If I hadn’t come to Japan, I would’ve been dead already.

エニング サムエルさん


Interviewed by Isao Tokuhashi
Edited by Jennifer A. Hoff


Samuel Aning (a.k.a NANA YAW POP)

One day in April this year (2023), we were invited to an offline gathering organized by a newly established English school in Yokohama. The main purpose of the event was for English conversation learners to enjoy communicating in English while enjoying delicious dishes. There were several foreign nationals and one of them was Samuel Aning from Ghana, known as “POP,” who has been active in the Japanese entertainment industry for many years.

Our seats happened to be next to POP’s and we exchanged business cards. He runs a foreign talent agency, and since both of our companies’ work involves interviewing people from all over the world, were both very interested in each other’s activities.

POP is not only an actor who has appeared in famous movies and dramas, but he is also a very active businessperson who established his own entertainment agency. We have met many entrepreneurs and business owners from overseas, but we felt that we had found the “secret to seizing dreams in a foreign country” in POP, who smiles as brightly as the African sun as he looks back on the wild savannah of his not-so-easy life.

*Interview at Omotesando


Teaching Japanese culture as a “senpai”

I’m an actor and talent myself and also run some entertainment agencies with foreign actors and models. The backgrounds of our entertainers are varied, and it is not surprising that they come from almost every country in the world. In order to create a place for them to be active, I have built a network in the media and advertising industries in Japan.

To be honest, managing entertainers from various backgrounds is a difficult task. This is where communication becomes important. You have to listen to them and absorb their way of thinking and values, but then be able to turn around and also tell them, “But in Japan, you have to do it this way.” It may sound strange to you like a native of Ghana gives advice to other foreigners about Japanese culture and customs (laugh). However, I have over 30 years of experience living in Japan, so they do accept my advice. Recently, with the wave of globalization, it has become easier to obtain information on all regions, including Japan, so many people come to Japan after studying about the country. So I think the hurdle to living in Japan is getting lower for them (foreigners).


Crazy about Japan for 40 years

My connection to Japan goes far back into the past; to when I was a child. My sister married a Japanese man, and I was about 10 years old at the time, living with them and their children.

The man is an architect named Mitsuaki Yano. My sister and Yano have three brothers (Michael, David, and Sanshiro), and they are currently a vocal group in Japan called “Yano Brothers”. They are my nephews. When they were still babies, I used to change their diapers (laugh). Mr. Yano’s first son could have been me, not Michael (laughs).

People from the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV), the Japanese Embassy in Ghana, and the Hideyo Noguchi Institute visited Yano’s house, where I was living at the time, every month. So I have had opportunities to interact with Japanese people since I was a child. In addition, a Japanese company sent us a calendar with a picture of a woman in a kimono holding a parasol. I thought, “Wow, she is beautiful!”. I was also fascinated by a video dubbed in English of “Doraemon” that someone had left at home.

Sometime later, Yano’s family moved to Japan, and he invited me to come to Japan when I was 20 years old. September 14, 1989 is when I first stepped foot on Japanese soil.


Entering the Japanese entertainment industry with an enka song

It was the early 90s. I had always loved electricity and admired Japanese electronics, and I was thinking of going to the Nihon Kogakuin College in Kamata, Ota-ku. I heard that a newspaper distributor was offering me a scholarship for this purpose, so I got interested in it. But gave up when I learned that I would have to deliver newspapers even on rainy and snowy days. I studied at a Japanese language school while working part-time.

My part-time job at the time was at an Italian restaurant in Harajuku. One of my co-workers, a Nigerian, was a member of the Inagawa Motoko Office, which had many foreign talents. I loved to sing and often went to bars and karaoke boxes, so he must have seen that I had the makings of an entertainer. He asked me if I would like to sing on a Fuji Television program called “All Japan Gaijin Championship.” From the bottom of my heart, I thought, “I want to be in this show!”. I auditioned for the show and was lucky enough to pass, and even won the championship by singing “Yosaku“, one of enka’s greatest hits in Japan. Ms. Inagawa, the president of the agency to which my colleague belonged, who was a judge on the show, asked me to join her office.

While I was aiming to become an engineer, I was also passionate about theater activities at school when I was in elementary and junior high school. I wasn’t good at acting (laughs), but I loved it, and I gladly accepted Inagawa’s offer. That was the moment I realized I had stepped into the Japanese entertainment industry.


Bye to my “mother”

Thanks to Inagawa, I have appeared in many great movies and dramas. I have always loved acting, so I enjoyed every job I was given. Conversely, if I had not enjoyed it, I would have quit.

