Photo: Pakutaso

Emperors, anime icons and porn stars show up in six-nation survey of most famous Japanese people

By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Over the last few decades, Japanese media and celebrities have been making inroads into popular culture overseas. South Korean audiences follow trendy Japanese TV dramas, American youths marathon anime through online streaming services, and sports fans cheer on Japanese athletes at venues around the globe.

Amidst this evolving media environment, the Tokyo-based Japan Pres Research Institute has been carrying out annual awareness surveys, asking people of other nations what they know and feel about Japan. In the latest iteration, the organization spoke to roughly 1,000 participants each in the U.S., the UK, France, China, South Korea, and Thailand. In one part of the study, respondents were asked to give, if they could, the name of a famous Japanese person, living or dead, that they knew.

While there was plenty of overlap, certain individuals appeared only on one country’s list, or were far better-known in one territory than others. Let’s take a look at each nation’s top 10 responses.


  1. Shinzo Abe (80 responses)
  2. Emperor Hirohito (55)
  3. Ichiro (11)
  4. Emperor Akihito (11)
  5. Yoko Ono (11)
  6. Isoroku Yamamoto (11)
  7. Yasuo Fukuda (7)
  8. Akira Kurosawa (6)
  9. Hayao Miyazaki (6)
  10. Hideki Tojo (5)

Japan’s current prime minister occupied the top spot in the U.S., a nation with whom his country has considerable economic and defense relationships. Other political figures were World War II-era leader Emperor Hirohito and his contemporaries Imperial Navy Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto and Imperial Army General Hideki Tojo, as well as current Emperor Akihito and former prime minister Yasuo Fukuda, who served in that capacity for roughly a year from 2007 to 2008.

Moving on to the arts, we see conceptual artist Yoko Ono, perhaps better known to many overseas as the lover of Beatles member John Lennon, along with Japan’s most famous live-action and anime film directors, Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki. Finally, the sole sports representative is baseball player Ichiro, who’s been showing off his skills at America’s pastime in the Major Leagues for 16 years now.

● UK

  1. Emperor Hirohito (63)
  2. Yoko Ono (13)
  3. Shinzo Abe (11)
  4. The Prime Minister (8)
  5. The Emperor (7)
  6. Shinji Kagawa (6)
  7. Kazuo Ishiguro (6)
  8. Hokusai Katsushika (6)
  9. Haruki Murakami (5)
  10. Hideo Kojima (5)

Hirohito garnered far more responses than any other person in the UK poll, which is also the first (though not the last) list to include the vague responses of “the Prime Minister” and “the Emperor,” which were apparently good enough for the Japan Pres Research Institute’s interviewers.

With the UK’s lack of interest in baseball, Ichiro didn’t make the cut, but Japanese athletics are here represented by professional soccer player Shinji Kagawa, who had a two-year stint with Manchester United. Japanese-born, UK-raised novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, author of "Remains of the Day," edged out fellow writer Haruki Murakami, who were joined by master ukiyo-e artist Hokusai and iconic video game creator Hideo Kojima, of "Metal Gear" fame.


  1. Emperor Hirohito (93)
  2. Shinzo Abe (37)
  3. Naruto (18)
  4. Hayao Miyazaki (16)
  5. Yoko Ono (15)
  6. The Emperor (15)
  7. Akira Kurosawa (13)
  8. Akira Toriyama (10)
  9. Pikachu/Pokémon (10)
  10. Kei Nishikori (9)

France’s passion for anime and manga manifested with no fewer than four of its slots going to figures from the world of Japanese animation and comics, and not just real people like "Dragon Ball" creator Akira Toriyama. Coming in at third was fictional ninja Naruto, star of the anime/manga franchise of the same name, and "Pokemon" mascot Pikachu also secured a spot in the top 10 after his votes were pooled with those of the collective species of Pokémon in general (no doubt much to the chagrin of Eevee fans).

In the sphere of sports, we once again see a different game capturing the public’s attention with the inclusion of tennis player Kei Nishikori.

● China

  1. Shinzo Abe (319)
  2. Junichiro Koizumi (74)
  3. Hayao Miyazaki (54)
  4. Haruki Murakami (42)
  5. Momoe Yamaguchi (25)
  6. Hideki Tojo (18)
  7. Ken Takakura (16)
  8. Isoroku Yamamoto (16)
  9. Keigo Higashino (16)
  10. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (15)

China and Japan have never had a particularly harmonious political relationship, and their high-profile disagreements and military conflicts are reflected in a number of modern and former political leaders on the list, including Junichiro Koizumi, Japan’s prime minister from 2001 to 2006, and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the 16th century Shogun-substitute who twice invaded Korea with the aim of pushing onwards to China.

On friendlier notes, Hayao Miyazaki had his strongest showing here and mystery novelist Keigo Higashino cracks the top 10. The Chinese list also showed a soft spot for old school Japanese show business stars. Actress Momoe Yamaguchi and actor Ken Takakura, whose careers were most active in the 1970s, starred in TV series and movies which were able to see distribution in China during a period when the country was far more restrictive about foreign media than it is even today, and apparently left a lasting impression.

● South Korea

  1. Shinzo Abe (531)
  2. Toyotomi Hideyoshi (49)
  3. Ito Hirobumi (34)
  4. Kakuei Tanaka (13)
  5. Junichiro Koizumi (11)
  6. Yasuhiro Nakasone (11)
  7. The Emperor (10)
  8. Haruki Murakami (8)
  9. Tokugawa Ieyasu (8)
  10. Mao Asada (5)

Politicians dominated the Korean list. In addition to those previously discussed, the top responses included Ito Hirobumi (Japan’s first Resident-General to oversee Korea during the period the country was under Japanese rule), former prime minster Kakuei Tanaka (who served two terms in the early 1970s), Yasuhiro Nakasone (prime minster from 1982 to 1987), and Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the three-century shogunate that followed Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s rule and comtinued until the end of Japan’s feudal era.

The Korean responses also give us our first professional figure skater in the top 10, the recently retired Mao Asada.

● Thailand

  1. Shinzo Abe (178)
  2. Doraemon (111)
  3. The Emperor (59)
  4. Emperor Akihito (50)
  5. Maria Ozawa (20)
  6. Kobori (17)
  7. X-Japan (16)
  8. Kyoko Fukuda (16)
  9. Nobita Nobi (14)
  10. Sora Aoi (13)

And finally, we come to Thailand, which turned in the most unique list of the bunch. Aside from Prime Minister Abe and Emperor Akihito, you’re not likely to find any of these entries in a social studies textbook, but most of them are, in their own ways, influential figures in modern Japanese culture (with the exception of Kobori, who’s actually a Japanese character in a Thai novel).

Anime robot cat Doraemon was famous enough to grab second place, and his series costar Nobita Nobi also climbed onto the list, along with esteemed rock band X-Japan (which actually has five members) and actress/singer Kyoko Fukuda.

Thai respondents also were familiar with half-Canadian, half-Japanese former adult video actress Maria Ozawa and Sora Aoi, who, like Ozawa, rose to prominence as a porn star before transitioning into less salacious media work in other parts of Asia. The filmographies of Ozawa and Aoi are in stark contrast to Doraemon and Nobita’s roles in "Great Adventure in the Antarctic" and "Nobita and the Birth of Japan," but that just goes to show how much variety there is in Japan’s media output.

Source: Japan Press Research Institute via Jin

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© SoraNews24

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I love the Thai's Maria Ozawa lmao

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This means the Thais are actually knowing the stuff worth knowing.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

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