Monthly Archives: May 2013

Matsui Jurina 2013 Election Interview

This interview with Jurina appears in the “AKB48 Official Election Guidebook 2013”. Plain text indicates Jurina’s answers, bold text indicates the interviewer.

—–

Last year in March, her concurrency in AKB48 was decided. In the Senbatsu Election in June, she ranked in at 9th place. Without a doubt, the wind of fortune was blowing towards Matsui Jurina last year.

“Wind of fortune, eh? (laughs), I don’t really feel that way myself. I was participating in activities with all my might, but anyway, I’m doing the best I can to work hard. But I can really feel the warmth of the fans when I perform with AKB48’s Team K. Because they called my name a lot, I was really happy about that…”

Those calls are still ringing out. Not just in her home ground in Nagoya, the fans in Tokyo have completely accepted Jurina. From the previous election to this year’s election, how has the support for Jurina risen? When I asked her, this was her answer.

“There’s UZA. I’ve been called a center since “Oogoe Diamond” in AKB, so my fans were really happy. However, I was paired up as double center with (Ooshima) Yuuko-san. Of course I was thrilled, but I was also frustrated. ‘Is my power alone not enough?’ I thought. But since then, a lot of fans started saying, ‘Next time, you should get center for yourself alone’. From there, inside myself, a seed was planted that made me think ‘I want to aim for center’.”

‘In the next election, I want to break into the “Kami 7”’. This is a phrase that Jurina has been uttering at every opportunity since the last election. Have her feelings on this changed at all?

“That goal hasn’t changed. To explain my feelings in a little bit more detail, my feelings up til last year were ‘Rather than forward, it would be nice to move up’. Since the beginning of this year, it’s changed to ‘I have to climb higher than last year’.”

It may seem like a small change, but it’s actually quite large. A large change has awoken inside Jurina, this is ‘self-awareness’.

“I’ve received a lot of words of support from fans at handshake events, they say ‘Since it’s you, Jurina, you can definitely go higher’. When I hear words of encouragement like that, I myself start to think ‘I have to go higher’. As expected, the younger members are gradually gathering power, so I think I have to work hard in activities.”

The strong self-awareness that tells her she has to move forward may have sprouted, but at the same time, Jurina is calmly analyzing the present situation.

“Fans often tell me ‘Shouldn’t you aim for 1st in the election this year?’ But I’m not in position for that yet. That’s why I won’t say ‘I’m aiming for 1st’.”

The wall to ‘Kami 7’ that Jurina is contending for is high and thick. Those girls who paved their own road through piled-up troubles possess an unbreakable strength of emotion and solidarity. They’ve come to make the group known at a national level, and their friendly characters are beloved.

The impediment to reaching ‘Kami 7’, as well as what she herself is lacking; has she been thinking about these things somehow?

“It might be my age (laughs). I’m younger than many members, so I’m lacking an overwhelming amount of experience. The other thing is my popularity, I guess.”

What does she have to do to cross over the wall? Jurina says that this past year, that’s all she’s been thinking about. At present, this is the conclusion she’s come to.

“In the end, it’s about raising SKE’s popularity. Of course I’m doing my best as an AKB member, but I think I need to work even harder as a member of SKE. If the members all do their best with a strong sense of awareness, I think we can be on par with AKB. I expect that everyone in SKE feels the same about this.”

At last year’s election, after Shinoda Mariko said to the junior members, “Come at me with the intent to crush me”, the girl who ran straight up to Shinoda backstage was Jurina.

“I asked, ‘Is it fine for me to come, too?’ When I did, she said ‘Sure’. Oh, that’s right, the other day, Mariko-sama talked to me about this. She said ‘I’m not in AKB for my own sake. I’m here for the younger members’.”

Shinoda has a message she wants to convey to her juniors. She is looking forward to the new generation coming to unseat her.

“I want the person who takes on that burden to be me. I don’t want anyone else to take it. When Mariko-sama graduates, I want my coming of age to give her peace of mind. If she’s not still there by then, that might cause me some problems (laughs).”

