Full scans at [ayufan.com].
After Countdown Live ended, she immediately travelled overseas. This has been ayu’s tradition for many years, but this time round, she changed her style and welcomed this New Year of 2013 with no concrete plans.
When she was gathering material for the album “LOVE again” at the end of last year, ayu made a huge decision as “Hamasaki Ayumi”.
How will the fans take it?
With this thought in mind, she headed to Yoyogi for Day 1 of the 3day year-end performance, something new which she’d never done before. Even though the show brought me close to tears many times that day, what really hit me in the heart was the opening. Due to the nature of her job, she has a habit of always passing her eyes over the entire audience during openings of live concerts. However, the audience sensed that something was obviously different that day. Usually, the strong bond between ayu and her fans would overwhelm, and she would smile and gaze at everyone in enjoyment, but her face, turned away from everyone, gave off a staggering heat.
Yoyogi, submerged under a pink ocean, seemed to shout “It’s alright”, “We’re here with you”, through large undulating waves, as they waited in anticipation for ayu.
“This is unbearable”
Unable to find words to describe the unexpected situation, she was barely able to pen down these words.
Just what was running through ayu’s mind in that moment that day?
I think I have found the answer during this time’s L.A. recording session.
“I will become the reason you breathe”
“I want to create a booklet like the one we did for “(miss)understood”.”
This offer came up all of a sudden one day in end-February. ayu had taken February off to continue her vacation. With that, she came to L.A. to do recording for the new track. Once she has decided on something, she will follow it through, no matter how tough the schedule. That is, as usual, “Hamasaki Ayumi”‘s tough style. And then, she subsequently gathered her staff. Everyone was surprised at the sudden decision, but sensing that ayu had hit on something, we flew out to L.A. in a state of excitement.
“We’ve been here all the time lately”
ayu said during the make-up session in her suite room of the hotel Mondrian Los Angeles. Despite the jetlag, TeamAyu was excited and ready to go right in the morning ♪
“Even as I write, the things which I want to say slowly change”
The lyrics for the new song were still not complete, even though the recording session was scheduled for the next day. Maybe it was because of this, that she would sometimes fall behind a shield which nobody could breach, as if mulling over something in her head. Then, at the sound of someone’s laughter, she would suddenly return to herself… That was ayu throughout the entire day. I remembered that ayu once said, “I don’t want lyrics which I’d forget if I went to sleep”. This recording session was decided on a whim, similar to how “Mirrorcle World” was decided upon during the 10th Anniversary. Without following any plan, but just wanting to sing now. To reach out from the heart. ayu was probably just quietly responding to this urge.
A chance meeting with a dog on its walk, and ayu was off frolicking.
“As I looked at the scenery around, I noticed that the flowers blooming along the roadside were so pretty. I want to experience more of that feeling”
She had said this once many years ago, though I felt that this wish of hers was only truly being fulfilled here in these recent days. This was not a smile created to placate everyone, but her true feelings. Even with make-up on, she seemed so innocent somehow, and totally cute ♪
“To cook delicious shabu-shabu, you need to hold the meat completely still.”
To investigate the truth in that advice, we visited a restaurant named “Kagaya”. Dinner after work with everyone was always a really lively affair. The scene was similar to some shots taken in Hawaii for the “(miss)understood” booklet, and though the people inside had changed, the smiles and excitement were still the same. TeamAyu’s members evolve together with the times… And while that is of course a little sad, it is not something sorrowful. Everyone has their own space to grow and perform. And then, young talents get their chance to work hard beside ayu. That is surely another facet of Hamasaki Ayumi’s 15th Anniversary. In truth, to be in her presence leads to great personal growth. “We surpass ourselves everyday” Those who will vigorously assent to this are hair and make-up stylists Suke-san and Gori. Someday, they will surely pass on the baton to a chosen someone. And then, they will join the ranks of graduated TeamAyu seniors, meeting together night after night, flowers of reminiscence of days past blooming… And sitting in their midst, a tiny smiling ayu. Yes, the road continues.
Who never gave up on me?
I’ll never forget
The proof of your life.
The reason for my existence.
The place where I belong is there, in the place that you’ve given me.
