Namie Amuro quits showbiz: 8 things to know about the J-pop queen

Namie Amuro first announced her intention to retire a year ago, on her 40th birthday.
Namie Amuro first announced her intention to retire a year ago, on her 40th birthday.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/NAMIE AMURO

Queen of J-pop Namie Amuro officially retired from showbiz on Sunday (Sept 16) after a final live performance in her home town of Okinawa last Saturday.

The superstar, who will soon turn 41, first announced her intention to retire a year ago, on her 40th birthday.

Here are eight things to know about the J-pop icon who dominated music charts and single-handedly inspired legions of girls to follow her trademark look of tanned skin, mini-skirts and high-heeled platform boots.

1. Mixed-race heritage

At first glance, Amuro, while beautiful, does not fit into the typical Japanese ideal defined by fair, porcelain-like skin. The pop queen has a sun-kissed, tanned skin tone, and that is in part because she is a quarter Italian on her mother's side. Italians are generally known for their olive skin.

On top of that, Amuro is a native Okinawan. Okinawa, unlike the temperate Japanese mainland, is a sub-tropical island characterised by its long summers, and its residents receive more sun throughout the year.

2. Raised by a single mother

Amuro was raised mostly by her mother Emiko Taira alone. Her parents divorced when Amuro was four and her father has reportedly been absent in her life since. Her mother worked two jobs to support the family - a nursery employee by day and a bar hostess by night.

Amuro would later follow in the footsteps of her mother. She became pregnant and married dancer Masaharu "Sam" Maruyama in 1997, when she was only 20. In 2002, the couple divorced and she, too, became a single mother to her son.

 

3. Tragic family history

In 1999, about a year after the birth of Amuro's son, she had to confront an unprecedented tragedy. In an ugly family feud which shocked the nation, her mother was brutally attacked and killed at age 48 by Kenji Taira - the younger brother of her second husband.

Kenji Taira fled the scene and committed suicide by consuming insecticide. The exact reason for the act is unclear, although it is said that Amuro's mother had not been on good terms with her brother-in-law.

Amuro later got a tattoo on her arm - a taboo act in Japan for mainstream entertainers - to commemorate her mother.

4. Shift in J-pop

When Amuro broke onto the scene as a Japanese teen queen in the mid-1990s with her dyed hair, tanned skin, thigh-high boots and mini-skirts, she represented a shift in Japanese pop culture. It was a big departure from the 1980s, which were defined by squeaky clean, innocent idols like Seiko Matsuda.

Amuro's funky image and ability to sing and dance to techno and disco tunes made her a hit with young fans and propelled her to unparalleled heights of fame.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YH4RnkpqAJU

5. Her palm-sized face - 'kogao'

Amuro is not only the queen of J-pop, but she is also often touted as the ultimate "kogao" queen. "Kogao", which literally means small face, is what many Japanese women aspire towards - to have a tiny face that can be obscured by a palm. Japanese variety programmes, magazines and even celebrities like Taiwanese pop sensation Jolin Tsai have commented on Amuro's tiny face.

"Kogao" is still an enduring beauty standard. Face-slimming products from creams to face-rollers line the cosmetics section of Japanese drug stores till today. And Amuro remains the perfect symbol of the "kogao".

6. Hated the term 'idol' and refused to wear pink

Amuro might have found fame as a teenage idol in her early days but the singer apparently hated the label of "idol" and actively tried to set herself apart.

In an interview she did with Vogue Japan, reflecting on her long career, she said: "When I was young, for some reason, I kept thinking 'I'm not an idol!' even though it did feel like I was one in my early years. I just kept thinking that I'm not one, which was why I didn't want to smile so much. Even when others told me to smile, I'd say no. I also had this weird principle that I would not wear pink."

She said her mindset began to change as she got older and she took more control of her image and music. She told the magazine with a laugh: "I realised that you could only get away with wearing pink when you're young!"

7. Fiercely private about family

Amuro is known for being fiercely private and protective of her son, who is now 20. Despite being one of the most high profile female artists of all time in Japan, the star has managed to keep her family away from the spotlight.

There are very few pictures of her son, Haruto Amuro, growing up, and little is known about him. He reportedly graduated from an international school and is now attending university.

8. A special one-night only commercial aired for her

To celebrate her enduring career, streaming platform Hulu Japan aired a minute-long commercial just once on Sunday, featuring clips of the songstress. The commercial was broadcast on Nippon Television Network channels in five major cities, and on the Ryukyu Broadcasting Corporation channel in Amuro's native Okinawa.

Since October last year, Hulu Japan has been streaming an episodic documentary of Amuro's final year and her farewell tour Finally.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nOD69r8ja78