What Jurina is hoping for is perhaps ‘independence from elders’. To ease the mind of Shinoda, who has been taking care of her since “Oogoe Diamond”, would be for the other ‘Kami 7’ members to give her the stamp of approval and say ‘We can entrust this to Jurina’.

“That’s right. I’ve come this far by being helped out. Someday I want to be like Mariko-sama!”

Carrying those emotions, Jurina announced candidacy. For her, the 5th Senbatsu Election campaign has begun.

——

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Sashihara Rino 2013 Election Interview

This interview with Sasshi appears in the “AKB48 Official Election Guidebook 2013”. Plain text indicates Sasshi’s answers, bold text indicates the interviewer.

—–
When she announced she would run for this year’s election, Sashihara made up her mind to have no doubts.

“I talked about this in my appeal video as well. I didn’t have a single ounce of doubt about this. Even though so many people went out of their way to give me so much support last year, I was transferred almost immediately to HKT. So I was full of feelings like ‘I’ve caused so much trouble for others, there’s no excuse for this’. But even as I was, there are people who have kept cheering me on, and there are also people who saw me for the first time in HKT and became fans. There was no reason not to run for election.”

You made great leaps ahead last year, landing at 4th place, and gained attention and limelight as a sort of heroine. And this year is the first year you will compete as part of HKT48. You’re garnering attention of a different kind this time…

“I’ve become a lot stronger since I transferred to HKT. I’ve started to try to have more fun with everything. Even though I loved it so much, I haven’t been checking the internet (laughs), and thanks to that I’ve been told that my personality has brightened up too. I might be inviting a misunderstanding here, but right now, I’m having the most fun and feeling the most emotionally fulfilled.

A little while ago, Miichan (Minegishi Minami) told me, ‘Sashihara, isn’t it like you came from the future? Since you already know everything that’s going to happen from now on, you can just keep following that path.’ I thought, ‘That’s true!’

That’s why, in this year’s election, though my goal might be shameless, it’s ‘way up at the top’! Fans have told me that it would be nice to see all of HKT take the stage. I also think that would be great, but on the other hand, the election is a battle between individuals. So I have to harden my heart and view the other girls in HKT as rivals.”

Onstage at the 3rd election, a place where members who aren’t normally in the spotlight can shine, Sashihara said of herself in her speech“I’m bad at dancing, bad at singing, and I’m not cute”. She could be called a member who personified those qualities from the start.

“The HKT members often say things like, ‘if I’m in the very back row in the next single, what should I do~?’, but when they do, I tell them ‘Even I haven’t been placed in nothing but the back row. But even if that’s the only position you get, if you properly project your own character, even if you’re not in senbatsu, you’ll have a chance for activities on television’.

Isn’t the biggest chance, then, the election? I’ve always been on the fringes of AKB, but the single that comes out after the election is the one place I would be able to sing in the center, so I really love it. That’s why I ran for the election this year too. Even if my rank falls here, I really think I’ll be able to have fun from the bottom of my heart.”

At some point, the negative, ‘hetare character’ Sashiko had disappeared.

“Of course, even now I still suck at singing and dancing, and I know my face isn’t cute, but somewhere I’ve made that clear. I guess it took a weight off my shoulders. Before, even when I was able to appear on variety shows, I was really nervous. But now, I feel like I should just have fun while recording TV shows.

The other day, when I was able to appear on “Odoru! Sanma Goten!!”, I was able to have fun without being nervous in the slightest, and I was able to participate in the conversations of the other talents who were there. The result of that was receiving the chance to do “Odoru! Hit Shou!!” Everything changed, being able to have fun like that. I’ve become strong. When I was in AKB, I thought many times that I wanted to be left alone, but in HKT, that side of me has faded away. I’ve learned how to have fun both as an HKT member and as Sashihara Rino, the solo artist.”

Since you joined HKT48, I’ve often seen you spot and talk up back-line members on TV shows, and help to raise their power level in talk segments.

“I think there are a ton of really interesting girls in HKT, and even though I still have a long way to go myself, I’d like to help them along the path if I can. I keep thinking, it’s not limited to HKT, but if more SKE and NMB members can become famous, that’s a good thing for the 48 group and for me.

