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Izumi Sakai

A memorial portrait of Izumi Sakai in the Roppongi, Tokyo, Japan offices of Zard’s agency. Numerous fans came to place floral tributes and leave messages of gratitude and sorrow following her unexpected death.
Background information
Birth name Sachiko Kamachi
Born February 6, 1967(1967-02-06)
Origin Kurume, Fukuoka, Japan
Died Shinjuku, Tokyo, Japan
May 27, 2007 (aged 40)
Genres J-pop
Occupations singer, lyricist
Years active 1991 - 2007
Associated acts Zard

Izumi Sakai (坂井泉水 Sakai Izumi ?), born Sachiko Kamachi (蒲池幸子 Kamachi Sachiko ?, 6 February 1967 – 27 May 2007) was a J-pop singer, song writer, and member of the group Zard.



Born in Kurume, Fukuoka[1], Japan, Sakai grew up in Hadano, Kanagawa. Her father was an instructor for a driving school and she had a younger brother as well as a younger sister. Her neighbor spoke after her death, on the condition of anonymity, that Sakai was a popular girl during elementary school and that she was already very beautiful then. She was also very athletic joining track & field in junior high and tennis during high school. (In promoting her 38th single in 2003, Hitomi o Tojite, Sakai said that she liked sports.) She graduated from Shoin Women's College in Atsugi City, Kanagawa. She then worked as an office lady at a real estate company for two years before being scouted by Stardust Promotion.

Sakai lived modestly and mostly out of the public eye. Throughout her life, she lived with her family and when she succeeded in her career she helped pay for her parents to renovate their home. Acquaintances say that she commuted by subway every day and that she often wore just T-shirts and hardly used any makeup. She did not wear any makeup in all seven of the television appearances she made in her lifetime. In promoting her third single, "Mō Sagasanai," and first album, Good-bye My Loneliness in February 6, 1991, she wore eyeglasses in the television interview, citing that she had not slept overnight. She also indicated that she often slept in the morning rather than the evening.

Sakai appears to have had a well-rounded personality. She began playing the piano at age four and aspired to be a musician at a very young age. Her hobbies were visiting galleries, attending theater productions, making dry flowers, and painting in oils. She also stated that one reason she did not like to travel was that she was not accustomed to eating raw fish sashimi and preferred cooked food. Because she was hardly seen in public, there were widespread conspiracy theories in Japan that works by Zard were not produced by the woman in the picture (Sakai), and she was referred to as an urban legend.

Sakai appears to have had a shy personality. In her first appearance on Music Station, the host asked what took Zard so long to appear on screen. Sakai's reply was that she wanted to make sure that the Zard project would in fact succeed first. In the other six interviews, she looked very shy to be on screen. In fact, a staff member shared that when she saw so many people lining up for her concert tour in 2004, she was taken aback and immediately hid herself. After some effort, she was able to walk up to the crowd and thank them for coming. However, her shyness did not reflect an inability to participate in teamwork. One notes that after she had gone home early she arranged for food to be sent to her office for the staff who were working late into the evening.

Because her real name is Kamachi, it has long been rumored that Sakai was related to Japanese singer Seiko Matsuda, whose real name is Noriko Kamachi. Both are from Fukuoka Prefecture; but since Kamachi is a common name in that area and Sakai's family has not commented on the issue, the rumor has never been confirmed.

Professional career

For the next two years following her scouting, she was a Toei "karaoke queen" and a promotional model appearing in television commercials for Japan Air System. The following year Sakai was a Nissin race queen. During her time as a model she also released Nocturne, a book of photos and Sexy Shooting, a video. In 1990, Taiko Nagato, music producer for Being Corporation, noted her potential as a singer/songwriter. Through this connection, she created a Being subsidiary called Sensui (same Kanji characters as Izumi) and started her career taking the name Izumi Sakai. In addition to taking a new name, Sakai revised her year of birth from 1967 to 1969. However, her earlier career as a model continued to haunt her. As her model books continued to sell in used markets as well as internet auctions, she quietly expressed regret about it. In a rare interview, Sakai said that a major inspiration to her lyrics was her "difficult past."

In 1991, Sakai joined the five-member pop group Zard as lead vocalist. The group name did not have any particular meaning except Sakai felt that word Zard sounded like a rock group. She also took the name as derived from words such as "blizzard" and "wizard." The group’s name very quickly became synonymous with Sakai herself, and Sakai wrote the lyrics to all of Zard's songs except Onna de Itai and Koionna no Yuuutsu, both of which were written by Daria Kawashima. By 1993, the four male band members left the group but Sakai chose to keep the Zard name throughout her career. Izumi Sakai was Zard’s sole member at the time of the band’s debut, although between late 1991 and early 1993 four other members were introduced.

