70,000.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.55.05 AM
Allegiance opens on Broadway with previews in October before its official opening on November 8 at the Longacre Theatre.

You can read George’s entire story of Allegiance, see a video which includes highlights from Allegiance’srecord breaking run at the Old Globe Theater in San Diego and give to the campaign at Indie Go Go.

First Lady Michelle Obama goes on adventures in Japan

Japan Today:

First lady Michelle Obama wrapped up her visit to Japan Friday with a taste of traditional culture in Kyoto.

Mrs Obama visited Kiyomizu-dera, a Buddhist temple founded in 780 on a forested hill overlooking the city, and viewed a Noh performance by local college students. The classical Japanese musical drama employs elaborate costumes and stylized masks to symbolize roles of women, ghosts and other characters.

Kiyomizu-dera is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Kyoto’s most famous vistas. Mrs Obama also visited the 1,300-year-old Fushimi Inari shrine, a place of worship for Japan’s other major religion, Shinto. There are 30,000 such shrines in Japan that venerate the guardian god of abundant harvests, prosperity and family safety.

Students staged a performance of taiko drumming at the shrine with Mrs Obama.

This is Mrs Obama’s first visit to Japan, as she did not accompany the president on his state visit last year. The visit is seen partly as a way of making up for her absence then, and as a sign of closeness between the close allies.

Improv performer and teacher Jason R. Chin dies at 46

Jason Chin

Jason Chin during a performance at iO Theater in Chicago on Saturday, July 19, 2014.

Chicago Tribune:

Jason R. Chin, a longtime improv performer, director and instructor at iO Theater, was reported dead late Thursday. He was 46.

His death was announced via Facebook by Charna Halpern, founder and proprietor of iO.

A integral member of the comedy theater for the past 20 years, Chin was a former head of its training center and helped create a number of shows, including “Whirled News Tonight,” which uses current events as a springboard for improvisation and is now a decade into its run.

Chin was scheduled to teach a class at iO Thursday night but did not show up, which was unusual. “He wasn’t the sort of guy to forget or flake out,” Halpern said. “So we were calling him and calling him.”

Two friends went to his Chicago apartment, and when he did not answer, called the police. A Cook County medical examiner’s report Friday said the cause of death was heart disease. “People knew right away something was wrong because he always showed up,” Halpern said.

Chin was born in June 1968 in the Flushing neighborhood of New York City. Like so many others, he moved to Chicago to pursue improv. He was working in marketing for a computer company in Champaign, Ill., and visiting Chicago on the weekends, where a pal was taking classes with Tina Fey. In the documentary “Whether the Weather,” he recalls seeing Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert do an improv set after their Second City show one night and was intimidated. “They were improvising songs that melted my brain, they were that good. Then I went to see a student show and they weren’t that good and I thought, ‘Well, I can do that.’

That planted the seed and he moved to town in 1995, becoming friendly with performers including Amy Poehler and Rachel Dratch. He had since gone on to train a number of other performers including “Saturday Night Live’s” Vanessa Bayer.

One thing I loved about Jason,” Halpern said, “was he was always watching the newer students and plucking out the people he thought were good and giving them a chance and throwing them into the iO family.”

A calm, steadying presence at iO, Chin was also something of a pop culture nerd, which led to a “Star Wars” spoof in the mid-90s titled “Jedi: A Musical Tour de Force,” which ran for a number of months before the George Lucas camp sent a cease-and-desist letter.

His ability to improvise a well-packaged story while at the same time providing inspiration for the improvisation that followed was astounding,” said Annoyance Theatre founder Mick Napier. “While watching him you also think, ‘This guy has that many great stories in him?’ He will be so dearly missed.

Chin wrote a book on improv titled “Long-Form Improvisation & The Art Of Zen: A Manual For Advanced Performers” (2009). From 2009 to 2011, he wrote the blog “An Improvised Blog” for ChicagoNow, a Tribune property. More recently he wrote the blog JasonChinFTW.

Since moving into the theater’s new space in the Clybourn Corridor six months ago, Halpern said she’s noticed “little toy dinosaurs scattered around the theater.” Only recently did she learn that Chin was behind that, “just putting them throughout the theater to give the place some character.”