It’s already over, but it’d be nice if we could have more shows like “Hakata Hyakkaten”, where we have conversations about members and their various attributes. Right now Miichan and I are in charge of variety, and we trade off talking to each other a lot, back and forth. I’m very thankful for that, but it would be nice if there were more members like that. I think, if only we could look for girls who seem like they would fit into that box.

Speaking of which, lately, Natsumikan (HKT48’s Tanaka Natsumi) has been really good! I think we’ve discovered an amazing new talent. I also want Miichan to recruit from the ranks of the research students.”

We’re finally facing the 5th AKB48 Senbatsu Election. Sashihara, with a smile that looked like she was having fun from the bottom of her heart, had this to say.

“No matter what happens, I want to stay in HKT, and when I graduate, I want to graduate from HKT. I think there are a lot of girls in HKT that everyone has come to want to support. I understand that feeling too. But I just turned 20, so it’s a really critical time. I hope everyone can watch over me with composure, but if it happens that my popularity doesn’t go up, I’ll understand (laughs). I’ll be counting on your wholehearted support!”
—–

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“Haste and Waste” (ハステとワステ)

Coupling song from AKB48’s single Sayonara Crawl [Type B].

Poor Ricchan…

—–

It can’t be, it can’t be
I’m a dunce
I can’t be the dumbest one
Among all these other people

It can’t be, it can’t be
My feet stink
Because I try my best
I sweat a little too much

“99% of America can
Make with a lightbulb”
Isn’t that a little strange gramatically?
Even Edison wouldn’t say that

Kawaei! Someone is calling you
It’s plain to see
People laugh behind your back
When you get a bad test score

Kawaei! You saved everyone
No one’s score is lower than yours
Guarding the gate to the lower limits of intelligence
Ah, the center dunce

8×2 = 17, 8×4 = 27
Aren’t those kind of close?
If you’ve got a cellphone with you, see
You can calculate it right away

8×6 = 46, 8×8 = 62
8×9 = 73, right?
Even if I memorized the 8s table,
I wouldn’t be able to recall it

And if I try to translate
“Haste makes waste” into Japanese
What the heck does “Haste and Waste-san
Made friends” mean?

Kawaei! Suddenly getting called on
There’s a certain respect there
You couldn’t even purposefully
Screw up this bad

Kawaei! A legend
Even if you can’t study
You can go on having fun living
Ah, the center dunce

What’s important in life
Isn’t how smart you are
But giving other people the courage
To help youth in need, Kawae—

Kawaei! Someone is calling you
It’s plain to see
People laugh behind your back
When you get a bad test score

Kawaei! You saved everyone
No one’s score is lower than yours
Guarding the gate to the lower limits of intelligence
Ah, the center dunce

——

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Yokoyama Yui 2013 Election Interview

This interview with Yui appears in the “AKB48 Official Election Guidebook 2013”. Plain text indicates Yui’s answers, bold text indicates the interviewer.

—–

An earnest hard worker, honest to the point of being awkward. Called ‘The Diligence’, without letting up on anything, she makes efforts seriously, and with constant efforts she’s grabbed hold of chances. But does Yokoyama have that same image of herself?

“Well, I think I’ve been really lucky. Two years ago, when the senbatsu cutoff was 21, I ranked 19th. If that had been a 16 member senbatsu, I wouldn’t have made it into senbatsu. Last year, in a 16 member senbatsu, I ranked 15th. Along with that rise came the Not Yet subunit, and you could say I climbed even higher, because up until I got into AKB I failed various auditions…. Thanks to a lot of luck coming together, I feel like everything is going really well. So lately I’ve been thinking, ‘it might be that I’m really lucky?!’”

To make a dream come true, diligent hard work is indispensable, but at times good luck is also necessary. The power to make sure your luck comes around, and also, the power to take hold of that chance and make things happen. She is possessed of both of these powers.

“I got a lot of chances this year, too. The fact that I was placed with concurrency in NMB, and that the teams were reshuffled were both great chances for me. Since I was the least senior member on Team K, I was relying on my seniors a lot. But in Team A, for the first time there were girls less senior than I was, and I took it as a cue for myself to change. When I turned 20, somewhere inside myself I said ‘I have to change’, and ‘I have to be more dependable’, so the shuffle and the concurrency came at a really good time.”