The melodies of early Zard hits were written by prominent Japanese composers, most notably Seiichirō Kuribayashi and Tetsurō Oda. Izumi Sakai wrote nearly all of the lyrics to Zard songs, totalling over one hundred fifty. A veteran recording producer described that while most artists communicate through the transparent glass in the recording studio, Sakai preferred covering the glass with a curtain.

Her 1991 first single, "Good-bye My Loneliness," sold very well, but her next two faltered. The Good-bye My Loneliness promotion video depicts a youthful and energetic Sakai. A decade after her debut, she listed this song as one of her most memorable pieces, especially because she had to sing it over a hundred times to get the recording right.[2] Her fourth single, "Nemurenai Yoru o Daite" (Hold me through the sleepless night) was extremely successful, leading to four television appearances. And her best was still to come.

Izumi Sakai released "Makenaide" on January 27, 1993, her sixth single which appealed to the Japanese public. Released at a time that is now seen as the beginning of Japan's post economic bubble era when the Nikkei 225 Index had shrunk in value by a third in only three years, "Makenaide" (Don't Give Up) became known as the theme song of the country's Lost Decade." While Sakai commented on the television show Music Station that it would be a song to encourage men taking college and company employment examinations, many people said this song helped them cope with difficult issues such as school bullying. What is notable about "Makenaide" is that Zard fans’ favorite phrase, "Run through Until the End" was originally "Do Not Give Up until the End". "Makenaide" has been used as a theme song for the Nippon Television program 24-hour TV, an annual charity program hosted live by celebrities for a whole day. Sakai said that she was honored and looked forward to watching 24-hour TV. Overall, "Makenaide" sold nearly 2 million copies. Later in 1993 she was ranked the top artist in CD sales and second as a lyricist.

Sakai produced 42 singles as well as 11 albums and 5 compilations in her lifetime. In addition to "Makenaide," she produced two other singles that sold over a million copies. Six of her albums as well as her first three compilations also surpassed the one-million mark, an unprecedented record. In record sales, Izumi Sakai is considered one of the most successful Japanese singers ever. This is remarkable, given that the height her career coincided with Japan's 1991 stock and real-estate market collapse and 1997 banking crises. In total CDs sold currently exceeds 30 million making Zard the eighth best-selling artist in Japan.

Since 2000, Sakai’s CD sales had declined but her death triggered an increase in CD sales. For example, her fifth compilation, Golden Best: 15th Anniversary, released in May 2006, had actually slipped to the top 300, but surged to No. 3 in the rankings and became the sixth highest-selling album after her death.[3] In the seven days to June 4, 2007, it sold 41,000 copies, a sixtyfold increase from the previous week. As of August 2007, Sakai is ranked fourth in all-time female album sales, just ahead of Hikaru Utada, at 19.2 million copies (see Zard).

Izumi Sakai sold more CDs than any female vocalist during the 1990s, surpassing even Namie Amuro. Unlike Amuro, who won two consecutive Japan Record Awards in 1996 and 1997, an unprecedented record until broken in 2004 by Ayumi Hamasaki, Zard did not win a single award. Sakai may have refused award nominations on the grounds that she did not want to perform live on screen, a requirement to accept them.

While many of her songs were intended to encourage other people, her 42nd and final single, "Heart ni Hi o Tsukete," was different. After Sakai died, a staff member revealed an email in which Sakai wrote that she felt that the song was written to encourage herself.

Television appearances

  • Music Station (TV Asahi), "Nemurenai Yoru o Daite," August 7, 1992
  • Music Station (TV Asahi), "Nemurenai Yoru o Daite," August 28, 1992
  • Sound Arena (Fuji TV), "Nemurenai Yoru o Daite," September 1992
  • Music Station (TV Asahi), "Nemurenai Yoru o Daite," September 18, 1992
  • MJ-Music Journal (Fuji TV), "In My Arms Tonight," October 1992
  • Music Station (TV Asahi), "In My Arms Tonight," October 6, 1992
  • Music Station (TV Asahi), "Makenaide," February 5, 1993


The NHK program Close Up Gendai reported on June 18, 2007, that the secret to Sakai’s success was that she hardly was seen in public, which created a mystic aura.[4]


Despite her healthy lifestyle, which included abstaining from tobacco and alcohol, Sakai was seriously ill at times. According to the Kitto Wasurenai Official book, she had to stop her career temporarily due to various uterus-related illnesses in 2001, and did not begin working full time until 2003. In June 2006, she was diagnosed with cervical cancer, for which she immediately underwent treatment. She appeared to have healed, but discovered that her cancer had spread to her lungs, indicating a Stage 5 cancer. She began undergoing treatment at Keio University Hospital in April 2007 but she never fully recovered.

