Entertainment News | Regional Voices: Okinawa

‘Namie Amuro generation’: Okinawa moms pursue dream of fame

The Okinawa Times

Five Okinawa women in their 40s, who practiced singing and dancing as teens at the same school as pop diva Namie Amuro, have recently relaunched their music careers after a lengthy break with a goal of achieving fame.

The members of aptly named Dream 39 say they share the belief that it’s never too late to pursue your lifelong ambitions. The pronunciation of “39” in the group’s name sounds similar to “thank you” based on the Japanese pronunciation of the numerals and the ensemble was formed in 2016, when many of the members were 39 years old.

The members — whose stage names are Akane, Riko, Dancer Nao, Hazuki and Shige — were all born in either 1977 or 1978 and went to Okinawa Actors School, which trained Amuro, 40, as well as members of girls’ groups MAX and Speed, which all rose to fame in the 1990s.

“We are ‘Dream 39,’ as we launched the group to pursue a dream at age 39. The name also expresses gratitude to all supporters,” Akane said.

All five members of Dream 39 have children and are juggling their upstart entertainment careers and family life.

Clad in colorful dresses, the five performed at a local shopping center in June.

The group was formed following a chance meeting between Akane (Akane Taira) and Nao (Naoko Sano) in the summer of 2016. They came up with the idea to launch an ensemble with former classmates from their school and gave a performance in October that year together with Riko (Ritsuko Akamine).

Hazuki (Hazuki Uehara), who saw the live show, and Shige (Shigemi Futenma), who is a friend of Nao’s from college, joined the group in 2017.

While working their day jobs, they promoted the group themselves and sought out opportunities to sing and dance at events across Okinawa. Their repertoire includes original songs and hit J-pop pieces from the 1980s and 1990s.

Riko had commuted to school by bus with Amuro, who made her professional debut in 1992. As teens, the five devoted themselves to lessons and, after leaving the school, they went on to land jobs as stage actresses or singers.

As a backup dancer, Nao even performed once on NHK’s annual year-end “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (“Red and White Song Battle”) broadcast.

However, they later faced the harsh reality of show business, in which only a handful of people succeed. After getting married and having children, their lives came to mainly revolve around child care and work outside of the entertainment industry.

Nao had been raising two sons in Tokyo but returned to Okinawa after getting divorced — a split that was partly due to the stress she suffered as a result of taking care of her kids far away from her home prefecture.

“I was depressed even after returning to Okinawa and struggling to get out of the situation,” she recalled. But the idea of making a comeback to the stage reenergized her.

In September last year, shortly before the group’s first anniversary, Amuro surprised the music industry when she announced that she would leave show business the following year.

The members said they simply respect Amuro for continuing for 25 years.

Because they took a long break from singing and dancing, the group expressed its wish to deliver messages to audiences based on what they had learned across their varied experiences.

After the group performed three shows in a single day, Hazuki’s third-grade son wrote in his dairy: “My mom’s live performance was 100 times cooler than their rehearsals.

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major daily in the prefecture. The original article was published on July 30.