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Yano Koji

China’s favourite Japanese soldier

Yano Koji w

As a young man Yano Koji didn’t show much interest in acting. Coming from a poor family, he started work after high school, first as a postman, then as a milkman and finally as a bar tender in the city of Osaka. Customers would tell him how handsome he was and inspired by their flattery he left for Tokyo, in search of his big break. But it turned out he would really make his name in China.

Why is he famous?

Like many actors, Yano complains that he’s often typecast. And as a Japanese actor in China, this means that the role he most often plays is that of a “devil” – the Chinese epithet for imperial Japanese soldiers (see WiC187). Indeed Yano plays the “devil” so prolifically that he is often dubbed “the devil specialist” by Chinese movie-watchers.

Despite representing China’s archetypal villain, Yano has embraced the country that his characters fight against: he is married to a Chinese woman, his daughter is a Chinese national, and he published an autobiography in Chinese. With nearly 1.5 million followers on weibo, he has plenty of local fans too.

Why is he in the news?

On Saturday Yano was awarded Japan’s Foreign Minister Commendation at the Japanese embassy in Beijing. The prize is “awarded to individuals and groups who have accomplished outstanding achievements in promoting the relationship between Japan and other countries and regions,” Global Times reports.

Yano might seem like an unlikely candidate, having built a career based on a period of history that Japan would rather forget (of course, Chinese film and TV producers turn to it with much greater enthusiasm).

In the past it has been reported that Yano was beaten up in Japan by people angry at his casting in Chinese films about the Japanese invasion of China.

But suggests that this was just a rumour, and that the Japanese perception of the actor is much more positive: “In the eyes of the Japanese, Yano Koji is an encouraging model, even more he is a marvel.”

Speaking to Xinhua last year, he explained: “As an actor, I am a conduit. Everyone who works between China and Japan could be a channel, and we could unite to make a difference, so that in spite of politics, the exchanges between Chinese and Japanese people shall never stop.”

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