Utada's debut album First Love became the Japan's biggest selling album of all time with over 7.65 million copies sold in Japan alone to date. The release of her later works only help her reign as one of Japan's top artist, with 3 of her Japanese studio albums being ranked in Top 10 best-selling albums ever in Japan (#1, #4, #8). She has had 12 #1 hits to date on the Oricon Singles chart, with two notable record achievements for a female solo or group artist: 5 of them being million-sellers and 4 placing in the Top 100 All-Time Best-selling Singles. .
In addition, Utada has won the Nihon Golden Disk "Song of the Year" award for 14 of her singles since 2000 and has won the Golden Disc "Pop/Rock Album of the Year" award for all her 4 Japanese studio albums. In 2003, Utada was ranked the #24 Japanese pop artist in its survey of "Top 100 Japanese Pop Artists of All Time" by HMV, and #10 in HMV's "Top 30 Best Japanese Singers of All Time" in 2006.
In 2007, her single "Flavor of Life" reached #2 in worldwide digital download yearly single chart with over 7.2 million downloads, and she sold a total of 12 million digital ringtones and songs in that same year, making her the first artist ever to have that many digital sales in a year's time.
"Watching my parents, doing crazy things to continue working on music, um, I thought I never want to be musician, It's crazy, and it's unstable... Just, it looks like a very hectic life, and I didn't really understand the passion for music they have back then. But I ended up following my parents' footstep and carry on the family business and I am a musician now as well and, now I understand the driving passion behind it, and that's ok," she said in an interview.
Cubic U released her debut single "Close to You," which was a cover of The Carpenters' song. She then released her debut album Precious, but it failed to be released in the United States due to restructuring issues at her then record label Capitol Records. In an MTV interview (on MTV's You Hear It First, October 2004), Utada explained: "Someone in Japan heard it—at a Japanese record company—and he said, 'Oh, can't you write in Japanese? You speak Japanese… And I said ok, why not? I'll try. Then I gave it a shot, and the Japanese album just really blew up in Japan." She released Precious in Japan on January 28, 1998, and then later re-released it on March 31, 1999 to much better success. It has sold 702,060 copies to date in Japan, making it a significant hit for an all-English album in that market.
Utada moved to Tokyo in late 1998 and attended Seisen International School, and later the American School in Japan, while continuing to record on a new contract with Toshiba-EMI. Leading up to the release of her first album First Love, Utada released two successful million-selling single: "Automatic / Time Will Tell" and "Movin' on without you." "Automatic / Time Will Tell" eventually became the 2nd most successful single by a female solo artist behind Namie Amuro's "Can You Celebrate?" as well as one of the most successful debut single to be release in the country. The success of Utada's singles eventually lead the album First Love to sell over 7 million units in Japan alone (with an additional 3 million overseas, bringing it to a sum of at least 10 million units), becoming the highest selling album in Japanese History. Due to popular demand, Utada later release the song "First Love" as a single as well. By the end of the year, Utada was able to be rank #5 on a Japanese radio station "Tokio Hot 100 Airplay's" Top 100 Artists of the 20th Century by the station and its listeners.
It would be two years after the release of First Love that Utada would release her sophomore album Distance. All the singles that was release to promote the album was able to achieve success with "Addicted To You, the first single from the album, breaking the one-million mark in its first week and reaching #1 on the Oricon Singles Chart for two consecutive weeks (a personal first) and eventually netting sales of 1,784,000 copies, remaining Utada's most successful single of all time. The second single from the album, "Wait & See ~Risk~", was able to mirror the success of "Addicted To You," selling over one-million units as well. "Wait & See ~Risk~" would later be rank at #6 on Oricon's list of 10 Best-Selling Singles from January 1 1999 to April 24 2006. Her two last singles "For You / Time Limit" and "Can You Keep a Secret?" were both able to claim the #1 spot, bringing her #1 hits up to five with "Can You Keep a Secret?" netting sales of yet another million units, becoming #10 on Oricon's Top Ten List of Best-Selling Singles from January 1, 1999 to April 24, 2006.
