Japanese in Pop Culture
Japanese Characters on TV
This is not a comprehensive list, this is a placeholder until I can research more about these roles and characters.
ARTHUR GODFREY AND HIS FRIENDS/CBS/1949-59
(Haleloke) Haleloke, a shy Hawaiian female musician who appeared regularly on this musical variety program. In April, 1955 she was fired and replaced by a Japanese girl, Miyoshi Umeki. Umeki later starred on THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER as a housekeeper to a widower's small son.
(Yuki Shimoda) Aki, Japanese houseboy of New York private detective, Johnny Midnight. Aki politely addressed his employer as "Mr Johnny Midnight."
(Leon Lontoc) Henry, oriental manservant and chauffeur who drove Los Angeles millionaire police detective, Captain Amos Burke. Henry often drove his employer to the scene of a crime in a Rolls Royce. When the series was revised on ABC from 1993-95 Danny Kamekona appeared in the role of Henry.
(Cartoon Character) Joe Jitsu (voice of Mel Blanc/Paul Frees) an oriental policeman working with Dick Tracy nabbing such crooks as Sketch Paree, the Mole, Itchy, Flat Top and Prune Face. His wrist radio call sign was "six, two and even... over and out". This character was an extreme stereotype of an Asian with large protruding teeth, heavy black-rimmed glasses and a derby hat. His slurred vocabulary was filled with "Rots of Ruk" type phrases.
(Yoshio Yoda) Fuji Kobiaji, an AWOL Japanese soldier living with the American navy crew of the PT Boat # 73 near the Island of Taratupa in the South Pacific during World War II. Fuji, a Seaman Third Calss in the Imperial Japanese navy, was the opposite of his zealot kamakazi countrymen. Choosing not to be sent to a POW camp, he befriended his American captors and became their chief cook and bottle washer, living in constant threat of being discovered by outsiders. When Lt. Cdr. McHale and his men were transfered to the European Front (Italy), Fuji followed, incognito, of course.
(Animated Cartoon) Hashimoto, a Japanese mouse trained in the art of Judo who was the star of a cartoon within a cartoon (component series) on THE HECTOR HEATHCOTE SHOW/NBC/1963-65. The character which premiered in the theatrical release HASHIMOTO SAN (Oct. 1959) was created by Bob Kuwahara. The cartoon told stories of Japan and featured Hashimoto, his wife and their children Yuriko and Saburo. Voices supplied by John Myers.
(Lani Miyazaki) Toki, an efficient and very beautiful Japanese-American girl Friday employed by successful public relations man.
(Miko Mayama) Kyoko Mitsui, a Japanese woman who shares an upstairs apartment with her roommate Timothy "Timmi" Morgan in a ten-room brownstone apartment house owned by Woodrow "Woody" Banner.
THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER/ABC/1969-72
(Miyoshi Umeki/costar) Mrs. Livingston, a soft-spoken, philosophical Japanese housekeeper who cared for Thomas Corbett, a widower publisher and his small son, Eddie. Sometimes confused by American customs she asked advice from "Mr. Eddie's father" as she called her employer. In her spare time Mrs. Livingston attended night classes to improve her English.
TOM OF T.H.U.M.B/ABC/1966-69
(Cartoon character) Swinging Jack, an Asian janitor who was accidentally shrunk (with his co-worker Tom) by a miniaturization ray gun thus creating T.H.U.M.B (The Tiny Human Underground Military Bureau) the government secret service enlisted them to fight crime. Swinging Jack was proficient in the martial arts.
(George Takei) Hikaru Sulu, a highly efficient Chief Helmsman of Japanese descent stationed aboard the USS Enterprise, a futuristic starship whose mission was to "...seek out new life...to boldly go where no man has gone before." Born in San Francisco in 2237, Sulu's hobbies included collecting old Earth style weapons, fencing and botany. He later assumed command of the Starship Excelsior in the year 2290. In real life George Takei spent part of WWII in a Japanese internment camp.
THE QUEEN AND I/CBS/1969
(Noriyuki Pat Morita) Barney, an Oriental-American crewman aboard the Amsterdam Queen a travel-weary ocean liner whose owners had decided to sell it for scrap metal.