Jason Chin is survived by his mother Rose Marie Chin, father John Chin, brother Jonathan and sister Jennifer.

Here’s a particularly fun clip of Jason Chin performing on stage:

Top 10 Japanese women throughout history

RocketNews 24:

 

Every nation has women who are remembered throughout history for the impact they had on their country. Today we present you with 10 Japanese women–game changers, if you will–who fundamentally altered the way the nation sees or experiences the world today. Most of these women have achieved fame abroad as well, another hallmark of success in Japan.

Many names you’ll recognize, but a few may be a surprise. But they are all well-known among the Japanese and are looked up to and praised by women and men throughout the country. Ready to test your knowledge of influential women in Japanese history?

Let’s take a stroll through history starting from the year 973 and moving into modern times.

 

1. Murasaki Shikibu (973-1025)

murasaki shikibuBritish Museum

“There are as many sorts of women as there are women.”
― Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

Title: Writer

Shikibu is the author of The Tale of Genji, written between years 1000 and 1012, during the Heian Period and is widely believed to be the world’s first novel. At a time when females were precluded from studying classical Chinese, Shikubu’s father indulged her the opportunity to study with her brother. A precocious child, she immersed herself in studies of Chinese but covered up her abilities as an adult so as to not encourage scorn. While living in the court of the Imperial Family where she served as lady-in-waiting to the Empress Akiko, she penned a diary blending the activities of the fictitious prince Genji with the real trivialities of court life. Such “poem tales” constituted a genre of poetic biographies written by women that mixed fiction and non-fiction to produce what is called “Japanese prose.”

Such writing found favor among women, especially ladies of the court and wives and daughters of courtiers, while men still wrote in classic Chinese. The English translation, which encompassed six volumes, was produced in 1933. Murasaki also wrote The Diary of Lady Murasaki, about the birth of the empress’ children, told via a volume of poetry, letters and vignettes.

For being the world’s first modern novelist, we give Shikibu a round of applause.

 

2. Misako Shirasu (Jan. 7, 1910–Dec. 26, 1998) Nagatacho, Tokyo

 

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“If you use beautiful things every day, you will naturally cultivate an eye for beautiful things….In the end, you will be repelled when you encounter the ugly and the fake.”–Misako Shirasu

Title: Essayist and expert on aesthetics and design

Shirasu started studying Noh theater at age four and at 14 became the first female to perform on the Noh stage. She grew up among privilege and even attended a prep school in the U.S. Upon returning to Japan, she married and in 1942 she and her husband moved to a farmhouse away from likely bomb targets to wait out the war. It is believed that this was a pivotal time for her when she began to appreciate the simple, austere way of life and where she became an advocate of simple aesthetics and design within the surroundings of nature.

She believed in blending ideas to arrive at practical ways of living such as represented by honjisuijyaku, the importation of Indian Buddhist deities to act as local manifestations of their originals. Regarding design, she emphasized that imperfections are the defining beauty of a piece, a prized natural blemish, an unforeseen treasure, or “natural imperfection.” Rather than setting out to create art, she suggested people put their hearts into making something with great skill and effort, in which art may result, and that folk art should be a bit clumsy. She dedicated herself to the study of the relationship between art and nature, and used flower arrangement as an example: Once flowers are put into a vase, for the first time we can understand the essence of the flower in a controlled and observable format where we can appreciate it on a different level and give it a new life. She saw how the beauty of nature encompasses food and art. These are values that live on today in Japanese art and design.

The farmhouse where she and her husband lived, called Buaiso, is now a museum open to the public.

For having defined the values of aesthetics and design in postwar Japan, we give Shirasu the thumbs up.

 

3. Masako Katsura (1913–1995) Tokyo

billiard

Men want to beat me. I play men, six, seven hours a day. Men no like, they do not beat me.” –Masako Katsura

 

Title: Professional Billiards player

“Katsy” was Japan’s only female professional billiards player in the 1950s and was the first woman to play in a world billiards tournament. She learned the game at 13 from her older sister’s husband who owned a billiard room. She appeared in 30 exhibitions in 1958 and the following year appeared on American TV twice (once on CBS, the other ABC). She married a US Army non-commissioned officer and moved from Japan to the US. The popular Katsy wrote two books in Japanese on billiards: “Introduction to Billiards (1952) and “Improve Your Billiards” (1956). She eventually moved back to Japan to live with her sister and died five years later in 1995.