I worked with Inagawa Motoko Office for about 15 years. I was able to gain a variety of experiences under the care of Ms. Inagawa, a person with a big heart who I would even call my “mother” in Japan, and I began to think that I wanted to test how far I could go on my own. I told her how I honestly felt that I wanted to become independent.

She was surprised and asked me, “Why would you leave here, even though you said you would be one of the pillars of our office—even after you go to heaven?”…Her words pierced my heart.

I can say 100% that I would not have had a life in Japan without her. She taught me about Japanese etiquette, customs, and business practices, and she also introduced me to presidents of major companies, politicians, and other people who I would never have met in my normal life. I owe my life in Japan to her for bringing such “blessings” to me. However, I had a strong desire to test my ability, so I continued discussions with her for two to three months after that. Eventually, Ms. Inagawa and I came to an understanding with each other and I left the agency.


“Keep moving forward even if you hit a wall”

While I was still working under Inagawa’s agency, since I was relatively fluent in Japanese compared to the other foreign talent there, alongside acting I also helped with managing the other talent. A friend of mine, a Japanese woman who was a representative at an entertainment agency, sought out my experience, and I launched a foreign talent division in her company as a Vice President. In 2008, I wanted to test out my abilities again, so I left the agency and established one of my own called BAY-SIDE, from my apartment in Yokohama where I was living at the time.

Since my agency had more than 100 talents from its foundation, I was in my pajamas from early morning until late at night making sales calls without a break from my home office. Even so, it wasn’t until about a year after the establishment of my agency that I was able to make enough for a paycheck of my own.

It was indeed a tough time. But my star sign is Leo (laugh), and I was young, so I always said to myself, “Hang in there! There is only one way forward!” I didn’t run away just because the going was tough. Instead I thought, “How can I get myself out of this situation?” I think my mother was a huge influence on me when it comes to that. She used to say to me, “When you hit a wall, don’t back away. Just look for a way to move forward.”

In the 15 years since then, I have experienced ups and downs but kept running, looking only ahead. Thanks to everybody’s support, we have been involved in a lot of projects and our business situation has been good. But then the pandemic hit us. The impact was not small, and we were put in a difficult situation because of the sudden loss of jobs. However, I still followed my mother’s advice and searched for a way to move forward: that’s how I found my answer—“radio”.


Building my own legacy by working 24/7

I have been indebted to Japan ever since I came here at the age of 20. I want the people of my home country, Ghana, to understand the gratitude I feel toward Japan. I also want to convey to the people of Japan the culture and customs of Ghana, the country that gave birth to me. In other words, I want to be a bridge between Japan and Ghana.

In order to accomplish this mission of mine, I launched an online radio station “JafriQ Radio” in May 2020. It is a radio station where people can listen to news and music from Adom FM, the top-rated radio station in Ghana, get information on Japanese news and entertainment, and learn Japanese. I have a lot of projects in mind for this media platform, but to start with, I will need more staff. I am considering asking for sponsorship from Japanese companies who are interested in investing in the African market.

A great lineup for the “JafriQ Radio” app
*Click to download the app: iOS Google Play

Radio programs offering the latest useful information, news and updates on Japan distributed from a room in POP’s apartment to localities in Africa and the whole world!
Photos provided by Samuel Aning


My ultimate dream is to make JafriQ Radio, BAY-SIDE, and the foreign talent agency ZION, which I newly launched in 2017 as a spin-off of its narrator/voice actor division of BAY-SIDE, my legacies. To achieve this, I have to work almost 24/7. I would like to be able to continue my running, as well as making time to go to onsen at least once a month (laughs).


What is Tokyo to you?

Tokyo is my “Paradise”!

Tokyo has made my life more enjoyable. My family and friends are in Tokyo, and I work in Tokyo. I am already filled with joy and excitement for it. I have no negative feelings about the city.

I have captured not the American Dream but the “Tokyo Dream”. Tokyo is the best!


What is Japan to you?

Japan is my second home and my “benefactor”.

Thanks to Japan, I have been in good health and so far have lived to be 53 years old. If I were still in Ghana, I might have already died in terms of average life expectancy. In fact, some of my classmates from school have already passed away.

The reason I am alive today in Japan is that Mitsuaki Yano led me here. Sadly, he has passed away, but I will continue to live my life while being grateful to him and to Japan.


POP’s links

BAY-SIDE: bay-side.biz/
*Facebook: Here
ZION: zionv.biz
JafriQ Radio: jafriqradio.com/
*Apps: iOS Google Play
*YouTube Channel: youtube.com/@jafriqradio1989/


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