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 Celebrities  in  Japan  

Independent Studies, Kansai Gaidai University, Japan
Sebastiano Mereu, May 2006
Table  of  Content  
Table of Content......................................................................................................................... 2
Summary .................................................................................................................................. 3
1 Introduction ............................................................................................................................ 3
2 Political Economy of Japan: from 1945 until Today ............................................................. 4
2.1 After World War II .......................................................................................................... 4
2.2 A Global Economic Power .............................................................................................. 5
2.3 National Identity .............................................................................................................. 6
3 Hollywood’s In-House Secret ............................................................................................... 8
3.1 Asian Faces ..................................................................................................................... 9
3.2 Westerners on Japanese TV .......................................................................................... 10
4 Gaijin Tarento ...................................................................................................................... 10
4.1 Why is there a Market for Gaijin Tarento after all? ...................................................... 11
4.2 Leader Of The Pack ....................................................................................................... 12
4.3 Dancing Bear Syndrome ............................................................................................... 13
4.4 Stereotypes .................................................................................................................... 14
5 After They Were Famous ..................................................................................................... 15
5.1 Codino Divino ............................................................................................................... 15
5.2 The American Sensei .................................................................................................... 17
6 Before They Were Famous .................................................................................................. 18
6.1 Sweet & Cute ................................................................................................................ 18
6.2 The Swiss Samurai ........................................................................................................ 19
7 Uncertainty Avoidance in Japan .......................................................................................... 20
7.1 The Nail that sticks up gets hammered down ............................................................... 21
8 Conclusion ............................................................................................................................ 22
9 Bibliography ......................................................................................................................... 24

Foreign celebrities have been an important part of Japanese television for the past few
decades and the so-called gaijin tarento cannot be imagined off the television screens
anymore. Even though some foreign celebrities may earn up to half a million dollars a year,
viewers do not favor them above local celebrities. Japan’s unique markets attract foreigners,
who either do not have a market in their own country to promote and sell their craft, or who
are merely looking for a revival or a second chance. The high uncertainty avoidance inherent
in Japanese society plays a crucial role in how Japanese consumers perceive foreign
celebrities and how these foreign nationals act up to their audiences’ expectations.

The entertainment industry in Japan can be pictured like a zoo with many exotic animals. The
gaijin tarento being the zoo’s dancing bears, dance for their audiences as long as they are fed
with honey, in their case, honey being fame and money. Despite their success and in view of
the fact that Japanese culture has been increasingly opening its doors to the West, gaijin
tarento are becoming less interesting to the audience of the land of the rising sun and these
foreign specimens are most likely to disappear.

1  Introduction    
Japan became the second largest economy in the world thanks to the US hegemony after the
Second World War. Due to a close relationship with the United States of America, Japan has
been influenced by Western cultures, and many foreign companies and celebrities have tried
to enter the Japanese market to find success, even though – or because –the rules are different
than in their domestic markets.

The main focus of this work will be dedicated to foreign celebrities who are famous for being
famous—the so-called gaijin tarento. An important question that has to be asked when
interpreting this phenomenon is, ‘Why is there a market for gaijin tarento after all?’ Socio-
cultural views and stereotypes play a considerable role in Japan’s media, and foreigners, such
as Dave Spector and Bob “The Beast” Sapp, are characters no Japanese viewer wants to miss.
It is almost like a zoo, where dancing bears keep the masses entertained as long as they
receive honey, or in the case of the foreign celebrities, large amounts of money.

Many foreign stars can be put in two different categories. The first category is, stars that find
fame in Japan “after” they were famous in the West. Especially Hollywood celebrities try
their best one more time in Japan to make quick money for their “soon-to-come” retirement.
In recent years, European and Brazilian football stars, such as Roberto Baggio and Zico, have
found a new market in Japan as outdated athletes. The second category is, stars that do not
have a market in their respective home countries and become famous in Japan “before” they
find fame in the West – if it ever happens.

According to Geert Hofstede, Japan has high uncertainty avoidance, and therefore, if there is
a nail that sticks up, it is hammered down. Japanese people are afraid of everything that is
different. School uniforms are a must for school children, formal black suits are mandatory
for professionals, and women must wear skirts in formal situations, or else, men could be

This paper will compare and contrast situations in which foreign nationals have conducted
business and have succeeded – or failed – because they did – or did not – consider a different
approach towards a completely different culture and market. There is no winning formula for
being a successful foreign celebrity in Japan. There are facts and unwritten rules that one has
to follow, to stay in the Japanese game, and after reading this paper, the reader should be able
to understand the difference between being famous in the West and being famous in Japan. If
not, please try to step into Dave Spector’s shoes for one day, and afterwards let the world
know if it is true that he is only famous for being famous.

2  Political  Economy  of  Japan:  from  1945  until  Today    

Modern East Asian history has seen the spectacular rise of various nations, but Japan has
enjoyed one of the most famous and most spectacular comebacks in East Asia since World
War II (WWII). To understand Japan’s way of conducting business, the low percentage of
foreigners living in Japan, their high uncertainty avoidance, we need to consider how its
political economy has evolved over the past sixty years, and the influences that have
contributed to the shaping of the land of the rising sun.

2.1  After  World  War  II    

Japan was a devastated country after WWII. The Japanese government surrendered in 1945
after the historical bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, lost its colonial possessions of
Taiwan, Korea, and Manchuria, and was occupied by the USA under the Supreme
Commander for Allied Powers (SCAP) between August 1945 and September 1951. Political
and economic reforms followed, which led to democracy and a new Japanese constitution.
Unexpectedly, the USA reversed its course of occupation in 1947 and dropped most of its
economic and political reforms in Japan, because the SCAP had new plans for Japan. The
USA needed an ally to foster their hegemonic domination in Asia, and therefore, rebuild
Japan’s economic power. The SCAP terminated the reparation and removal program and
engaged in a strategy of containment in Asia. The USA did not want the Communists to gain
more control, thus, it set up a strategy to prevent the expansion of communism in Asia.
Eventually, they decided to make Japan a semi-periphery to enter the Asian market through a
triangular relationship with the USA being the core economy and East Asia the periphery.
Globalization would then lead to Japan exporting industrial products to Southeast Asia, and
earn dollars in order to pay for imports from the USA. The USA in return would import raw
material from Southeast Asia. Thus, Japan would be ultra dependent on the USA for oil and
security, and for food.