Yokoyama speaks while her gaze is fixed straight ahead, she surely is “The Diligence”.

“I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I realized I’ve become kind of a ‘gag character’. I get teased about things like my fashion sense, and I’ve been given the nickname ‘Nirooni’ (because of the incident when she totally misread the kanji characters for ‘2012’, thinking they were katakana characters spelling ‘nirooni’). But I didn’t have that kind of character from the beginning. Would it be that funny if I had started out that way? Is my character that of a gag character? What do you think?”

Hmm, well now, I wonder….

She looks back on this past year, wherein her concurrency in AKB48 and NMB48 allowed her to grow.

“I think doing both groups’ activities helped develop things like my endurance and my willpower. There’s a force of energy in NMB right now. Even the girls dancing together in the back row send out a great power and energy. But recently, the stage director told us ‘You might be giving it all you can, but push that power forward, to the point where it reaches the audience. As it is now, you are not doing that as well as AKB is.’

‘Now I see’, I thought. Certainly as far as putting power out there, AKB might be bigger on that. That might be partly because of the difference in levels of experience, but I think there’s also a difference in technique as far as expression goes. It’s just that, if we can accumulate various experiences from here on, I think that this overflowing power will be able to reach more fans. NMB still has so much more potential in this area.”

Feeling NMB’s quickening pace from experience, she says that the group already has a fire lit under it.

“After theater performances and concerts, for around an hour NMB will meet to review the performance. What made the people who came to watch have fun, what’s necessary to make a good performance, we’re always talking together about those kinds of things. When I see everyone talking passionately like that, I think once again that I have to do my best and try harder.”

And then, there was your predestined meeting in Osaka.

“Sayanee (Yamamoto Sayaka) was in the ‘Everyday, Katyusha’ senbatsu with me, and we were together for the CD jacket shoot as well. At that time we had normal conversations, but we only became friends after I transferred. We’re a ton alike. Both of us are very frank, and we think so much alike it’s scary! Lately, when we stay at hotels it’s always ‘Yokoyamamoto’ when we’re rooming together, and we stay up late talking together. About the team, about the group, about where the 48 group will go from here…. Our talks are really heated (laughs). Meeting Sayanee was a big thing for me. I might be the only one thinking this, but I get the feeling I could be friends with her for the rest of my life.”

The situation around her changing, Yokoyama has renewed her feelings and resolved to aim higher. She has decided on 10th as her goal for this election.

“Like last year, I want to aim higher, so I decided on 10th. It’s just, I have no idea what will happen at this year’s election. I get the feeling that the participants are really something different from last year, so…. But to me, this election is a ‘battle’. I want to become an unshakable member of the group, so I think a good outcome would be great.”

——

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Minegishi Minami 2013 Election Interview

This interview with Miichan appears in the “AKB48 Official Election Guidebook 2013”. Plain text indicates Miichan’s answers, bold text indicates the interviewer.

—–

This year, on January 31st, Miichan, in response to an article published in a weekly magazine and for causing trouble to her fans and fellow members, took responsibility by shaving her own head. The next day, she was demoted all at once from a regular senbatsu member to a research student.

It’s been 3 months since then. Before our eyes, she stands there on the stage along with the research students who are diligently cultivating their skills.

“AKB’s research students right now have so much potential, and there’s nothing but cute girls who are giving it their all, so I’m sure AKB’s future will be bright!”

Lately, the research student performances at the theater have been very popular.

“Thank you! I wonder if it’s because everyone’s passion is being transmitted. Honestly, fans are as happy winning tickets to research student shows as they are to single senbatsu member shows. But to the research students, the theater is of the ultimate value. Standing on that stage means victory or defeat. In other words, they’re staking everything on those performances. In that, nothing has changed since AKB was still unpopular and we original members felt all those emotions. Knowing that made me happy, and I’m thankful I was made to viscerally recall memories of those days once again.

Among the research students, of course there are girls who are very idol-like, but there are also girls who are perfect for those who say they like interesting girls, and for the people who take performances seriously, there are of course girls who can get those people to like them, too!”