However, Sakai was neither discouraged nor thought she was dying. After her death, the Japanese weekly magazine Friday ran an interview in which said Sakai thought that modern treatments would enable her to live long. Her mother said that she greeted her visitors cheerfully and did not seem to show the effects of her illness. A fellow patient later said that they walked together at times and Sakai sang "Makenaide" for her when she could not walk.[5] Finally, Sakai sent an e-mail to her staff saying that she was anxious to go back to producing music and was looking forward to another concert in late 2007.

Sakai died suddenly on 27 May 2007. Police judged her death accidental, the result of a fall from the landing of an emergency-exit slope at Keio University Hospital, where she was undergoing chemotherapy. The slope appeared to be very slippery due to rain the day before.[6] According to police, the fall took place during a walk on the morning of 26 May 2007, from a height of about 3 meters. Sakai was discovered unconscious at around 5:40 a.m. by a passer-by and taken to the emergency room, where she died the following afternoon of head injuries. Due to the unusual and unlikely nature of her passing, police investigated for possibility of suicide, but concluded that it was indeed an accident. In the Friday article, her mother said that she took walks in rehabilitation and the location where she fell was her favorite place to meditate. Sakai had been planning to release a new album in fall 2007, as well as launch her first live tour in three years. She was 40.[7][8][9] Her family was at her side, but it was reported that she never regained consciousness.

Epilogue: After Sakai’s death

The sudden news of Sakai’s death caused an uproar in the Japanese music industry and began to dominate headlines and the "what’s new" spaces on many major music websites. Music Station, a TV program, did a four-minute tribute to her during its 1 June 2007 broadcast. Due to viewer request, another tribute was aired a week later.[10]

The Zard Official Book: Kitto Wasurenai (きっと忘れない―ZARD OFFICIAL BOOK ?) was released on August 15, 2007. This book contains tracks of 16 years by "Izumi Sakai's poetry" and "Comments of the staff who have helped ZARD".[11]

The book records that she was informed two days before she died, and that Sakai was encouraged by the news that she was selected. Furthermore, the day before she died, Sakai told a producer who had been with her for 16 years that she was looking forward to have a recording machine at her home so she could start working upon discharge from hospital.


Public and private memorial services

A closed memorial service was held on 26 June at a funeral hall in Aoyama, Tokyo for members of the entertainment industry. This was attended by celebrities such as Maki Ohguro (another female vocalist who, like Sakai, rarely appears in public and writes most of her own material). Almost as if to illustrate Sakai’s impact on the Japanese music scene and the depth of her presence, singers Tak Matsumoto and Koshi Inaba, members of the popular B'z group, pop-singer Mai Kuraki, and even baseball giant Shigeo Nagashima all left moving messages of their encounters with Sakai.[12] Singers Hikaru Utada and Nanase Aikawa, though not personally acquainted with Sakai, also issued memorial statements on their official web pages, describing how Sakai’s death had shocked them.[13][14]

A public memorial service for Sakai was held the next day and was attended by some 40,000 people from all over Japan.[15]

What a Beautiful Memory concert tours

A series of memorial concerts were held at Osaka’s Festival on September 6 and 7, as well as September 14 in Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan, called What a Beautiful Memory. Tickets sold out immediately and 15,000 people gathered for the Tokyo event. Sakai’s favorite microphone was placed center-stage, and a recording of Sakai's comments about her thoughts toward the lyrics from 2004 was played.[16] Over 20 members of Sakai’s band, who had come together again just for this occasion, began playing "Yureru Omoi." During the intermezzo, video images of the dressing room were shown, showing how staff had set it up in the same way Sakai used it during her What a Beautiful Moment concert tour. The door was labeled "Ms. Sakai Izumi" and the room had a clipboard displaying the day’s schedule; lunch boxes were also prepared and laid out on a coffee table.

The band went on to perform 34 songs, ending with "Makenaide." When "Makenaide" ended, Sakai’s recorded voice was played back to the sold-out crowd: "Thank you for coming today. I look forward to seeing you all again!" A portion of the proceeds from the concerts were donated to help fund cervical cancer research.

On the stage, nine giant screens showed more previously unreleased off-screen footage of Sakai, excerpts from 10,000 VHS tape recordings of Sakai in off-screen footage that her staff discovered after her death.[17] In the encore of the memorial concerts, the music staff displayed some 300 songs in notebooks hand-written by Sakai that were found after she died.[18]

Posthumous single: "Glorious Mind"

The audience was in awe on learning that Sakai had produced one unreleased song before she died, "Glorious Mind." She has been able to record just the chorus in December 2006 despite being in cancer treatment at the time, and Sakai’s mother is reported to have accompanied her to the recording studio. PVTV, in a three minute report on Zard in November 2007, also reported that Sakai’s physical weakness had only allowed her to record her singing a handful of times, but successfully passed the trials.

