On billboard magazines and gossip websites, Western celebrities pop up more often than anyone else. What about Japan? Japanese celebrities are just as talented and successful as the rest who are yet to be discovered by the Western audience.
There’s one notable difference between Western celebrities and Japanese celebrities: while many can rise to stardom from tons of auditioning in Hollywood in the West, Japanese celebrities usually start their career with modeling or being a part of a pop idol group. Through those, they gain popularity by appearing in variety shows, movies and television shows.
There’s a term for them — they are called tarento (タレント), coming from the English word “talent”.
Japanese celebrities aren’t that popular in the west, except for a notable handful. If you’re interested in diving into the Japanese celebrities pool, here’s a list of the top 10 Japanese celebrities to follow!
1. Naomi Watanabe
First on the list is Naomi Watanabe. She may or may not need an introduction — the latter being more true. This half-Japanese half-Taiwanese celebrity is an actor, comedian and fashion designer. She’s not your average celebrity; many would say she doesn’t fit the “image” of a Japanese celebrity. But that’s what brings her the charm.
Naomi is the most famous Japanese celebrity on Instagram, especially catching the attention with her celebrity impersonations like Beyonce and Lady Gaga. Not only that, but she also has a knack for making people laugh with her down-to-earth personality, positive energy and passion for what she believes in, including body positivism.
This bubbly personality also has her own fashion line where she stays true to her beliefs and offers clothing sizes from small to plus-size. Naomi Watanabe is a celebrity role model, aiming to break beauty standards in Japan.
2. Yoko Ono
Another Japanese celebrity to follow is John Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. Her husband once said she’s “the world’s most famous unknown artist”. Born in Tokyo, she moved to New York with her family after World War II.
Be prepared for this one — she’s a tad bit off her nut. Just do a quick Google search of her appearance during one of The Beatles’ performances where she started screaming into the mic out of the blue! Not only did it catch the other performers off-guard, but also the sound engineer who hastily muted her mic.
What can you say? This conceptual artist and avant-garde musician has some unique tricks up her sleeve. Her most famous performance is Cut Piece, where the audience cut her clothes with scissors.
Yoko Ono isn’t defined by her screaming moments, though. She is also a peace activist, and to this day, she is actively supporting gun control and going against fracking.
3. Jun Hasegawa
This Japanese celebrity is another one who isn’t fully Japanese — she’s only half Japanese, and the other half is American. Jun Hasegawa was born in New Hampshire and lived in Hawaii until the age of 14. Soon after, she came to Japan and pursued her modeling career. It paid off, most definitely, as she is now one of the top supermodels in Japan.
Jun is a regular model for fashion magazine ViVi. That was her stepping stone to being big in the modeling industry. Because she is a “haafu” (ハーフ), which refers to anyone who is half-Japanese, she is more popular due to her unique features. Even being well past the age of 30, Jun is still regularly modeling.
She’s not only a big model celebrity in Japan — her popularity extends to the international market. Jun has modeled for top fashion magazines like Vogue and Elle.
What I tell ya — half-Japanese people are dominating the Japanese entertainment scene (in a good way). Rola is another “haafu”; she is half-Japanese and half-Bangladeshi. She was born and raised in Bangladesh till she was about 9 years old, then left for Tokyo and continued her life here. When she was in high school, she was scouted and that was when her modeling career began. Rola is also a model for ViVi.
Modelling isn’t her only role — she is also a TV personality and author. Her Instagram is not as popular as her Twitter handle where she is the most-followed Japanese celebrity there. A passion-driven woman, she has her own fragrance line, a few released books and also starred in the 2016 Hollywood movie, Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.
5. Kento Yamazaki
Switching it up a bit, here’s a male Japanese celebrity to follow: Kento Yamazaki. He is an actor as well as a model — because every celebrity in Japan is most likely a model, right? This name is not at all unfamiliar — in fact, Kento is one of the most popular Japanese celebrities in the country. His Instagram followers number won’t reflect that though; he only started using Instagram not too long ago.