Miichan goes on to talk about the merits of each research student, one by one, happily insistent. Doesn’t she feel any anxiety for herself?

“To be honest, since that day, there hasn’t been a single night I haven’t been full of anxiety… The members who I’ve done activities with until recently are going to different places and challenging new things, deciding to graduating and moving forward, and there are days when I want to scream ‘what the hell am I doing here by myself?’ In the morning, there have been countless times where I face myself in the mirror, look at my head and break down crying. I have thought… ‘There’s no point anymore, I just want to quit’”.

What saved the girl who’d hit rock bottom were the feelings of her fans who had come to trust in who she was up until then.

“When I became a research student, suddenly I had a lot of free time, and I didn’t really know what I should be doing with it. For now, I’ve been cleaning up cluttered and disarrayed rooms. In doing so, I found a sheaf of letters given to me a little while back by fans. From back before I was demoted to research student… . And they were all warm messages such as ‘Miichan, I’m always supporting you!’, ‘Miichan, I hope your dreams come true!’, ‘Miichan, do your best!’… It still hurts to think of how I made these people who supported me with all their might unhappy. When I think about whether my fans might be saying things like ‘we supported her so much, didn’t we?’, the tears come flowing out… This time, I saw a lot of the faces of my fans and family covered in tears. I don’t want to make them sad like that again.”

Amid lots of speculation that you wouldn’t, why did you decide to run for the election?

“To be honest, I really stressed over it. But I can’t imagine myself just sitting there at Nissan Stadium, not participating in the election. Besides, even though I’ve gone backwards to being a research student, after I decided I’d keep on with AKB, at handshake events there were a lot of fans who kindly told me ‘Thank you for not quitting’, and ‘thanks for staying on for us’. I was surprised that the hearts of that many people were there for me. Recalling that, I thought ‘I can’t run away from this’, and decided to present candidacy.”

The last few elections, you’ve taken the senbatsu spots from 14 to 16, but what about this year?

“The way I am now, even if I drop in rank from last year, I’m sure I won’t feel like ‘this sucks’. With feelings of gratitude to the people who are willing to support me even now, I can only say ‘thank you’. No matter what rank I get, I’ll be grateful to my fans, and I want to take it as the mark of a new beginning”.

A video of you was posted on Youtube, and the entire world was able to see “Minegishi Minami – The Head Shaving Apology Incident”. Your head, which was shaved bald at first, has now grown out 3cm of hair.

“No matter how much I want it to, my hair won’t just suddenly grow back overnight. But really, even though it’s a very little bit, every day my hair grows some. I think that no matter how quickly you want it to happen, you can’t just suddenly regain confidence that has been lost. But if others keep watching me seriously do my best from square one, I’m sure that they will someday understand that too. That won’t change no matter how much time passes, and until this short hair reaches the length it was before I cut it, I’ll continue to seriously make efforts so that eventually the fans will accept me again. Right now, that’s the only thing I believe in, and together with the other research students, I plan to continue to stand on that stage.”

Akimoto Yasushi said at one point, ‘No one leads a life free of mistakes. If you realize the path you’re running down is wrong, you should backtrack with all your might. That “strength to backtrack” is youth’. Right now, Miichan is trying to backtrack with all her might, to return to a warm place in your heart.

—–

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Miyazawa Sae 2013 Election Interview

This interview with Sae appears in the “AKB48 Official Election Guidebook 2013”. Plain text indicates Sae’s answers, bold text indicates the interviewer.

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Last year and the year before last, you came in 11th. That of course can be called “someone who’s reached stability”, but on the other hand, there are probably fans who are thinking “Sae, you’ve come to a standstill”. However, the feelings of the girl herself are in neither of these two categories.

“I myself thought I would rank a lot lower last election. If you were to ask why I thought that, it’s because during my activities after the election the year before last, I don’t think I was giving a lot back to my fans. It was bad enough that I prepared myself for not even ranking within the top 16. That’s why, when it was announced that I ranked 11th, I was honestly ecstatic. Taking that ranking announcement as a cue, I’d begun to feel like ‘I really want to somehow rank at least 12th!’”

