Princess Tenko is the stage name of Mariko Itakura (板倉 満里子) (born June 29, 1959 in Niigata prefecture, Japan), 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.
Tenko Hikida (The Second : 引田天功) will not disclose her real name or birth year because, she says, of ” various contractual conditions.”
In 1977, she was suddenly asked to stand in for another of the agency’s members, the famous magician Tenko Hikita (The First ：引田天功) , after he suffered a heart problem.
It was through performing one of the maestro’s acts —
“The Great Escape from a Fiery Aerial Cable Car,” in which she was suspended upside-down and bound with ropes inside a burning gondola — that Hikita first shot to fame.
A year later, in 1978, she debuted as a singing magician named Mari Asakaze, whose first single, “The Magic,” was followed the next year by “Kuseni Narukara (It’s Going to be a Habit).’‘
Then, when Tenko Hikita passed away in 1980, Hikita was asked to take over his name, and to perform illusions and dangerous escape tricks full time.
For Princess Tenko
Tenko Hikita, Japan’s most famous magician, is a master of illusion. Or, perhaps, a masterful illusion. Known as Princess Tenko, she uses her flamboyant image to sell everything from cosmetics to clothes to items for pets and wine.
Construction is starting on her own theme park, where aspiring magicians will be able to attend training camp.
Hikita’s greatest illusion could well be herself. Hikita suggests the popular view of her grows out of what audiences expect.
“It seems like everyone always has their own image of what I should be,” she says — but it’s obvious creating her image has been a full-time, and exquisitely confusing, effort.
When she switched from a career as a singer to pursue magic full time in the 1970s, she assumed a new name. Her career change also included a new birth date and age. That changed again in 1989, when she signed a contract with U.S. toy maker Mattel to produce dolls in her likeness.
“I agreed to a contract that turned a human into a character,” she says. “Like a doll, I can’t change the length of my hair, my makeup, my weight. My age will be 24 forever. Last year I was 24, this year I’m 24 and next year I’ll still be 24. It’s hard work.”
Hikita says little about her early years beyond that she was given intensive training in the arts, studying classical ballet, traditional Japanese instruments and the piano. She says she wanted to be a pianist like her mother.
Hikita got into magic almost by accident, she says, but wasted little time in turning convention upside down.
While still a singer, she doubled as an apprentice to a well-known male magician, the first Tenko Hikita. When he died suddenly, she was selected from among three apprentices — the other two both male and older — to take on his mantle and his name.
Tenko’s worldwide successes
As her fame continued to snowball, in 1994 Hikita drew an audience of 165,000 to her shows at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Then, in 1995, she said that a series of eight Princess Tenko dolls launched by Mattel sold 8 million in the first season.
Not to be outdone, Saban Entertainment created “Princess Tenko and the Guardians of the Magic,” a TV cartoon series that soon shot to third spot in the U.S. cartoon-viewing ratings, according to Hikita’s agency.
Such successes led to a host of foreign invitations, including to North Korea, Brunei and Monaco, to perform for heads of state and royalty, Hikita said.
In fact, among her most ardent fans is the North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who owns all eight Princess Tenko dolls and built a theater in Pyongyang bearing her name, Hikita said.
Nonetheless, during two trips there in 1998 and 2000, she said she was kept under virtual house arrest — and was then mysteriously followed after returning to Japan.
As to the burning question of romance, Hikita has often hinted about having glamorous relationships — including one in which she announced that marriage was imminent with a Hollywood celebrity.
Although many of her claims cannot be verified, the Japanese media long believed her lover to be Belgium-born Hollywood star Jean-Claude Van Damme — until he strongly denied it in 2001.
Sword Trick Went Wrong Hurts Princess Tenko
Her shows incorporate standard magician fare — getting sliced up in boxes, floating on air, disappearing acts — into a Madame-Butterfly-meets-Stars-Wars-like production, replete with lasers, extravagant sets and sexy costumes.
“Japan was hard. The Japanese personality made it difficult to follow a man,” she says, quickly adding: “I don’t retreat or compromise the way Japanese are often expected to.”
Still, she admits to deliberately amplifying stereotypes on stage that she feels her audiences may expect, or want, of her — whether that means putting oriental props into her shows in Las Vegas for Westerners, or acting exotically Western for crowds at home.
Alternating between the United States and Japan, her efforts have won over Japanese teens, American housewives and more than a few men around the world, including Kim Jong Il, she says.
“I don’t know how much of what is said about her is actually true,” she said. “I don’t really care. She’s beautiful, she’s very talented and she’s done what no other Japanese magician has been able to do.”
Accidents can happen all the time in a magic performance. The accident can be serious, and even fatal, when dangerous objects such as fire, swords, guns and explosives are introduced into the act.
In 2007, Princess Tenko suffered several broken ribs and a wound in the right cheek. She was performing The Spike Illusion in the Face of Death, when she was pinned inside a box by 10 metal swords.
One of the swords almost took her eyes out had it not stopped one centimeter above her eyes. Princess Tenko continued the show for another 30 minutes before organizers forced her to stop.