ad info




TIME Asia
TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Entertainment
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia

TIME.com
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Asiaweek
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

 ASIAWEEK.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

JULY 24, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 3

The Songbird Who Made Okinawa Cool
By TIM LARIMER


Kyodo News.
Japanese pop singer Namie Amuro was a knockout at her concerts in Hawaii in May.

Namie Amuro put Okinawa on the map. OK, that's a preposterous idea. Amuro is what, all of 22? She sings J-pop fluff and her most striking attribute is her hair. To say she is the most famous thing about Okinawa is to denigrate the memory of the tens of thousands slaughtered during the long and horrific World War II battle. It trivializes the frustration Okinawans have endured living as a colony first under U.S. military stewardship, and later as a welfare state of Japan.

Yet Amuro, pretty as can be with her cappuccino-toned skin and butterscotch hair, did indeed do something remarkable for her home island when she splashed onto the pop music scene in 1995. She gave troubled Okinawa a new image. She made Okinawa cool.

Amuro was discovered by Masayuki Makino, a promoter enchanted by the girl when she tagged along with a friend to his acting school in Okinawa. "She is a talented flirt," he now says. He put her in a song-and-dance troupe called the Super Monkeys when she was 14. The monkeys weren't so super, and the group fizzled. Amuro, whose childhood ambition had been to be a flight attendant, appeared in TV dramas and as a giant furry rabbit on a children's show before turning to singing and topping the charts with her breakthrough 1995 hit, "Try Me." They did try her, and they loved her. She was a star at age 17. Her records were bestsellers; tickets to her concerts sold out within 10 minutes of going on sale.

  ALSO IN TIME
COVER: The Quest for Answers
Startling medical breaththroughs in Alzheimer's research may lead to drugs capable of slowing--or even halting--the disease's progress

JAPAN: Caught Between Two Worlds
Is it an American outpost or a Japanese backwater? Neither? Both? Host to this week's G-8 summit of the world's most powerful leaders, Okinawa is an island in search of an identity
Namie Amuro: The singer made it hip to be Okinawan

THAILAND: Can Anybody Do This Job?
In Bangkok's gubernatorial race, the candidates seem unable (or unwilling) to focus on the key issue: the urban mess

SOUTH PACIFIC: Far From Harmony
Rebels release the hostages, but that may not end Fiji's chaos

INNOVATORS: The New, New Look
Our new series on the next wave of influential people begins with designers who are changing the way we see the world

CASINOS: Bad Boys Abound in "Vegas East"
Glitzy gaming houses, some of them owned by drug lords and mass murderers, are popping up along Thailand's borders

CINEMA: Showdown With China's Censors
Will Jiang Wen be barred from moviemaking for seven years?


SPOTLIGHT

MILESTONES

TRAVEL WATCH: Imagine: Airline Food You Can Actually Eat

Amuro is stunningly beautiful, there is no question. One quarter Italian and three quarters Okinawan, she's exotic in homogenous Japan, but the image is familiar enough not to be threatening: tanned skin, pencil thin eyebrows, long, straight hair dyed light brown, mini-skirts and platform boots. She can sing, she can dance, sure. But it's that look that catapulted her to the top of the heap of Japan's teen queens. Flocks of "Amuraas" soon appeared all over Japan, young girls mimicking her style, down to the tattoo shaped like a bar code she wears on her right wrist. The "Amuraas" are gone now, but they have evolved into the hordes of teenage girls with bronzed skin, silvery gray hair, white lipstick and eye shadow and gravity-defying platform boots. This strange and decidedly unflattering persona is not Amuro's at all. The skin is browner, hair color lighter, skirts mini-er, platforms taller. But it has its roots in Amuro's natural Okinawan beauty.

This is not something the pop diva cares to discuss. "We don't want to emphasize the Okinawan connection," admonished one of her managers, Akira Kobayashi. But we did. So we asked Amuro about Okinawa anyway, much to the consternation of Kobayashi and six other black-suited handlers who hovered around her during an interview last week. "It's OK," she told the overly protective Kobayashi. Then to us: "If I had a strong feeling about being Okinawan, I would have stayed in Okinawa and done Okinawan music." The voice coming from the petite young woman is surprisingly husky. "I don't feel like I should be this way or that way because I am Okinawan. I just like to do the music." Okinawans looking for an inspirational role model should look elsewhere. There's nothing particularly Okinawan about her music, anyway. "It's a fashion," says Rinken Teruya, leader of a popular Okinawan band. "It mimics American music. She could be from Hokkaido."

Amuro's brief career has been filled with drama. At the height of her popularity in 1997, she shocked fans—and Japanese sensibilities—by announcing she had secretly married a dancer, whose stage name is Sam, and was three months pregnant. "She was finished," said Makino, her mentor, who has since parted company with Amuro. Her abrupt life change started yet another trend: marrying young. Then she disappeared from public view for a year. In December 1998, she made a comeback on the NHK television network's singing competition. At the end of her performance, she collapsed in tears. Japanese love a good cry; the TV show's ratings soared. Amuro was back. "No, I didn't cry deliberately," Amuro said with a laugh last week. "The audience welcomed me so warmly, I couldn't stop myself." Her next single topped the charts. She sang the theme song in the latest PokEmon movie, and her husband and son appeared in a government campaign urging Japanese to have more babies.

But her troubles weren't over. In March 1999, Amuro's mother, Emiko Taira, was murdered by her own brother-in-law—the climax, Okinawa police reported, of an ugly family feud. "It was very sad and has not been easy," Amuro said. "The only good thing is I married and had a baby before she died, so she saw her grandchild and could play with him. Now that I am a mother, I have to avoid being sad because that could affect my child."

In her younger, carefree days, Amuro sang peppy pop songs. The tempo of her new music has slowed a bit, like the ballad Never End she recorded in honor of the G-8 summit. Next she wants to write her own songs. Maybe give a concert in Okinawa, where she has never performed as a solo act. As for the next Amuro-driven trend? She shrugs. "I just want to be myself," she said, but then revealed a new conservatism that comes with motherhood. "When I was younger, I was more adventurous and I would wear anything. Now, I only wear clothes that look good on me." Whatever she wears, Japan had better learn to like it. Because schoolgirls still want to be like Amuro. And they don't care where she came from.

--With Hiroko Tashiro/Tokyo

Write to TIME at mail@web.timeasia.com

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


AsiaNow


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN

   LATEST HEADLINES:

WASHINGTON
U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

MANILA
Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

ALLAHABAD
Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

COLOMBO
Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

TOKYO
Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

BANGKOK
Thai party announces first coalition partner



TIME:

COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state



ASIAWEEK:

COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness


Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN
 Search

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.