After the recovery of the recession induced by the Dodge Plan, the Japanese economy was
able to grow quickly, thanks to American industrial orders needed for the Korean War in the
1950s. America’s imposition of demilitarization made it possible for Japan to pursue an
“economic growth first” strategy and allocate almost all of its resources for rebuilding the
economy. Less than 1% of the GNP was spent on the Self-Defense Force in postwar years.
Even though Japan was able to grow and did not need to care about military spending, the
Japanese regarded the demilitarization as an infringement of their sovereignty. “Fordism”
found its way to Japan through free trade, and mass production and high consumption
powered the Japanese growth. The USA relocated labor-intensive productions to Japan and
initiated a new international division of labor.

2.2  A  Global  Economic  Power    

Industrialization in Japan started to show its fruits and in the large sector, industrial relations
were characterized by enterprise unionism, lifetime employment, and seniority-based
promotion and wage systems. Dense networks of subcontracting deals between large and
small firms emerged. Democratic reforms made it possible for the society to penetrate deeper
into the corporate world and gain control with its anti-class ideology of consensus and
cooperation. Through unionism, corporate Japan fostered the ideology of the company being a
family. This kind of paternalism educated employees to become more loyal towards their
companies, and once they were integrated into the system, constant pressure to conform and
to obey the rules and orders dominated their lives.
The 1980s saw the change of Japan from a regional to a global economic power. Even
though—or because—the USA had been the hegemonic power for twenty-five years, Japan
has become the second largest economy in the world community. According to Immanuel
Wallerstein, the USA had the power to impose its rules in political, economic, military,
diplomatic, and in cultural areas, but because of its high costs of production competitiveness
of American firms declined and latecomers, such as Japan and Germany, gained advantage by
means of newer machinery and cheaper labor force. Due to the federal deficit, the USA’s
productivity weakened and less money was invested into research and development (R&D).

Japan made the transition from a wartime enemy to a friendly ally of the USA. Japan enjoys
its position as the center of international trade in East Asia. Increasing labor costs led to an
increase of imports from East Asia making countries such as South Korea and Indonesia
dependent on Japanese supplies of industrial raw materials and technology. Japanese trading
companies handle 50 percent of Taiwan’s and 33 percent of South Korea’s foreign imports
and exports. The appreciation of the Yen and the huge trade surplus encouraged an expansion
of foreign direct investment abroad. In the 1990s, Japan invested twice as much in the Asia-
Pacific region as the USA, which helped Japanese companies to increase their exports to Asia,
because their subsidiaries sourced their inputs from Japan into Asia. Furthermore, Japan
applied a neo-mercantilist approach to strengthen its supremacy in Asia, and became the
single largest aid donor to more than twenty Asia-Pacific countries. Its goals were to expand
its economic influence to their aid recipients, promote Japanese exports, and to reinforce their
geopolitical hegemony.

2.3  National  Identity    

The Yoshida Doctrine was the central pillar of Japan’s foreign policy between 1950s and
1970s. It stated that Japan’s prime goal was to focus on economic growth and political
cooperation with the USA. In addition, Japan needed to stay lightly armed and avoid
involvement in any international political issues. Lastly, bases had to be provided for the US
military for Japan’s security. Once Japan realized that its position in the world economy was
stronger than ever expected, a new sense of national identity was created. Greater military
self-reliance and autonomous diplomatic relationships with the Soviet Union and China were
requested. Hence, two plans have been set up, Nakasone Yasuhiro’s Grand Design and the
Maekawa Report. The Grand Design included that Japan should no longer play the follower
nation, but take on more responsibility as a leader of the world. It must develop a new liberal
nationalism that appreciates its strengths and abilities, as well as its culture and traditions. The
Maekawa Report promotes an internalized economy and harmonization of its economy with
others through liberalization of imports and financial markets. Japan’s former Prime Minister
Taifu Toshiki said that the USA, EU, and Japan should become equal partners in global

As mentioned by Bruce M. Russett, twenty years of the American “Ideology of

Developmentalism” has shaped people’s desire for alternatives to Hollywood, Coke, and
McDonalds. Comparing the East with the West, we see Confucianism versus
Developmentalism. In Confucianism, we have subordination to the harmony of the group;
bureaucracy is centralized, and people are devoted to frugality, saving, discipline, and hard
work. In Developmentalism, we learn that people live in an individualistic world, which is
based on liberty and democracy, and all of this is driven by consumerism.

By the 1980s, Japan and the USA had become rivals. Japan started to protect its markets and
US negotiators tried to force Japan to reduce import quotas, relax import certification rules,
abolish the tobacco monopoly, and admit American lawyers. In 1985, the Plaza Accord was
reached due to a dramatic US trade deficit, to devaluate the dollar. The American currency
was overvalued and weakened the US economy drastically, because US exports were too
expensive. The Reagan administration assumed that Japan maintained the yen undervalued on
purpose, to keep its export market share.

This assumption turned into speculations and an era of Japan-bashing emerged through
American pop culture lies. Various Hollywood movies from the late 1980s, such as Gung Ho,
Black Rain, and Rising Sun, depicted Japan as a country with an authoritarian structure that
wants to destroy US sectors with adversarial trading policies, and eventually colonize the US.
Many Japanese were insulted by these lies and started to dislike the US. They even came up
with a Japanese word for it: keibetsu. After putting aside the bashing the US and Japan
realized their economic interdependence. They strengthened their relations within distribution
networks, agricultural exports, transnational corporations, and geopolitical security alliance.