As it had been two years since First Love was release, the album Distance was highly anticipated among her fans, having the largest first-week sales for any album in music history, with over 3 million units sold. At the end of 2001, it became the most sold album for any J-music artist worldwide or in the residential industry, with 4.469 million copies sold in Japan alone. After Distance, Utada released a single that was dedicated to the female victim of a murder case in Ikeda, Osaka entitled "Final Distance."
Leading up to her third album, Utada released "Traveling," "Hikari," and "Sakura Drops / Letters." With the exception of "Final Distance" (#2 peak), they were all able to claim the #1 spot. Before the release of Utada's third album, Deep River, the artist eventually underwent surgery after being diagnosed with an ovarian tumor, causing Utada to put her promotional activities on hold.
After recovering and finally releasing Deep River, Utada eventually went back to promoting. While there were no TV appearances, she promoted her album in magazine and radio interviews. The Oricon count of the album was another amazing first-week sales debut for Utada, with 2.35 million sold for the week post its release day. Oricon reports that sales eventually surpassed 3.60 million, making her the only singer or group in Japanese music history to have three consecutive albums surpass the 3x Million (12x Platinum) sold mark, by RIAJ standards. It was also her third consecutive time to hold the #1 position on Oricon's Yearly Albums chart and became the eighth best selling album of all time in Japan.
In 2003, Utada's promotional and personal life schedules got more active due to her marriage and an imposing agreement with Island Records in America to release a proper full-English debut album. New Japanese-language singles would therefore come few and far between, but Utada did release "Colors" on January 29, 2003, which was her only single release for 2003. This song was distinctive because it featured heavy ethereal and experimental tones for the first time in Utada's discography, something that would display itself fruitfully in all the Ultra Blue and Heart Station eras' singles. It became her longest charting single ever with a 45 week trajectory on the Oricon Singles chart, selling 881,000 copies, and was #3 on the Yearly Singles chart.
In mid-2004, Utada moved back to New York, and began work on a new recording contract with Island Def Jam Music Group. On October 5, 2004, she released her North American English-language debut album, Exodus, under the name "Utada," which was her new American-given artist title at the Universal Convention. It was released nearly a month earlier, on September 9 in Japan, with a special booklet and housed in a cardboard slipcase. In an MTV interview, Utada said: "I don't think it's the music that I'm concerned about. It's obviously that I look really different and there really aren't any completely Asian people [who are popular singers in the U.S.] right now. Exodus became Utada's fourth consecutive release to debut at #1 and boast 500,000+ first-week sales. It had a chart run of twenty weeks on the Oricon and saw her reach #1 on the World United Charts a second time, eventually selling 1.35 million copies. In spite of enlisting the help of Timbaland to produce and co-write some songs, her American debut as an Island Records artist was met with indifference by the American market, though the fact that there was virtually no promotion on her record label's part, selling 50,000 units. "Easy Breezy" was released as the lead single in early August 2004, peaking at #9 Billboard Hot Dance/Club Airplay chart, followed up by "Devil Inside" a month and two weeks later. And Utada became the cover of the interview magazine June, 2005 issue. "Exodus '04" was released at the end of June 2005 and featured remixes from The Scumfrog, Richard Vission, JJ Flores and Peter Bailey. In the UK, Mercury added another 2 remixes for "You make me want to be a man" in the original album Exodus 04, titled "You Make Me Want To Be A Man [Bloodshy & Avant Mix]" and "You Make Me Want To Be A Man [Junior Jack Mix]." By the end of the year Utada was voted "#1 Favorite Artist of 2004" by Oricon's annual readers poll.
The fourth single from her English Exodus album, "You Make Me Want to Be a Man," was released in October 2005. "Devil Inside" became a club smash in the U.S. and topped the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Airplay charts. Both the Exodus album and "You Make Me Want to Be a Man" single were released in the U.K., with different artwork from the USA and Japanese versions. In October 2005, "You Make Me Want to Be a Man" became another #1 on the Billboard Dance chart.