(Yasuko Nagazumi) Suki, a Japanese housekeeper for London based special investigator Harry Rule, one of three criminal detectives known as "The Protectors."
(Harold Sakata) Kenji Takichi, a rectory cook and athletic coach for the parish of St. Aloysius in San Diego. His boss, Father Samuel Cavanaugh was a former cop turned priest. Perhaps, Harold Sakata's most memorable role was that of the evil enemy agent "Oddjob" in the James Bond spy thriller Goldfinger (1964).
(Noriyuki Pat Morita) Matsuo Takahashi, aka "Arnold," a Japanese-American owner of a 1950s Milwaukee Drive-in hamburger joint called "Arnold's, the after school hang-out for the teenagers of Jefferson High School. When he bought the restaurant it was called Arnold's and so to save money, this Japanese-American entrepreneur decided not to rename the restaurant to save on the cost of buying a new sign. Arnold later sold the restaurant to a jovial, easy-going Italian-American named Al Delvecchio who also retained the name of the restaurant.
([[Jack Soo]) Detective Nick Yemana, a sleepy-eyed Japanese-American police detective who worked at the 12 precinct located in New York's Greenwich Village area. Jack Soo's last episode was in October of 1978. He died in January, 1979 and later in May of that year a special episode was filmed, dedicated to the mem ory of his character Det. Yemana. At the end of the tribute all officers raised their coffee mugs in a final toast and tender gesture of farewell. (Det. Yemana was known for making terrible coffee). In real life, Jack Soo had spent most of WWII in a Japanese internment camp.
SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE/NBC/1975+
(John Belushi/costar) Samurai Warrior, a grunting Japanese Samurai with a ponytail and kimono in skits like "Samurai Tailor," "Samurai Night Fever" and "Samurai Hotel." Sid Caesar was the first to do a wild takeoff of a Samurai in the 1950s when he spoofed Japanese films in a sketch called "Ubetchu."
MR. T. AND TINA/ABC/1976
(Noriyuki Pat Morita) Taro Takahashi ("Mr. T"), brilliant Japanese inventor who transferred from Tokyo to Chicago with his family which included Pat Suzuki as his sister-in-law, Michi; "Jerry" Hatsuo Fujikawa as Uncle Matsu; June Angela as his daughter, Sachi; and Gene Profanto as his son, Aki (Gene Profanato). His household was run by a Nebraska born "Tina" Kelly.
(Robert Ito/costar) Sam Fujiyama, Japanese-American medical assistant to Dr. R. Quincy, medical examiner for the Los Angeles Coroners Office. The series was inspired by the exploits of Dr. Thomas Noguchi, former L.A. Coroner who investigated the deaths of Marilyn Monroe and John Belushi among others. He was often called "Coroner to the Stars."
(Noriyuki Pat Morita) Arnold Takahashi, a Japanese-American businessman operating a coffee-shop at the Oasis Hotel in Las Vegas. Morita played a similar character of the same name on the situation comedy HAPPY DAYS/ABC/1974-84.
BROTHERS AND SISTERS/NBC/1979
(Marilyn Tokuda) Yoko, Japanese college student who lived at the Gamma Iota Sorority, at Larry Krandall College in Pennsylvania.
THE LAST RESORT/CBS/1979-80
(John Fujioka) Kevin, a Japanese chef working at a Catskill Mountain resort who often feigned ignorance of the English language when it suited his fancy.
(Toshiro Mifune/costar) Toranaga, a powerful warlord who lived in feudal Japan in the 1600s. Also featured are Yoko Shimada as Lady Mariko, who interpreted for a shipwrecked English navigator named John Blackthorne (referred to as “Anjin-san”); Frankie Sakai as Yabu; and Nobuo Kaneko as Ishido, Toranaga’s nemesis. The five-part, twelve hour miniseries is based on James Clavell’s epic novel of the same name.
(Mitsuyo "Mie" Nemoto, Keko "Kei" Masuda) Known as "Pink Lady", these two female Japanese rock singers were introduced to American television via this comedy variety hour. Mie & Kei may have been popular in Japan, but their U.S. debut quickly fizzled out. One reason the series disappeared: the stars spoke very little English and had to be guided through the program sketches by American comedian Jeff Altman. You may remember their rock record "Kiss Me In The Dark."
