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Yoshimoto Kogyo Looks Abroad While Facing Setbacks At Home

TOKYO (CelebrityAccess MediaWire) — One of Japan's leading talent agencies, Yoshimoto Kogyo is launching a major effort to raise profile abroad while contending with growing financial challenges at home.

According to the Mainichi News, Yoshimoto has been expanding their offerings in both China and South Korea with both television shows and live events, partnering with companies such as Shanghai Media Group to develop local talent.

In South Korea, Yoshimoto has begun airing its popular Japanese variety show "London Hearts" as well as streaming it over the 'net for a small fee. In Shanghai they have been producing live comedy and fashion shows, including a young woman's fashion event in April that is expected to attract more than 8,000 visitors.

In the U.S., Yoshimoto has teamed up with the Creative Artists Agency to produce variety shows with a worldwide artist and is working with the Second City comedy group to open a comedy school in Japan as well.

Meanwhile, in Japan, Yoshimoto has been struggling. The company, which focuses on live and television comedy, was forced to shutter two of their theaters, the Shinagawa Yoshimoto Prince Theater in Tokyo the Kyobashi Kagetsu theater in Osaka, focusing their remaining resources on the Namba Grand Kagetsu, in Osaka.

Japanese magazine Bunshun reported that Yoshimoto has been experiencing significant cash flow problems and some of the agency's comedians told the magazine they haven't been paid for months. Yoshimoto insists that the are solvent but the company sold off much of their real estate holdings, including the two closed theaters in late 2011.

Much of the company's financial trouble officially stems from their 2010 merger with television consortium Quantum Entertainment. Yoshimoto was forced to delist from the Tokyo and Osaka stock exchanges to effect the merger, effectively taking the company private in a move that cost the company ¥30 billion (almost $390 million USD). Some observers however have questioned whether the delisting was intended to avoid scrutiny in a crackdown on Japanese organized crime, as listed companies must make their financial records available to the public. Japanese organized crime, or Yakuza are widely reputed to be deeply involved with the Japanese entertainment industry. Yoshimoto maintains that their merger with Quantum was to help make Yoshimoto the number one agency in Asia.

Meanwhile, the company has also been hit with a major lawsuit by cookie manufacturer Ishiya Co., manufacturer of the popular "Shiroi Koibito" (white lover) cookies. Yoshimoto produces the similarly packaged Omoshiroi Koibito or funny lover sweets. Ishiya claims that Yoshimoto "has been getting a free ride on our brand that we've established over many years" and is demanding that the company pay 120 million yen in damages as well as 20% of the proceeds as a licensing fee.

Following the initial hearings in the suit, Yoshimoto issued a statement saying: "We'll make our specific arguments in the upcoming proceedings, but we are hoping that the case will be settled in an amicable manner through talks." – CelebrityAccess Staff Writers