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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.

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 This Article Answers

  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 began her career in the early 1930s.

2. Who Was Masuko Ashita?

Masuko Ashita, who's 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 popular theater in Tokyo.

She started performing at the theater, where she became incredibly popular for her performances and looks. This lead 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," which was recorded by the Japanese music label King Records.

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 moved on to become a professional traditional Japanese dancer with the Gojouryuu Dance Institute in 1955, where she remained for the rest of her career.

Ashita Matsuko, age 15 and 97.

Ashita Matsuko, age 15 and 97.

4. What Is Matsuko Ashita Doing Today?

As of the publishing of this article, she is still alive and well. She recently received attention thanks to the movie "Moulin Rouge no Seishun," about the Moulin Rouge, Shinjuku theater. She came for the screening of the film, 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.

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