Many saw Japan on the verge of becoming the next hegemonic power, but it failed to create a
yen bloc that should have challenged the United States and the European Union. Japan was
keen on uniting Asia through the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), but most
ASEAN nations were concerned that Japan would want to control the conference. As a result,
the USA was brought into the APEC as a full member and leader.
This brief history since WWII gives an insight into what Japan went through and why fears
and sympathies towards the West have strengthened certain ties between the East Asian
Island and some of the wealthiest Western countries. Now we are ready to proceed to the
main topic of the paper, foreign celebrities in Japan.

3  Hollywood’s  In-­‐House  Secret      

Bill Murray as Bob in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 movie Lost In Translation is the best example of
a foreign celebrity who has already far passed his prime. He is in his fifties, no US producer is
interested in his acting skills anymore, and he wants a break from his wife. This being the
case, he decides to appear in Japanese commercials for whisky to make good and fast money.
When American businesspeople ask Bob what he is doing in Japan, he does not want to tell
them that he has sold his face to a Japanese brand.

Times staff writer Bruce Wallace notes in his 26 September 2005 article that Japanese TV
commercials were an in-house secret in Hollywood that enabled Western stars to make large
amounts of extra money by collaborating with different companies. Wallace continues saying
that this niche business started in the 1960s, when Hollywood symbolized the prestigious
American pop culture. The demand for foreign celebrities increased largely in the 1980s to
peak in the early 1990s. That was when even Mickey Rourke was marketable in Japan. Nearly
one third of the most successful advertisements in 1989 featured Hollywood celebrities.
Among the biggest names were Michael J. Fox, Eddy Murphy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Arni, as Schwarzenegger is lovingly called by his fellow Austrians, was very active and made
commercials for a power drink, a noodle soup, cable TV, and beer, and Brad Pitt did
commercials for Honda, Rolex, Roots Coffee, and banking in the desert. What really made
Pitt “hip” in Japan, was his mispronunciation of Edwin Jeans’ 503. He should have sung go
maru san (English: five-point/oh-three). Instead, he sang go mari san (English: five-ball-
three), which did not make sense and was also wrong and just bad Japanese. Young customers
started to imitate Pitt, because they thought it was fashionable. Edwin Jeans then took this one
step further and kept him mispronouncing 503 in more commercials, in which a Western
woman tried to teach him how to say the sentence right. The result being – some more big
money coming in for Pitt and Edwin Jeans.

It was not only Schwarzenegger and Pitt coming to Japan for fast and easy money.
Japander.com shows Japanese TV commercials by a vast array of Western celebrities that
were only made for the Japanese domestic market. Mila Schevchenko writes in her article
“Japanese Pride Makes A Comeback: Foreigners in Japanese Commercials”, “most of the ads
of that time period, shot in Japan for the Japanese market, have never been shown outside of
Japan – foreign stars would not risk alienating their core audience in their respective home
countries by exposing them to something ridiculous or even offensive by Western standards ...
since PR crises are quite costly to fix.” With help of the Internet and Japander.com, people
allover the world have access to these videos today. The exposure of Japanese commercials
on the Internet has caused many celebrities that did not want their commercials to be seen by
their own domestic audiences, to request Japander to take them off their website.

Reuters reported on 1 August 2006 that today, Japanese advertisement budgets have shrunk,
because “Japan’s economic miracle suddenly hit the buffers in the late 1990s“. In the late
1990s, after the Asian financial crisis and the real estate bubble, the Japanese advertising
industry realized that they could sign an Asian celebrity and achieve almost the same results.
Western stars still ask for millions of dollars, whereas Asian stars will do similar ads for far
less money and might be more popular within Japan. Akihiko Sasamoto from the Asian
casting division of Hakuhodo advertising agency, said, “Japanese celebrities and Korean stars,
who have been riding a wave in Japan recently and who are familiar to housewives here,
appear much more frequently than Western stars.” He added, “Korean and Taiwanese
entertainment has been enjoying a boom in Japan in the last two or three years, and that boom
is valuable because it offers the novelty of something that people have never had the
opportunity of experiencing before.”

Reading Ilya Vedrashko’s “Japan Ad Industry Loses Interest in US Stars” blog entry, I came
across another remark by Sasamoto, emphasizing that more young Japanese speak English,
and Western people are seen more often on TV or on Japanese streets than in the past. “There
is no freshness left in Westerners. … The mystique seems to have vaporized”, he said. Yukio
Mori from Systrat Corp., a marketing and promotion consultancy in Tokyo, makes his point
saying that the Hollywood brand name is not the best anymore, and Hollywood actors are no
longer effective. Consumers favor familiar singers or artists and not foreign movie stars.

3.1  Asian  Faces    

There is a shift from Western to Asian faces. Koreans, who make up the largest minority in
Japan, have found much success and sympathy. The FIFA Soccer World Cup held jointly by
South Korea and Japan in 2002 has helped to develop a closer friendship between the two
neighbors. A South Korean soap opera called A Winter Sonata (Orig.: Gyeoul Yeonga) took
Japan by storm with its charismatic and handsome actor Bae Yong-joon, or Yon-sama, as his
Japanese fans like to call him. Recognizing the show’s popularity, Japan’s Prime Minister
Junichiro Koizumi said in an interview with BBC, “Yon-sama is more popular than me.”

Not only has the market for foreign celebrities tightened up due to the increased use of local
talents, but also animated figures have taken some of the prestigious jobs. The 1990s saw the
rise of Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) in the computer game industry, with the creation
of many interesting characters, which became as popular or even more popular than the real
people. Lara Croft, from Sony Playstation’s adventure game Tomb Raider, was the pioneer of
this genre followed by Final Fantasy VII, another big hit by Playstation.

3.2  Westerners  on  Japanese  TV    

Nevertheless, who are those Westerners on Japanese TV speaking flawless Japanese, and why
are they still popular if there is no longer any interest in Hollywood?