Kento is best known for being the “shoujo (少女) prince”, referring to his lead roles in shoujo mangas’ live adaptation. Shoujo mangas are aimed at a younger, female audience and they usually involve a prince-like male lead.
He has moved towards a different direction recently, picking up roles for adult, intense movies and shows.
6. Masami Nagasawa
Masami Nagasawa is one of the most talented actresses in Japan — she not only stars in movies and television shows but also does voice acting. One of her more notable roles is Kimi No Na Wa where she was the voice behind Miki Okudera.
Masami’s dedication and passion can be seen immensely whenever she performs her role. It’s extremely prominent in the Taiwanese drama show she was in called Chocolat — for the role, she picked up the Mandarin language and practiced day in and day out for half a year.
Need proof of her talent? Masami has won countless awards including a Blue Ribbon Award for Best Supporting Actress. She’s been nominated for a Japan Academy Award for Best Actress. This one is definitely a Japanese celebrity to keep an eye on — you’ll never know what she’s going to achieve next.
7. Kiko Mizuhara
Another model-celebrity in our midst, it’s Kiko Mizuhara. Some may know her as the girl who dated South Korean pop star G-Dragon, but it’s been clear time and time again that she has proven herself worthy of the success she’s getting.
She started her career at quite a young age: when she was 12, Kiko was scouted and went on to star in Seventeen Magazine. Originally from Kobe, she moved to Tokyo to continue pursuing her modeling career. Her hard work paid off and she made a name for herself in the modeling world.
Even overseas brands are interested in this Japanese talent — magazines like Cosmopolitan, Vogue and Nylon wanted her on their spread. What’s more, she’s the first Asian ambassador for Dior!
8. Tomohisa Yamashita
A Japanese celebrity list isn’t complete without at least one Johnny’s on it. Tomohisa Yamashita was a former trainee in Johnny & Associates, a Japanese talent agency and debuted as part of a popular idol group called NEWS in 2004. A few years later, he debuted as a soloist alongside pursuing further his acting career.
Today, Yamashita isn’t part of the idol group anymore and focuses on his solo singing career as well as his acting career. He has had extreme success in his past, especially the Code Blue series.
Regardless of a few scandalous reports and gossip every now and then, Yamashita is still favourably loved by the Japanese market. He’s even a regular TV host and pops up as celebrity guests on other varieties.
9. Haruna Kojima
Make way for Haruna Kojima, a Japanese celebrity who took the path of joining a girl group to start her career instead of modeling. She became extremely popular after being qualified for one of the top Japanese girl idol groups, AKB48 — a group that has over 200 members! Haruna was a singer for the group for over a decade before deciding to leave and pursue a solo career.
Haruna not only continued singing but also ventured into acting — starring in movies like Tofu-Pro Wrestling and Cabasuka Gakuen. She’s a busy celebrity, doing all the acting and singing with side projects like her own online clothing shop and managing her YouTube channel.
10. Takayuki Yamada
Of course, we have to end the list off with a legend, Takayuki Yamada. This Japanese celebrity was born in Okinawa and moved to central Japan to pursue his acting and singing career. I’d say, he’s not your typical celebrity. If you follow his Instagram, you’ll be greeted by his refreshing sense of humour and realism. He’s also in a band — as do all hot and popular stars are — called The XXXXXX, where he is the lead singer.
Takayuki is also known to take on a wide range of acting roles, and people are convinced that there is no role he isn’t capable of. He’s extremely notable in the TV drama Socrates in Love, and roped in the international popularity when he starred in Crows Zero film series. To top it off, Takayuki also produces a live-action web series called Saint Young Men — what can’t the guy do?
This list of the top 10 Japanese celebrities to follow will get you right on the way to getting to know the Hollywood of Japan. Talents in Japan can be young and old, local and international, single-talent or multi-talented — regardless of it all, the Japanese entertainment is always churning out new celebrities, so be ahead of the game!