On Sunday fans across the country flocked to events paying tribute to pop diva Namie Amuro, marking the day she will step out of the spotlight.
In her home prefecture of Okinawa, thousands of fans gathered in Ginowan to attend events commemorating the end of the 40-year-old star’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, with some on a dedicated bus that traveled across the country.
Debuting on Sept. 16, 1992, as a member of the all-girl group Super Monkey’s, Amuro went on to dominate the charts as a solo artist with a string of mega-hits, including “Can You Celebrate?” and “Chase the Chance.”
With danceable tunes such as “Body Feels Exit,” and “Don’t Wanna Cry” as well as ballads including “Sweet 19 Blues,” Amuro became a pop music trailblazer.
With her signature getup of a miniskirt and high-heel platform boots with dyed brown hair, thin-arched eyebrows and a deep tan, a teenage Amuro created a phenomenon in the mid-1990s, inspiring young girls and women to copy her fashion, hairstyle and makeup.
Her acolytes, dubbed “Amuraa,” flooded Tokyo’s Shibuya district, a mecca for youth fashion and trends. Amuro’s fashion eventually paved the way for the gyaru fashion trend, marked by bleached hair, false lashes and revealing clothes.
At the upscale shopping mall Shibuya109, fans, some dressed in Amuraa-style, 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, which also includes 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 to include younger generations over the years. Wearing the commemorative T-shirt from Amuro’s farewell concert, Hina Yamada, 13, said, “I like everything about her. She’s cute and talented.”
As a measure of her enduring popularity, Amuro produced albums that sold 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 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 Taipei and China’s Shenzhen and Hong Kong.
After appearing less on television in recent years, concerts were virtually the only place for fans to get a glimpse of their idol.
In Okinawa, Amuro sang “Never End” at a welcome reception for leaders of the then-Group of Eight nations at the 2000 G8 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 group formed by her former band mates from Super Monkey’s.
Amuro’s influence remains strong in fashion. She has been a promoter for cosmetics maker Kose and adorned the covers of several fashion magazines. Most recently, items such as clothing, earrings and necklaces worn for the fast fashion brand H&M have sold briskly.
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 in 1997 when she decided to get married at age 20, at the peak of her career, to a member of the Japanese pop group TRF. After giving birth to a son in May 1998, she made a comeback in December that year after taking a year off for maternity and child care leave. The couple divorced in 2002.
Her life was not without tragedy, however. In 1999 her mother was murdered under 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 covers through the years have so far drawn 510,000 visitors to the venues in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa.
In Tokyo alone, 220,000 people had visited as of Sept. 13.
Among the lucky ones getting tickets was Ryo Ishida, 29, who came with her friend, a fellow 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.