Yoshimoto Kōgyō Co., Ltd. (吉本興業) is a major Japanese entertainment conglomerate, with its headquarters based in Osaka. It was founded in 1912 as a traditional theatre, and has since grown to be one of the most influential companies in Japan, employing most of Japan's popular owarai (comedy) talent, producing and promoting the shows they appear in, and even maintaining its own theme park.
Yoshimoto is said to be almost single-handedly responsible for the development of Japanese manzai after World War II and, in fact, the kanji that are now used for the word manzai were introduced by Yoshimoto in 1933, spelling a new era for the comedy style. Although pure manzai is no longer the dominant form of entertainment in Japan, Yoshimoto's influence remains and the spirit of manzai lives on in modern Japanese comedy, as can be seen by the prevalence of the Kansai dialect in many owarai productions.
The current director of Yoshimoto is Masao Kimura, who entered the company in 1969. In the 35 plus years that Kimura has been part of the company, it has expanded greatly and its reputation as a successful company has grown. Fresh out of university, Yoshimoto is the goal for many young comedians, and many of them hope to be accepted into the 'New Star Creation' school in Osaka.
Yoshimoto now boasts more than 650 entertainers, possibly the most famous being the owarai kombi (duo) Downtown, who took the reigns from the manzai duo Yasu-Kiyo in the 1980s. As in much of Japanese culture, there exists a strong bond between sempai (senior) and kōhai (junior) members of the entertainment industry. Many lower level employees of Yoshimoto do not recieve full salaries but rather benefit from the advice and guidance of senior members of the company.
Some other popular acts under Yoshimoto's direction are:
- Ninety-nine (Owarai) ナインティナイン (Takashi Okamura and Hiroyuki Yabe)
- Penalty (Owarai) ペナルティ (Hide and Wacky)
- Kōji Imada 今田耕司
- London Boots ロンドンブーツ1号2号 (Atsushi Tamura and Ryō Tamura)
- Jichō Kachō 次長課長 (Junichi Kōmoto and Satoshi Inoue)
- Takashi Fujii 藤井隆
- Hanako Yamada 山田花子
Yoshimoto has been expanding its enterprize in recent years, possibly a credit to the so called 'warai boom' that Japan is currently in the midst of. They now have their own comedy theme park in Otaru, Hokkaido and have begun signing the likes of musicians, record producers, athletes and singers alongside business with the Japanese owarai industry.
Yoshimoto Kogyo - Official site in Japanese.