The results were one higher than you hoped, 11th position. Onstage, you gave a speech filled with thanks to your family, with a very impressive Sae-like smile across your whole face.

“But when the result came out, I was thinking ‘This rank is way too high’ (laughs). On the other hand, receiving a rank that was so much higher than I expected made me feel anew the strong bond between myself and my fans. With the strength of that bond reaffirmed, it gave me confidence in myself, and because that confidence was there, I was able to make up my mind to transfer to SNH.

When I made the decision, my family really gave me a lot of support. I wasn’t able to tell Papa about the transfer until it was announced, but Mama and my older brothers knew about it, and they worried about me the whole time. We all went on a family trip to Niigata and Nagano, where my grandparents live. And in private, my friends gave me energy. And then, in the end, the members and fans gave me a lot of support. I’m really supported by a lot of people. It’s a joyful thing.”

You made the decision to transfer to SNH with strong emotions, but opposite to those emotions is your inability at present to move forward with SNH activities.

“Because it’s something I decided for myself, it’s frustrating, but I think there’s nothing I can do about it right now. But the number one thing is having to excuse myself to the fans, that is, the situation might be making them have those same frustrated feelings. However, for now I’m having fun and am able to spend my time usefully, I think. The individual activities I’m doing are fun, and helping out in AKB activities now and then makes me feel like ‘it’s been a while, but I’m still here’ (laughs). If I was only participating in AKB, I might have faded into the background. More than anything else, the fact that I transferred to SNH meant that I have different feelings than anyone else, and that’s interesting.”

There’s something you want to do if you manage to get into senbatsu. Something that’s already in your heart.

“My opportunities to look at AKB objectively have increased, so I’ve come to more easily recognize what’s lacking. That’s why, if I get into senbatsu, I want to be someone who can cover for those parts that need work.”

Since parting from AKB, concerns about the next generation members have grown.

“That’s because AKB is trying to switch over to the next generation. I’ve checked out the dramas the new members are appearing in. I’ve seen ‘Shiritsu Bakalea Koukou’ and ‘Majisuka Gakuen 3’. I wanna be in more dramas and movies too, so I’m always thinking ‘Ah, that must be nice’ (laughs), and stuff like ‘What kind of performance will the next gen members put on?’ and, ‘If it was me, how would I act that part?’ I’ve really absorbed a lot from the younger members. I’ll take what I can get (laughs).

But really, I don’t have anything to do with the younger members! Looking at the long-term, they’re my rivals, because I want to be an actress in the future as well. So it’s something I found really frustrating. But I don’t want them to think that being able to appear in a drama is a given, I want them to feel properly happy about being chosen for it. Because there are a lot of other girls who want to be chosen, too.”

While embracing various emotions, you’re challenging the election, aiming for 3 ranks up from last year, 8th! This year in January at ‘Request Hour’, the song you are center for, ‘Kiseki wa Ma ni Awanai’ ranked 2nd, a great leap up from 24th last year and giving you confidence.

“I was really, really happy! When my fans pool their strength, a miracle like this can happen! If I’m able to get 8th in the election, I think that’ll be really awesome, but for now ‘higher’ is what I’d like to aim for. Putting my enthusiasm into words, I guess it would be ‘I’m leaving it to chance!’. Those are the words of my favorite jockey, Iwata Yasunari, but if you don’t try entering a race, you’ll never know what will happen. It means that if you try entering the race, that gives birth to possibility and something just might happen for you.

Right now, I’m extremely optimistic, and I feel like this is the most confident I’ve felt up until now. Like what they showed me at Request Hour, I’ll reaffirm the strong bond I share with my fans, and from that, I would be happy if a good result would come out of it.”

—–

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Takahashi Minami 2013 Election Interview

This interview with Takamina appears in the “AKB48 Official Election Guidebook 2013”. Plain text indicates Takamina’s answers, bold text indicates the interviewer.

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“Actually, this time, I waited until the last minute to announce candidacy. The results of this election will determine what happens the rest of the year. It’s an important event that will make clear the path the group has to move forward on. So, looking at it from an objective point of view, there is a lot to be gained.”

