The Japan Times newsroom selected these culture stories as the most important of 2016.
1. Nothing lasts forever: After conflicting reports dominated tabloids, J-pop act SMAP finally announced a breakup planned for New Year’s Eve. Regardless of whether it was in-fighting or exhaustion that led to it, the group has made a definite impact in the world of entertainment.
2. Celebrity deaths: There were times this year when it felt like the world was losing many of its artists. Overseas we saw the deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Gene Wilder and, recently, George Michael, and Carrie Fisher followed a day later by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. Japan mourned the loss of stage legend Yukio Ninagawa, synth pioneer Isao Tomita and dancer Mika Kurosawa.
3. A pineapple, an apple and a pen: A short song went viral on YouTube, inspired countless covers from around the world and earned its creator, Pikotaro, a spot on the Billboard charts — which also got him a Guinness record in the process. Admit it, you’re singing “PPAP” in your head now, right?
4. A scandalous run: Shukan Bunshun began the year with a string of scoops involving various scandals: TV personality Becky’s affair with musician Enon Kawatani, SMAP’s infighting, the arrest of baseball star Kazuhiro Kiyohara, the tracking down of nameless juvenile murderer “Shonen A,” exposing TV personality Sean K’s false resume and politician Kensuke Miyazaki‘s affair while on paternity leave. Shukan Shincho fired back with a five-parter on disabled advocate Hirotada Ototake. The winners in this tabloid war were the readers.
5. Award nods: Musician Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, the first time it has been given to a musician. Of course, that means perennial favorite Haruki Murakami didn’t get it, but he could take comfort after the Danish honored him with the Hans Christian Andersen Award instead.
6. A surprise hit: “Kimi no Na Wa.” (“Your Name.”) was a huge hit in Japan and its success continued in China, which is now the world’s second-largest film market. Next stop: Hollywood.
7. Struggles with addiction: Pop star Aska (real name Shigeaki Miyazaki) of duo Chage & Aska was arrested and released after being accused of slipping in his rehabilitation. Former actress Saya Takagi was arrested for marijuana possession, and actor Hiroki Narimiya quit showbiz after cocaine allegations.
8. The return of Godzilla: “Shin Godzilla” was released to good reviews at home and overseas, and was a success at the domestic box office.
9. Metal rules: The young metalheads of Babymetal saw their album “Metal Resistance” make it into the top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 album chart in the U.S. — a feat that was last achieved by Kyu Sakamoto for his 1963 classic, “Sukiyaki.”
10. Twenty years of Fuji Rockin’: One of Japan’s largest music events, Fuji Rock Festival, hit a two-decade milestone. Original headline act Red Hot Chili Peppers returned to celebrate.
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