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Here’s looking at Yu

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By Chris Betros

When she was 14, Yu Hayami and her mother were in a department store elevator in Hawaii. She knew something auspicious would happen. “I’m not superstitious but it was the day my mother finally gave me permission to pierce my ears. She said when you pierce your ears, your fate changes. Into the elevator came a woman who owned a modeling agency in Hawaii. She had a contact in Japan who was looking for a bilingual singer,” says Hayami, sitting back in her management office in Meguro.

That was the early 1980s, and Hayami has remained a popular singer and actress for more than two decades. Born in Shizuoka, she was raised in Guam and Hawaii. “After I was scouted, I came back to Japan and took acting and singing lessons for a year,” she says. Hayami made her singing debut in 1982, and the next year, her 5th single, “Natsu Iro no Nancy,” became the Coca-Cola theme song and entered the Top 10.

While other idol singers have come and gone, Hayami has displayed considerable versatility and staying power (she took time out for a bachelor degree in Japanese culture from Sophia University). “In the U.S., if you are a singer, you’re usually a singer for life. In Japan, you branch out. Maybe I’m just lucky and am surrounded by good staff,” she says. When she was 22, she switched genres from pop to jazz -- an easy decision since her father is renowned jazz singer Ryo Inoue. “Everyone had been telling me I couldn’t succeed anymore as a pop singer. Then my father told me that with jazz, I could still be a singer 20 years on.”

Besides her singing career, Hayami has appeared in countless TV variety programs, on stage doing “The Wizard of Oz,” “Grease” and “Les Miserables” during the 1990s, and is currently appearing each Saturday morning from 8 a.m. on the TV Tokyo drama “Rescue Force,“ in which she plays the commander of a rescue unit. On Sunday, she co-hosts the variety program “Shin Nippon Tankentai” on NTV from 6:30 a.m. Hayami is also in demand as a guest speaker. “I was chosen to go to the Earth Summit in Brazil in 1992. Since a lot of Japanese companies have gone eco over the past two years, they invite me to a lot of forums and talk shows.”

As the mother of two daughters, aged 7 and 5, Hayami finds herself a sort of “celebrity mama” and is often asked to speak about parenthood. “I am very involved with their school,” she says. “Japan needs more child care places that are government funded. Big companies need to have day care centers. I used to take my kids on location. Sometimes my boss held my baby while I worked.”

Hayami says she gets a lot of emails asking her about raising a bilingual child. “There is no real secret. At home, I speak about 70% in English to my girls. The most important thing is to have a positive attitude.”

Hayami maintains an interest in environmental activities. “I use an eco shopping bag and recycle where I can. I do car pooling with other moms, or take the train. No one looks at me. They are all absorbed in their iPods or cell phones,” she says. Recently, she took part in a breast cancer awareness campaign, attending the light-up ceremony at the Peninsula Hotel.

Hayami’s days vary -- sometimes she is up at 5 a.m. to shoot her TV dramas. “I always make sure I am home by dinner. Whenever I get some free time, I love to drink wine with my friends who are also moms, or go to the gym.” Cooking is another pastime for Hayami, the author of “American Beef Cooking,“ published a few years ago.

However, Hayami is never far away from the microphone, singing with a jazz chorus group at dinner shows as well as an annual appearance with her dad since 1993. “This year, we will be singing oldies from the 1960s on Dec 11 at Sweet Basil 139 in Roppongi.”

© Japan Today

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7 Comments
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yawnnn jt

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She's still pretty hot

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I remember her as a teenager when I first came to Japan. She has certainly aged well.

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Wow what a heart touching story. She is such a tower of strength and courage.

“I always make sure I am home by dinner. Whenever I get some free time, I love to drink wine with my friends who are also moms, or go to the gym.”

Not only a great humanitarian but a wonderful mother as well. She should get the best momist award.

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Because she is on TV before I get up and has disappeared into the jazz scene so she's not singing on crappy TV shows anymore, I appreciate JapanToday allowing me to catch up with what she's been doing.

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She's looking pretty good here.

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Popular singer and actress? Am I missing something? Next thing you know, old Toshi will be making a come back!

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