Amid the best-known foreign entertainers in Japan is Bob “The Beast” Sapp. His popularity
gave Time Magazine the incentive to dedicate a cover story to “The Beast”. Sapp’s career
started as an average football player in the USA, where he never gained the necessary
recognition to become a top professional player and stay in the game. After failing a
mandatory steroids test, Sapp decided to focus on fighting and eventually found his way to
Japan, where he became a K-1 fighter and a pro wrestler. With his increasing popularity, he
was offered a role in Taiho Shichauzo in 2003, a Japanese TV series, and in 2004, Japanese
cult director Takashi Miike offered him a guest appearance in his movie Izo. This opened a
new market for Sapp. After some commercials and guest roles, film studios hired him to act in
major movie productions, such as 20th Century Fox’s Elektra. After having lost popularity in
the USA, and having found a revival in Japan, Sapp was able to climb up the ladder of
success one more time.

Bob Sapp is only one example of a foreigner who did not make it in his own country but
found success in the land of the rising sun. The next section will discuss the gaijin tarento
phenomenon more in detail.

4  Gaijin  Tarento    
What is a gaijin tarento? Gaijin means outsider and is not a polite word to use when talking
about foreigners. In gaijin tarento it is used as abbreviation for gaikokujin, person from an
outside country, or simply foreigner. Tarento comes from the word talent and its literal
meaning is not used. A talent is “a person who possesses unusual innate ability in some field
or activity”. This definition applies only moderately to the gaijin tarento in Japan. Even
though their contributions to shows are not limited to hosting, singing, talking, participating in
discussions, and observing happenings in various situations, it is safe to assume that most of
these so-called talents would never become famous in their respective countries. In my
opinion, they are not talented enough to succeed in the west. Consequently, their talent is only
good enough to become moderately successful in Japan.

In my opinion, gaijin tarento are not famous for what they can do; they are famous for being
famous. This does not mean they do not have to work to earn their money. The mostly
American tarento have to be fluent in Japanese, look Western, or simply correspond to certain
stereotypes. Americans or Europeans usually have blue eyes, fair skin, and fair hair. All this
may seem like a circus attraction, in which Westerners sell themselves to make money.
Nevertheless, the rewards are worth selling one’s face and maybe one’s pride to a certain
extent. Dave Spector, one of the most prominent gaijin tarento, earns half a million dollars a
year, just for appearing on variety shows and doing what he is good at: being famous.

4.1  Why  is  there  a  Market  for  Gaijin  Tarento  after  all?    
The answer to this question lies within Japanese society. To put it in the words of Juliet
Hindell, a BBC correspondent in Tokyo, “Japanese like to compare themselves with others”.
They compare and contrast what is going on in their country with what is going on
somewhere else in the world. One good example is the never-ending comparison between the
Japanese Imperial family and the British Royal family. The Japanese media never stops
reporting about the Imperial family’s offspring problem, and contrasts the situation with the
paparazzi tormenting the Windsors’ lives. A foreigner’s comparison is always welcome to get
a more objective view of Japan.

Gaijin tarento seem to be treated well in Japan. The fact that one of them can earn $500,000 a
year shows how much their contribution is appreciated. In contrast, popularity surveys of
local and gaijin tarento in Japan, made by Macromill, a top Internet research company in
Japan, show that in 2003 and 2004 local Japanese tarento take up almost all top ranks in all
genres. There are only a few positions, which are taken by foreign celebrities. Producers want
them to be critical in a direct and rather cruel way, and they are asked to express their
opinions strongly so that people will take notice. Confidence is a very important feature of a
gaijin tarento and highly recommended for when they speak their minds and start arguing
with Japanese presenters.
In her article, Hindell raises the question, “Why do Japanese care what foreigners think of
Japan?” My answer to this question is, Japanese are afraid of confrontation. Already in their
early years, “schools teach children not to speak out”. They learn not to disagree with their
sensei (English: teacher) or with any other superior, not even in the case of helpful advice.
This leads to a fear of saying no and taking everything the way it is. Foreigners are not
expected to behave like Japanese do because they simply are not Japanese. They can express
themselves freely on television, state opinions that every other Japanese commentator would
be fired for stating, and all Japanese viewers can hear their point of view. No one will judge
them like they would judge a Japanese commentator; they will solely be judged as a gaijin

4.2  Leader  Of  The  Pack    

Japan’s most popular gaijin tarento, and therefore leader of the pack, is Dave Spector.
Originally, from Chicago, USA, Spector went to Japan in the 1980s as a producer for ABC’s
“Ripley’s Believe It Or Not”. He was already fluent in Japanese and was able to participate in
different TV shows, which were supposed to be a short adventure. Eventually, the Jewish
American producer found much success in Japanese show business, and he ended up staying.
His career snowballed and soon Spector was on many different Japanese TV channels.

When talking about Japanese television, Chris Betros quotes Dave Spector in its
JapanToday.com article, “On the one hand, TV in Japan is more exciting, much faster and
more spontaneous. The stars here go from one station to the other, whereas in the States or
Britain, you tend to stick with one show or network. On the other hand, there tends to be a lot
of collusion between the agencies and the networks. I would say 70% of the so-called
Japanese tarento are cast only because they are in a big agency. They are not used for their
merit.” Comparing this statement to the statement ‘Gaijin tarento are not famous for what
they can do; they are famous for being famous’, we find a certain correlation. Spector claims
that certain Japanese tarento are only famous for the same reason he is. This is somewhat

Dave Spector’s response to criticism about what gaijin tarento do on TV is, “I don’t think it
would be satisfying to be on TV just because I speak Japanese. Some other foreigners are
happy to just clown around in Japanese. They show up and never take risks. I try to bring a lot
more to the programs and take a journalistic approach.” It is true that Spector is one of the
few gaijin tarento, who has earned a high level of respect from the Japanese audience as a
serious talent. Unfortunately, the dancing bear syndrome applies to Spector as well as to
almost every other gaijin who thinks of himself or herself as a talent in Japan.

