Japan Mourns Candies’ Tanaka, Sony’s Ohga

Two people with very different but nevertheless significant influences on Japan’s music business died during the week of April 25.

Yoshiko Tanaka, a former member of the first bona fide female idol group, The Candies, succumbed to breast cancer in Tokyo April 28. She was 55.

The Candies debuted in 1973 and pioneered the sweet, slightly sexy, ultra-choreographed pop that prefigured Japan’s idol boom of the next two decades.

Almost all of their singles went to No. 1 on the Japanese pop charts, and they retired at the peak of their popularity in 1978 with a concert at Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall that attracted 50,000 fans.

The trio’s retirement caused some controversy because media reported that the three women were exhausted and wanted to “return to normal life” but that their management wouldn’t allow it. It was, in fact, their fans who pressured the agency to let them retire.

Of the three, Tanaka was the only one who made a success of her subsequent career. She switched to acting in the 1980s and eventually won Japan’s equivalent of the Academy Award for her lead performance in “Black Rain,” a 1989 movie about the effects of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992, shortly after she was married.

Norio Ohga, the former president of Sony Corporation, died April 23 of multiple organ failure in Tokyo at the age of 81. Ohga was president of the company from 1982 to 1995. He is credited with expanding Sony’s business from consumer electronics to entertainment by facilitating the acquisition of Columbia Pictures in 1989.

He was also instrumental in promoting the development of the CD format as the main delivery device for recorded music, in a technology deal with Royal Philips Electronics of the Netherlands.

Ohga’s interest in the entertainment side of Sony’s business was no doubt spurred by his own love of music. He was a trained classical singer and conductor, and was a budding opera singer when Sony founder Akio Morita recruited him to join his company after Ohga complained about the sound quality of Sony tape recorders.

He reportedly developed the CD so that Beethoven’s entire Ninth Symphony could be enjoyed without interruption. He became the chairman of the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra in 1999.

In fact, he was scheduled to conduct the ensemble May 4 at the Ohga Concert Hall in the resort city of Karuizawa for a benefit to support survivors of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.