Japanese Superstar Utada Hikaru on Life in New York

Utada Hikaru may boast a sizeable sock collection, but you’re more likely to know her as Japan’s biggest pop star — their very own Britney. The 26-year-old was raised on the Upper East Side and moved to Tokyo when she was 11, before recording the biggest-selling Japanese album of all time, First Love. To date, Utada has sold over 52 million albums and still comes across as humble. Utada says she wants to make good old pop like Ace of Bass or TLC and has just finished her forthcoming English album, This Is the One, released today. With today’s herd of young party-hungry starlets, you’d think Utada would be a fixture of New York’s party scene — but she’d rather be at home reading a book, most likely in a pair of her favorite socks.

Do you spend a lot of time in New York? I do, yes. I have houses in both places and I just go back and forth. I moved back to New York officially for university, Columbia, but that was only for like one semester.

What did you study? It was the first year — Foundation Studies.

Where are some of your favorite places to hang out in New York? I love the whole city and each part is so different. It’s so rare that you can walk down a city on feet and have every block be so different. I was trying to show around this person who had never been to New York before, and I had such a hard time trying to figure out how to show what New York is like, because I didn’t want to give him the wrong impression by showing him Chinatown first or Uptown first. But I really do love being in Chinatown, Little Italy — the downtown areas. I am an Uptown girl; I was raised for part of my childhood on the Upper East Side, so I still love walking down Madison Avenue. But my favorite spots are bookstores. I have a Borders Rewards card. I print out the coupons and take them to the stores.

What are your favorite clubs to go to? I’m not much of a clubber. I don’t go out much, so when my cool friends take me out, then I end up going to clubs once in a while, but I don’t like the big places like Marquee. I prefer the smaller hipper places where they play cool eighties stuff like Prince or the kind of music that I actually listen to. I don’t like the clubs like the super V.I.P. places where Paris Hilton shows up, and they play hip-hop all the time. I feel very foreign.

What music are you listening to right now? I found this great CD called The First Soviet Recordings. It’s songs composed by Rachmaninoff played by Russian pianists, and there’s original recordings from 1949 and 1952. Last night before I went to bed, I played that and I listened to Miss Sarajevo, The Passengers, and Depeche Mode.

Did you ever think that First Love would sell as many copies as it did? No. I don’t think anyone ever did, and I’ve been asked the question since then like, ‘Why do you think it was such a big hit?’ and I have no idea. I guess it had the innocence and it was so unforced. It came out like a kid’s picture. It was just very beautiful, very innocent, very natural. It’s just such an unfathomable number. It’s so surreal to me.

It’s great. Yeah, cha-ching!

Do you have a boyfriend right now? Yes. I’ve always had a boyfriend since like middle school, different boyfriends. I’ve been married and divorced, but love and relationships have always been a part of my life.

Is he famous too? No. Do you have a boyfriend?

Are you into fashion? Not really. I do love fashion, but I don’t know brands. I’m particular about what I wear myself, and I wont wear anything I don’t like, but I’m into things like socks. I love collecting socks. I have a very extensive collection of socks.

What kinds of socks? I like the ones with patterns and the funny cute ones, and there are these socks that they sell at the American Folk Art Museum around Lincoln Square, and they sell these really cute folk art detailed socks. I love pajamas — I have a wide collection as well. Tsmori Chasato has a great line of pajamas.

How many socks would you say you have? I can’t count them. I have so many. You know how Mariah Carey does Cribs and you see she has like 1,000 pairs of shoes, and you’re like “wow.” Well, I have loads of socks.

Who would you say has better shopping, Tokyo or New York? It’s hard … like vintage stuff, I find a lot of good stuff in New York and LA, and there’s cute little stores everywhere, but for general shopping if you’re not looking for weird items, I think Tokyo is really, really cool, like Harajuku definitely is a really cool place to shop.

Where do you usually shop in New York? I love buying tank tops and underwear at American Apparel. I just want all the colors. But I shop online so much. There’s this online store called Zozo Town, and they have a collection of every cool line in Japan. It’s like an online version of Barneys, but a bit younger. I get nervous when I go to stores to shop — I don’t know if people get this or if some people don’t, but I just get kind of nervous — because everything is so fashionable, and in the store they’re so cool and they’re dressed so cool. I feel a bit timid.

You shouldn’t. I feel more comfortable when I’m just shopping on the internet in my pajamas.

And your socks. Yes in the socks I love, and my pajamas.

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