4.3  Dancing  Bear  Syndrome    

One of the definitions I found while researching the dancing bear syndrome of gaijin tarento
was, “decent looking and fun to party with”. This definition reflects one portion of the gaijin
tarento. In the educational movie “The Japanese Version”, Dave Spector himself confesses,
“Making foreigners cuter takes away the threat of foreigners being more powerful, or having
more know-how, or more sophistication.” They are somehow kakkoii (English: cool, neat) or
kawaii (English: cute, pretty), and many Japanese viewers enjoy watching them do whatever
they are requested to do at that particular moment. In addition, give the dancing bear a taste of
honey so that he or she will not act up or misbehave and the cool and cute bear will keep on
dancing for the spectators. That is what most – if not all – gaijin tarento do for their Japanese

Mr. Nathan S. Bryan, a former gaijin tarento, told me that foreign celebrities on Japanese
television are told what to wear and when to speak, and they are selected because of their
features. Japanese audiences do not want to see a foreigner who is much smarter than they are
and who rummages through their business in a big way. Of course, gaijin tarento are asked to
speak their minds, but it is never on a deep level. Japanese want to be in control of the
situation, and these are only a few reasons why he quit being a gaijin tarento. Therefore, only
the so-called dancing bears find their way onto the Japanese TV screen today. Imagine
having a strong foreign personality in between two weak local characters who cannot keep up
with what the foreigner is saying. This is not an image that would be accepted by the Japanese
viewers. Because of this, Westerners such as Daniel Kahl and Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan are
cast for TV shows. They are fluent in Japanese and each has a special feature in their act.
Daniel Kahl speaks with a provincial accent, which is very strange for a foreigner, and
“Pakkun” is the host of a very popular English-learning-for-Japanese show on Japanese
television called “Eigode Shabera Naito” (English: You Should Speak English). They are not
hired for their academic degrees. It is just more amusing to see a foreign bear dance.

Would charismatic Western commentators such as Larry King or David Letterman ever have
a chance as a giajin tarento in Japan? Not at the moment. After the Japan-bashing of the 1980s
and 1990s, Japan has built up a strong sense of national identity. This has led to a strong
feeling of being Japanese and not just being a follower of the West. In the 1960s and 1970s,
French actor Alain Delon did commercials in Japan, where he was portrayed as a real
masculine man: he was sexy, cool, dangerous, and successful. Those times are over now. One
could argue that Japanese people have found their own Alain Delons. One of these Japanese
Alain Delons is actor Mokomichi Hayami. When I was reading posts about Mokomichi at
Jdorama.com, a forum dedicated to Japanese celebrities, I kept coming across the same two
words over and over again: tall and cute. This is how his admirers describe him. He has
played in many different movies and TV series, and he incorporates the type of man female
Japanese viewers like to dream about. Like many other Asian men, Mokomichi does not have
masculine features like Alain Delon or Sean Connery. He has no facial hair, he does not look
half as scary as Mickey Rourke, and he would not stand a chance when fighting Chuck
Norris. Because of this, my opinion is that Japanese people have not found their own Alain
Delons – they have only switched from a masculine, foreign macho man to a feminine local

4.4  Stereotypes    
Japanese TV producers choose their gaijin tarento carefully and create a special act for them.
These niches are usually based on stereotypes.

Bob “The Beast” Sapp and Bobby Ologun might have created one of the most controversial
stereotypes for foreigners in Japan. They play big, strong, and naïve Africans to a large
degree. They promote horrible stereotypes by playing the unintelligent sambo and thus, set
back the Africans’ image by a few hundred years, upsetting other Africans and Afro-
Americans in- and outside of Japan. No one wants to be represented by someone who sells
himself and especially his culture just to entertain a whole nation that does not know that
culture at all. This leads to strong stereotypes that are hard to change. Many Japanese do not
know any Africans or Afro-Americans and due to the stereotyping they believe they all are
like Sapp or Ologun.

Bobby Ologun speaks incorrect and foolish Japanese, and acts as if he was stupid and
unintelligent to make his audiences laugh. At a TV appearance with Hamasaki Ayumi, the
Madonna of Japanese pop music, Ologun’s performance hit the climax of degradation of the
Afro-stereotype. He mispronounced Hamasaki’s name in many different ways, and made a
fool of himself, which was funny for a while. As the conversation went on, the two Japanese
hosts started picking on Ologun and insulting him because of his acted stupidity and
ignorance. In many countries, these kinds of insults would not be tolerated on television, but it
was part of Ologun’s character to play and endure the offenses and counter them with new
and ignorant statements. One of the hosts went as far as hitting Ologun on the head, which
seemed funny to the Japanese audience, but might have seemed too audacious for a Western
audience. Everyone in the audience laughed about Ologun’s stupid behavior and the hosts’
rude conduct.

As stated on a popular blog named “Sista In Tokyo”, “[Bobby Ologun and Bob Sapp are]
promoting a body/brawn and no brain-stereotype, and they are very successful in doing it to
the distaste of Black SocioCultural associations in Japan. The “Foreign Dispatches: Steppin
Fetchits in Japan” blog comments that one of the Black SocioCultural associations was going
to approach Ologun and ask him to stop fostering this image. Sapp found an open door to the
movie industry, where he eventually found a more neutral place, which no longer hurts the
image of Afro-Americans in Japan. Ologun, instead, faced an assault charge after allegedly
attacking the president of his talent agency. According to Wikipedia.org, “Ologun was banned
for three months from appearing on Japanese television ... Through the promotion of his
brother, Andy, as a soon-to-be K-1 middleweight fighter in Japan, Bobby has found his way
back on television periodically as a guide and translator for him, but still takes the time to
promote himself as well.”