And by that line of thinking, what was the reason you decided in the end to join the election?

“I suppose it’s to say on the election stage, nervously yet seriously, ‘Though I’m a first generation member and someone who always gets chosen for senbatsu, I’m working desperately hard!’ I want to show that visage to the younger girls and have them think ‘I have to try harder!’ Well, as usual, I’ll give it my all and have fun. At any rate, I just can’t help looking forward to seeing all the fans at Nissan Stadium (laughs)”.

Takamina answers with a smile, but this year there probably isn’t any member who has worried more than she has. To AKB48, which had the absolute ace Maeda Atsuko graduate from the group last August, the biggest issue has been how the members will work together to start the second chapter of the group. In that regard, as the person who leads the group, Takahashi Minami was appointed as General Manager.

“From there, a lot of things changed. I wanted to protect the things I’ve loved all this time. Though I’ve had feelings that I want the group to develop and expand, since becoming General Manager, now I feel like the AKB group has to get stronger, has to get bigger. Before I knew it, this sense of duty that says “I have to do this” was completely controlling my heart, and I felt like I would be crushed by it.”

Takamina cares for others over herself and gets close to other members’ feelings. That’s why this group of girls, which has exceeded 250 members, are willing to lend their ears to her words. The fact that she has this strong point became her downfall.

“The things being demanded of me suddenly went way up, and I couldn’t really follow them. I wonder if I’m actually useful to everyone as I am now. What exactly am I, I wonder… I realized I’ve come to think about that all the time.”

At handshake events, there are fans who tearfully ask Takamina if she can’t somehow reverse the decision to halt the AKB activities of certain members. There are fans who ask her why their own favorite member hasn’t been chosen for senbatsu. Each time that happens, her heart is pained.
However, while struggling along, the seeds that she’s continued to nourish will steadily begin to sprout as the 2nd chapter of AKB continues on. Even the singles whose centers were members from the new generations have become million sellers. At the end of last year, during the “Japan Record Awards”, it was the first time in history a female group secured successive wins, going strong for another year and impressing the world.

“I was really happy! Of course, we ended up winning, but I was really happy about the passion of the members who kept saying they wanted to make AKB a stronger group. ‘I’ve been good enough up til now, right? With these feelings of wanting to protect the group I love, isn’t it okay to keep doing the things I want to do how I’ve been doing them?’ That time, all of a sudden, I was able to think that. And I thought, I’m okay, I can still go on!”

At last, a light shone in on her heart and spread, a large project had begun. This year, on April 3rd, her long-awaited solo debut single went on sale.

“Even in the meetings, I was doing all I could to participate, like choosing the jacket pictures, suggesting coupling songs… . It was time to do my best just for myself, and I never knew it would be this much fun (laughs). I joined AKB when I was 14, I didn’t think there was anything greater than that, and I was able to have so many wonderful feelings. But this time, I was able to taste yet another kind of happiness. So please let me say it here again. It’s thanks to my fans that the dream I’ve always had my eyes on of a debut as a solo artist has been granted to me! Takahashi Minami is very fortunate. Thank you so very much!”

And what is her next objective?

“Going on from my solo debut, the things I have to work on and that I’m lacking as a solo artist have become clear. And one by one, I want to bring those under control. That’s half of myself right now. The other half is to get more and more people to love the AKB group that I love, and to that end I want to do everything I possibly can.”

I love the Takamina who runs around exerting herself for the sake of AKB48. But I’ve always worried about her. She’s able to do all that, so can’t she make more time to spend on her own dreams? Right now, after 8 years, it seems as though she is finally becoming concerned about that. At the end of the interview, looking a little embarassed, she told me about her dreams for the future as a solo artist.

“To perform by myself at all the venues AKB has performed at up until now and to have my fans all around me is my dream. To start from a small space, and eventually perform at Tokyo Dome… . Even with the members pooling our strength together, we took 7 years to get there, so in my case, it might take a few decades, though (laughs).”

Far ahead on the road, beyond this year’s election, I pray that the place she’s dreaming of and striving towards is waiting there for her.

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