The Idol Project – A Closer Look at Japan’s Most Successful Male Idols [Vol 1, Part 2] A Long Introduction

Our Idol Project articles are getting a much-needed update, with a focus on Kame, Yuto Nakajima and Ryosuke Yamada coming up soon! In this article, we celebrate the acting careers of Nino, Junichi Okada and a look at Jin Akanishi. The “short introduction” posted much earlier related to this series of articles, is like a litmus test. I mean, the names on the list should “pass” and get the stamp of approval from the idol fans and they did – with flying colors. But we’ll get back later to the 10 idols we’re putting the spotlight into.

In Part 2 of this series, we’ll do a more “detailed” introduction.

1. A Variety of Talents – What it takes to become a Japanese male idol. 

2. The “Acting” category – What it takes to become an accomplished movie and drama performer. The case of Kazunari Ninomiya.

3. And the Winner is…. – The Journey of Junichi Okada into the acting “hall of fame” Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at Japan Academy

4. Fan Service – “The kissing and hugging on the stage is nothing but fan service!”

5. The Rebels – “I got molested, so I am filing a complaint…” “I am already a star, I don’t need an agency…”

So you want to be an idol? Sorry, but that is not the question we are going to answer here. Firstly, I’m not an expert, nor am I interested in telling you that “you have what it takes to become a J-pop idol and conquer Japan”. Anyway, let’s define what a male Japanese idol is.

A Japanese male idol is more than just a celebrity. He is constantly in the public eye because he is part of a variety show and performs together with his fellow idols in a boyband or group – singing and dancing, perhaps even composing his own music and working together to entertain the fans. He is also an actor and is the lead character in the latest drama.

He definitely started out quite young (perhaps as young as 12), participates in an extensive training that includes voice coaching, acting, dancing, culture and language studies and the indoctrination of the agency’s motto and objectives. His influence and impact on the fans are phenomenal in the sense that it affect their lives and this is where we get serious. A Japanese male idol is also a marketing product, a brand with a variety of products to sell. 

Oh and yes, we’re only talking about idols from Johnny and Associates…

“The Asian idol system actually has a very ‘old Hollywood’ vibe – think along the lines of the young 1930s stars groomed by MGM,” Shimizu says. “Celebrities had tightly controlled private lives (unless romances suited PR purposes) that generally left them to at least appear available to female fans, and scandals were swiftly punished. If that old school approach doesn’t sound like Johnny and Associates, I don’t know what does.” In her book “The Worlds of Japanese Popular Culture: Gender, Shifting Boundaries and Global Cultures,” author Dolores Martinez examines the heart of idol culture and writes that television and Japan’s postwar press were the major agents for the cultural production of popular idols for mass consumption. [ source ]

Yuta Tamamori and Yuma Nakayama are idols, and in the 2013 drama Pin to Kona, they played roles of Kabuki actors, and their characters are actually rivals. Tamamori is a member of boy band “Kis-My-Ft2”, has done about 4 full-length feature films and about 10 doramas and specials. Nakayama, on the other hand, started his career in Johnny’s via Yuma Nakayama w/B.I.Shadow and later in NYC and has done only doramas since 2008. Why is that? Well, the facts are unknown since Johnny and Associates never allow the press to get close to the idols and to the agency itself. Whatever plans they have for their talents remain a secret.

Arashi is composed of five members formed under Johnny’s Entertainment talent agency. The members are Ohno Satoshi, Sakurai Sho, Aiba Masaki, Ninomiya Kazunari, and Matsumoto Jun. The group was officially formed on September 15, 1999, in Honolulu, Hawaii,


Now, we’re talking about some of Johnny’s most recognized idols – definitely more popular than both Nagayama and Tamamori combined. In Arashi, we have a member described by one very respected film critic in the US as “an ideal Oscar candidate for Best Supporting Actor” [ source ], Ninomiya (who played a Japanese soldier in the Clint Eastwood movie, Letters from Iwo Jima). When Clint Eastwood was looking for the right actor to play Private Saigo, it was Nino he picked. It turned out to be one of the best decisions he made for the movie. Garnering acclaims from critics and movie audiences, Nino’s performance is considered one of its highlights. As a backgrounder, here’s an interesting article from the LA Times dealing exclusively with the young actor:

Like most young Japanese, Ninomiya had only a sketchy idea about the events at Iwo Jima in early 1945. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he at least knew where the tiny volcanic island is located because he has a map of Japan on the wall of his bathroom at home “and when I sit down, Iwo Jima is right in front of my eyes.” He went into the role the way Japanese soldiers went to battle: unsure of the fate that awaited them, suppressing their emotions. Japanese directors like to exaggerate emotions, he says, cranking up the tears and the music. “They make movies with greater and greater emotion, and it’s not realistic,” Ninomiya says. “So if you make a movie [like ‘Letters’] that is based on reality, some people will find it uninteresting. They will say I should have cried more in certain scenes.”