Japan has a foreign population of about 1.57 percent, and moreover, non-Asian foreigners
make up an inconsiderable part of it. Therefore, not many Africans and Afro-Americans live
in Japan to counter the damage Ologun and Sapp have done to their culture. Fortunately, there
are other examples of foreigners, who are big in Japan and who never had to suppress their
real identity.

5  After  They  Were  Famous    

Only a few celebrities can hold on to their stardom. For most of them, there comes a time
when their attractiveness disappears and no one is interested in their face anymore. It is
important to take action to become wanted again. One way to do that is to enter a new market,
which is interested in what one has to offer. Japan is known for its different taste and its
unorthodox way of doing business, and therefore, it usually turns out to be an interesting
adventure for many western celebrities.

5.1  Codino  Divino    

One of the celebrities, who marketed himself as he really was, is the Italian football star
Roberto “Roby” Baggio. Roby has won different awards such as the Bravo award in 1990,
assigned to the best player under the age of 24. He received the world’s most prestigious
football award, the FIFA Golden Football Award, for the world’s best football player in 1993,
and has been chosen as one of the best living players in the world. Roby had his prime from
the late 1980s until the late 1990s. Because of some very serious drawbacks in his career,
Roby decided to start a new venture in a new market, and after converting to Buddhism and
joining Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a new network and target audience was found. He
faded from the European football market and built up an even bigger following than he
already had in Japan. Roby endorses perfume and clothes, and there are always posters or
lifelike mannequins representing his presence in every sport store. In addition to this, DVDs
of his best performances have been released that strengthen his stardom.

Roberto Baggio’s success can be viewed from different angles. Many Japanese football fans
follow the European championships because their level of entertainment is much higher than
the one in Japan. Japanese love the famous European football stars from the past and those
from today, such as David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, and Roberto Baggio,
and when one of them decides to market himself in Japan in a big way, fame is guaranteed.

Baggio was not the first football star to come to Japan. The J. League was founded in 1992
and had its kick-off on May 15, 1993. Many foreign stars from overseas were brought into the
Japanese football league to introduce glamour and a professional attitude to the league. In
return, they earned substantial amounts of money for their soon-to-come retirement. Even
though most of these last generation kickers had become outdated in the West, they were
highly recognized in Japan and were considered to be ambassadors of football. Many of them
were 30+ years old and it was probably their last chance as active football players to gain
success one last time before retirement. The following list of footballers shows a few
examples of International football stars joining the J. League in 1993:

⇒ Zico, Country of Origin: Brazil, Date of Birth: 3 March 1953

⇒ Pierre Littbarksi, Country of Origin: Germany/Australia, Date of Birth: 16 April 1960
⇒ Gary Lineker, Country of Origin: England, Date of Birth: 30 November 1960
⇒ Guido Buchwald, Country of Origin: Germany, Date of Birth: 24 January 1961

As an example, German football legend Pierre “Litti” Littbarski was thirty-three years old
when he brought a new twist to the J. League, becoming a superstar overnight. Litti left
Germany in 1993 because he might have been too old to be signed by any winning
Bundesliga club, and was searching for one last opportunity to make it big. That could be the
reason why he decided to take on the challenge of playing in a rather unknown and easier
league, but still make good money by “kicking balls” with less skilled footballers. The
difference between Littbarski and Baggio is that Baggio never played for a Japanese football
club. Baggio can be considered something of a gaijin tarento; he is famous in Japan for being

Another point of view for Baggio’s success could be his conversion to SGI, which is Japan’s
Buddhist association with more than 12 million devotees worldwide. Due to this fact, the
fashionable former football star was able to spread his name across Japan faster than others
with only a few articles in the organization’s newspaper. Kevin Buckland quotes the soccer
legend in the Japanese Metropolis online magazine in 2005, “In Buddhism I found the
strength to get through difficult moments in my life,” he said. “I gained a belief in myself that
wasn’t possible before.” Roby is known to be a nice, quiet and in almost every situation
friendly person, even when encountering rude journalists. This being the case, it is unlikely to
assume that Baggio only joined SGI for greater support, as has been the case with various
Hollywood stars becoming Scientologists in the 1990s.

Baggio used of his popularity well and engaged in perfume and clothes endorsements;
products that can be bought in virtually every Japanese shopping mall. His appearance and
sense of fashion is unique and very appealing to Japanese customers. Baggio’s trademark has
always been his hairstyle, and football fans from all over the world still refer to him as Il
Divino Codino, the Divine Ponytail. People in Japan might not know his name, but if they are
told, “It’s the guy with the ponytail, who joined SGI”, they will know who he is. These two
features give Roby a competitive advantage over other celebrities. He is not scary like Bob
Sapp, and has about the same stature as a Japanese man. He joined a religion that promotes
peace and fosters intelligent thought. Furthermore, Roby has facial hair that makes him
masculine, and he is getting grey like Richard Gere, who has been nominated several times
for being one of the sexiest men alive. All these factors combine to make Roberto Baggio an
attractive brand, which dwells in fame and popularity, and I am sure, he is profitable for his
business partners and for himself.

5.2  The  American  Sensei    

Rock guitarist Marty Friedman has been a big name in the international music scene since his
work with guitar legend Jason Becker in Cacophony in the 1980s. Friedman has strengthened
his fame by playing with one of the most popular Rock bands in history—Megadeth, fronted
by Dave Mustaine. He currently plays in the band of Japanese mega-star Aikawa Nanase and
produces guitar-learning videos for the Japanese market.
After Friedman left Megadeth, he started to conquer the Japanese guitar market by producing
guitar-learning videos and writing columns in guitar magazines. This was only possible
because of his fluency in the Japanese language. Every month, the guitar hero teaches new
techniques to his Japanese following, thanks to constant coverage in Youth Guitar and other
Japanese magazines. This leads to permanent presence in the Japanese market, and when
Friedman is touring as a guitarist for Aikawa Nanase, he enjoys even more free advertising
for his own brand.

