Editor’s note: Know Your Meme is a research lab from the Cheezburger Network that documents the history of Internet memes and culture. Occasionally, they invite CNN’s Geek Out! to go on a very deep dive with them, into the stories behind the memes they profile. Together, we’ll learn how memes become the cultural expression of nerds.
At a first glance, Aki Higashihara may seem like just another pin-up idol in Japan’s burgeoning gravure magazine industry (somewhat equivalent to bikini swimsuit models in American magazines).
But if you look up her name on the Internet, you’ll soon find an impressive track record of misfortunes that has made her infamous in her own right. From the disastrous reception of Sega’s Dreamcast to the Japanese Judo team’s all-time low results in Beijing Olympics, the name “Aki Higashihara” has gained quite a reputation for bringing bad luck to anything she publicly endorses on her blog. (Which, as of publish time, looked like it was down for maintenance.)
Thanks to the comparably doom-centric story line of a popular manga called “Death Note,” Higashihara’s blog inevitably became known as the “Death Blog,” – and she became the topic of a meme.
Higashihara made her mainstream debut back in 2002 as the model for the ad campaign of Japanese beer brand Asahi. In the following years, Higashihara built her modeling career in idol magazines and eventually made her TV screen debut as a broadcaster for the horseracing news program Super Keiba in 2007.
According to the legend, this is when her curse allegedly began. While working as the host, her winning picks went unfulfilled in 21 consecutive races and 38 races in total, leading to rumors that whichever horse she predicted as the winner would lose the race or suffer an injury. Even worse, the show, which ran for more than two decades before Higashihara joined the cast, was canceled three months later.
Thereafter, netizens on 2chan began crafting the copypasta legend of Aki Higashihara, Japan’s very own “Madden Curse,” if you will. (“Copypasta” is a slang term for text that gets copied and pasted over and over again.)
The copypasta legend of Aki Higashihara
The following are incidents that the “Death blog” meme has covered, thanks to copypasta:
In early 2000s, Higashihara worked as an ad model for the Sega Dreamcast; the console was ultimately defeated by its competitor’s product, Sony PlayStation 2.
In 2003, she began dating Japan’s star Judoka Kosei Inoue. At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Inuoe suffered a major upset against Elco van der Geest of the Netherlands and didn’t place, despite the media predictions that he will win the gold medal.
From 2005 to 2007, she worked as an ad model for the loan firm Deposit Insurance Corporation of Japan, which filed bankruptcy soon afterwards. Its parent company, Citibank, also became involved in the 2008 U.S. subprime mortgage crisis.
In 2007, Higahshihara appeared on a panel session for Toshiba’s HD-DVD technology at the Combined Exhibition of Advanced Technologies. In the following year, Toshiba abandoned the format.
In early 2008, Higashihara made a public appearance at a McDonalds restaurant. The next day, parasites were found in the burgers. Later that year, she was featured in an advertisement for an instant ramen brand. Once again, parasites were found in the noodles and traces of insecticides were also found found at the factory.
In 2008, Higashihara moved to the United Kingdom with her husband Kosei Inoue. That year, Queen Elizabeth II lost 37 million British pounds in personal estate.
In March 2009, she responded to Michael Jackson’s announcement of the live concert tour by saying that “it will come true” on her blog. Three months later, Michael Jackson passed away and the tour was canceled.
In January 2010, she purchased a Nintendo Wii and published a blog post about it. At the following E3 held in June 2011, Nintendo officially revealed the next-generation Wii U, effectively ending any prospects for major Wii title releases.
In January 2010, she wrote a blog post about her visit to a famous shrine in Kamakura and said “I wanted to eat ginkgo nuts!” Two months later, the 800-year-old sacred ginkgo tree in the shrine went into ruin.
The impact of “Death Note” in real life
For the most part, Higashihara’s alleged Death Blog can be seen as a ripple effect of the internationally popular manga series “Death Note,” which revolves around a supernatural notebook that has the power to bring death to anyone whose name gets written on it by the beholder and the protagonist Light Yagami.
When the first volume of “Death Note” manga release in 2006, it set a record-high sales of one million copies and was included in Japan’s bestseller list. The series, which ran from December 2003 to May 2006, sold nearly 30 million copies across the world. The storyline was adapted into an anime series and more than one full-length film in Japan. There’s even a Hollywood live-action adaptation of the series in progress.
The real-life impact of the series’ international success has manifested, sadly, through the twisted scenarios of copycat crimes. Between 2007 and 2008, at least eight schoolboys were disciplined for possessing notebooks that resemble the one in the manga series. The most notorious incident occurred in Belgium, where handwritten notes containing verbatim quotes from Death Note were implicated as evidence to a murder case of a man in 2007.
The renaissance of the has-been stars
Of course, it goes without saying that Higashihara’s oddly fascinating myth reflects the tradition of copypasta and celebrity hazing on the Japanese Internet – especially for pin-up idols who make themselves easy targets for slander driven by anti-fandom.
But then again, the fame hasn’t been all bad for the married idol. Her new-found notoriety has recently led to employment as one of the star servers at the instant ramen noodle shop that opened in January 2012. The news of Higashihara’s new job led some to wonder if the Japanese talent agencies are starting to embrace the age of user-generated reputation. Others wonder how long the ramen shop will stay open.
While there are still doubts as to whether celebrities will ever openly accept the Internet fame they didn’t sign up for, the second revival of stars on the edge of pop culture obscura seems to be an online trend that may be too good to miss out on.