Aya Ueto (上戸 彩, Ueto Aya, born September 14, 1985) is a Japanese actress, singer, model, tarento, and occasional radio personality. Born in Nerima, Tokyo, Ueto was discovered when she participated in the 7th Japan Bishojo Contest, where she won the special jury prize. At the age of thirteen, Ueto made her acting debut, in the film Satsujinsha: Killer of Paraiso (1999), and she and fellow Japan Bishojo Contest participants, Mami Nejiki, Mai Fujiya, and Manami Nishiwaki, formed the unsuccessful idol group Z-1. In 2002, after their disbandment, Ueto continued her music career as a solo artist, under the record label Pony Canyon, where she debuted with the single "Pureness."
Ueto's breakthrough came when she was cast as a high school student suffering from gender dysphoria, in the sixth season of the long-running TBS drama 3-nen B-gumi Kinpachi-sensei. Her critically acclaimed performance led to several leading roles and endorsements, eventually establishing herself as one of Japan's most recognizable faces. As one of Japan's most ubiquitous celebrities, Ueto constantly appears on billboards, shop windows and train adverts, and has held the annual title of CM Queen five times since 2004.
She has also ventured onto the big screen, in the lead role in Ryuhei Kitamura's blockbuster Azumi (2003), which earned her a Japan Academy Award for Best Actress nomination; its sequel, Azumi 2: Death or Love (2005); and the film adaption of Thermae Romae (2012).
Aya Ueto was born in Nerima, Tokyo to a Hokkaidan father and an Okinawan mother. Her parents divorced shortly after Ueto's debut. She is the middle of three children with an older brother, Shun, and younger brother Makoto. Despite growing up in a relatively poor household, Ueto studied piano, modern ballet, swimming and gymnastics. She originally had no ambitions to become an entertainer; she instead wanted to become a pre-school teacher.
After hearing about one of her friends' experience as an extra on a TV drama, she decided she too "wanted to appear on TV." Unbeknownst to her daughter, Ueto's mother entered her into the 7th Japan Bishojo Contest. When she was twelve years old, Ueto won the special jury prize at the contest. She revealed later on that her real motivation for doing well was to "win the two million yen cash prize to buy a house for her family," however because what she won was an ad hoc prize decided that day, there was no monetary reward. After Ueto's discovery, she joined the talent agency Oscar Promotion and began acting and singing lessons. In July 1998, Ueto joined the idol group Z-1. The group landed a regular spot on the variety shows Kaishingeki TV! Utaemon and The Yoru mo Hippare, and debuted on Toshiba EMI a year later with the single "Vibe!" In 1999, Ueto obtained her first role in the film Satsujinsha: Killer of Paraiso, in which her lines were entirely in English.
In 2000, Ueto portrayed the supporting role of Momo Fuchigami in the Fuji TV drama Namida o Fuite, starring Yosuke Eguchi. The drama garnered strong ratings and gave Ueto her biggest exposure yet. In 2001, Ueto appeared on the annual Victor Koshien poster, which, in the past, kick-started the careers of Noriko Sakai and Miho Kanno. Later that year, she was cast in the role of Nao Tsurumoto, a student suffering from gender identity disorder (GID), in the sixth season of the TBS drama 3-nen B-gumi Kinpachi-sensei. The role propelled her to stardom and earned her a Golden Arrow Award for Best Newcomer.
In January 2002, it was announced that Ueto would continue her music career as a solo artist under Pony Canyon subsidiary label, Flight Master. During her summer break from school, she appeared in a 5-episode arc of the long-running drama Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari, and starred alongside Akiko Yada and Hiroshi Abe in the TBS drama My Little Chef. Ueto released her first solo single, "Pureness," in August 2002. The song debuted at number 4 on the Oricon Weekly Singles chart, making it the first debut single by a female artist with no commercial tie-in to enter the top five in three years. In between filming her first feature film, Azumi, Ueto released her second single, "Kizuna," and launched Seventeen's Map, a radio show on Nippon Hoso. The program would go on to last four-and-a-half years, changing names after each of her birthdays to Eighteen's Road, Nineteen's Nine, Hatachi ni High Touch!, and 21 Peace!.