(Kwan Hi Lim) Lt. Tanaka, Japanese-American police detective based in Honolulu who often crossed paths with private detective, Thomas Magnum during the 1982-88 seasons.
(Kim Miyori) Dr. Wendy Armstrong, Japanese-American medical resident working at Boston's St. Eligius Hospital (a.k.a. "St. Elsewhere"). During the 1982-84 season, Dr. Armstrong's character was written out of the series via suicide brought on by her demanding hospital responsibilities and her depression over her anorexia nervosa problem.
THE DEVLIN CONNECTION/NBC/1982
(Takayo) Mrs. Watanabe, the efficient Japanese housekeeper and cook of Brian Devlin, a former intelligence officer who now ran the Los Angeles Cultural Arts Center.
(Mako) Major Taro Oshira, a Japanese-American police officer responsible for supervising two Chicago street cops new to the Hawaiian Islands. Also featured were bikini clad beauties Leila Hee Olsen as Leila; Tina Marie Machako as Tina; and Julie Marie Olsen as Julie.
(Shuko Akune) Maria Amardo, a lazy Japanese-American receptionist with a smart mouth who worked at a Chicago-based emergency room at Clark Street Hospital.
(Gedde Watanabe) "Kaz" Kazuhiro, a Japanese manager stationed at the Assan Motors automotive plant in Hadleyville, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Other cast included Patti Yasutake as Kaz's wife, Umeki; Sab Shimono as Kaz's assistant, Saito; Emily K. Kuroda as Saito's wife, Yukiko; Rodney Kageyama as Ito; and Scott Atari as Kenji. The series was based on the Ron Howard film "Gung Ho" (1985) about a group of Japanese businessman who participated in a joint American-Japanese automotive plant venture.
(Noriyuki Pat Morita) Ohara, a mild-mannered Japanese-American who worked as a detective for the Los Angeles police department. Called the "Un-cop", Ohara shunned firearms, didn't drive and spouted philosophical sayings like "a flea makes life harder for a Jackass than a Jackass for a flea". Brain over brawn was his motto but when necessary he used his proficiency in martial arts to subdue the bad guys. Later in the series, Ohara left the force to become a private investigator along with a fellow police detective.
RAGS TO RICHES/NBC/1987-88
(Kimiko Gelman) Rose, one of five orphaned girls adopted by Nick Foley, a West Coast self-made millionaire who lived in a Bel Air mansion with an aging but hip English butler during the days of 1961. Rose's mother was a Japanese-American imprisoned in an American concentration camp during World War II. While interned she fell in love with an U.S. Army soldier and became pregnant. When the baby's father shipped out, Rose's grandfather gave the baby (Rose) up for adoption. Disheartened, the next day Rose's mother walked in front of a moving train.
STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION/SYN/1987-94
(Rosalind Chao) Keiko Ishikawa O'Brien, a Starfleet botanist of Japanese descent who married Miles O'Brien, the transporter chief aboard the starship USS Enterprise-D. Also featured were Patti Yatsutake as Nurse Alyssa Ogawa, a member of the Enterprise-D medical staff; Benjamin W. S. Lum as Jim Shimoda, an assistant chief engineer featured on episode No. 3 "The Naked Now"; Robert Ito as Tac Officer Chang in charge of Starfleet Academy examinations on the episode No. 19 "Coming of Age"; and Keone Young as Buck Bokai (a.k.a. Harmon Bokai), one of professional baseball's greatest player who broke Joe DiMaggio's record for consecutive hits in the year 2026 as mentioned on episode No. 13 "The Big Goodbye." The Bokai character was integrated into a holographic program used by the African-American commander Benjamin Sisko to play baseball on board the Enterprise on episode No. 14 "The Storyteller,"; and his holographic image came to life and escaped the confines of his holographic programming on episode No. 16 "If Wishes Were Horses."
TOUR OF DUTY/CBS/1987-90
(Steve Akakoshi) Pvt. Randy "Doc" Matsuda, a Japanese-American Army soldier assigned as a medic during the Vietnam War in 1967. His character died in action during the 1987-88 season. The program also featured a number of oriental actors who portrayed the many Vietnamese soldiers, peasants etc. This series was the first series to actually address the issues of the Vietnam War during prime time television.
