I’ve been meaning to post an entry on this subject, actresses from Okinawa, for a very long time. If you haven’t noticed, we’re living in a very special time (well, especially for Okinawan pop culture folks) where it’s impossible not to find an actress from Okinawa on TV or on the big screen. I’ve managed to round-up seven actresses who have made and are making a splash in the entertainment world. So, yeah, hopefully this’ll give you an incentive to watch more Japanese TV if only to say that you know that actress is from Okinawa.
The list is in order by the age of the actress and I’m starting from the oldest to the youngest. All actresses (save for one 1) were born in Okinawa. I link to each actress’s Wikipedia page where you can find out more about them and information listed was also found on the DramaWiki. Images of the actresses were found on Flickr 2.
1. Ryoko Kuninaka (国仲涼子, Kuninaka Ryouko) (30)
Born on 6/9/79 in Naha (Okinawa), 5’2″ (158cm). Ryoko debuted in the TV drama “LxIxVxE” in 1999. Best known as ‘Eri’ from the NHK series “Churasan” she has also modeled and debuted as a singer with the song “Ryūkyū Moon” composed by singer-songwriter Mamoru Miyagi. Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia.
2. Yukie Nakama (仲間由紀恵, Nakama Yukie) (29)
Born on 10/30/79 in Urasoe (Okinawa), 5’2″ (160cm). Yukie debuted in the TV drama “Aoi Natsu” in 1994. Best known as ‘Yankumi’ from the NTV series “Gokusen” she has appeared in several CMs and debuted as a singer in 2001 with the song “Aishiteru.” Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia.
3. Yu Yamada (山田優, Yamada Yuu) (25)
Born on 7/5/84 in Onna (Okinawa), 5’5″ (169cm). Yu debuted as a member of the OAS group B.B. Waves in 1995 and was a main vocalist for the short-lived dance pop unit y’z factory which disbanded in 2002. She then went on to become a very popular fashion model and has gone on to a successful acting career as well as a return as a singer in 2006 with the single “REAL YOU.” Yu has a younger brother, Shintaro (23), who made his TV drama debut in 2007. Her mother is a former Miss Okinawa. Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia.
4. Aya Ueto (上戸彩, Ueto Aya) (23)
Born on 9/14/85 in Tokyo (Japan), 5’3″ (162cm). Aya is a successful actress and singer and is one of the most seen faces as an image idol promoting everything from iPhones (for Softbank) to cosmetics. She started off as an idol after winning the Japan Bishoujo Contest in 1997. She went on to become a member of the idol unit Z-1 (since 2002 she gone on as a solo artist) in 1999 and made her actress debut in 2000 (“Namida o Fuite”). Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia.
5. Manami Higa (比嘉愛未, Higa Manami) (23)
Born on 6/14/86 in Uruma (Okinawa), 5’5″ (169cm). Of the actresses featured here, she’s my current favorite and she’s also the lesser known of the group 3. Manami debuted in the NHK Asadora “Dondo Bare” in 2007 and of the group of actresses listed is the only one who has yet to debut as a singer (ah, but it’s only a matter of time). Fellow actress Ryoko Kuninaka (#1 on the list) also starred in an NHK Asadora: “Churasan.” Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia (Japanese).
6. Meisa Kuroki (黒木メイサ, Kuroki Meisa 4) (21)
Born on 5/28/88 in Nago (Okinawa), 5’4″ (165cm). Meisa debuted as a fashion model in 2004 and in the same year debuted as an actress in the TV drama “Medaka.” She debuted as a singer in 2008 with the single “Like This” and just released her first album “Hellcat” in April 2009. Meisa’s father is Japanese-
Amerian Brazilian and her mother is Japanese and a quarter American (which probably means 2nd, 3rd generation?). I’m definitely interested to see where her music takes her as she has a style that’s quite close to Namie Amuro. Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia.
7. Yui Aragaki (新垣結衣, Aragaki Yui) (21)
Born on 6/11/88 in Naha (Okinawa), 5’5″ (168cm). Known by her nickname Gakky, Yui debuted as a model before making her TV drama debut in 2005 with “Sh15uya.” She has since gone on to make her mark as an actress winning several awards in 2008 and in the same year released her debut single titled “Make my day” which she followed with two original albums. An interesting coupling to her singles is a “naked voice version” which features Gakky singing the title track a cappella. Album cover art for her CDs feature artwork by Gakky and is released as a limited edition with the regular version featuring a photo of the singer. Works: DramaWiki. Profile: Wikipedia.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this special feature (I don’t get to do much of these) and if you have a name I’ve left off the list be sure to leave a comment down below. (Yes, an actress I left off the list is former J-pop idol Rina Chinen who is currently active in plays and musicals.)
1 Of the actresses mentioned, only one of them—Tokyo-born Aya Ueto—was not born in Okinawa but whose family (mother’s side) is originally from Ishigakijima. Aya’s grandmother still lives there and is an utasaa of Ryūkyū minyou. ↩