(Tochigi Prefecture, 1976- )

hitomi BUY hitomi's latest album, Huma Rhythm

If you spend any time watching Japanese television, you'll have seen this slinky songstress apearing in commercials advertising not just her latest single but also cars, makeup or a host of other products. Starting as a teen-fashion magazine model while still in school, hitomi (she dropped her family name, Furuya, and went all lower case - very hip!) has been around longer than Hamasaki Ayumi, who in many ways she resembles, but has only lately started to catch up in the popularity stakes.

She married a design company employee in November 2002 and went "into hiding" for a year and a half. In May 2004, she started her first tour in almost two years. She got publicity for the tour by playing an unannounced "secret live" in the departures lobby of Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

One of the many artists discovered and raised by J-Pop super-producer Komuro Tetsuya, hitomi got her start in music with the avex trax label in 1993. She made her debut with Let's Play Winter in 1994 and the next year sold 400,000 copies of Candy Girl, her third single. She released three chart-topping albums and had considerable success under the guidance of Komuro, who encouraged her to write her own songs. But she really hit the big time after she went her own way in 1999.

hitomi Like Hamasaki, she is more independent than the closely-guarded "idols" and chooses her own look, which has made her one of the fashion leaders adulated by teenage girls across the country. Her skinny frame and come-hither expression have also ensured her a large male fan base. This broad-based popularity have enabled her to make the leap from recording artist to "image" girl, with all the lucrative comercial deals that brings.

hitomi is not afraid to use her sexuality, and indeed looks up to Madonna as one of her role models in this respect. Even when dressed, she tends to leave plenty of skin showing. She has appeared nude, with strategically placed long golden locks, on an album cover (right), released a single called Sexy, and her last release with Komuro was a greatest hits album simply called H. The double entendre is lost unless you know that the letter is pronounced "etchi" in Japanese, which is slang for sex.

She knows the right names to drop to establish her credibility, listing Beck, Bjork and Radiohead as her favorite western artists and Jane Birkin, Serge Gainsbourg and Vincent Gallo as her favorite actors.