Namie Amuro is a highly successful recording artist, actress, businesswoman, artist, and dancer. She made her debut when she was only 14 years old, and through rising success in Tokyo and trying fashion modeling and acting, she found phenomenal success and is now often dubbed as “the queen of Japanese pop”. Her bestselling singles include J-Pop hits like Don’t Wanna Cry (1996), Can You Celebrate? (1997), and Love Story (2012). She also provided the song Toi et Moi, the ending theme song from the Japanese version of Pokemon: The First Movie (1998).
To someone who only knows her music career, Namie Amuro’s life could seem like one long fairytale of glamour and success. However, her family history and personal life almost seem like the plot of a drama, full of twists and turns and unimaginable endings and beginnings. You could say that she is like the beautiful heroine in a tragic story. Even if you are not a fan of her music, I am sure you could at least sympathize with her and the struggles she has faced in her life.
Namie Amuro was born on September 20th, 1977 in Naha, Okinawa, as one of three children. Her father, whose name is unknown to the general public, left her family while Namie was only four years old, so she was taken care of by her mother, Taira Emiko, alone. Her mother took two jobs in order to support the family in which she worked as a nursery employee in the day and as a bar hostess during the night. Namie was “discovered” when she was twelve years old and made her debut as part of a girl group called Super Monkey’s. After moving to Tokyo, she finally found success as a lone artist.
Taking care of three kids as a single mother couldn’t have been easy for Emiko. Working two jobs to support her family, it is easy to assume that Namie, her mother, and her siblings didn’t have much money while she was growing up. Losing her father at such a young age must also have been very difficult for Namie. She was probably very close to her mother, who was unhappy about her leaving for Tokyo to pursue her career.
In 1997, Namie became pregnant at the age of 20 and married her boyfriend at the time, Masaharu Maruyama (also known as Sam), who was 35 at that time. It is said that her sudden marriage popularized the concept of a “shotgun wedding” in Japan. She had a baby boy whom she named Heart (Haruto Amuro), and she used to have a tattoo of her son’s name on her left arm. A little over four years after her marriage, she and Sam got a divorce. This could have been for a number of reasons such as stress, getting married so suddenly and at a young age, or perhaps even from observing her mom’s struggle of being a single parent since she was a child, Namie ended up being a single mom as well.
As if the stress of losing her father, her career, and being a young mother wasn’t enough, Namie suffered even more tragedy in her 20s. She lost her mom, Taira Emiko, a year after Namie had given birth to her baby boy. Taira Emiko was murdered by her second husband’s brother, who was named Taira Kenji. While Emiko was walking with her then husband, Taira Kenji knocked them down repeatedly using his car, and then attacked the couple with an axe. Emiko’s husband tried to protect her using a steel pipe, but his efforts couldn’t save her. After that, Taira Kenji fled the scene in his car, and was later found to have committed suicide by poisoning himself with insecticide.
Taira Kenji did not have any previous history of recorded violence, and this attack came as a shock for not only the family but the wider community of Okinawa, which is a generally very peaceful and safe place to live. However, the attack by Kenji on Taira Emiko was extremely brutal and intended to inflict as much harm as possible.
Namie’s stepfather survived the ordeal with minor injuries but Namie’s mother, unfortunately, did not. In memory of her mom’s death, Namie got a tattoo on her left arm above her son’s name tattoo, which reads: “June 30, 1950. My mother’s love lives with me eternally in my heart. R.I.P. March 17, 1999”. However, it seems like she has had those tattoos removed since then, perhaps because she has come to terms with her mother’s death, among other possible reasons relating to Japan and tattoos.
Despite this tragedy, Namie soon went back to her music and went on to release pop hits just like before. It is admirable how she could pick herself up and carry on making music for her fans. However, it was widely reported that Namie collapsed when she heard the news of this tragedy, and now struggles to talk about it or visit her hometown anymore.
Looking at her life, one can get a feel for the struggles Namie must have gone through during childhood and the sadness felt when her mother was killed in such a brutal way. Although these sorts of stories and scandals are perhaps more commonly exposed in media in the west, Japan is still a very traditional country and people are generally private and keep family scandals to themselves.
It could be concluded that Namie has been extremely brave and unique in Japan, by being open and honest about her story and not ashamed of it. One can hope that these tragedies will not be in vain, and may light the way for other artists and role models to prove that your family history is something not to be hidden away from but to be respected and reflected on, and certainly not judged.
Namie Amuro shocked her fans by announcing that she will retire in September 2018. After such a successful career spanning nearly twenty-five years and with over 30 million albums and singles sold since her debut in 1995, she, her music, and her live performances will be sorely missed. Her news has also sparked a debate on who will sing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, since she was a popular candidate.
Despite Namie Amuro’s adversities, she has managed to become one of the biggest Japanese female pop stars in history. She has been in the industry for nearly two and a half decades, not to mention that she still looks as young as she did 20 years ago. Her strength and perseverance is certainly commendable, and her fans will be sorry to see her go. We only hope that she is moving on to peace and happiness.
Namie Amuro’s official website *Japanese Only