Culture | CULTURE NOTES

Japan's 'Beyonce' makes her mark, as the nation's influencers are revealed

by Alyssa I. Smith

Staff Writer

Japanese influencers are having their moment on the global stage. On Sept. 25, Forbes Japan published a list of 50 YouTube, Twitter and Instagram accounts, organized into seven categories of “influence” rather than being solely based on follower numbers. Among the homegrown professional athletes, models, TV personalities and entrepreneurs, there were a few names that have been making waves in pop culture here and overseas.

Naomi Watanabe, affectionately dubbed the “Beyonce of Japan,” comes in third in the “number of followers” category. She became the most followed person on Instagram in Japan after making her mark on variety shows lip-syncing and dancing to singer Beyonce’s “Dreamgirls” and “Crazy in Love.” Over the past 10 years, Watanabe has become the unofficial face of body positivity in Japan as an advocate of pocchari (chubby) fashion, but has also steadily made inroads abroad. She was one of the faces, alongside names like SZA and Awkwafina, for clothing retailer Gap’s Logo Remix campaign and was named one of Time magzine’s “25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2018.” She has collaborated with cosmetics brands and has her own size-inclusive fashion line, Punyus. And if her appearance on the upcoming season of Netflix hit “Queer Eye” — which is all about celebrating diverse forms of beauty — is any indication, Watanabe is on the brink of becoming a more recognizable figure for body positivity everywhere.

Marie Kondo, the organizing guru who became one of 2019’s biggest pop culture exports with her “KonMari” method of decluttering, unsurprisingly appears on the list, too. Although Kondo has been a well-known figure among those with a hankering for tidying with her book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” published in more than 30 countries, she was launched to international stardom this year thanks to the debut of her Netflix show, “Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.” Telling people to toss away anything that doesn’t “spark joy” has since evolved from a lifestyle philosophy to an inescapably popular meme.

Meanwhile, the inclusion of Kizuna Ai marks a sign of the changing landscape of online entertainment. The virtual anime character was introduced to the world in 2016 via YouTube and has gone on to star in TV shows and commercials and even launch a music career. While such virtual YouTubers are still distinctly Japanese, Ai’s popularity has helped pave the way for the rise of non-Japanese virtual celebrities like digital Instagram model Lil Miquela.

Additionally, the nation’s elderly have been enjoying a taste of international viral fame, albeit on a smaller scale, by reminding youngsters that old people can be cool, too. Kimiko Nishimoto, a 91-year-old amateur photographer, delighted netizens with her self-portraits, in which she positions herself in whimsical and absurd situations. A sexagenarian couple, known online as Bonpon511, who amassed a legion of followers with frequent posts of their coordinating outfits showing off their sartorial flair, also made the list.