Her recording career has been commercially successful with more than 42 million records sold. In 1990, her album The Gates of Heaven became the first album to be certified "2x million" by the RIAJ, and she has had twenty-one #1 albums listed on the Oricon charts.
After gaining experience as a session musician for several years, she debuted as a singer-songwriter in 1972. During her early career, she worked under her birth name . In 1975, Arai became known as a composer for "Ichigo Hakusho wo Mou Ichido", a commercially successful song recorded by the folk duo Bang Bang. She also gained popularity as a vocalist in the same year, through the success of "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai" that became her first number-one spot on the Japan's Oricon Charts.
After marrying her musical collaborator Masataka Matsutoya in 1976 and changing stage name, she has continued her recording career up until now. In addition to multiple hit singles, she has obtained enormous commercial success on the Japanese Albums Chart, particularly during the late 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.
Her nickname "Yuming" was given to her by her Chinese lover. She began her music career when she was still young. At the age of 14, she experienced work of musician for the first time. Having worked as a studio musician, she also wrote many stocks of original songs. When she was 17 years old, her first original song titled "Ai wa Totsuzen ni" was released. It was sung by Katsumi Kahashi, the former guitarist of 1960s Japanese influential band The Tigers.
In April of 1972, Arai entered in Tama Art University. At the same time, she signed to Alfa as a music artist. At first, she wanted to be a songwriter, however, the founder of the record company, Kunihiko Murai, encouraged her to work as singer-songwriter.
She recorded her first full album, Hiko-ki Gumo, with the band "Caramel Mama", better known as "Tin-Pan-Alley," which consisted of four big-name musicians, and was released in November of 1973. For her next album, Misslim, (1974), Masataka Matsutoya, who was the keyboardist of Tin-Pan-Alley, arranged all of her songs. Her third studio album, Cobalt Hour, (1975) featured her early famous song "Sotsugyō Shashin". In same year, it was covered by chorus group Hi-fi Set on their self-titled album. That cover version also succeeded as a single. In later years, it was covered by many Japanese artists and became one of Japanese classical pops. In same year, the duo composed of male singers called Banban sang her song "Ichigo Hakusho o Mou Ichido" and reached number one at Oricon. Because of these industrial successes by other artists, she was made famous as a songwriter.
Her first big success as a singer-songwriter was her sixth single "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai". In August 1975, it used as the theme song of TBS TV drama program Katei no Himitsu. Two months later, it was released as a single and reached top of the Oricon. The 14th Moon (1976), her final album as "Yumi Arai" had featured Leland Sklar on bass and Mike Baird on Drums. Since this album, Masataka Matsutoya has produced all her albums until this time. She considered her nickname "Yuming" to also mean name of the union with her husband. Following the success of "Ano Hi ni Kaeritai", it became first album that reached number one on the Oricon charts. Besides, in the end of the year chart in 1976, three of her albums ranked in the top 10. Four years after the debuted, she dominated Japanese album charts. This astonishing record has never been broken by anyone since.
In 1989, her fifth single "Rouge no Dengon" and another song, "Yasashisa ni Tsutsumaretanara" (from her second album), were featured as the theme songs of film Kiki's Delivery Service. Nowadays, those tunes are known as her early notable songs. Some of her songs were deeply influenced from many American and Europe musicians, such as Joni Mitchell and Carole King. As a pioneer of singer-songwriter who mixed Western culture and Japanese pop, she made a strong impression to Japanese popular music. Today, many music critics in Japan consider that her works as Yumi Arai were her peak as a musician.
Before release of Benisuzume, a compilation named Album was released by Toshiba EMI. It mainly contained songs she had released as Yumi Arai, and two songs released as singles only. Matsutoya didn't want to release this compilation; in her autobiography released in 1982, she wrote about this album and called it "The biggest stain on my music career." Because of this disgraced issue, she never allowed the release of another compilation album until 1998. However, her ex-record-label Alfa Records had released many compilations which consisted of her old tunes without the writer's permission. Hence, in the end of 1990s, she bought copyrights of all her songs which were credited under her maiden name.
Her tenth album, Surf and Snow (1980), changed the negative tide for her. When the album was released, it did not sell as others had previously. However, in 1986, one of the contents "Koibito ga Santa Claus" became popular as the theme song of the hit movie Watashi o Ski ni Tsuretette. Because of this strong tieup, the album eventually sold over 400,000 copies after several years. In 1987, she returned to the top of Japanese pop music. Her husband wrote the score for the movie Nerawareta Gakuen, which was directed by Nobuhiko Obayashi and distributed by Kadokawa Pictures. She wrote "Mamotte Agetai" as theme song for the movie. The single of this song reached number two at Oricon and sold nearly 700,000 copies. Following the success of the single, her eleventh album Sakuban Oaishimasho (1981) became her second number one album. From that year through 1997, 17 studio albums which she released absolutely reached number one on the charts.
