NumeroTOKYO / Fusosha

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Some things I will change.
Some things I have changed.
Some things I can’t change.
Can I truly smile?

Hamasaki Ayumi speaks of her 15 years since debut


In the few years after the 10th Anniversary, her music often seemed to follow an internal theme of “Can I surpass what I’ve achieved?”, and we continued to receive works from Hamasaki Ayumi that evolved with fresh approaches. Her songs have always been reflections of her life, so when she released “Virgin Road”, it was no surprise that many fans accurately predicted her upcoming marriage.

“It wasn’t my first time filming a PV overseas. There were various actors there, and there was nothing special about how I picked them, either in terms of preconditions or their environment. I just needed to feel a sense of connectedness with them… That incident propelled me, not into love, but into a dream, and I think he felt the same way too. However, once we tried to settle into a normal life, what had seemed new and refreshing suddenly became unmatchable differences. Honestly speaking, his photobook came as a shock too. I remembered thinking “Is this supposed to happen? Isn’t this man my husband?”, but he saw it differently, asking “Eh? What’s wrong with that?”. He saw it as a wonderful present, but it shocked me so much that my memory of the next few days were fuzzy, and I couldn’t eat or sleep. We still keep in contact now, not as a couple but as friends, and I’ve returned to seeing his differing ideas and perspectives as something “refreshing” and “interesting”. And I guess that’s the difference between being friends and being family. Then, last year… was probably when my private life strayed the most, and I cannot justify my own mistakes. If I had to comment, I’d say that there are usually two ways people wish to be loved. To suppress reality and continue living in a dream, or to be ourselves and have our differences acknowledged. I choose the latter. I don’t want to be thoroughly loved. I want to truly be myself, without needing to hide my failures.”

Peace, comfort, trust… There are various things we look for in our partners. We also understand that it’s not easy to find someone who can truly accept us for who we are… We asked her about the things which had kept her going for these past 15 years.

“It’s definitely the fans, and not my personal toughness. There were times when I felt a painful rift between us, and it made me want to give up… Even now, I understand the truth inside myself, and I’ll be happy as long as a few select people can understand me. I don’t care if anyone else finds me silly or ridiculous. That’s how I feel now, but in the past, I used to take all these seriously, and it really hurt me. When it got really bad, I constantly had thoughts like “How can I escape from all this?”, “Why did I choose this life? How can I run away? How can I end it?”. In the end, I couldn’t hide away. I realized that I wouldn’t be able to escape, no matter whether I gave up or not. Therefore, isn’t it the better choice to not give up?… Since then, I’ve slowly changed. What’s interesting is that my feelings were reflected onto my first house, which was under construction then. In one word, it is like a fortress. (laugh) Then, after that, I built my second house, which is the one in this photoshoot. They’re total opposites, like black and white. However, whenever I need to focus, I’ll still return to the fortress. If I don’t, I can’t create anything good, and create things which are OK only when people are in a good mood. In the new house, I can be with my dogs, lying defenseless with our bellies up, but when it gets hard to breathe… Well, even till today, I see both places as home. I won’t give up the fortress, because there are still times when I need it.”

A place not boasting of her success and achievements, but where she can return to her true self in those short moments of break from work. It is probably what she meant when she once said, “I can only be free when immersed in my songs”.

“Decorating my tour backstage rooms to resemble my own bedroom is one of the preparations I make, so that I can stand on stage in my best form. I love doing that, and it is what pulled me through these 15 years… I want to see only beautiful things, comfortable things, things which may not be expensive, but possess sentimental value. Things which are not pre-made, but are created with my own originality… That’s how I’ve created “Hamasaki Ayumi” to be, to reflect these feelings. Just like how, through these 15 years, I’ve created my homes and my shows, reflecting what AYU wants with as much detail as I can. That’s what I’ve realized. However, it’s not something which I accomplished on my own. There are my fans who believed in me, and never gave up on me. There is the staff, who has given me support. There are my family and friends, who have been there for me. This 15th Anniversary is a return of those favours… For them, I see it as my duty to use the rest of this year to work at creating great music. There’s nothing concrete right now, but, as I’d once murmured to myself while standing in front of Shibuya 109, with no aspirations for the future, “I can still work hard”.”

With just one song, Hamasaki Ayumi has achieved success akin to the CEO of a large corporation, and everyone knows that it is not something anyone can achieve just by being cute.

“I feel that there are things which should be changed, and things which are best left alone. With that and a continued dependence on hope, I can keep renewing myself, especially as I work to gather and surround myself with those who can help me achieve that. But while it is possible to clear hurdles with just a moment of power, it is really difficult to keep on doing it. That’s why I said that Hamasaki Ayumi isn’t a single entity, because it’s the people who work to help me continue to reinvent myself that has made Hamasaki Ayumi what she is. But at times, it’s my duty to maintain that motivation, to push for Hamasaki Ayumi. I must never forget that I’m the boss, that no matter what decision is made, the consequences will all fall on me. I carry the burden of being Hamasaki Ayumi, along with the lives of all who support her. I’ve never forgotten that, ever since I watched how my first producer created Hamasaki Ayumi. It might have been a vague creation then, but in the following years, I’ve felt it evolve into a monster, and it’s been my task alone to control it. That was what I felt.”

Listening to that, we thought about all those who’ve graduated from Hamasaki Ayumi’s side to become specialists in their own fields. When they were at her side, they were unable to enjoy themselves as audience, but now, they travel to attend her concerts, watching her shows with excitement… The pride that sometimes crosses their faces is probably due to the remembrance of how they had once helped Hamasaki Ayumi clear those hurdles. Hamasaki Ayumi is a unique pop princess. Finally, there was one thing which we realized as we attended her 15th Anniversary tour. The audience was filled not only with those who had walked with her through this era, but many high school teens as well.

“Is it the songs which I’ve left from the past, or is it the songs I’ve released recently? No matter what, I hope to teach them the lesson I’ve learnt: that music transcends the ages to resonate in people’s hearts… While it’s important to keep evolving, I want to hold on to some things, knowing that they haven’t changed, and feeling the nostalgia. Like how I’ve searched for a place of comfort, I wish for “Hamasaki Ayumi” to be a source of comfort to the fans.”


Photos labelled with years

1998: 19 years old… The debut song which changed her fate.
1999: The big Kitty which follows her on her tours.
2000: The last-resort sunglasses to hide her deteriorating skin condition.
2001: A must-have item, together with the candles. Chanel’s fragrance line Coco Mademoiselle. She wants to be surrounded by her favourite fragrance, even when standing on stage.
2002-04: Her first TV show “ayu ready?”. She admitted to getting really nervous about having to speak with people she’s only ever heard about.
2004: The origins of the current SHOW styles, “MY STORY” tour. Still an amazing watch!
2005: That’s not a shop. It’s the candle shelf at her house, with enough stock to open a store. “Yes, it’s the A Logo. (laugh)”
2006: The period where her fashion style changed from casual to lady-like.
2008-09: The autographed Louboutin shoes she gave to all staff members to commemorate the 10th Anniversary.
2010: A playful addition to the tiresome pressure training belts.
2011-12: Sparkling microphone. To continue to sing is to live.
2013: “We sleep together nearly everyday. My beloved family. Papiko, Pino, Crea, Cocoa”