21 Famous Japanese
(who never existed)
She was a famous Osaka-based Geisha in the late Meiji Period, famous for having six toes on each foot. Only a woman in her strong social position could avoid letting this become a disability in a country that was still dominated by strict codes of shame and honor - including the social stigma of physical oddity. Wapenu - typically sold into a geisha house as a child by a poor peasant family - rose to become the muse of a whole school of Kansai area artists and the mistress of a future Prime Minister
He was a scholar who helped introduce Western learning into Japan after Commodore Perry opened the country to foreign shipping in the 1850s. He founded the first public school in Yamaburu Province, later incorporated into the modern HoruguPrefecture. He established the first school of animal husbandry in Japanbased on Western techniques and practices that grew to become the current Horugu University of Veterinary Science - a major animal research facility, but an important biochemistry and pharmaceuticals research center as well.
A dancer in the mid-1600s. She entertained the Emperor (the “Mikado”) at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto and sacrificed herself to save the Emperor’s life by knowingly eating a poisoned dessert at the Emperor’s birthday party at which she was performing. The incident became known as the Pudding Assassination Plot. She is remembered today by a statue in Tokyo’s Ueno Park.
A post war liberal politician who sought to impeach Emperor Hirohito on the grounds of incompetent war management, and have himself declared the new Emperor in his place. He was not successful and was later assassinated by right wing nationalists in a public bath house.
A popular novelist in the 1920s. He was a Westernized effete who drank himself to an early death in the bars and salons of the trendy Yoshiguri entertainment quarter. He was a constant companion of Charlie Chaplin when he made a famous visit and tour of Japan in the 1930s. His great work, Sachiko’s Obi, remains popular and common reading in high school literature classes.
An ethnic Formosan, he was the first non-Japanese to play professional sports of any kind for a Japanese team. In 1930, after graduating from the Imperial Abnormal Universitywhere he studied metaphysical education, Yambu joined the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries transcendental team and became a leading fitness advocate, helping to prepare a wide range of Japanese athletes from many sports for their greatest international exposure to date at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
An Osaka businessman who in the 1960s invented a new way of canning fruits and vegetables for more efficient mass production and distribution. His motto translates into English something like: “No one can can like I can can.” After retiring at age 88 he penned his autobiography, The Can Man. When he passed away, instead of being cremated in the customary manner, his body was interred in a giant can coffin.
Raised in the Nishijin
Textile mills of Kyoto in the early 1800s, first as a laborer and then as a designer, he became the most famous kimono designer of the age, and later a manufacturer. As an independent kimono businessman his holdings grew as he became the first textile manufacturer to invest in his own silk worm farms in order to exclude the middle man and reduce materiel costs. The novel manner in which he reinvested his own capital made him a model of modern Japanese capitalism.
Ippu was at the center of one the most infamous incidents in modern entertainment history. She was a script assistant to famous movie director Akito Kutogawa and one of his many mistresses. Kutogawa had a reputation as a ladies man and commonly slept with many of his leading ladies and other female associates. But Ippu’s uncle - a member of the Oishiigumi Yakuza crime syndicate - took badly to the abuse of his niece by the lascivious director and in revenge burned down Kutogawa’s Karuizawa chalet, unwittingly killing Sutado, who was in residence there at the time.
One of the most famous Tea Ceremony teachers of the Yucki School of Tea that emerged under the third Tokukawa Shogunate in the early 1700s. Banda was also a renowned poet and master of the sonetta style of poetry. Young samurai flocked to his school to become disciples of Tea in such great numbers that the government had to ban the tea school because of the social disruption. Banda was exiled to the island of Sadoin The Sea of Japan. There he abandoned Tea as a spiritual and esthetic pursuit but continued writing poetry as he eked out a living as a fisherman. Posthumous rediscovery of his many writings was a major cause of the so-called Sakura Revolution in literature in the 1800s, similar to the Romantic Movement in European writing.
Reguro was an icon of Post War Ginza. A singer, a hostess, and eventually a club owner in the Ginza entertainment district before and after the Second World War, she married and divorced three American servicemen in two years as part of an infamous and complicated strategy to gain and keep various operational licenses from the American Occupation Authority of General Douglas McArthur. She counted five future prime ministers and many other cabinet ministers among her clientele, and she eventually owned and operated a third of all the bars in the district, giving rise to the expression“Reguroland.” Slowly selling off her businesses after the end of the Occupation in 1953, in old age she continued working behind the bar of her last remaining saloon until her death in 1984.