Known as the “First Lady of Billiards,” Katsura beat most men throughout her career. We know how much guys hate to get beaten by a girl, so we give Katsy the high five!

 

4. Hanae Mori (January 8, 1926) Shimane

Daum Crystal Hanae Mori Hanae Mori Butterfly Soliflore 05293 transitional-artwork

“Fashion reflects a country’s strength as a nation and its momentum in moving toward the future.” –Hanae Mori in an interview with the Asahi Shinbun.

 

Title: Designer

If you recognized the above photo as a Hanae Mori design, then you’re probably familiar with this leading fashion designer’s signature mark: the butterfly. Japan’s most famous female designer and an icon of liberated women, Mori used clothing design to promote the interaction of East-West aesthetic values. As a young woman, Mori took classes at a local dressmaking school. Later she opened her own boutique in Ginza and established a ready-to-wear collection. She entered the world of haute couture while in Paris, under the influence of Coco Chanel. In 1976 she opened a salon in Paris and was appointed a member of the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, making her the only Japanese designer to be included in Haute Couture. Mori’s designs have appeared on the cover of Vogue and her designs include uniforms for Japan Airlines flight attendants, Japanese athletes at the Barcelona Summer Olympics, and the kimonos and wedding dress for Japan’s Crown Princess Masako. She also has a perfume collection and there’s even a Hanae Mori Barbie Doll!

Mori supports young designers via the Hanae Mori Foundation, and we think that’s pretty cool, so we give Hanae Mori our eye-shadowed wink of approval.

 

5. Sadako Ogata (September 16, 1927) Tokyo

Sadako Ogata

If we ignore the plight of the refugees or the burden of the countries which have received them, I fear we will pay a heavy toll in renewed violence.” — Sadako Ogata at her Liberty Medal acceptance speech, July 4, 1995

Title: Diplomat

Few women impress more than Sadako Ogata, who held office at the Japan International Cooperation Agency until she was 85. She was Chairwoman of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees 1991-2001, on the UNICEF Executive Board 1978-1979, and President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency in which she held office from Oct. 2003- April 2012. Her accolades include the Indira Gandhi Prize and the J. William Fulbright Prize for International Understanding. In 2001 she accompanied then prime minister Mori to Africa, marking the first time ever for a Japanese Prime Minister to visit the African continent. Beloved by her people for her compassion for the vulnerable and less privileged, she is lauded for her dedication to human rights.

Awesome doesn’t even begin to explain Sadako Ogata, who has won numerous international awards. She serves as an inspiration to women and men everywhere. For this we give her a standing ovation.

 

6. Yayoi Kusama (March 22, 1929) Nagano

View_of_the__I_pray_with_all_of_my_love_for_tulips.__installation_at_the_Yayoi_Kusama_Special_Exhibition_at_the_Osaka_National_Museum_of_International_Art

“A polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement … Polka dots are a way to infinity.”

Title: Artist

Yayoi Kusama was a leader in the avant-garde movement soon after moving to the U.S. in her twenties and is said to have influenced artists such as Andy Warhol. She is also part of the minimalist and feminist art movements. Kusama is known for her red polka-dot art, a thought-provoking yet whimsical theme she has turned single-handedly into her own signature genre. She is known for her installation art, and she has turned everything from entire rooms to living tree trunks into red polka-dot canvasses. In 2008, one of her works sold at a Christies New York auction for $5.1 million a record for a living female artist at that time. Once you’ve seen her art, you really cannot forget it. Kusama is candid about her struggle with mental illness and lives in Japan at the Seiwa Hospital in Tokyo from where she commutes to her studio to produce art.

For Kusama and her ability to make us think twice about both mental illness and art, we give her double kudos.

 

7. Hibari Misora (May 29, 1937June 24, 1989) Yokohama

hibari Misoro

“Like the flow of a river, countless bygone days one by one, how gently, how slowly they go.”

