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Pop Culture in Japan: Idols and iMode

Japanese idols (aidoru) are a polymorphous bunch, switching between singing, acting and modelling careers, regardless of where they got their start. An idol's time in the sun is usually brief but blazing, their image staring down from a multitude of billboards as well as out from countless magazines and a range of other media. Not to be confused with TV personalities (tarento), idols are usually picked for their looks rather than talent, although the best of them do have both.

The top male heart-throb is Kimura Takuya, a fresh-faced member of the boy-band SMAP, who has gone on to star in many a trendy drama. Norika Fujiwara, aka the J-phone girl after the ads she's made for the mobile phone company, is the female idol of the moment, replacing the Okinawan chanteuse Amuro Namie, whose star has faded a bit since she's become a mum. The one true idol-survivor is Matsuda Seiko, a pop star of the 1980s who refused to give up her career when she married and has since survived a high-profile divorce, becoming a role model for many downtrodden housewives.

If you see people fiddling with their ketai (mobile phone) chances are, these days, that they're using iMode. This service, offered by Japan's largest mobile phone company NTT DoCoMo, is an ultra-sophisticated WAP (wireless application program) Internet connection; once the phone is on, you're online. There are over 4000 dedicated iMode services (including ones in English), covering email, games, shopping, horoscopes, restaurant guides and much more. Some ten million people have signed up already.

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