Aya Ueto (上戸 彩, Ueto Aya, born September 14, 1985) is a Japanese actress, singer, idol, and tarento. Born in Nerima, Tokyo, Ueto was discovered when she participated in the 7th All-Japan National Young Beauty Contest, where she won the Judges' Special Choice Prize. She made her acting debut at the age of thirteen in the film Satsujinsha Killer of Paraiso and in 1999, she and fellow participants of the Young Beauty Contest Mami Nejiki, Mai Fujiya, and Manami Nishiwaki formed the unsuccessful girl group Z-1. In 2002, after their disbandment, Ueto continued her music career as a solo singer under the label Pony Canyon, where she debuted with the single "Pureness". Ueto's breakthrough came when she was cast as a girl suffering from gender identity disorder in the sixth series of the TBS drama 3 nen B gumi Kinpachi-sensei. Her critically-acclaimed performance led to several leading roles in dramas and TV endorsements, eventually establishing her as one of Japan's most recognizable faces. She has also ventured onto the big screen in famed film director Ryuhei Kitamura's 2003 blockbuster Azumi and its sequel, Azumi 2: Death or Love in 2005. As one of Japan's most ubiquitous celebrity endorsers, Ueto constantly appears on billboards, shop windows and trains, advertising for companies such as Fujifilm, Lotte, Ōtsuka Seiyaku and SoftBank.
Early life and career
Aya Ueto was born in Nerima, Tokyo to an Hokkaidan father and Okinawan mother. She has two brothers; Makoto, who is two years older and Shun, who is sixteen years older. She became an aunt at the age of eleven. Shortly after Ueto's debut in 1999, her parents divorced and she subsequently lived with her mother and siblings. Ueto remains in contact with her father and states that, despite her busy schedule, she tries to see him every so often.
As a child, Ueto studied piano, modern ballet, swimming and rhythmics. She did not have ambitions to become an entertainer; she wanted to become a pre-school teacher. However, at the age of twelve, after hearing about one of her friends' experience as an extra on a TV drama, she decided she "wanted to appear on TV" as well. Having heard this from her daughter, Ueto's mother secretly sent an application to a contest she had found in a leaflet, the 7th All-Japan National Young Beauty Contest. Ueto's mother, who was a Ryūkyūan folk singer, encouraged her to follow the dream she herself had given up on.
Aged only twelve, Ueto won the Judges' Special Choice Prize at the contest. She revealed later on that her real motivation for doing well was to "win the two million cash prize" because she "wanted to buy a house" for her family, however because what she won was an ad hoc prize decided that day, there was no cash prize. After her discovery, she joined the talent agency Oscar Promotion and started acting and singing lessons. In 1999, she obtained her first role in the film Satsujinsha Killer of Paraiso, in which her lines were entirely in English. Later that year she debuted with the girl group Z-1 and landed a recurring spot on the TV variety shows Kaishingeki TV! Utaemon and The Yoru mo Hippare.