In 2003, then 17-year-old Asami Abe was the face of Nintendo's GameCube title Nintendo Puzzle Collection. It's a big deal to appear in commercials in Japan, and Nintendo, like Toyota, is selective of who it picks. Then the unthinkable happened.
A photograph of the underage Abe and a friend smoking appeared in tabloids, and within days, the Nintendo ads were yanked.
For an idol, such a scandal might destroy a career. During the 1980s, members of idol group Onyanko Club were photographed smoking, resulting in their termination. All of the girls quickly faded in to obscurity. Idols aren't supposed to smoke, and they're definitely not supposed to break the law.
Abe's popularity fell off a cliff. She apologised and weathered the storm, releasing two albums, starred in TV drama after TV drama, appeared in movies, and starred in musicals. She even published a romance novel, all by the time she was 20. (She also was in a gal group with a well-known competitive eater.)
Her sister Natsumi Abe had been a member of Morning Musume, then the most successful female group in Japan, and had launched a solo career.
Asami during the filming of the pulled Nintendo Puzzle Collection commercial. (Photographer: Famitsu)
A decade ago, Morning Musume was huge, with chart-topping albums and hit TV shows. In the Japanese entertainment world, it's often enough to simply be somebody's sibling or somebody's child. But Asami was famous in her own right.
Asami Abe, now 26 years old, wasn't your typical idol - she was, in a way, idol royalty - thousands of people gathered at a pre-debut event for her. All this makes the latest revelation about her even more surprising.
According to the most recent issue of Weekly Asahi, Asami Abe is now working in a department store as a sales clerk. There's nothing wrong with doing that, and maybe she's happy with her new career choice. It's honestly not for me to judge.
However, it is strange that Abe was still appearing on TV last summer, and a musical that played in both Osaka and Tokyo. She was in new Nescafe commercials last year dressed as a cow. And now, she's just... stopped. Weekly Asahi asked her if she's quit the entertainment business, to which she replied, "Yeah, I'm working here now."
The infamous pic.
As one entertainment reporter pointed out, her official blog hasn't been updated since the March 11 earthquake and her profile is still listed on her talent agency. So, she might have unilaterally quit, just up and walked out. Her agency won't say that she's completely quit.
With the way that Japanese talent agencies are rumored to control performers' lives, it's rare to see a Japanese celebrity take control of their lives. Maybe Abe had enough, maybe the earthquake impacted her personally. Or maybe she wanted to do something different, like work in retail. If that's why she's left the entertainment biz, good for her, I say, good for her.
Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome - game related and beyond.
Top photo: Nescafe