Name Naomi Watanabe
Hometown Ibaraki Prefecture, about two hours northeast of Tokyo.
Now Lives Tokyo
Claim to Fame With more than 7.6 million followers on Instagram, Ms. Watanabe is one of the most popular social media celebrities in Japan. She is an actress, comedian and fashion designer who is perhaps best known for her skits imitating Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and other pop stars, in which she exaggerates their dance moves while lip-syncing their songs on TV variety shows.
Big Break A lifelong comedian who enrolled in a Tokyo comedy school when she was 18, Ms. Watanabe made her television debut in 2007 on “Waratte Iitomo!” (“It’s O.K. to Laugh”), a daily hourlong variety show that ran for 32 years before ending in 2014. The show, which was broadcast live, featured a roster of regular performers including, at one point, Ms. Watanabe, who did impersonations. Fun facts: Ms. Watanabe was once called the Japanese Beyoncé, and the show set the Guinness Book of World Record title for the longest running live TV variety show on the same channel (8,054 episodes).
Latest Project In addition to comedy, Ms. Watanabe was always interested in fashion but had a hard time finding plus-size clothes in Japan. As a teenager she would improvise by shopping in men’s stores, or by buying a dress and wearing it as a T-shirt. In 2014, Ms. Watanabe started a clothing line called Punyus (it means “chubby” in Japanese) that includes plus-size pieces for women like herself. Twice a year she introduces a new collection with a stadium-size runway show. She modeled the show after Victoria’s Secret, but instead of big-name artists like the Weeknd performing, she is the main attraction. “I’m like a fake musician,” she said through a translator.
Next Thing Ms. Watanabe plans to spend more time in New York this year, with ambitions to open a Punyus store. She won’t be a total stranger in the city: She was recently featured in a Gap Logo Remix ad, dancing alongside MetroBoomin, SZA and Bria Vinaite, an actress from “The Florida Project.”
Class Clown As a child, Ms. Watanabe would study television skits with Ken Shimura, a Japanese comedian known for his expressive faces. She would, in turn, practice her own funny faces whenever she could, including in the school cafeteria. “As soon as my classmates would take a sip of their milk, I would make a crazy facial expression and see if they would squirt out milk,” she said.