Ninomiya shed his tears after the film was in the can. His grandfather had been a soldier sent off to fight Japan’s imperial wars. And he told his grandson about his war: stationed in the occupied Korean peninsula, taken prisoner by Soviet troops, incarcerated in Siberia. Then the grandson, having played a suffering soldier facing slaughter in a hopeless cause, found himself one night watching another war drama on Japanese TV.

“I couldn’t stop crying,” he says. “I cried because it was my grandfather’s story.” [ source ]


I guess it depends a lot on the director when it comes to Nino’s acting. Well, I don’t know what happened to Nino’s acting career since after Letters from Iwo Jima and that TV movie, Door to Door, his performances became uninspired, lackluster even.

There were talks that perhaps it was his personal choice to concentrate on variety shows since it might be an easier route… Come again? I thought Johnny and Associates dictate what you can do and cannot do as part of their roster of talents? Even if he is not “too interested” in acting, he has a contract with the agency and he has to perform by all means. Not to get too fired up, again we don’t know what happens inside this extremely secretive and insular agency. Enough of the speculation then!


Oh, there goes the name of Toma Ikuta! [ we’ll have more of him later on ]

So, let’s leave Nino for the moment. Anyway, we’ll never get any answer from the agency and from any other sources for that matter. Let’s see what happens when the idol and the plans for him were realized. In the case of Junichi Okada, everything seems to be working perfectly. I mean, he did a Kate Winslet!

[ Winslet won both Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards ] 

Not a fan of Okada and I’m still debating with myself about his performance in The Eternal Zero where he won Best Actor at the Japan Academy Prize, maybe because I’m biased towards Shota Sometani, who is also part of the cast and in my opinion did better than all the other cast. Anyway, we cannot change “history”, as they say.



What is Fan service? Well, it’s a “state” where the idols are trying to fulfill the fans’ collective fantasy. By fantasy, we mean certain situations that will never happen in real life, as defined by the fans themselves. I mean, the hugging and the kissing on stage between male idols are meant to titillate and tease (and so I was told), and such behaviors are tolerated for the sake of “fun” and entertainment. 

Never in a hundred years would the fans want someone like Yuto Nakajima and Ryosuke Yamada to become lovers and become gay, God forbid!

Finally, is there a dark side to all of these? When what we all “see” are sugary sweet fun images of male idols enjoying each others’ company and performing for the fans, and doing their own personal fan service, is there any hidden, dark side? Of course, there is, but then again, these are all speculation.

I’m not going to let myself get sued over something as petty as speculating whether someone got molested when they joined Johnny and Associates. There are reports on sexual assault and whatnot, but the results of any investigation or any particular “lawsuit” are not very clear. And I don’t care to elaborate.

When I first had this idea about writing about the idols and in particular, Johnny and Associates talents, what I have in mind are profiles of such favorites as Toma Ikuta, Ninomiya Kazunari, Yuto Nakajima and my personal bias, Nishikido Ryo, who happens to remain unmentioned so far. 



In 2013, he made his Hollywood debut with the film 47 Ronin which also had Keanu Reeves in the lead role. Akanishi played the role of Chikara Oishi, the samurai leader’s son, played by Hiroyuki Sanada and a close friend to Reeves’ character, Kai. The film’s director, Carl Erik Rinsch, said he was “impressed by Akanishi’s English abilities and motivation”. Thus, he turned out to be the second Johnny & Associates artist within the agency after Ninomiya Kazunari in Letters From Iwo Jima to star in a Hollywood movie and the third overall to work with an American director.[ source ]

Anyway, Jin Akanishi supposedly is one of the very few talents who left the agency. We can’t even confirm if this is true since all the links have been deleted regarding the news…

In Part 3, we’ll finally talk about the “greatest” Johnny’s idol ever – Takuya Kimura.

Let me know your thoughts…. 


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