He was a Buddhist monk and priest who founded his own sect of Buddhist philosophy based on innovative Western principles of individuality and the Rights of Man. After studying Western thinkers and Western religions from Lutheran missionary teachers in Japan he renamed himself after the English word “happiness” as the guiding principle of his Happi sect of Buddhism. His motto, “Don’t worry, be happy” became famous in a 1980s reggae hit by Jamaican singer Eddie Grant.
Vajiwo was a popular puppeteer in the early years of Japanese television. He began his career as an adult Bunraku entertainer but then adapted the traditional Bunraku style of puppetry for children and for the television studio and reshaped the daireigo style of comedic story telling for the electronic age. He was sort of the Mr. Dressup (an old Canadian children’s television show starring mild mannered Ernie Coombs) of Japan.
A long-time priest of the large Kokka KoraTemple in Yokohama, Cheifu established the first modern orphanage in Japan following the terribly destructive Pepushi Earthquake of 1897 that left hundreds of orphaned children in the city. Cheifu successfully lobbied the Meiji Era government to enact the first child welfare legislation in Japan. The Law for the Protection of Child Welfare was visionary for its time and it remained unchanged until widespread adult wartime deaths during the Second World War led to revisions by the government of Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.
This is the stage name of Gaishuhei Utsutomita, a Rakugo comedic storyteller from Teipa City. A veteran of the student anti-government and anti-war demonstrations at the prestigious University of Tokyoin the 1960s, Utsutomita took the name Bihu Hubi, meaning Stupid Rear End, and continues to this day to tell withering comedic stories only on one theme: Japanese politicians.
Karume was a Kabuki actor and famous raconteur in the court of the dowager empress Shitsurei in the mid-1600s. At that time kabuki was not recognized as an art form but a threat to public morality, and the early theater sought protection in the patronage of notable public figures. Karume became familiar with imperial family members in Kyotothrough the dowager empress who had a long affection for theater, but who began attending public performances in cognitoonly after the death of her husband, Emperor Komei III.
A graphic designer and comic book artist who tried but failed to introduce American style comic book illustrations to the Japanese market. From the 1930s-to-the-1960s Nakashado reproduced the style of illustration and story telling popularized by Marvel Comics in Americabut found only a niche market with little financial success. But his graphic art that was used widely on billboard designs for the Motoyama Advertising Agency to advertise hundreds of products from whiskey to clothes for pets made him a recognized Living National Cultural Asset. Today “Tika” is sometimes used as an adjective to describe any work resembling his use of lines and dots, surrounding sharp, and bold, angular brush strokes.
An artist from the ancient Mamoi Period. Much of his calligraphy, and many of his ink illustrations still exist - not on paper, papyrus or parchment, but on wafer-thin bamboo sheets. Some of his imperial tomb illustrations can still be seen. He was schooled in Chinese techniques at the temple of the Hoo-haw sect of Rinshi Buddhism in the mountains above Kyoto. He pioneered the use of ink brush strokes and the use of green and blue in nature landscapes.
The errant and rebellious son of middle class urban bourgeois in modern Nagoya, Gamu Shichiku failed at several professions in the 1930s before his father exiled him to South America. There, Shichiku became a merchant in precious woods from the Amazon forests and returned to Japan a wealthy importer/exporter shortly after the outbreak of war with the United States. During the war he built a domestic industrial empire of rubber. After the loss of captured Pacific territories he returned to his family roots in Nagoya and built another successful business empire in chewing gum and other confections. He became so successful and famous that the English words “gum stick” were derived from his name.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s this Tokyo teenager became something of a pop culture phenomenon. As a summer science homework project he walked backwards from Tokyo’s famous Shibuya Crossing (featured in most American films set in Tokyo) to the National DietBuilding. Television news shows made him an instant celebrity. Two years later, with the aide of a support team consisting of his father and brothers, he traced the entire route of the ancient Tokaido Road, walking backwards from Tokyo-to-Osaka in a five week period to raise money for cancer research. Interestingly, it was reported in The Japan Times newspaper on May 9, 2009 that walking backwards strengthens the mind.
In the 1990s this NiigataPrefecture rural housewife with a big voice sold CDs of her own voice imitating crow caws as a device to scare the pesky birds away from homes, garbage pick-up sights, and eventually even gardens and fields. Bendo was a voice actress in Japanese television cartoons, best known locally as a frequent contender in annual agricultural fair animal calling competitions - pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, etc. - before turning her talent to bird calls. She found a calling with crows.