In early 2003, Ueto starred in a remake of the 1993 drama Koko Kyoshi, alongside Naohito Fujiki. She released her third single, "Hello," followed by her first studio album, Ayaueto. In April 2003, it was revealed that Ueto had taken a leave of absence from school to focus on her career. In a 2007 interview, she stated that, at the time, she was only getting two hours of sleep, trying to juggle work and school. In May 2003, Ueto launched her first tour, Ueto Aya First Live Tour Pureness 2003, released a fourth single, "Message/Personal," and Azumi opened nationwide. Ueto won several awards for her performance in Azumi. She swooped the Newcomer of the Year category of the Elan d'Or Awards, Japan Movie Critic Awards, Japanese Academy Awards, and Golden Arrow Awards; becoming the only actress to win two consecutive Golden Arrows for Newcomer of the Year. Ueto received a nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role at the Japanese Academy Awards and won the Popularity Award. In July 2003, Ueto landed her first TV leading role in the TBS drama Hitonatsu no Papa e, for which her fifth single, Kansho, served as theme song. Despite low ratings, the single was well received on the charts, peaking at number 9.
In January 2004, Ueto starred as Hiromi Oka in the live-action adaption of the popular manga Ace wo Nerae!. The drama earned her The Television Drama Academy Award for Best Lead Actress. Ueto's seventh single, "Ai no Tameni.," served as theme song for the drama and became her best-selling single. In March 2004, Message was released and became her best-selling album. In December 2004, Ueto released her third studio album, Re., starred alongside Ryunosuke Kamiki in the film adaption of Risa Wataya's award-winning novel, Install, which premiered at the 17th Tokyo International Film Festival, and performed as top-batter at the 55th Kohaku Uta Gassen. With eighteen advertising contracts for sixteen companies, Ueto was crowned CM Queen of 2004.
In 2005, Ueto appeared in the NHK taiga drama Yoshitsune, portrayed twin sisters in a remake of the drama Koto, and starred in the sequel to Azumi, Azumi 2: Death or Love. In April 2005, she starred in the TV Asahi-produced live-action adaption of another popular manga, Attack No. 1. "Yume no Chikara," the theme song for the drama, became her ninth top ten single. Ueto next starred in two TV movies produced to commemorate TBS' 50th anniversary: Misora Hibari Tanjo Monogatar, a Misora Hibari biopic co-starring Izumi Pinko, and Nada Soso, Kono Ai ni Ikite, co-starring Hitomi Kuroki. She launched her second tour, Ueto Aya Live Tour 2005: Genki Hatsu Ratsu?, released her twelfth single, "Kaze wo Ukete," and first remix album, Uetoayamix. Ueto was appointed mascot girl for the 2005 FIFA Club World Championship and covered the tournament as a special presenter for NTV.
In 2006, Ueto attended her Coming of Age ceremony, acted as special presenter for NTV's coverage of the 2006 Winter Olympics and made a guest appearance as herself in the anime Meitantei Conan, for which she was chosen as special supporter. She released her thirteenth single, "Egao no Mama de," followed by her fourth studio album, License. Ueto starred in Celeb, the first episode of the drama adaption of the cell phone novel Tsubasa no Oreta Tenshitachi. Her episode was the highest rated of the series. The drama marked Ueto's first appearance on a Fuji TV drama in six years, since Namida wo Fuite (2000). She starred alongside Ryo Nishikido in a modern-day remake of the 1970 drama, Attention Please, which became her most successful drama to date. It spawned two specials: Attention Please: Yoko, Hawaii ni Tobu (2007) and Attention Please: Sydney, Australia (2008). Ueto next starred in the Yukihiko Tsutsumi-directed comedy, Shimokita Sundays. The drama failed to capture audiences and was one of the worst-rated of the summer. In September 2006, Ueto released her first compilation album, Best of Uetoaya: Single Collection, which peaked at number 5. In December 2006, she hosted the 32nd Radio Charity Musicthon and acted as special presenter for NTV's coverage of the 2006 FIFA Club World Cup.
In 2007, Ueto starred in the two-part Yoshiko Otaka biopic, Ri Kouran. In March 2007, Ueto released "Way to Heaven," her first single in over a year, and made a guest appearance in the eighth season finale of the TBS drama Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari. In April 2007, Ueto was cast in a remake of the Korean drama Hotelier, which recorded low ratings. The theme song, "Namida no Niji," was released in May 2007. The single marked Ueto's first foray into songwriting. In an interview with Oricon Style, she revealed that the reason she insisted on not writing her own lyrics until then was because she felt "shy" about "opening herself completely" to her audience. Ueto held her third tour, Ueto Aya Best Live Tour 2007 Never Ever, in the summer of 2007. At the release event of the concert DVD, she stated that the tour refreshed her after a year of ups and downs. Ueto next starred alongside Hideaki Ito in the TBS period piece Wachigaiya Itosato, and alongside Yo Oizumi in the Fuji TV drama, Abarenbo Mama, which was well received by critics and audiences alike.
