Japanese pop singer Amuro to step out of spotlight after 26 years

Fans across the country flocked on Sunday to events paying tribute to Namie Amuro, a Japanese pop singer famous across Asia, marking the day she will step out of the spotlight.

In her home prefecture of Okinawa, southern Japan, thousands of fans gathered in Ginowan to attend events commemorating the end of the 40-year-old diva’s career, including a nighttime fireworks show. Amuro gave her last live stage performance with other artists in the city on Saturday night.

The music and fashion icon stunned fans last September by saying she planned to quit showbiz. The announcement on her website came just days after she marked her 25th anniversary as a performer.

«I could not have lasted 25 years without your support, for which I am eternally grateful,» she wrote last year on Sept. 20, her birthday.

Since then, fans have been visiting Amuro-related locations around the country in places such as Tokyo and Okinawa, some on a dedicated bus that traveled across the country.

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Japanese pop singer Amuro gives final performance in hometown Okinawa

Debuting on Sept. 16, 1992, as a member of the all-girl group Super Monkey’s, Amaro went on to dominate the charts as a solo artist with a string of megahits such as «Can You Celebrate?» and «Chase the Chance.»

With danceable tunes such as «Body Feels Exit,» and «Don’t Wanna Cry» and ballads including «Sweet 19 Blues,» Amuro was a Japanese pop music trailblazer.

(Namie Amuro walks on the red carpet during MTV Video Music Awards Japan 2008 at Saitama Super Arena)[Getty/Kyodo]

With her signature getup of a miniskirt and high-heeled platform boots with dyed brown hair, thin-arched eyebrows and a deep tan, a teenage Amuro created a phenomenon in the mid-1990s with young girls and women copying her fashion, hairstyle and makeup.

Her acolytes, called «Amuraa,» flooded Tokyo’s Shibuya district, a mecca for youth fashion and trends. Amuro’s fashion eventually paved the way for «gyaru» fashion featuring bleached hair, false lashes and revealing clothes.

At upscale shopping mall Shibuya109, fans, some dressed like Amuraa, have waited in long lines to visit a pop-up display of Amuro-related paraphernalia as part of a tribute called «Shibuya109 Loves namie amuro.» The exhibit, also including a store, runs through Sunday.

«She has been performing in style for 25 years, and this is why everyone is experiencing the Amuro-loss phenomenon,» said Kouta Maruyama, media promotion division general manager of Shibuya109 Entertainment Corp.

Amuro has also expanded her fan base into younger generations over the years. Wearing Amuro’s final concert commemorative T-shirt, Hina Yamada, 13, said, «I like everything about her. She’s cute and talented.»

As a measure of her enduring popularity, Amuro produced albums selling over a million copies at various points across her career — when she was in her teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s — with the last achieved by a CD of past hits called «Finally.» Her album «Sweet 19 Blues» sold 3 million copies.

Her final concert tour, which began in February, has drawn about 750,000 fans, a record for a solo artist on a single music tour in Japan. Her tour dates also included stops in China’s Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei, Taiwan.

After appearing less on television in recent years, concerts were virtually the only place for fans to get a glimpse of their idol.

Amuro also sang «Never End» at a welcome reception for leaders of the then Group of Eight nations at their 2000 summit in Okinawa. Earlier this year, she won the Okinawa prefectural honor award.

Her popularity opened the door for artists from Okinawa including all-girl pop group Speed and Max, a four-member girl group formed by her former bandmates in Super Monkey’s.

Amuro’s influence remains strong in fashion, having promoted makeup brand Kose and adorned fashion magazine covers. Most recently, items such as clothing, earrings and necklaces she wore for fast fashion brand H&M sold quickly.

H&M says more than 16,000 people lined up on the first day of its Amuro fashion campaign in August at 82 of its shops in Japan. Items she wore were also sold in China and South Korea.

«She sings and dances well, and she is cute and cool. Plus, I admire the way she lives her life the way she wants to,» said Kazue Suzuki, 30, from Ibaraki Prefecture.

Amuro surprised fans when she married in 1997 at age 20 at the peak of her career to a member of Japanese pop group TRF and gave birth to a son in May 1998. She made a comeback in December that year after taking a year away for maternity and childcare leave. The couple divorced in 2002.

Her life was not without tragedy, however, as in 1999 her mother was murdered in strange circumstances.

Asuka Watanabe, a Kyoritsu Women’s Junior College professor knowledgeable about youth fashion and trends, says Amuro’s impact goes beyond music and fashion, pointing out that she changed the perception of the way women can live their lives.

«Getting married and giving birth at the height of one’s career encouraged young women that this can be a lifestyle to pursue,» Watanabe said.

Amuro’s «Final Space» exhibits showcasing her stage outfits, awards and a collection of her album cover images through the years have so far drawn 510,000 visitors at the Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa venues.

In Tokyo alone, 220,000 people have visited as of Sept. 13.

Among the lucky ones getting tickets was Ryo Ishida, 29, who came with her friend, also an Amuro fan. «The biggest thing for us is that she continued to sing and dance for 25 years. We will always be her fans,» she said.

All — Kyodo News+

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