There, I found the place where you belong…
“If I wanted to live for myself, I wouldn’t have chosen this life. That’s the conclusion I’ve reached”
“It’s not really that easy for someone to truly make a difference”
The mood while waiting for the recording session to begin was unusually calm, as she translated the lyrics for “Tell All” into English with Timmy. With the signal to begin, she began warming up in the lounge. Her initially light vocals slowly gained strength. Is ayu’s voice usually this strong? It took my breath away. Even her expression seemed like a totally different person from the joking self she was just moments before. In the pin-drop silence, she closed the door. And then, we waited for ayu, together with photographer Ryan, who was taking photos inside the booth.
If someone asked her sometime in the future about that day’s recording session, ayu would probably readily answer that “It was relatively smooth-sailing”. Truly, the session did not take long. However, I realize now that to take her words of “smooth-sailing” at face value would be a big mistake.
It was sacred ground that nobody could easily enter. The place where Hamasaki Ayumi breathed life into the lyrics with her entire soul. To sing without a mistake, to sing because she wants to sing. It’s not about that. More than anything, she would not be able to sing that way if she did not feel it in her heart. The first time I heard “Hamasaki Ayumi”‘s raw vocals in that soundless booth, my legs trembled, my skin got goosebumps, and my tears flowed without my knowledge. “The truth is always in the song…” I finally understood the true meaning of this phrase that day.
Deep in my heart, I was still affected the next day from the previous day’s recording. Just what was that feeling? When her honest profile and true feelings touched me, I was so moved that I could not stop my tears. That’s the closest I can come to describing my feelings. With her seriousness and drive, the listener’s heart would be shaken, and her feelings delivered. Komeda-san, who had presided over ayu’s recording sessions for the past 8 years, also agreed. “That is Hamasaki Ayumi to the core.” The “resolution” I felt when I first saw the lyrics of “Tell All”… It caused several things to pierce my heart. Just what must she do to make her Hamasaki Ayumi? Just what did she do that caused her to be labelled a betrayer? No matter what she does, ayu is still ayu, but why do we gloss over that and ask her to remain as nothing but an idol? We really ask for too much, when all we really want is for our beloved to smile…
We’re far apart, but close.
We’re separated, so I can be beside you.
I can see you. Always.
Lonesome, acting strong, contradictory.
So silly. It would have been alright if you had allowed yourself to cry.
The 3rd phase of despair, is to gain amazing success at the cost of the dream which you’ve always held. I thought that this day would never come…
It was created in the moment when I accepted this fact.
You’re not crying?
You can’t cry?
You won’t cry?
When did you decide to stop crying?
Did it end when it began?
Was it destroyed when it was created?
I threw it away when I made my choice.
Even now, the one person who views Hamasaki Ayumi most critically is none other than ayu herself.
“The person that I was during “Secret” no longer exists. If I had to sing that song now, I feel that I would be saying “It’s alright” to the person I was then”
I was relieved by ayu’s words. In the years since “Secret”, there were times when she felt that way. When she felt like destroying. Maybe. Surely that is the reason why she could not let the person she was during “Secret” go to rest. She was truly awkward and complicated, but easily understood.
“ayu is so far away.” There were times when we felt that. Hearing a song, we felt that we had somehow understood her, and without hearing the truth, we deserted the ayu that has frozen in time within the song. So it was obvious why we felt so far from her. Before we sought to understand, we assumed that “that’s how she is”, and took a step back. I’m so sorry. The memories of that day when you cried, hurt from all your wounds, is fuzzy in my mind. I remember everything about that day when you stood on stage through nothing but sheer willpower, but I had forgotten. I would not speak more than necessary. It was us who had lost sight of the real ayu.
“I never give up on something which I believe in”, she is similar to me in that sense.
But rather than just believing in something, her wish was far greater. “They believed in me”, “They never gave up on me”. That was how these 15 years had passed.
“During the recent Countdown Live, I sang the line “Who never gave up on me?” in “Who…”. It was a struggle, but I tried to sing it out. Choked with tears, my voice wouldn’t come out, and in the end, I never did sing that line in all 3 days. “Who…” is a song I wrote when I was young, but I still feel the same way now as I felt then. Because there were people who didn’t give up on me, and people who continued to believe in me, I can be as I am now, and will continue to be so in the future.”
“No matter if I am myself, and no matter what kind of silly face I show to the world, there are people who never stopped believing in me.
So what is happiness to me? In the end, I don’t care if my life is a huge success or a huge failure. More importantly, it is to be believed in by someone other than myself. To be believed in and never given up on. That’s what I think is the meaning of life.”
It’s always easy to cry, but I want to smile…
In truth, when I flew to L.A., I wanted to search for a lyric that can symbolize the ayu I have seen so far, to place at the end of the booklet. It was just a vague idea.