On October 19, 2007, it was announced that "Glorious Mind" would be released as Sakai’s first posthumous CD single on December 12, 2007.[19] The song will be used as the theme song of Detective Conan, a Japanese anime that was Sakai’s favorite. The song will be broadcast with the episode airing on October 15.[20] This is the seventh time that a song by Sakai has been chosen as the theme for Detective Conan. The single will contain rearranged versions of "Ai o Shinjiteiru" and "Sagashi ni Ikou yo."

Such is Sakai’s popularity that, according to Oricon, "Glorious Mind" was the best-selling single of the day on the first six days of its release, falling to third place on the seventh day.

What a Beautiful Memory Concert Tour 2008

Sakai’s office announced that there will be a nationwide tour to follow the What a Beautiful Memory tour. Announced on November 16, 2007, through Zard’s official website, it will consist of 15 concerts at 13 locations in early 2008. The first concert will be at Kobe’s International Forum on January 19 and the final one will commemorate the first anniversary of Sakai’s death at the Yoyogi National Gymnasium in Yoyogi on May 27. None of the concerts will take place at the Tokyo International Forum, where the "What a Beautiful Moment" DVD was mainly recorded, or at Nippon Budokan. Additional previously unreleased footage of Sakai will be shown throughout the tour.[21]

Zard after Sakai's death

Some speculate that an artist like Sakai might be chosen in the future to produce those songs. Months prior to the NHK's Kōhaku Utagassen, entertainment correspondents of conservative newspaper Yomiuri speculate that singer Mai Kuraki, who was in the same management office, is likely to sing a Zard song.[22]


  1. ^ Group Future: ZARD & Sakai Izumi Profiling (Profiling ZARD and Izumi Sakai). Art Book Hon no Mori, 2000. ISBN 4876935505 (ISBN ), ISBN 978-4876935505 (ISBN ) (Japanese)
  2. ^ . pre-recorded statement, NHK Music Square, February 2001, Accessed 23 October 2007 (Japanese)
  3. ^ Sanspo, ZARD Best Album at #3 in Oricon: Unprecedented Rise from 300s, 5 June 2007. Accessed 24 September 2007 (Japanese)
  4. ^ NHK Close Up Gendai article (Japanese)
  5. ^ Pond's Personal Blog. Accessed 4 September 2007 (English)
  6. ^ Yomiuri ZARD's Izumi Sakai's death: Dual Investigation of Accident and Suicide. Accessed 30 August 2007 (Japanese)
  7. ^ Herald-Asahi article. Accessed 30 May 2007 (English)
  8. ^ Asahi article. Accessed 30 May 2007 (Japanese)
  9. ^ Sankei Sports article. Accessed 30 May 2007 (Japanese)
  10. ^ Article in Sponichi, a Japanese tabloid. Accessed 10 June 2007 (Japanese)
  11. ^ ISBN 4916019490
  12. ^ News, Oricon Style. Accessed 28 June 2007. Includes photos of Sakai in a memorial service and messages left by celebrities. (Japanese)
  13. ^ Hikaru Utada official web page. Accessed 28 June 2007 (Japanese)
  14. ^ Nanase Aikawa official web page, Aikawa mentioned Sakai’s death on June 2, 2007. Accessed 28 June 2007 (Japanese)
  15. ^ Sankei Sports article. Accessed 28 June 2007 (Japanese)
  16. ^ Livedoor News, ZARD Release Song in Memorial Concert, September 20, 2007. Accessed 24 September 2007 (Japanese)
  17. ^ Asahi Shimbun, Izumi Sakai Memorial Concert, "Makenaide" Chorus, September 15, 2007. Accessed 24 September 2007 (Japanese)
  18. ^ Daily Sports, Ms. Izumi Sakai "Comes Back to Life" in Budokan, September 14, 2007. Accessed 24 September 2007 (Japanese)
  19. ^ Natalie Music News website, CD for Last Song of Her Life Finally Announced, 17 October 19 2007. Accessed 19 October 2007 (Japanese)
  20. ^ Natalie Music News website, Last Song becomes the Anime Theme Song, 17 September 2007. Accessed 24 September 2007 (Japanese)
  21. ^ Sports Kokuchi article. Accessed 16 November 2007 (Japanese)
  22. ^ Sports Hochi, This Year's Kouhaku Theme is Memorial!?, 11 September 17 2007. Accessed 24 September 2007 (Japanese)

See also


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