U.S. ice bucket challenge picked up by Japan’s movers and shakers

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A U.S.-based social media challenge daring people to douse themselves with buckets of ice water has spread to Japan, with celebrities from billionaire Masayoshi Son to singer Ayumi Hamasaki taking up the gauntlet to boost awareness of what is known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

The so-called Ice Bucket Challenge campaign asks contenders to dump a bucket of ice water over themselves, post a video on social media, and then nominate three friends to do the same.

The nominees then have a choice. They can either take up the challenge or opt to make a donation to charitable organizations supporting the fight against Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a fatal neurodegenerative disease. They can, of course, do both if they want.

The water-dousing campaign is a publicity stunt reportedly pioneered in July by Pete Frates, a former baseball player at Boston College, to raise awareness about the disease. It quickly went viral among celebrities worldwide, including Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Mark Zuckerberg and Justin Timberlake.

The craze has now spread to conservative Japan, with singer Ayumi Hamasaki, Nobel Prize-winning scientist Shinya Yamanaka and SoftBank Corp. CEO Masayoshi Son, among others, taking up the challenge.

“I sincerely hope the culture of charity will spread to as many people as possible in Japan, too,” Son said in a video uploaded on YouTube, noting that he had been nominated by Terry Gou, founder and chairman of Foxconn.

When he was done with his speech, a fully-clothed Son doused himself three times with icy water, thoroughly drenching his clothes and inviting fits of applause from a surrounding audience — presumably SoftBank employees.

He then thrust his fists into the air before announcing the next three targets, among them Yahoo Japan Corp. President Manabu Miyasaka and GungHo Online Entertainment Inc. President Kazuki Morishita.

ALS is often characterized by symptoms such as muscle atrophy and breathing difficulties, and the number of sufferers in Japan has risen in recent years, hitting a total of 9,096 in 2012, the highest in more than 35 years, according to statistics released by the Japan Intractable Diseases Information Center.

Thanks to the widespread popularity of the challenge, the ALS Association in Washington announced on its website Tuesday that it has received $22.9 million in donations since July 29, compared to just $1.9 million a year earlier.

View more Japanese celebrities in action.