In 1982, she published an autobiography, Rouge no Dengon. In this book, she wrote about her life in exaggerated style. She contemplated about artwork on her own albums. Artwork of the album Sakuban Oaishimasho(1981) was designed by Hipgnosis, and the video Compartment was produced with some members of the group. A mark from the latter film also became logo mark of "Yuming", and was used as the cover of 1984 album No Side. Since the 1970s, she was also famous as an artist who performed concerts with gorgeous and novel sets. She used elaborated visual technology on the stage and it is said that they cost over hundreds of millions yen. She has released two live albums and several videos. In 1986, she released her first live album, Yuming Visualive DA-DI-DA,. It was released on CD and cassette tape only, and it become one of her rarest items among her fans for many years.
The Gates of Heaven and several of her albums in those years reflected an optimistic atmosphere in Japan caused by asset price bubble around the end of the 1980s and early 90s. She was often called "Charisma of Youth" or "The Enthusiastic Leader of Love" in those days. In order to make people buy the album, she hadn't released single at all about four years since the end of 1980s. However, in autumn 1993, she released "Manatsu no Yo no Yume", the first single in 4 years since "Anniversary", already known as the theme song of TV drama Dare nimo Ienai. It sold over 1,400,000 copies and became 89th best-selling single in Japan. It is also most successful single for her.
In next year, she produced two million-selling singles called "Hello My Friend" and "Haru-yo, Koi". Both of these singles used as TV drama (The former was featured on Kimi to Ita Natsu, the latter was used on the same titled program broadcasting by NHK). Particularly, the latter is famous as one of her standard numbers. Those songs were also included in the album The Dancing Sun. Because of those strong tunes, it became second double million-selling album for her. She was interested in the spiritual world for many years, and this preference was often represented in her songs, a tendency that became deeper in the 1990s.
In August of 1996, about twenty years after her marriage, Yumi Matsutoya came back as "Yumi Arai" and performed only 3 days at Nakano Sunplaza, Tokyo. Excerpts of that live recording were released on video and CD. A month before the live performances, a newly-recorded version of her early standard song, "Machibuse" (she did not sing it herself), was released as a single. Until 1995, she had released studio albums every year, but her popularity began to decline around 1996. After her twenty-ninth studio album, The Waves of Zuvuya, (1997) her record sale declined more and more.
As "Yumi Matsutoya", she had not released any compilation albums since 1977. Formerly, she didn't want to release compilation albums. However, in 1998, she released a double album compilation, Neue Musik: Yumi Matsutoya Complete Best Vol. 1. It included 28 songs and two new songs recorded with the former members of Tin-Pan-Alley. In addition, several songs of this album were selected by votes by her fans. At this stage, it is her biggest-selling and final million-selling album.
She has often recorded several collaboration singles with other musicians. In 1985, she released the song "Imadakara" with Kazumasa Oda and Kazuo Zaitsu. It was mostly composed by Oda and Matsutoya, arranged by Ryuichi Sakamoto and played by former Sadistic Mika Band members. At the live event performed in June of same year, having added Matsutoya for vocalist, the band reunited as "Sadistic Yuming Band" and performed this song.
In 1986, Matsutoya wrote a theme song for TV program with Keisuke Kuwata, a leader of Southern All Stars. On "Kissin' Christmas", the song screened only on TV, collaboration by two most successful Japanese songwriters was realized. However, at the stage now, this song hasn't released on any format.
In 1992, Matsutoya and Karl Smokey Ishii cooperated for the single "Ai no Wave". She wrote it and the B-Side "Roman no Dengon" with him. In same year, Ishii had released "Kimi ga Irudake de",the fifth best-selling single in Japan. Therefore, the single climbed to the top of the hit parade naturally. The title of "Roman no Gengon" was self parody of their songs; it was named under Matsutoya's "Rouge no Dengon" and Kome Kome Club's "Roman Hikou".
When her popularity was quickly diminished in the end of '90s, she recorded the song with the popular group Pocket Biscuits. They collaborated on the single "Millennium" in 2000, but it didn't provide expected success.
In 2005, Matsutoya formed the group called "Yumi Matsutoya and the Friends of the Earth" with four East Asian artists; Dick Lee from Singapore, Lim Hyung Joo from South Korea, amin and Xu Ke from China. Matsutoya wrote the song "Smile Again" for the new group, and it was released on iTMS only. When Matsutoya acted at the concert of Expo 2005 in September of same year, they appeared as guests and sang this song. On New Year's Eve of same year, they appeared Japanese traditional annual TV music program Kohaku Uta Gassen, and performed "Smile Again". In next year, Matsutoya re-recorded the song and released on her album A Girl in Summer. In autumn of 2006, this unit added more members. They performed the concert only one night and released new single "Knockin' at the Door" on CD.
In 2006, she wrote a song "Still Crazy for You" for Crazy Cats, Japanese comedy team in late 1950s and 1960s, and duet with the vocalist Kei Tani. It was released as the group's brand new single since 1986, and charted #14 on oricon. It was the highest position they have ever reached at record chart.