Friedman decided to focus on a particular market, where his brand is unique and exotic. This
does not mean that he is not popular or not active in the US and Europe. He just makes
effective use of his competitive advantage, which is playing the guitar extremely well, being
involved in projects with Japanese stars, and speaking fluent Japanese as a foreigner. This is a
very simple and effective way to find success in Japan, which has worked well so far for
Friedman and for a few other musicians, such as Billy Sheehan and Paul Gilbert.

6  Before  They  Were  Famous    

Japan is not only an attractive place for outdated celebrities on the verge of retirement, but it
is also a place with a different market, where foreigners can find fame before they are able to
find success in their home country. Good examples can be found in music and in sports.

6.1  Sweet  &  Cute    

Oliver Meyer from “oliver m.anagement” manages and represents music artists worldwide
and has an especially close relationship with the Japanese market. His company is located in
Switzerland and he has business ties with the music distributor Trident Style Inc. Japan,
which releases many of Meyer’s exclusively female artists. When asked by email, why his
artists are marketable in Japan, while not enjoying popularity in their home countries he
replies, “In the end it is all about supply and demand. Japan’s culture is fortunately very
interested in different kinds of music. For example, you can find a lot of French music in
Japan too. And they like especially European girls. Furthermore it is a very good market
(about twenty times bigger than the Swiss market, good pricing etc.). Of course, there are
differences in doing business (contracts etc.). But it works.” If we consider the fact that in
Japan almost every commercial, poster, manga or anime, and every pachinko parlor follows a
certain cutie-factor-concept, Meyer is right when stating that Japanese customers like
European girls. David Graham, a fashion reporter for the Toronto Star, observed that the
cutie-factor-concept was popularized by the doe-eyed Japanimation characters; particularly by
the 14-year-old Lolita-esque anime character Sailor Moon. They look sweet and cute to the
consumer, and in addition, they have an exotic touch.

Taking a close look at Swiss pop-singer Sun’dra, it becomes obvious why her manager
focuses on the Japanese music market. Sun’dra is a cute blond and blue-eyed Swiss girl in her
early twenties with a very neat and high-pitched voice. She represents the western female
stereotype in Japan and does not scare off Japanese man because she looks sweet and shy.
Looks are very important in Japan, but of course, the artists’ music is crucial as well.
Sun’dra’s music might be too cheesy for the west, but it is perfect for Japan. There is a lot of
cheesy music in the west too, but that is exactly why it is hard for any western artist who is
considered a stereotype, to make it in a market with such high barriers to entry. In Japan,
foreign artists with stereotyped looks have less direct competition, and they can rely on their
exotic appearance. Nicole Stocker interviewed Oliver Meyer for Coop Zeitung. Meyer
explains that a Japanese music label approached him, because it was enthusiastic about
Sun’dra’s music. Her album was not released in Switzerland, since the Swiss market is
controlled by Swiss major record labels and it is safe to assume that this will not change in the
near future.

6.2  The  Swiss  Samurai    

Martial arts fighters enjoy an enormous reputation in Japan. The best fighters are seen as
national heroes—Andy Hug (1964-2000) was among the most popular fighters of all time.

Swiss national Andy Hug was given the title of “Samurai”, which in Japan is a distinction of
great honor. “The reason why the people in Japan like Andy so much is because he owns
something that the Japanese respect: a big heart, generosity, strength, and a will of iron” says
Kancho Ishii, promoter of K-1 in Japan.

Hug started his career in the K-1 League in 1993 and became famous in Japan and in the
world of martial arts. Unfortunately, martial arts are not popular enough in Switzerland for
any professional athlete to make a good living and gain the recognition he or she deserves.
Therefore, Hug had to rely solely on the international market and especially on the Asian
market. He became a national hero in Japan and practically no one knew of him in his home
country until the end of his career, which was overshadowed by his illness. Hug’s wish was to
have his last fight in Switzerland in 2000, which led to a boom in martial arts in the land. Hug
was finally recognized as the grand master he was by his compatriots. That same year Andy
Hug unexpectedly died due to leukemia. Swiss nationals were very sad to lose one of their
most popular celebrities, but not as much as Hug’s Japanese fans. They were devastated to
hear that their Swiss samurai had left them forever. His Japanese following had respected and
recognized him as an ambassador for their own culture, which made him popular and famous
in Japan.

7  Uncertainty  Avoidance  in  Japan    

Professor Geert Hofstede conducted a comprehensive study on cultural dimensions of
different countries all across the planet. The five dimensions he analyzed are, Power Distance
Index (PDI), Individualism (IND), Masculinity (MAS), Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI),
and Long-Term Orientation (LTO).

Hofstede states, ”A High Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low
tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. This creates a rule-oriented society that institutes
laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty. A Low
Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has less concern about ambiguity and
uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions. This is reflected in a society that
is less rule-oriented, more readily accepts change, and takes more and greater risks.”

When analyzing Japan, we can easily follow Hofstede’s thoughts: Japan is an island with a
population of more than 127 million people. The Japanese language is a rather difficult
language for Westerners to learn. It has thousands of kanji and two different writing system,
hiragana and katakana, and it is only spoken in Japan or among Japanese people. Despite this
fact, literacy in Japan is almost 100 percent, according to Infoplease.com, and about 95
percent of the population has a high school diploma.

Of the foreign people living in Japan, the majority is from an East Asian country such as
Korea or China. Japanese welcome foreigners in their own way and keep a certain distance to
outsiders due to their introversion and loyalty to their own group. Masculinity ranks highest in
Hofstede’s study for Japan, and individualism is kept low. These combined features make
Japan a society driven by groups of older men with low personal freedom and where people
fear the unpredictable.

Let us contrast this last statement with that of the gaijin tarento Dave Spector: Spector’s
bosses at the TV station, a group of older Japanese, control what he is supposed to talk about.
They even decide what he has to wear during the show. Every Western gaijin tarento has to
look sweet and cute to fit the stereotype of the normal Westerner. No personal freedom, even
about clothing. This prevents any unforeseen action and consequently, the Japanese
broadcaster and their audience feel safe and in a comfortable position.