Lyrics from the internationally acclaimed song “Kawa no nagare no you ni”

Title: Singer, Actress and Cultural Icon

As an actress, Misora appeared in Takekurabe (1955), Izu no odoriko (1954) and Hibari no mori no ishimatsu (1960). However, it is as an enka singer that she is most remembered. Her first performance was at age eight and the following year she appeared on NHK. Two years on she was touring Japan. Misora recorded over 1,000 songs, among them “Kawa no nagare no you ni” voted the greatest Japanese song of all time by over 10 million people in an NHK poll. Misora is one of the most commercially successful musicians and was the first Japanese woman to receive the Peoples’ Honor Award from the prime minister. She was awarded a Medal of Honor from the Japanese government for her contributions to music and to the public welfare inspiring people and giving them hope after WWII.

Misora died at age 52 from illness. It has been reported that her record sales continue to be brisk and that she has sold well over 80 million records. Tributes and memorial concerts are still performed in Japan live and on TV and radio. For the Queen of Enka, we give her a graceful curtsey of admiration.

Since we hesitate to include a YouTube video of Misora due to Japan’s strict copyright laws, we offer instead an equally stunning version by Jose Carreras. Warning: you will not be able to get this song out of your head after listening!

 

8. Sadako Sasaki (January 7, 1943–October 25, 1955) Hiroshima

Hiroshima_Childrens_Peace_Monument

“This is our cry, This is our prayer, Peace in the world”–The words inscribed on Sasaki’s monument in the Hiroshima Peace Park.

Title: Symbol of innocent victims of war

Sadako (who appears at the top of the monument in sculpture form) lived 1.6 km (1 mile) from where the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945. She was two years old at the time but she and her family survived. However, when Sadako was nine, she developed leukemia, a disease that affected many children in the area, and which was called the A-bomb disease for its association with radiation. Sadako’s friend told her of a legend about one thousand cranes: If one folds a thousand origami cranes, then that person’s wish will come true. Sadako diligently folded paper cranes out of any material she could find. But on October 25 of that year, she died without having realized her goal. Sadako serves as a symbol of children and other innocent victims of war. Using funds collected by children, a memorial was erected in May 1958 in Sadako’s honor at the Hiroshima Peace Park. Children still fold paper cranes to grace her memorial with.

Sadako is a poignant reminder of why Japan instituted Article 9 (outlawing war as a means to settle international disputes) into their constitution. To Sadako we kowtow: the highest form of respect.

 

 

9. Kimie Iwata (April 6, 1947) Kagawa

shiseido store

“If you examine the root of this, it’s not ability or desire. It’s because during maternity, women leave their jobs, and their careers fall to zero.” –Iwata in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald in regards to why more women are not in high level positions in corporate Japan.

Title: Former Executive Vice President, Shiseido Co., Ltd.

Iwata is a rare woman executive in Japan, where according to the Gender Equality Bureau, less than one percent of executives at top Japanese companies are women and where female managers overall are a mere 10 percent. After graduating from the Tokyo University in 1971, Iwata immediately joined the Labor Ministry where, in the mid 1980s, she helped create the Equal Employment Opportunity Law. She joined Shiseido, Japan’s largest cosmetics company and the fourth largest in the world and in 2003. She served as a Corporate Officer and Executive Vice President for four years until 2012. Iwata has fostered female talent within Shiseido and advocates a more woman-friendly corporate Japan. She has also taken part as Chief Representative of the Working Women’s Empowerment Forum and is a member of the Gender Equality Council.

For being a generally awesome role model as well as fighting for the rights of women in the workplace and promoting a work-life balance, we give Ms. Iwata hoots, hollers and whistles and an encouraging “Gambatte kudasai!” (Go for it!).

 

10. Chiaki Mukai (May 6, 1952) Gunma

Chiaki Mukai

Title: Doctor and JAXA Astronaut

Mukai is Japan’s first woman astronaut and the first Japanese citizen to have flown two space shuttle missions: one aboard the shuttle “Columbia” in 1994, and the other aboard the “Discovery” in 1998. Mukai flew with US Senator John Glenn, 77, the oldest person to go into space. Their launch was covered live on TV in the U.S.

We commend the board-certified vascular surgeon for being one of just 58 women to have flown in space and for encouraging girls to enter science careers.

 

 

Yayoi Kusama