Yukiko Okada – Japanese Idol Superstar


To be a Japanese idol you must be pressure-proof. And what human is? Yukiko Okada, owner of the famed Yukko Smile (unless you count the fans and media as the real owners) was a Japanese idol who paid for her success.

What does it take to be a Japanese idol? You have to be cute. You have to be young. It helps if you are a girl. You’ll have to devote your life to the media, whether it be for a few months or a few years. You’ll be representing the ‘ideal’ Japanese body, so take care what you eat. No pressure.

Yukko Smile

Yukiko Okada is one of Japan’s most iconic idols. She would have been forty-three years old this August. She was a singer and an actress who was adored for her smile (which in itself was nicknamed ‘Yukko Smile‘ by fans).

As a child, Yukiko Okada showed an interest in art, spending her time reading comic books and drawing pictures. However when she entered high school, her passion changed to music, and she decided that she wanted to become a professional singer. Her determination was unstoppable. She applied for every audition she could find – from tiny talent recruitment companies to huge national competitions. Each and every time she was rejected, but she never gave up. In 1983, at the age of 15, she was finally accepted onto the television program ‘Star Tanjo!’, a Japanese talent show which was the equivalent of today’s ‘American Idol’. She won first prize.

This was the start of Okada’s journey to idol-dom. Her debut single was released in April 1984, and she won several awards that same year. In 1985 she landed the main role in the science fiction drama ‘Kinjirareta Mariko’ (‘The Forbidden Mariko’) where she played a girl who possessed the sixth sense. As the series drew to a close, she became the face of Kanebo Cosmetics. She was the most famous woman in Japan.

Yukko Syndrome

In 1986, at the age of 18, Okada’s mental health began to decline. On April 8th she was discovered sitting in a wardrobe in her gas-filled apartment in Tokyo. She had slashed her wrists. Two hours later she committed suicide by jumping from the seven story Sun Music Agency building. Nobody knows the exact cause of her depression – a lot of people suspect a lost love, but there are rumours that her mental health had been in serious decline since the start of the year.

That year saw the highest Japanese suicide rate of all time. Within two weeks of her death, thirty one Japanese teenagers had thrown themselves out of windows in an attempt to follow in the footsteps of their favourite idol. Okada’s death had such an impact on the people of Japan, the phrase ‘Yukko syndrome‘ is now frequently used to describe the phenomenon of copy-cat suicides.

Her devoted fan base has made it clear that she will never be forgotten. Twenty-four years on, the people of Japan have voted Okada as the 17th most important woman in history. However, it is heart-breaking that most people will remember her for her tragic death rather than the joyous music she made.