Maki Ohguro, Singer-Songwriter, Still Giving It Her All

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Maki Ohguro

When singer-songwriter Maki Ohguro had a string of hits in the early 1990s, she was viewed as an enigmatic figure who never showed her true face. But after making a comeback following a serious illness, she has recently become popular for her cheerful personality. “I’m really enjoying my work the most right now,” said the 53-year-old singer.

She toured around the country, hitting all 47 prefectures, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of her debut. The tour’s final concert took place at Tokyo Garden Theater in the Ariake district of Koto Ward, Tokyo, on May 28. During the three-hour event, she sang 24 songs, including her hit singles, with guests such as Orquesta De La Luz and DJ KOO. The performance was extremely diverse, with Ohguro playing a wadaiko drum near the end of the concert.

Ohguro opened the concert with “Sing,” which she released last year, in a mellow arrangement accompanied by only a piano. But the mood on the stage changed dramatically with her second song, “Sparkle,” as lights flashed in all directions. She continued with a series of groovy songs, including “Anatadake Mitsumeteru” (Gazing only at you). “Today is like a festival, so go on ahead and sing,” she told the audience during the piece.

Maki Ohguro sings at the final concert of her tour that visited all 47 prefectures to celebrate the 30th anniversary of her debut, at Tokyo Garden Theater in Koto Ward, Tokyo, on May 28.

The performance was live-streamed on major streaming service U-NEXT, so she also called attention to viewers who were watching from their screen. During the encore of “La La La,” she let the audience sing the song’s hook and then said, “Everyone in the world, this is peace. These innocent smiles. No one has the right to take it away. Peace is wonderful, isn’t it?”— a comment referring to the current situation in the world, which is witnessing a war of aggression.

A mysterious presence

Ohguro made her debut in 1992 and quickly got a big break with her second single, “DA KA RA” (That’s why). With her high and piercing voice, she made a series of huge hits, including “Chotto” (Hey, you), “Natsu ga Kuru” (Summer is coming), “La La La” and “Atsukunare” (Get passionate!).

In the early 1990s, Ohguro rarely appeared on TV and remained a mysterious figure. Even in commercials promoting her own songs, she was shown in only a few black-and-white photos. Rumors abounded that Maki Ohguro did not actually exist.

Her management company’s policy stated that no media exposure would be necessary as long as singers were popular and their songs were selling well. The idea was that singers could use the time they would have spent on TV appearances for production. “I also wasn’t bothered by not appearing on TV, or rather, I felt no stress that way. I tended to keep to myself since childhood, so I felt uneasy about being flattered by others or being in a group.”

But that has completely changed in recent years. She is now sought out on TV and other media for her open, big-sisterly disposition. “I have nothing to be afraid of lately. That’s actually what I’m afraid of. I might say something I shouldn’t,” she said. What has changed in her?

‘I died twice’

“I think Maki Ohguro died twice,” she remarked. The first time happened in the 2000s, when she left her first management company. “There were various reasons [why I left] and I disappeared from the world. That was the first time I thought I died,” she said. The second time she wandered the line between life and death was during complications from anesthesia. Having battled a severe uterine disorder for many years, she underwent a hysterectomy in 2015. However, she had difficulty waking up well from the anesthesia, and she was unable to breathe. She managed to survive after being resuscitated, which included receiving a cardiac massage.

Back in 2010, she had already begun limiting her musical activities to the production of a few songs to focus on her illness in earnest and stopped appearing in public.

Yet, driven by her fans’ enthusiasm, she made a comeback in 2016. She took to the stage for the first time in six years at a concert exclusively for fan club members. She made her entrance from the seats of the audience, and amid the repeated chants of the beginning of one of her songs, she heard her fans sobbing.

“It was a small venue, so the stage was only about 20 centimeters high, but it looked about two meters high. I couldn’t get up there, so I kept going around in circles in the audience,” she said. “I thought that once I got on stage, that intense life as Maki Ohguro would start all over again.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Maki Ohguro’s hit singles

She made a full-fledged return in the summer of the same year at the Rising Sun Rock Festival in Hokkaido, where she is originally from. “I was very nervous because I’m timid. But the moment we held an open rehearsal, I was surprised to see people flooding from all over past the street, like a herd of bison,” she said. “Then a switch got flipped, and my body was turning into Maki Ohguro on its own.”

She became filled with gratitude to the audience, the band members, the PA and the staff in charge of makeup and costumes. “Without them, I couldn’t be Maki Ohguro, and I thought, ‘I have to make money,’” she said.

The seven years since her comeback feel like 15 years, she added. That’s because she puts her all into each and every piece of what she does, to the point that she worries if she’s pushing herself too hard.

“I’ll use all my strength and I won’t waste the present!” Ohguro said. “Then the future will change. Adults tend to refrain from doing things and restrain themselves by thinking ahead. But I think it is the other way around. If you live today with all your might, the future will change, because the future will be created by what you do in the present,” she added.

Earlier this month, Ohguro took part in concerts as a chorus member with singer Koji Kikkawa, whom she highly admires, and another performance with him is planned for September.