J-Pop Icon Namie Amuro Speaks to NHK Before Retirement

J-pop queen Namie Amuro has retired from showbiz after a final performance in her hometown of Okinawa. It has been a year since she stunned fans when she announced on her 40th birthday that she bow out in September 2018. Like all of her career moves, even her departure was done in her own way.

Thousands of fans of Amuro flocked to the southern prefecture of Okinawa to see her final performance on September 15. It was the last live music event of her career, held on the eve of her retirement. The show was staged in Ginowan City. The event drew an audience of about 3,500.

She chose as her last number the song "How do you feel now?" The J-pop icon thanked the audience for its support before putting her microphone down on the stage.

Amuro's journey as a diva of Japan

Amuro sat down with NHK to discuss her retirement. The interview was held at one of the station's studios on August 31. She looked a little nervous when she walked into the room, but began to relax as the interview started. During the 2-hour interview, she remembered her 25-year career.

"Personally, I’ve reached the peak of my 25 years as a singer. That’s why I’ll never return to the stage." "When I released my debut album, I wanted to become a great performer, in both singing and dancing. Whether I succeeded is something for you, my fans, to decide. "

She began her rise to fame as a 14-year-old from Okinawa.

Prominent producer Tetsuya Komuro later helped seal her stardom. With his help, she sold millions of CDs, setting records.

At the height of her popularity, she announced her marriage, pregnancy and plans for a year's leave. The entertainment industry and her fans were shocked.

"I was only 20, so a year felt like an eternity. When I thought about how long a year was, I panicked. But I didn't understand why. Was it just because I wanted to get back to work as soon as possible? Or was this about my standing, my position? So that became a period when I started contemplating about what I, Namie Amuro, should be pursuing."

New phase for Amuro

When she returned, she had changed, but so had the music industry. CD sales were down and so was her popularity. She made the bold decision to go solo.

"When I came back from maternity leave, I realized there was a lot I needed to think about, such as how to use everything I’d learned from my past experiences to create my future. When I left my producer, Komuro, that's when my life really began."

Amuro began pushing herself harder and harder. She decided to produce her own work and learned how to market it.

She wrote her own lyrics for the first time in “Say the Word.” She also collaborated on albums with other artists, began directing her own concerts, and focused on improving the singing and choreography.

"The moment I realized how much fun it is to create music, not just singing it, I felt like I got close to the heart of music for the very first time."

Popularity spreads to Asia

Amuro was gaining fans outside of Japan, too, for her talent and her determined and independent personality. By 2004, she was touring Asia regularly.

Amuro has formed a special bond with her overseas fans.

"I was happy that my fans in Taiwan and Hong Kong enjoyed my music, even though they didn’t always understand the lyrics I was singing. I always feel that during concerts. They sing with me, so they memorize the lyrics. This sense of oneness I share with my fans feels thrilling every time."

For her farewell tour, she held 23 concerts, attracting some 800,000 fans. She performed a last time for fans in Hong Kong, Taipei, Shenzhen.

"The response...I’m happy. I’m surprised and happy. For instance, when my fans in Japan and around Asia hold up their messages for me to see during concerts, I'm truly moved to tears, especially this time around."

Farewell messages from across Asia

With September fast approaching, many fans held countdown events.

In Hong Kong, farewell parties took place in karaoke bars. Katie Lau, an office worker and ardent fan, has attended Amuro's concerts in Hong Kong and even Japan.

"Here’s a souvenir from the first concert I went to, in 2003. These are all goods from the ‘Finally’ tour," she says.

Lau discovered Amuro more than 20 years ago as a teenager.

"The first song of hers I ever listened to had a really fast tempo. It was different to songs in Hong Kong. It was unique. Hong Kong singers tend to emphasize singing over presentation. I find Amuro more appealing."

Fans relocate to Japan

Some fans, inspired by Amuro’s free spirit, even relocated to Japan.

Lin Fang I is one of them. She moved to Tokyo from Taiwan 3 years ago to study Japanese. After graduating from college in Taiwan, she went straight to work. But having long wanted to study abroad, she felt she was missing something.

"All my friends went abroad, and I was still in Taiwan. I was depressed that I wasn’t doing anything," she says.

Lin resolved to change her life after seeing her idol. At the time, Amuro was struggling to make a comeback after maternity leave, and she wasn't giving up.

"Amuro’s popularity dipped from time to time, and she would change her style. I think she was pushing herself. I saw Amuro as a role model. She made me want to push myself too."

Lin will graduate from vocational school next year. She wants to be an interpreter and work globally. On September 15, the day before Amuro's retirement, Lin stops by a hair salon.

Since becoming an Amuro fan, she's been wearing her hair long. With a new cut, she's ready to embark on the next phase of her life.

"I think this is the new me. I’m reborn. Amuro turned me into a person who can push herself. I want to live my life to the fullest," she says.

What Amuro hoped to achieve

The star's music and way of life have touched many people.

"I'd be happy if you would love music even more. Not just my music, but all the other great music that's out there, too. I want you to connect with it. Just as you’ve connected to my music, you might find another artist you can relate to. I want you to enjoy the pleasure of music, the wonder of it. Please simply enjoy the music.”

"I wanted to become a great singer and I worked hard to achieve that goal, but I still don’t know whether I succeeded. But I worked hard every day and I did my best. I did everything I wanted to do. And I have no regrets."

Amuro's contribution

In her long interview with NHK, what seemed to move her most was the question about her hometown, Okinawa.

Having been a top singer for 25 years with many concerts held in Okinawa, she received the Okinawa Prefectural People's Honor Award in May.

The day of the interview was her last day to come to NHK as a singer. As she left the studio, she said in tears, "Thank you for everything."

I believe she was an icon for all women who lived through the 90s, a time of drastic change, especially in terms of women's status in society. I am truly thankful to Namie Amuro for setting an example for women by living her life independently.