(Maggie Han/costar) Kimiko Fannuchi, a beautiful Eurasian fashion model who lived in San Francisco loft apartment with Daedalus Patrick Murphy, a lovable, but alcoholic insurance investigator. Kimiko's father was Italian; her mother was Japanese. In 1985 Maggie Han played Cindy Rhee, a beautiful Asian female in the miniseries James A. Michener's Space.
(Shuko Akune) Helen, a Japanese social worker working at the Henry Settlement House in New York City.
(Clyde Kusatsu) Kenji Fushida, an amiable Japanese-American Chief of Surgery who worked as a physician at Kamehameha Medical Center in Honolulu .with Dr. Daniel Kulani, the adopted son of Hawaiian parents.
THE KARATE KID/NBC/1989-90
(Cartoon Character) Miyagi (voice of Pat Morita), a sage oriental from Okinawa, Japan with martial arts skills who originally worked as an apartment handyman in Southern California. This animated cartoon based on the motion picture "The Karate Kid" (1984) and two sequel films, followed Miyagi and his student Daniel as they traveled about the world in search of a religious artifact with mystic powers. They were accompanied by an Okinawan girl named Taki.
(Rodney Ueno) Chuck, Asian mail room clerk working in the mayor's office of an unnamed metropolis.
BEVERLY HILLS 90210/FOX/1990-2000
(Lindsay Price) Janet Sosna, the Japanese-American wife of Steve Sanders, the adopted white son of TV actress Samantha Sanders, the star of “Hartley House. On episode #224 “Ready or Not” Janet first appears in the recurring role as Janet Sosna when she is hired as an assistant for Brandon and Steve. who run a magazine called The Beat. Janet officially joined the cast on episode #242. Janet and Steve investigate a "haunted house," get locked inside a refrigerator and have sex.. On episode #258 “Slipping Away, Janet hides her relationship with Steve from her father, who only wants her to date Japanese men. After Steve professes his love, Janet tells her father the truth and gets thrown out of the house. Although her Japanese parents Ben (James Shigeta) and Michelle Sosna (Leslie Ishii) at first did not approve of her marrying a Caucasian, their hearts melted when they saw their interracial grandchild, Madeline “Maddy.” Janet later turns down a job at the magazine Nouveau and agrees to start a new magazine with her husband [so she could spend more time with her baby girl]. Lindsay Price also appeared as Michael Lai on the 1995-97 season of The Bold and the Beautiful and as An Li Chen during the 1991-1993 seasons of All My Children. Born in Arcadia, California, Lindsay’s family roots include a Korean mother and a German Irish father.
(Tamayo Otsuki) Mrs. Elaine Yamagami, a Japanese assistant principal working for Pomahoc Elementary School near Seattle, Washington. Mrs. Yamagami's had thick accent and was always talking about the differences between people in Japan and America. Kristi Murakami played her daughter, Nickki.
(Cartoon Character) Kira Finster (Voice of Julia Kato), the Asian bride of Caucasian American Charles “Chazz” Finster, Sr.. Kira met and married Charles as the result of a vacation [The Rugrats in Paris movie 2000]. She is the single mother of daughter, Kimi (voice of Dionne Quan) who became the new sister of two-year-old Chuckie Finster.
(Natsuko Ohama) Captain Amanda Cohen, Asian-American police officer who supervised homicide detectives on the nightshift of a Seattle police department. Her character later died in a plane crash.
(Jeffrey Meeks) Jonathan Raven, a former special forces agent pursued by a clan of ninja warriors. The program's opening narration summarized the storyline "Jonathan Raven as an American boy being raised in Japan until his parents were killed by assassins. To avenge their death, he joined the Black Dragons, the very organization that murdered his parents. Now in Hawaii, with the help of his old military buddy Ski, he is searching for the son he has never seen." Before leaving Japan, Raven had a liaison with a woman named Aki Moshirho. The union bore a son named Hikatti meaning “Sparkling Light.”
STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE/SYN/1993-99
(Rosalind Chao) Keiko Ishikawa O'Brien, a botanist of Japanese descent who transferred to space station Deep Space Nine in 2369 when her husband, Miles O'Brien was promoted to Chief of Operations. Hanna Hatae played their young daughter, Molly who was born on the USS Enterprise-D in 2368. Also seen were Keone Young as Buck Bokai, a holographic image of Asian shortstop for the London Kings who came to life on the episode 16 "If Wishes Were Horses" first aired in 1993. Buck was one of baseball's greatest players. He broke Joe DiMaggio's record for consecutive hits in 2026 and hit the winning home run in the 2042 World Series.
Lt. Commander Laurel Takashima (Tamlyn Tomita), Vice-Commander, of Babylon 5 who was later transferred and replaced by Russian born Lt. commander, Susan Ivanova. Takashima had formerly worked at Mars Colony Security after graduating from the academy. Other Japanese characters mentioned were Captain Yoshi Kawagawa, commander of the E.A.S. Nemesis; Taro Isogi (James Shigeta), Chief Executive Officer of FutureCorp; and Senator Hidoshi, Earth senator and liaison to Babylon 5 in 2258 who was later voted out of office and replaced by Ronald Quantrill in 2259.
(Gedde Watnabe) Yosh Takata, Japanese nurse working at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. His character was introduced during the 1997-98 season.
(Keone Young/costar) Mr. Tacheo Mochidomi (a.k.a. Moch), the business assistant of Joseph Rhoades, the owner of the Hawaiian Rose Hotel. When Rhoades died, Moch advised Rhoades' sole heir Richard DeMorra on his family's legacy and responsibilities. Andy Bumatai appeared as Danny "Pipeline" Kahala, a local surfer and hustler who spouted off Hawaiian myths.
(Shuko Akune) County Clerk who bargains for dates.
(Amy Hill) Suji, the Japanese-American woman working for a national tabloid paper called The Inquistor. On episode "The Seer & the Sucker, she first meets an odd, nerdy lover of Asian women named Leo and by episode "The Neighbors of Bath" she ultimately fall in love with him. Suji was introduced during the third season in 1997.
HOUSE OF BUGGIN'/FOX/1995
(John Leguizamo) Kogi, an arrogant Japanese talk show host featured on this half-hour comedy sketch show.
(Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) Lt. A. J. Shimamura, a streetwise Japanese-America police detective who assisted a white police detective named Nash Bridges and his Mexican-American partner at the Special Investigators Unit in San Francisco during the 1996-97 season.
(Amy Hill) Mrs. Sakini, plump, middle-aged Japanese-American executive secretary working for Harrison Cross, a British-accented President of Harrington College in Boston, Massachusetts. During “The Occidental Purists” episode to satisfy the multicultural casting needs of the school play “The Tea Ceremony,” Mrs. Sakini, was reluctantly recruited to play the role of a 16-year-old Japanese girl named Lotus Flower.
THE BURNING ZONE/UPN/1996-97
(Tamlyn Tomita/costar) Dr. Kimberly Shiroma, a Japanese-American scientist teamed to a squad of special researchers who track down and contain new strains of viruses threatening to wipe out mankind.
MR. NISSAN (TV Commercial)/1997
(Dale Ishimoto) Mr. Nissan, a mysterious man with the terrier dog, glasses, baseball cap and a big grin featured on a series of Nissan automobile TV commercials in 1997. The mystic Mr. Nissan character was based on the former Nissan president Yutaka Katayama who reportedly represented "honor, integrity and fun." The 60-ish actor Dale Ishimoto who played Mr. Nissan was born in Delta, Colorado and served as a veteran of the US Army. Before playing Mr. Nissan, Ishimoto's acting credits included parts on MCHALE'S NAVY, KUNG FU and other TV commercials.
(Suzy Nakamura) Beverly Andolini, Asian female with an Italian surname working for an advertising agency owned by Jack McLaren.
(Suzy Nakamura) Kathy, an Asian Aide to the Deputy Communications Director, the presidential advisor at the White House during the Bartlet Administration. Earlier in her career Nakamura appeared in a recurring role as a smart-mouthed lawyer on the short-lived (4 episodes) legal sitcom COMMON LAW/ABC/1996.
(Suzy Nakamura) Holly Martin, Asian suburban wife and mother-to-be who never misses an opportunity to remind a neighborhood stay-at-home father, Chris Woods (a.k.a. “Daddio”) just how tough parenting can be. She attends meetings at a local “Mommies Club.”