A Musician’s Sacrifice: Ayumi Hamasaki and 9 other Japanese artists with hearing damage

Music can be peaceful, bitter, playful, aggressive—but most of all it can be loud and hard on the ears. It’s not uncommon for professional musicians to lose their hearing and it’s easy to see why: it’s in their job description to be exposed to loud noise that leave the ears ringing.

Think about the best concert you ever attended. The music was immersing, and on the way back home you couldn’t manage to get that ringing out of your ears. Now imagine the stress a performance can put on the musicians themselves, wailing their hearts away while standing next to huge speakers blaring for hours at a time. Now imagine that multiple times a week for months on end during a nation-wide tour over many years.

Sometimes, artists sacrifice their own hearing to bless yours. Here is a non-exhaustive list of Japanese artists that have had hearing damage.

Ayumi Hamasaki

Inspiring this research, the news of Ayumi Hamasaki’s hearing damage is definitely one of the biggest stories this week.

During her concert tour 2000 Act 1, Ayu caught a cold accompanied by an ear infection. She was warned by her doctor that she needed to ease up her exposure to loud noises so her ear infection could heal, but she continued touring. Over time, her hearing in her left ear got worse and eventually became deaf as announced in a fanclub post in 2008. In May of 2017, she revealed that she has begun to lose hearing in her right ear after years of compensating for her left.

Mika Nakashima

While celebrating her 10th year as a singer in 2011, singer Mika Nakashima was forced to stop all activities to focus on correcting a deterioration of her ears. Her ear condition, Patulous Eustachian tube, caused all sounds within her body to be amplified to her ears. After a 7 month hiatus, she returned to music.

Ayako Fuji

Enka singer Ayako Fuji took a break from singing in 2010 because of suffering from sudden hearing loss due to overwork and stress.

Shikao Suga

In 2011, musician and singer-songwriter Shikao Suga suffered from sudden hearing loss in his right ear during a nationwide tour. He continued touring while fighting his hearing loss while detailing his battle on his blog. His ears improved but he continues to deal with tinnitus.

Hiroji Miyamoto of Elephant Kashimashi

In September 2012, it was reported that Hiroji Miyamoto of the band Elephant Kashimashi stopped activity due to acute hearing loss in his left ear. After a year away from performing, he returned to great success at Hibiya Open-Air Concert Hall.

Kyosuke Himuro

Due to the worsening hearing condition of both his ears from Sensorineural hearing loss caused by damage to the inner ear, rock singer Kyosuke Himuro retired from the music business in 2016. He currently lives in Los Angeles, California, where he purchased a palatial residence in Beverly Hills in 2004, which was previously owned by Shaquille O’Neal.

Shoko Aida of WINK

Singer Shoko Aida, one half of pop duo WINK has been suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus for over 20 years. Her sudden deafness was due to lack of sleep and stress. In 2008, she was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that causes episodes of vertigo.

Kyo of DIR EN GREY

Tooru Nishimura, who goes by his stage name Kyo, is a Japanese singer-songwriter and poet, best known as the front man and vocalist of the post-Visual Kei heavy metal band Dir en grey. During his group’s 00>>01 MACABRE Tour, Kyo became partially deaf in his left ear due to an Acute Acoustic Trauma in 2000.

Ichiro Yamaguchi of SAKANACTION

Ichiro Yamaguchi is the vocalist, guitarist and songwriter for the Hokkaido rock band Sakanaction. He became deaf in the right ear after sudden hearing loss around the time of the release of SAKANACTION’s breakout hit “Aruku Around” in 2010.

Tsubasa Imai

Tackey & Tsubasa‘s Tsubasa Imai was diagnosed with Ménière’s disease and was hospitalized in November of 2014.
On Imai’s radio show, Takizawa Hideaki appeared as a stand in and reported that Imai suffered conditions such as dizziness and experienced difficulty standing up. Hideaki’s appearance on Imai’s radio show was apparently rushed and last minute as Imai’s condition suddenly deteriorated. Imai had also cancelled the broadcast that was to happen on October 30th.

Are there any other Japanese artists with hearing damage not listed here? Let us know in the comments.

  • Comments

    • NatSamui

      Didn’t know about Ichiro Yamaguchi, but I think he still sings well

    • relmy

      It’s sad how many singers some level of deafness happens to. Tinnitus almost seems expected, so many suffer from it. And that’s just the ones where we know :/

    • HoneyDew

      Imai Tsubasa

      • True! I added him to the post :)

        • HoneyDew

          thanks!

    • honey girl

      Hmmmmm Arama on their redemption phase now.

      I’m honestly surprised Namie hasn’t had any sort of ear or vocal damage seeing as she has toured and recorded just as much as Ayu for at least the last 15 years. Maybe she has a vocal coach and perhaps keeps her exposure to loud sounds to a minimum when rehearsing that helps lower the chances of that happening.

      • Zoe

        She has a habit of taking out her ear monitors.

      • Christina Gmiterko

        I love both artists and have seen both live several times, and Namie has several key differences to Ayumi’s situation.

        The largest being that Namie hasn’t used a live band in her performances since, I want to say, the year 2006 and even before that when it at least came to TV performances she rarely if ever had one. Ayu, both in concerts and in tv performances has always had a band. And live music with a band seems to be much more damaging than previously recorded tracks (hence all the rock artists who have had the same or similar hearing difficulties).

        Also, as others have mentioned, for whatever reason, Namie rarely uses in ear monitors. Ayumi, I believe, had to essentially from the start because of her hearing problems (you see her fiddling with them quite a bit, even in early concerts) and in the end it probably just made things worse.

        Thirdly, the touring schedule. While Namie tours a lot now, she didn’t always. Back in the 90s her tours were sporadic. Also, unlike Ayumi she doesn’t tour yearly in addition to doing shows like A-Nation every year (a mini tour in and of itself) and a new years eve concert annually (which Ayumi does for 2 to 4 days at the end of every December since the year 2000).

        In terms of vocals; assuming Namie does not have hearing problems, that’s already a big positive for her right there. The other is that her songs have always been constructed right inside of her comfortable vocal range. Ayumi’s, especially early in her career, were actually done outside of her vocal range many times and as a result she constantly had to strain to sing them. And lastly, Namie uses a backing track in parts of her concerts; makes it easier to sound better when you are singing to your own voice.

        Overall though, Namie’s path was just in general much “smarter”.

        • Christina Gmiterko

          One more thing I forgot to add: Namie also hasn’t done any tv performances whatsoever since I want to say around 2008 or 2009. So that’s another thing that has given her voice and ears a break.

    • rshina

      Suga Shikao had this problem? I feel bad for him…I really like his song

      I hope everyone condition is better now

    • ProllyWild

      Amps, and inner ear monitors will fuck up hearing over time. It’s the sacrifice that people don’t think about from the crazy schedules singers go through. It’s nice that some people take Ayumi’s situation seriously, but so many other folks just laughing at it.

      • Ben

        I am no longer a fan of her music… I still think this is pretty tragic for someone to experience esp if you’re a singer. She’s been a singer for most of her life, I can’t imagine what’s it’d be like to not be able to sing or listen to music anymore.

    • Hearing about Ichiro makes me feel so sad but more than anything I admire him even more than ever. He’s an excellent musician regardless of what impediments he may have, much love to this hidden beast and the band!
      http://33.media.tumblr.com/727069d27895719a001206c79b14048f/tumblr_n8dk3zkR501teiaueo5_400.gif

    • Ash

      Yet Merzbow is completely fine.

    • Dude, I could never. This all sounds really painful too. D:

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