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Disgraced scientist Haruko Obokata back in public eye with photo spread in weekly magazine

by Mark Schreiber

Contributing Writer

‘Hello, Bunshun-san. Yesterday I wrote in my diary that, ‘Well, it’s come to this, that I am working with you.'”

So begins a short essay by Haruko Obokata that accompanied three glossy color photographs, called gurabia (short for “color rotogravure”) appearing at the front of the May 17 issue of Shukan Bunshun magazine.

The photos were taken by one of Japan’s most accomplished portrait photographers, Kishin Shinoyama. Her black, sleeveless dress descends to mid-calf length and the photos are perfectly proper, although one pose, in a prone position with eyes closed, may be considered remotely suggestive.

One blogger who goes by the handle “Wolflog” identified her garment as being from Gucci, and claimed it retails for ¥213,840. The amount Obokata received for her essay and photos, however, remains open to speculation. Several years ago, when her troubles were at their peak, it was rumored she was offered to appear undraped in a magazine for ¥50 million.

Obokata, 34, is neither an entertainer nor a guradoru (gravia idol, i.e., pinup girl), at least in the professional sense.

In early 2014, she published two articles in the British scientific journal Nature based on her doctoral studies, “Isolation of pluripotent adult stem cells discovered from tissues derived from all three germ layers.”

Her scientific breakthrough proved to be anything but, and over a short span of time, her career crashed and had burned. By June that same year, Nature announced her papers would be withdrawn. In July, she had failed to replicate the results of her study in the laboratory and, a month later, her mentor and co-author Yoshiki Sasai committed suicide. Her doctorate degree was rescinded.

She has been rumored to have been lying low in Kobe, but she occasionally surfaces for interviews. This time, she’s promoting an account of her circumstances from December 2014 to October 2016, a 304-page work from Chuo Koron Shinsha titled “The Diary of Haruko Obokata.”

“Since I underwent an extremely unusual experience, I thought it would not be a waste of time to leave behind a record of the way things transpired,” she wrote.

“One of the key personages that figures in the diary is Bunshun-san. I was thinking that if your readers peruse my diary, they might be able to enjoy aspects from different perspectives than they might have otherwise expected.

“So I made the decision to appear in Bunshun because I wanted them to read it.”

She admits that she felt resistance at first to conveying her feelings “because the coverage has been almost entirely negative.”

“But as a person who has been hounded, I felt all the more strongly moved to leave behind an accurate record, so I decided to publish,” she wrote. “The things I viewed through the microscope even now float before my eyes, and when I dream about enjoying the company of people who I’ll never see again seems unreal. This fills my heart with pain.”

Asked if she thinks there is a chance she’ll ever return to the lab and see STAP cells again, she replies, “In my present situation, I can’t easily answer that. I’m not able to do the things that I want to do, and it’s not something I’ll be able to do on my own.”

When the vicissitudes of life turn against public personas of the female persuasion, some have chosen to pose, sometimes undressed, in weekly magazines and also photo collections. Their motives cannot be easily generalized: For some, it might be a means of reviving a sputtering career; for others, the motive is likely to based on the need for for a quick infusion of cash.

One of the biggest newsmakers of her time was Mieko Enomoto, who was married to Toshio Enomoto, the private secretary of Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka. Her damaging testimony regarding the Marubeni trading company and the Lockheed Scandals the 1970s came to be known colloquially as the “bee sting.” After her divorce she posed nude in Penthouse and other publications. One shot showed her clad in a dominatrix costume, complete with high-heeled boots and a riding whip.

Former singing idol Mari Amachi, 66, the perky princess of pop music in the early 1970s, was reportedly raking in ¥3 million a month at the peak of her popularity and owned a spacious condo in an upscale neighborhood in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. But at age 25 she developed a thyroid disorder. Her weight ballooned and attempts at a comeback proved futile. Banking on her fame, she appeared in a pornographic film in 1986 that paid a ¥2 million guarantee. “I spent most of it on a fur coat,” she recalled in a weekly magazine.

James Bailey, former entertainment editor of Tokyo Weekender, recalls Amachi’s struggles to recapture the limelight.

“Amachi’s nude photo spread happened in 1997 (at age 46), the same year that saw publication of her ‘Snow White’ diet book, as well as her endorsements for dietary supplements. So, diet book, ads, nude photos and so on were all designed to show off the slim figure that can be yours, too, ladies,” he pointed out in an email. “Moreover, she kept working pretty steadily in show biz for the next decade, after which she virtually vanished for a two-year period, so if the nude book had a deleterious effect on her career, it was also a delayed one.”

Glossy American-style magazines with pull-out centerfolds were introduced to Japan with mixed success.

Shueisha published a Japanese-language edition of Playboy magazine from July 1975 to November 2008. Its circulation declined from 900,000 at its peak to 55,000 by the end.

Penthouse’s Japanese-language edition, published by Kodansha, lasted only five years, from 1983 to 1988. Efforts to keep it afloat through one-time specials proved futile, and the publisher finally pulled the plug in 2014.