Courtesy of
Toshiba EMI

In the world of Japanese music it would be fair to say that the number of female singer/songwriters who have managed the delicate balance between market success and creative expression without compromising artistic integrity can be counted on one hand. The very existence of singers like UA, Chara and even Utada Hikaru is due in large part to the efforts and talents of Japan' most successful female singer/songwriter, Matsutoya Yuming.

Born Arai Yumin in 1954, Yuming has claimed that, although she began as a folk musician, her music is that of the middle class - an easily accessible style which she would later call "New Music." Yuming displayed precocious musical talent from an early age, making up songs from the few chords she learned in her piano and choral lessons. In what would inadvertently turn out to be Yuming's debut, she sent one of her songs to Katsumi Kahashi, formerly with the Spiders. Katsumi recorded "Ai wa Totsuzen," which became a big hit, propelling Yuming into the limelight at the age of 15. While attending Tama University of the Arts, Yuming began her songwriting career in earnest. It was her third album, Cobalt Hour, that finally brought both critical acclaim and market success, sending her to the top of the charts. Always an industrious and prolific writer, by the late '70s Yuming was releasing an album at a rate of one or two a year. Her songs were used in TV commercials (48 thus far) and as TV drama and movie theme songs (21 to date). Within a few short years Yuming had become the top female musical artist in Japanese pop history.

Throughout the '80s Yuming's career boomed. Her music was heralded as the sound of the bubble baby boomers coming of age in a time when Japanese pride was at a postwar high and yen flowed like Dom Perignon in a Ginza hostess club. It was during this period that Yuming's legendary energy and drive seemed at their peak. She hosted radio shows, contributed to an an, non no and seventeen magazines, and released several books. In between her regular "Surf and Snow" annual concert commitments, she also began what she perhaps became most famous for - elaborate concerts that were as much spectacle and fantasy as a showcase for her musical talents.

Enter the '90s. The bubble burst, and while many artists of her generation struggled to find a voice, Yuming proved resilient. While headlines screamed economic doom, Yuming began preparations for her grandest, costliest concert ever. "Shangrila" was touted as a musical adventure and Russian circus rolled into one and despite its JY11,000 price tag, all venues sold out within hours. Her albums, which she has continued to release at the rate of one a year for a career total of 49, have consistently sold two million plus for each new release.

Today Yuming is the undisputed queen of the pop charts, and she won't be dethroned anytime soon. Of the Top 100 albums, Yuming has the most entries (six) of any female singer/songwriter, the highest overall sales for any female act (12.34 million albums) and the most entries of any solo artist. While some critics may argue that sales figures merely highlight well-marketed products, such jaded views, however accurate, ring hollow in the case of Yuming. Her music is the soul of an entire generation and her success story is as unique and genuine as Yuming's new music.

Jordanna Potter

299: Nakamura Kankuro
Arizona lover and Kabuki actor
298: Miura Yuichiro
The Man Who Skied Down Everest
297: Iron Chef
Gourmet cuisine battles
296: "Katte wa ikenai"
"Don't buy these products"
295: Oda Yuji
The dancing detective
294: Enoki Takaaki
An artist who acts
293: Glay
Japan's reigning pop princes
292: Akebono
Hawaiian Sumo wrestler
291: Issey Miyake
Fashion designer
290: Murakami Ryu
Radical writer
289: Oshima Nagisa
Movie director
288: Takakura Ken
Crime film actor
287: Miura Kazuyoshi
Soccer player
286: Suzuki Koji
Author of the horror, Ring
285: Tezuka Osamu
God of Comics
284: Yuming
283: Anpanman
Bean-powered superhero
282: Yamaguchi Takashi
Immersed in traditional Japanese music
281: Nasubi
280: Doi Takako
First female Speaker of the House
279: Nakamura Kichiemon
Retiring Kabuki actor
278: Oe Kenzaburo
Nobel prize winning author
277: Kimura Takuya
SMAP member
276: Utada Hikaru
Teenage pop phenomenon
275: Bando Tamasaburo
Kabuki female role impersonator
274: Otomo Katsuhiro
Akira creator
273: Dreams Come True
Premier recording artist
272: Dango San Kyodai
Surprise hit of 1999
271: Banana Yoshimoto
270: Matsuzaka Daisuke
Baseball player
269: Moritaka Chisato
Model and singer
268: Mukai Chiaki
Female astronaut
267: Natto
Traditional Japanese health food
266: Hiroaki Kikuoka
Shamisen player
265: Chikamatsu Monzaemon
Japan's most revered dramatist
264: Ryuichi Sakamoto
Oscar-winning musician
263: Shigeo Nagashima
Japan's Mr Baseball
262: Ayako Totsuka
Pioneer careerwoman
261: Yatsuhashi Kengyo
Koto player
260: Chiyotaikai
Sumo wrestler
259: Pocky
Japanese snack food
258: Itsuki Hiroshi
Enka singer
257: Pocket Monsters
Conquering the world
256: Classified ads
New concept in Japan
255: Chara
Japanese pop star
254: Pink Lady
1970's singing duo
253: Takashi Sorimachi
Japanese heartthrob
252: Ennosuke Ichikawa
Kabuki actor
251: Rie Miyazawa
Model and actress
250: Shazna
Visual-kei band

Issues 350 +
Issues 349 - 300/1
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