Japan’s most famous list includes an emperor, prime ministers and at least two porn stars

Global survey on Japan’s most well-known personalities produces surprising results

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 10:51pm

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the late Emperor Hirohito unsurprisingly ranked highly in a six-nation survey of the most famous Japanese people – although other names on the respondents’ lists veered in some unusual directions.

The study, carried out by Tokyo-based Japan Press Research Institute, quizzed around 1,000 people in the United States, Britain, China, France, Thailand and South Korea about their knowledge of Japan. One of the sections of the annual survey involved the most famous Japanese, either living or dead.

Abe topped the list in the US, China, South Korea and Thailand and was second among French responders and third among Brits. In both those countries, Hirohito was the most famous Japanese national, despite being dead since January 1989.

Among Chinese, the rest of the list was dominated by film-makers, actors and authors. Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary anime director, ranked above author Haruki Murakami and 1980s pop star and actress Momoe Yamaguchi. Ken Takakura – much-loved for the steely movie characters he portrayed – was also on the list, along with Keigo Higashino, author of mystery novels.

Former prime minister Junichiro Koizumi made the Chinese list, along with a trio of historical figures.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th century samurai and politician, was joined by two military leaders with more notoriety than fame among Chinese. Hideki Tojo was the prime minister during much of the second world war and ordered the attack on Pearl Harbour, while Isoroku Yamamoto was head of the Japanese navy until his death in 1943.

Yamamoto, Miyazaki and Tojo all also made the US list, along with filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and former prime minister Yasuo Fukuda. Reflecting his long years of playing in the major leagues, baseball player Ichiro Suzuki was in third place on the list.

Thanks to her association with John Lennon, Yoko Ono was in second place on the British list, with footballer Shinji Kagawa and Hideo Kojima, a video game designer, also making the top 10 most recognised Japanese.

The French listed manga artist Akira Toriyama as among the most famous Japanese, along with tennis player Kei Nishikori - but then ventured into the realms of non-human by including Pikachu and Naruto, the golden-haired manga character.

South Korea’s replies were overloaded with politicians - Abe, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, samurai leader Ito Hirobumi and former prime ministers Koizumi, Kakuei Tanaka and Yasuhiro Nakasone. That list was only broken up with the inclusion of ice skater Mao Asada.

The replies of Thais were arguably the most eye-catching. Alongside Abe and Emperor Akihito were no fewer than two porn stars - Maria Ozawa and Sora Aoi – as well as the rock band X-Japan, the magical blue anime cat Doraemon and Nobita Nobi, another two-dimensional character from the long-running series.