And then, on the flight to L.A., as I was listening to ayu’s songs on my iPod, I found it.
“It’s always easy to cry, but I want to smile…”
As I thought through all of my past memories of ayu, I could not help but shout, “This is it. There’s no better line”.
Furthermore, it was a phrase from her debut song “poker face”, an essential and satisfying line that was all “Hamasaki Ayumi”. So I penned it down in my notebook.
“I want to create a booklet like the one we did for “(miss)understood””. To recap, we made 2 booklets as special gifts limited to the first press of album “(miss)understood”; 2 mini photobooks named “on my way” to showcase the private ayu, and “off my day” to showcase “Hamasaki Ayumi” at work. And I got the chance to write about ayu in any way I wanted in them.
It’s been 7 years since then… The ayu who spoke in stunted English had now become someone who could converse with the foreign staff in fluent English, without the help of an interpretor, and that was only one of the changes she had undergone. However, as I looked through the 2 previous booklets, the words I had written 7 years ago are still relevant to the person ayu is now. In a good way, it shows that her true self had withstood the test of time. For several years, I had accumulated some things which I wanted to say if I was given a chance again, but as we spent several days in L.A., I wondered if I could even discover anything new about ayu. It was a very real anxiety I had.
However, that was a gross miscalculation. The most amazing thing was the incident at the recording studio during “Tell All”. For more than 10 years, I had penned down Hamasaki Ayumi’s words in magazines, and I could have just put all that into an essay and be done with it. But what was it that I wanted to know about ayu, to have continued writing about her even till today…? It was a drive from deep down that overwhelmed me. I had not yet told about the real Hamasaki Ayumi. Just what had she been seeing all this time? That night, I could not sleep when I returned to the hotel, so I reread “Tell All”‘s lyrics countless times. The last phrase of “I will become the reason you breathe”, together with ayu’s singing voice, kept repeating in my head. “Ah, that’s it. There’s no other line.” It was a magical feeling, as the last puzzle piece fell into place.
In truth, the night before the recording, I looked through the song lyrics from all the past 15 albums which I had brought over from Japan, searching for an appropriate phrase to start off this booklet, which describes the ayu now as she welcomes her 15th Anniversary. However, I did not succeed. And that was expected. “Hamasaki Ayumi” sang each song as the person she was at each point, so the only song which contains the ayu now could only be the latest one. Unable to realize that, I took some time to reflect on my thoughts…
What should I write in this booklet? The reason ayu continues to sing, or the meaning behind it, or what kind of person is Hamasaki Ayumi?… During my stay in L.A., and even when I returned to Japan, I mulled over this all the time. In the end, unable to find an answer, I started on a draft. Looking through the photos of “ayu” and “Hamasaki Ayumi” taken by Ryan, and remembering what I saw of ayu myself, I waited for the words to come. Just like ayu, even when I began writing, I would stop writing and throw away all that I had written thus far. I wanted to write about ayu in my own way, about how she could not sing about something unless she truly felt it in her heart.
I had gained one more thing during the recording session in L.A. this time. The composer Mr Hoshino, who had a hand in numerous songs including “A Song for xx” and “MOON”, had now taken on the role of ayu’s vocal director. From him, and from engineer Mr Eiyama, I heard about how ayu was like before she debuted. Mr Hoshino and ayu met about a year before her debut. In preparation for her debut, he had worked with her to find a music style and direction suitable for Hamasaki Ayumi.
“At that time, that alone took up most of the time we set aside to prepare her for debut, and I felt that it was a really difficult task. In truth, she had really worked hard. And then, the lyrics written by her before debut. You would not have imagined that an 18 year-old wrote them. (laugh) I remember feeling shocked, and wondering “Just what life experiences had this girl of 18 accumulated?” In the end, her strong will came through even then, when she came right out and said “I want to do it this way”. It wasn’t a debut dictated by the adults around this kid of 18.”
Even amongst fans, the Hoshino x ayu combi was one famous for creating popular tracks. In the past, ayu commented on the material. “Hoshino-san’s songs are easy to sing, just like all the songs he had written for me in the past, and I would sometimes make requests for a melody to fit with certain lyrics. Mr Hoshino also agreed, “It was easy to understand her.”
