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Matsuko Ashita: The First Japanese Idol

Thennary Graduated from Seattle University with a degree in Asian Studies and is a lover of modern Japanese culture, especially the music.

Matsuko Ashita the Original Japanese Idol

Japanese idols are hardly a new thing in the J-pop landscape. They have been a major feature for decades. Still, few seem to know exactly when they started or how they originated. This article will answer these and several more questions.

Questions About the First Japanese Idol

  1. When did the Japanese idol trend begin?
  2. Who was Masuko Ashita?
  3. What made her an idol?
  4. What is Matsuko Ashita doing today?

1. When Did the Japanese Idol Trend Begin?

Most English sources cite the birth of the Japanese idol going back to the '60s when the term "idol" was coined (it replaced the term "star").

Others say that the decades of the first idol boom were the '70s and '80s. However, it is more accurate to say that the idea of the Japanese idol began with a young girl named Matsuko Ashita, who started her career in the early 1930s.

2. Who Was Masuko Ashita?

Masuko Ashita, whose real name is Toshiko Sugai, was scouted in her hometown of Kamaishi in Iwate prefecture at the age of 13 in 1933. She was asked to be an actress for Moulin Rouge at Shinjuku, a famous theater in Tokyo.

She started performing at the theater, where she became incredibly popular for her performances and looks. This led to several big contracts from major Japanese companies, such as Calpis and Kikkoman. They used her as their poster girl. However, it was not until 1946 that she made her debut as a singer with the song "Tanoshiki Ashita," recorded by the Japanese music label King Records.

Ashita Matsuko, age 15 and 97.

Ashita Matsuko, age 15 and 97.

3. What Made Her an Idol?

It was the Moulin Rouge musical act that gave her status as an idol. She had achieved all the hallmarks of a Japanese idol. From a young age, she was a star in both visual and audio media. This is a mold that all idols after her have followed.

However, like many female idols, she did not remain in the industry long. Eventually, she became a professional traditional Japanese dancer with the Gojouryuu Dance Institute in 1955, where she remained for the rest of her career.

4. What Is Matsuko Ashita Doing Today?

As of the publishing of this article, she is still alive and well. Thanks to the movie Moulin Rouge no Seishun, she recently received attention about the Moulin Rouge, Shinjuku theater.

She came for the film's screening, which marked her first public appearance in roughly 60 years. Then, in 2017, she was featured on a couple of Japanese TV programs called Ohayo Hokkaido Doyo Plus and Bakuhou!, where she gave interviews in front of her admiring fans.

While much has changed about Japanese idols since Matsuko Ashita's time, one thing remains true; idols are never truly forgotten.