Yukiko Okada (岡田有希子) was an 80's Japanese idol. She is perhaps most remembered as the idol that committed suicide at the height of her popularity when she was only 18 years old. In my, and many other's opinion, however, she is so much more than that.
Okada was born Kayo Sato (佐藤 佳代) on August 22 1967. She took an early interest in singing, and wanted to become an idol from a very early age. She often ditched school to attend auditions without her parents' knowledge, knowing they would disapprove. After knowing about this, her parents told her she would not be allowed to become an idol until she had the highest grades in her class, and was in the top 5% of students nationwide for the national exams. Kayo worked tirelessly, and achieved this, being allowed to compete in the national talent show "Star Tanjo!" in 1983.
Kayo won this talent show by singing Akina Nakamori's "Slow Motion". Nakamori was a previous winner of the show who had gone on to become one of the most famous idols in Japan. Signed to Sun Music and Ponycanyon Records, Kayo debuted as Yukiko Okada in 1984 with her single "First Date". This was written by Mariya Takeuchi of "Plastic Love" fame. She would release 2 more singles this year along with her debut album "Cinderella". That year, she was voted the best new artist in the 26th Japan Record Awards. Okada had also gained a dedicated fanbase who nicknamed her "Yukko", and her smile was instantly recognisable by all.
1985 was the year in which Okada released four more new singles, all reaching the top 10 of the Oricon charts. She also released two new albums this year; "Fairy" and "October Mermaid". By this time, she was widely considered to be the next Seiko Matsuda, another popular idol who is signed to the same agency as Okada.
1986 was a big year for Okada; her single "Kuchibiru Network" topped the Oricon charts, cementing her as one of the biggest stars of Japan. Her album "Venus Tanjou" ("Birth of Venus") was released and reached the Oricon charts' top 10. But this joy for Okada was shortlived.
On April 8th 1986, Okada was found with slashed wrists, and was hiding in her apartment closet. Her room was filled with gas. Her manager brought her to the hospital, where she was treated. The founder of Okada's agency came to pick her up later that day, and brought her to the Sun Music office. While the managing staff were busy talking about how to best manage the media scandal that would ensue, Okada ran up the stairs of the building, took off her shoes, and jumped from the seven storey building. She was instantly killed on impact.
To this day, the reason for her suicide is unknown. Multiple theories have emerged. A prominent theory seems to be that Okada was unhappy about being romantically rejected by a co-star of a show she starred in. This co-star was much older than she was, and he told OKada that he thought of her as a younger sister. Another cause could be a depression caused by the harsh realities of the idol industry. After all, idols worked long hours making music, having photoshoots, performing on variety shows, and upkeeping a public persona that should never falter whatsoever. Her suicidal tendencies may have been exacerbated by the death of another idol, Yasuko Endō, who committed suicide ten days earlier. What's certain is that Okada left behind several notes about her feelings prior to her suicide. The only one made available publically reads "My heart has nowhere else to go". The others are locked in the vaults of Sun Music, and it's unlikely these notes will ever be released.
Okada will also be most remembered for the ensuing copycat suicides that took place, dubbed the "Yukko Syndrome". Many suicides that took place were also by jumping off a high place, and these people were as young as Okada, sometimes even younger. It reportedly got so bad that Okada's mother had to appear on national television to encourage people to stop.
Today, Okada's legacy is still being honoured. A posthumous single was released in 1999, called "Hana no Image". It was meant to be released just days after Okada's suicide, but was quickly pulled. Multiple compilation albums have been released posthumously, along with some of her unreleased songs. Okada still has a dedicated fanbase three-and-a-half decades after her death internationally. Every year, on her birthday and the anniversary of her death, fans gather around her resting place and the Sun Music building to remember the idol who was taken from us so soon. Because of the determination of fans to uphold her memory, Okada has been dubbed the Eternal Idol.
My experience with Yukiko Okada
I found out about Yukko like many other international fans - as the one idol that committed suicide. This was when I was firsting getting into 80's Japanese music during 2017-2018. Up until 2020, I had only listened to one Yukko song - her first single "First Date". It wasn't until the end of 2020 that I started exploring more of her discography that I realized how special she was. As someone who has struggled with depression, I found that I could relate to her, albeit in an extremely superficial way. Her voice was soft yet enticing; her appearance distinct; and her smile unique. In this way, I found out why so many people across the world love Yukko so much.
I have in my possession her first two albums, "Cinderella" and "Fairy", and five of her eight singles released during her lifetime: "First Date", "Koi Hajimemashite", "Summer Beach", "Futari Dake no Ceremony" and "Kuchibiru Network". Photos coming soon!
If you're interested in knowing more about Yukiko Okada, here are some resources I recommend.
- This is a fanmade documentary on the life of Yukiko Okada, from when she was born to her death and legacy. It goes into more depth than I could ever go into on this shrine and is extremely well made. (Note that you will need to watch the other parts of the documentary on Dailymotion.)
- If you prefer a shorter primer on her life, this is a good video.
- Kayo Kyoku Plus is a blog that reviews a ton of Japanese music, and Yukiko Okada is no exception. You can look through her tag for some more interesting facts on her.
- If you would like to listen to her music, her entire discography is available on Spotify. You can also download her albums from Jpop80ss.