In 2008, Ueto won the Asakusa Entertainment Newcomer Prize, which is awarded to the most prominent entertainers based in Tokyo. She starred in her first NTV drama, Hokaben. In August 2008, Ueto became the first actress to ever appear on official postage stamps by releasing an original set with photos taken from her 2007 tour. She made a secret guest appearance at the 2008 Kobe Collection runway show, where she modeled for Emanuel Ungaro. In October 2008, Ueto next starred in her ninth TV drama leading role in the Fuji TV comedy Celeb to Binbo Taro, alongside Shuchishin member, Yusuke Kamiji. Ueto attended the premiere of Saki Fukuda's first feature film Sakura no Sono, in which she makes a supporting appearance, at the 21st Tokyo International Film Festival. In December 2008, Ueto hosted two of the year's biggest festivities: the M-1 Grand Prix and 50th Japan Record Awards. She hosted the former for the third consecutive year.
In January 2009, Ueto launched her first wedding dress collection, in collaboration with bridal shop Joyful Eli, entitled U Aya Ueto Dresses. While she has designed her own tour merchandise in the past, namely the T-shirt line Buddy in 2005, U marks Ueto's first official foray into fashion design. A second collection was announced in July 2009. In April 2009, she starred alongside SMAP leader Masahiro Nakai in her first Getsuku drama, Konkatsu!. Ueto next co-starred with Hayato Ichihara in the Shunji Iwai-produced CG animation film, Baton, created in commemoration of the Port of Yokohama's 150th anniversary. The film, reunited her with Azumi director Ryuhei Kitamura. In June 2009, after a two-year hiatus, Ueto resumed her singing career by releasing the Kohmi Hirose-produced single "Smile for...," followed by her fifth studio album, Happy Magic: Smile Project. In November 2009, Ueto co-starred with Tetsuya Watari in the Sugako Hashida-written and Fukuko Ishii-produced TV movie, Kekkon.
In 2010, Ueto launched her third and fourth wedding dress collections, starred alongside Kin'ya Kitaoji in the Fuji TV drama Zettai Reido, and made a cameo appearance in Shun Oguri's directorial debut, Surely Someday. In August 2010, Ueto co-starred with Masaaki Uchino for the first time since Ace o Nerae! (2004) in her first NHK drama leading role, Junensaki mo Kimi ni Koishite. In September 2010, Ueto portrayed blind singer-songwriter Satoko Tatemichi in the TV movie Ai wa Mieru. Ueto next co-starred with Yutaka Takenouchi in her second Getsuku drama, Nagareboshi. The drama was very well received by critics and audiences alike and was the second best rated of the fall season. Ueto was nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the Nikkan Sports Drama Grand Prix and won the Television Drama Academy Award for her role in Nagareboshi. Boasting advertising contracts with 13 different companies, Ueto was crowned CM Queen for a second consecutive year, making it the fifth time she has held the title.
In February 2011, Ueto launched her fifth wedding dress collection. In July 2011, Ueto reprised the role of detective Izumi Sakuragi for a second season of Zettai Reido. Ueto was confirmed to appear in the series finale of the long-running drama Wataru Seken wa Oni Bakari, scheduled to air in September 2011. She will also star alongside Hiroshi Abe for the first time in ten years, since My Little Chef (2002), in the film adaptation of Thermae Romae (2012). Filming started in Rome on March 14 and is expected to finish in early May.
Ueto dated Japanese singer and actor Go Morita of the boy band V6 for eight years before splitting in April 2010. In October 2010, it was reported that she was in a relationship with Exile leader Hiro. In September 2012, Ueto announced via a handwritten letter posted on her official website that she and Hiro had registered their marriage on Ueto's 27th birthday.
In April 2011, Ueto joined veteran actors Tetsuya Watari, Hiroshi Tachi in handing out food and other relief supplies to disaster victims in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami-stricken area of Ishinomaki in Miyagi.
Ueto is close friends with tarento and singer Becky. The pair have been appearing on television together since they met on the morning show Oha Star in 2000.Ayaueto (2003)
Happy Magic: Smile Project (2009)