Princess Tenko is the stage name of Mariko Itakura (板倉 満里子 Itakura Mariko?) (born June 29, 1959 in Arai, Niigata), a pop singer turned magician specialising in grand illusions. Besides being an illusionist, she is also known as a singer, stage director, movie director, video photographer and painter.
Mariko Itakura was already well known as a singer under a stage name, Mari Asakaze (朝風まり). Since 1976, she was the apprentice to the first Tenko Hikita (引田 天功), a male Japanese magician who was managed by the same person as Mariko. The older Tenko passed his mantle to her before he died at the age of 45 by heart disease. Though he had several apprentices, his sponsors chose Mariko as the 2nd Tenko. The sponsors believed that she would clear older Tenko's huge debt, a speculation which was successful.
She debuted in North America at the Radio City Music Hall in 1994, and subsequently achieved worldwide fame. She was famous to the extent that Tenko and the Guardians of the Magic, an American magical girl-inspired cartoon series based on her character, was created and Mattel produced a line of fashion dolls named after her. In 1996, she became an honorary goodwill ambassador of the African Wild Animal Conservation Fund.
She was the subject of controversy after making a visit to North Korea in April 1998. It was reported that she met the former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il but she reportedly denied this in interviews. She has stated that the purpose of her visit was to perform at the Friendship Art Festival held in Pyongyang and to meet Korean artists. She again visited North Korea in 2000 and performed for Kim Jong Il. She was asked to stay in North Korea but refused.
On 24 July 2007, it was reported that she performed The Spike Illusion, but that the trick went wrong causing serious injury. After being released, she continued the show for a further thirty minutes before terminating it early due to her injuries.
She was invited to attend the funeral of Kim Jong Il in December 2011, but she declined.
Tenko and the Guardians of the Magic, the cartoon series based on her by Saban, is centered on Princess Tenko leading a team of warriors (Bolt, Hawk, Steel and apprentice Ali) called the Guardians who tried to amass the scattered and stolen magical Starfire Gems, each of which had a special power. Standing against them were twin villains Janna and Jason, who had the power to combine into a two-headed dragon. The cartoon ran for a single season of 13 episodes from 1995-1996. At the end of each episode, the real Princess Tenko would appear on stage and perform an illusion or teach a magic trick.
- "Interview with "Princess Tenko": Koreans Are Friendly, Have Deep Understanding of Art". The People's Korea. 1998. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
- Japanorama, Series 3 Episode 4, BBC Three, 9 April 2007
- "Magician injured in sword trick". BBC News. 2007-07-24. Retrieved 2008-08-19.
- "Magician declines Kim funeral invite". The Japan Times. 28 December 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-28.
- Official website (Japanese)
- Princess Tenko at the Internet Movie Database
- Yumi, Wijers-Hasegawa (February 4, 2007). "Close-up: Tenko Hikita, Princess of pure mystery". Japan Times. Retrieved January 26, 2012.