Ultra Blue sold 500,317 copies in the first week, lower than that of the previous album, although it still easily topped the Oricon Daily, Weekly, and Monthly charts, and even became Utada's third #1 album to debut on the United World Charts. In addition, Ultra Blue also gave the artist her sixth consecutive chart-topping album to sell in excess of 500,000 units for a first-week sales. On July 13, Toshiba EMI published a report stating that Ultra Blue had sold over one million copies worldwide and four million digital ringtones alreadymaking it one of EMI’s 10th best-selling album of the past year. After fifty-three weeks on the Oricon chart, Ultra Blue sold 910,998 units in Japan alone and was certified triple-platinum by the RIAJ, making it the highest-selling original studio album by a Japanese female artist in 2006. However, it became her first original album (excluding her first album Precious, released under the name Cubic U) to sell fewer than one million units domestically.
Ultra Blue later became available on the iTunes Japan online music store, charting at #4 on the 2006 yearly download rankings. Two weeks after the release of Ultra Blue, Utada began a nationwide tour titled "Utada United 2006" on June 30, 2006 which ended on September 12, 2006. This was Utada's second concert tour after her debut tour "Bohemian Summer 2000" and one performance at Budokan Dome in 2004. Aside from her Japanese work, the tour's set list featured three tracks from her 2004 English-language album, Exodus. On September 20, 2006, Exodus was re-released in Japan in addition to "Utada Hikaru Single Collection" Volume 4 in the same month.
The singles that were released prior to Utada's fifth studio album, Heart Station, were able to reach the Top Five position on the chart, including the #1 hit "Flavor of Life", which would later become the best selling digital single in Japan with over 7,500,000 copies download. Around the same time, Utada confirmed in her blog on September 25, 2007 that she had visited New York to with producers and executives at Island/Def Jam about recording a new English album.. Later in the year a digital track by American R&B artist Ne-Yo, titled "Do You" from his latest 2007 album, Because of You featured Utada and was released in Japan on November 21.
The year 2007 ended with "Flavor of Life" single becoming the best seller of 2007 and with Utada being voted "#1 Favorite Artist of 2007" by Oricon's annual readers poll, three years after she was last voted #1 on the poll. She also sold a cumulative total of 12 million digital ringtones and songs in 2007, making her the first Japanese artist ever to have this many digital sales in one year.
Utada's fifth studio album, Heart Station, was released on March 19, 2008, becoming her fifth consecutive #1 album although it had collected the lowest first week sales for Utada's career, with 480,081 copies sold. Despite this, the album went on to sell 982,874 copies (still charting), with certification of one million units shipped by the RIAJ and was currently the highest selling album by a female solo artist in 2008 until Namie Amuro surpassed this with Best Fiction. It is also the fourth highest selling album of 2008 as of August 3.
On September 7, 2002 Utada married Kazuaki Kiriya, a photographer and film director who was fifteen years her senior. Kiriya had directed several of her music videos, including "Final Distance," "Traveling," "Hikari," "Sakura Drops," "Deep River," "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro," "Be My Last," "Passion," and "Keep Tryin." Also, "Dareka no Negai ga Kanau Koro" is the theme song of Kiriya's directorial debut, Casshern.
On March 2 2007, Hikaru Utada and her husband Kazuaki Kiriya were officially divorced, thus ending their four and a half year marriage. They announced the divorce on Utada's blog the following day. Both stated that many factors contributed to the divorce, including personal changes, different viewpoints on the future of their marriage, and, more importantly, lack of communication due to the nature of their jobs. Kiriya hoped that Utada's fans would continue to support her and that the divorce would not affect her reputation and sales. He stated that they could not "emotionally depend on each other" and wished for everybody to support Utada.
On March 92008, roughly a year after her divorce, for an interview for SSTV V.I.P., Utada was asked another question regarding it. Utada stated that they were headed towards a direction in which she felt that she needed to be validated by her husband's opinion. She came to realize the only type of assurance she needed was herself and as a result of the divorce, she gained confidence. Also, Utada stated that she wishes to have children, giving her a brighter outlook on the future.