Ayumi Hamasaki 浜崎 あゆみ
Ayumi Hamasaki is Japan's most recently successful entertainment phenomenon. This singer/songwriter dominates the pop and fashion scene not only in Japan, but in the rest of Asia, too.
Hamasaki's father deserted the family when she was too young to remember him. In spite of being a reportedly introverted child, Hamasaki began modeling at age 7 to help boost the family income.
Hamasaki moved to Tokyo alone at age 14, entering the talent agency SOS, but, at 156cm (5f1h) was deemed too short to successfully model. After intial failure, she eventually succeeded in entering the entertainers' college, Horikishi Gakuen, but became disillusioned by it, and quit.
Between 1993 and 1996 she managed to make a living playing minor roles in B-grade movies and soaps, and also debuted as a singer with the Nippon Columbia label. Her album and single, Nothing from Nothing, were not promoted and did not chart. It was during this time that she found romance with another newcomer to the entertainment world, Tomoya Nagase.
From 1996 Hamasaki whiled away most of her nights at the Velfarre nightclub in Tokyo's Roppongi district, a club owned by the Avex Trax label. Here she happened to be introduced to the Avex Trax producer, Max Matsuura, who saw her potential and encouraged her to revive her musical ambitions.
After three months learning singing in New York, her first real break came in 1998 with her single Poker Face. Subsequent hits led to her being named one of the Best New Artists of the Year in the 13th Japan Golden Disc Awards in 1999. As a result she appeared on NHK's New Year Eve extravaganza, Kouhaku Utagassen, that year.
Her second album/single, Love Appears (November, 1999) attracted controversy with its topless shot of the artist on the cover. This was followed by commercial appearances for major corporations, including Honda, Lycos Japan, Kose Cosmetics, and the now defunct Tu-Ka mobile phone company, which, nevertheless, reportedly avoided bankruptcy at the time thanks to her featuring in its advertising.
By 2000, it was estimated that 40% of Avex Trax's income depended on Hamasaki. She was now Japan's highest earning singer, and wielded vast influence as a girlsf fashion trend setter. In 2002 she featured in Time magazine and Vogue. She also began hosting her own TV show, Ayuready?
In July, 2004, power wrangling with Avex Trax created a whiff of scandal, somewhat denting her popularity. The somewhat gexperimentalh (miss)understood (December 2005) was her first album since her initial success to fail to reach the million mark.
Nevertheless, with the release of her 40th single sometime later, her single sales made Japanese soloist history by topping 20 million. Also, in February 2007, she became the first Japanese female artist to occupy both first and second place in the charts.
As of the end of 2007, Ayumi Hamasaki is still a serious J-pop face and force to be reckoned with and continues to inspire millions of young women over Asia with her look.
Hamasaki married Austrian actor, Manuel Schwarz, on January 1, 2011, divorcing him a year later. Her second marriage to Tyson Bodkin, an American ten years her junior, also ended in divorce.