7.1  The  Nail  that  sticks  up  gets  hammered  down    

There is a saying in Japan, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. This applies not only
to foreigners, but also to outsiders and to the whole community. Everyone must conform to
the rules that are set up by the society. Japan does not leave much space for individualism,
especially not for Westerners. If you walk through a university campus on orientation day or
when another formal event is being held, you will feel like a polar bear in the Antarctic.
Masses of penguin-look-alikes will be crossing your way and you will not know how to
distinguish them other than male and female. It is like an unwritten rule that students have to
wear dark and conservative business suits with a white shirt for formal gatherings. The only
difference between men and women is that the women wear in skirts. Men could be offended
if a woman wore pants in a business or formal situation.

Standardization has been brought into play by the society to make everyone the same. If
everyone is like each other, no one has to be afraid because they know what is going to
happen and what they need to expect. Another thought could come up when talking about this
kind of equality – collectivism. If we consider all these facts, Japan might be one of the few
countries in the twenty-first century where collectivism in its basic form could actually be
applied. The society and the government have hammered down innovative businesspeople
such as financier Murakami Yoshiaki from Murakami Investment Fund, and Livedoor’s
president Horie Takafumi because they did not conduct business according to Japanese

Not only are the Japanese hammered down, but it also happens to foreign companies. The
world’s second largest retailer Carrefour from France and the Swedish furniture house IKEA
had to withdraw from Japan. The Japanese were displeased with the companies’ approaches
to their customers and forced them to leave within a short period. In the case of Carrefour,
Japanese customers were expecting the French food that they were familiar with; instead, they
found products that could be found in any other grocery store. This upset Carrefour’s target
group because they did not find what they were expecting. The French retailer should have
focused on better communication between the company and its customers. A simple press
release and a campaign to present the major product lines could have kept Carrefour in the
Japanese market. Japanese consumers need to know what products they are able to buy at any
store. This prevents their fear of uncertain situations and makes them feel safe in their familiar

Compared to the West, Japan’s uncertainty avoidance is very high and as long as Japanese
people are afraid of everything that they are not familiar with, it will be hard for any foreigner
or foreign business to become established in Japan and be considered as a part of Japan.

8  Conclusion    
Let us answer the question ‘what aspects of Japanese culture and business make it possible for
some foreign nationals who are not marketable in their domestic markets to find success and
fame in Japan?’ After reading about the history of Japan since WWII and how the US
hegemony has shaped the political and social landscape of Japan, it is understandable that the
East Asian Island and the world’s number one economy are engaged in a love/hate
relationship. Japanese love foreigners on TV, who do exactly what they are told to do –
dancing like a cute bear.

Japan has the second largest economy in the world, which automatically attracts foreigners.
Hollywood, especially, found a new exotic market where fast and good money can be made.
We have discussed the different stories and the varied approaches of foreign musicians and
athletes, who have marketed themselves in Japan after or before they were famous in their
respective countries. The major facts for this situation are that most celebrities do not have a
market for their “craft” in their respective countries, as it was the case with Swiss K1-fighter
Andy Hug, or they are just not attractive enough in their domestic market because they are
one of a million. Therefore, many foreign celebrities play the “stereotype-card”, like Bob
“The Beast” Sapp, Dave Spector, and Sun’dra, to comply with Japanese expectations, even if
it means selling one’s own face and personality to an obsolete stereotype.

Gaijin tarento are the best example of people selling themselves for imaginary stardom and
fame. Dave Spector and Bob Sapp seem to be the only foreigners who have arrived at the top
of the ladder in terms of money and respect, even though their reputations might have
suffered by their sell-out. Other gaijin tarento, like Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan and Dave Kahl,
are the average dancing bears, dancing for honey in a big zoo controlled by Japanese agencies
for Japanese viewers.

Japan is the land of the rising sun and for many Westerners it is the land of rising
opportunities. The small island enjoys the world’s second largest entertainment industry,
which is mainly controlled by Japanese companies that levy high barriers to entry for
outsiders. People need to decide for themselves if it is worth selling their faces for a little
stardom in Japan.

I personally do not like to see people using stereotypes to make some extra money and hurt
the image of other cultures. The Japanese entertainment industry does not do it on purpose,
but it does not think about the consequences either. The country is not exposed to different
cultures from the West in a great way, except through Hollywood, Louis Vuitton, and UEFA
Champions League, to name just a few. This makes it difficult for Japanese to understand
how wrong the image is which is being projected by many gaijin tarento. It is obvious that
singers like Sun’dra look for the best market for their music. Since Japan offers a market
twenty times bigger than the one in her home country, she can enjoy being exotic and can take
advantage of that. On the other hand, Sun’dra and her management have to adapt to Japanese
demands and give the Japanese consumers what they expect to get.

In the end, it is all about stereotyping. From elementary school on, all Japanese wear school
uniforms and later on, in the business world, they will wear black suits. Everything is a given.
In order to break out of that to a certain extent, foreigners are recruited for television to bring
“color” onto the screen. Unfortunately, Japan’s uncertainty avoidance is very high and these
foreigners have to reproduce the picture viewers already have of them. This tightens freedom
of speech and makes them puppets of Japanese TV channels. This might also be the reason
why few gaijin want to become a tarento.

Japan is as interested in having foreign celebrities as the Beijing Zoo is interested in having
Giant Pandas. They are wanted and needed to attract viewers, but they do not want to have
too many Pandas, or gaijin tarento in the case of Japan, because the attraction might become

For anyone who is thinking about becoming a gaijin tarento, please consider the fact that the
world is getting smaller thanks to globalization, and more foreigners are being seen in Japan.
This will lead to an increasing number of “gaijin tarento” making the “species” uninteresting,
and like every rare species, even “Pandas” are more likely to become extinct.
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