“I have written songs for many people, but for ayu alone, whenever I write a song for her, I can hear her voice singing the melody. In truth, she had not even penned down the lyrics yet, but I could see her performing it live, and hear her sing each nuance of the song. And then, when she finally recorded the song, the lyrics she sang matched the image I had in my mind, as if by magic. The very first memory of this happening was the unforgettable “A Song for xx”. ayu had said, “I don’t have a title yet, but I’ll try singing it,” and the moment she started singing, I was shaken by a force which left me immobile. In truth, I was tearing up, but I didn’t want anybody to notice, and so I looked down and held on, but I still got spotted by ayu’s ex-manager. (laugh) It started then, and it continued even through to “MOON”, and this latest song now. In contrast, all those songs which I couldn’t hear ayu’s voice, but forced myself to create it still, were not picked out by her. (laugh) “MOON” was a track which we worked on together after a long hiatus of 10 years, but in these 15 years, having recorded tracks every year and hosting live concerts for months on end, I think that it’s really amazing that she’s managed to maintain her vocals. Usually, it won’t be surprising if her voice had deteriorated over the years. Of course, she had done lots to care for her voice, and that shows her as a true professional. Thinking about it now, I feel like I’m probably her oldest fan from before her debut. Oh, no, I guess Matsuura still comes before me. (laugh)”
Mr Eiyama, who is ayu’s recording engineer for the 4th year running, was also one of the rare few who had contact with ayu in the days before her debut.
“I used to help out in demo creation before Hamasaki-san made her debut. What really left an impression was how she entered the recording booth, totally concentrating and thinking through everything, creating her own style. I remember thinking how rare it was to see a teenager with that kind of focus. Now, that has evolved, and her focus is calmer and of a higher level… For that, she’s definitely a cut above the rest. For us working in this profession, we often get requests such as “Please lower the key here” and stuff like that, but Hamasaki-san often tells us in more emotional expressions, such as “Make this part more gentle” or “Make this part sound super cool, but with a feeling of loneliness”. At these times, I enjoy making sounds that fit into the detailed image she has in mind, helping to put her mind at ease. To summarize, she’s a person with a specific destination, which she wants to reach through her own colours and sense. So usually, I get nervous (in a good way) when I wonder about whether I can help her fulfill a new project, as everything goes according to Hamasaki-san’s plan. In contrast, I often feel really close to her after a recording session. This difference in emotion is really interesting, and she’s a person with various charms. The same goes with her music; even as she takes on different challenges, her artiste colour comes out really strongly. I think this charm has connected her through these 15 years.”
Listening to these senior musicians talk about how they saw “Hamasaki Ayumi”, I felt that although 10th Anniversary’s “Mirrorcle World” and 15th Anniversary’s “Tell All” are similar, they are also different somehow… The initial doubts I had flitted through my mind. Just how has ayu changed in these years? The only person who could answer this question was “Hamasaki Ayumi” herself.
“With “Mirrorcle World”, I kept requesting for a stronger and more impactful arrangement. I did that then, most probably to protect myself. “Don’t look at anything else, just face forward and run, run!” In the end, I just wanted to tell myself that… When we returned from L.A. and were mixing “Tell All”, I remembered this. So the difference between “Tell All” and “Mirrorcle World” is that. I don’t need to be perfect, nor to protect myself anymore. I’m really afraid of nothing now. In the past, I created an iron wall with things such as hair and make-up, and felt safe when enclosed inside. Now, whenever I make myself up to be perfect, it just feels different and sort of lonely. Being perfect now feels incomplete. There’s hope there, but also despair. That is how I am.
Either way, no matter how I am, it’s more important that everyone is enjoying themselves. It doesn’t matter if that means that I’ll be exhausted, and have to travel a long way, because that’s important to me. This thing, which seems so natural, is what I have chosen. When I realized that, I really became fearless.”
To be fearless… With that said, the curtains on her 15th Anniversary opens. Just what is the scenery she sees from her perspective? The phrase “people are mirrors” probably summarizes it best. The fans’ smiles are probably brighter, and she can probably see those smiles at a closer range now.
“Look, a smile fits you so well”
“Let’s go together until we grow tired”
p.s. At the very beginning of the creation of this booklet, I could not find a phrase to start off the booklet. The following morning, I innocently asked ayu, who was doing her make-up, for help. “I’ve found a phrase to end the booklet, but I can’t find one to start it off~” Her reply came easily, “Hehehe, look forward to that~~!” The cheeky face that she gave as she said that is in a photo on page 07, so do flip back to take a look. And that is definitely the true ayu. Congrats on your 15th Anniversary ❤
Text: Takako Tsuriya