This is an interview with Yamamoto Sayaka, found in the 2014 version of the Senbatsu Election Book. Interviewer is in bold, Sayanee’s answers are in quotes.
“The theme for this year’s election is ‘You can’t just wish for it, you have to take it!’ Last year, my sentiments were weak and I was only wishing to get into senbatsu. But I thought after that, ‘Isn’t the way I participated with such failing resolution really rude to the fans who did their best to support me?…’ That’s why, this year, I decided to aim as high as I possibly can. On that note, the rank I’m setting my sights on…well, it’s gotta be 1st! There, I said it!”
You aim to jump from your rank of 14 last year to 1st in one go!?
“I think that setting that as my goal is, in itself, a way to answer my fans’ expectations.”
I see. Actually, I haven’t told you this yet, but in the official election guidebook, this year, we ranked members based on our own ideas of where they might place this time rather than where they placed last year.
“Ahh~ really? That’s an interesting way to do it.”
And in the book, we placed you at number 1.
“…Huh? What did you just say…?”
I’m sorry to have surprised you. But anyhow, congratulations!
“No, no, wait… huh. Yeah… okay. Sorry, instead of hesitating thinking it over, I’ll just say… I’ll do my best. I’ll have to do my best!”
That’s positive of you! You can feel the strength of someone who’s steeled her resolve coming from you this year.
“That’s right. I feel like maybe I’ve gotten a little stronger this past year. A little like (Oshima) Yuko-san…”
Do you have a close relationship with Yuko-san?
“The last half-year, I feel like the distance between us has closed really quickly. We went to meals together and she got me a present for my birthday, things like that. I’m definitely not the type to shy from proactively involving myself as a junior, but I feel that the effort to get closer came from her, and I’m very thankful for that.
She had written on a card for my birthday. On it were the words ‘It’s also important to act, not just to think’. She decisively hit the nail on the head as far as what I’m lacking in. I was very moved… . Other seniors pretty much stick to being kind. They point out what you did well, and they search for the good things about you. But Yuko-san sometimes gives very harsh advice.”
Like what, for example?
“Last year, during my speech I made the declaration that ‘From here on, I’ll become a beast’, but…”
You wanted to stir things up by graduating from being a ‘stray cat who was taken in’ in AKB senbatsu and becoming instead something like a beast.
“That’s what I proclaimed. Actually, on the program we did a recording for the next day when we played a game of musical chairs, I did manage to stir things up. Even Yuko-san praised me by saying ‘I felt that beast aura from you’, and I was elated. But honestly, that was the only time I was able to become a beast”.
Just once, the very next day after the election!? (laughs)
“I’m sorry! But then it became a question of how I should really become this beast. I didn’t hit upon anything even when I was trying to think of ideas. I don’t have the kind of character Suda (Akari)-san does, where she can appeal to fans by pushing her way to the front… And while I was thinking, feeling that it would be impossible for me to become a beast, I sealed off the word ‘beast’ during that period of time (laughs).
And then, one time Yuko-san abruptly asked me ‘So when are you becoming a beast, Sayanee? Or have you given up on that!?’ She saw through it all. She was so on the mark that I didn’t have a reply. It was kind of scary (laughs). But after that, she said this to me: ‘You might not be able to be a beast just yet, but it’s you so I know you can do it’. Even recently, though I’ve been able to perform on TV, there are times I get depressed when it’s over because I feel like I didn’t stand out at all. But then I remember the words Yuko-san told me, and after that I feel like I want to keep on challenging myself without giving up”.
On the flip side of that harshness are Yuko’s big hopes and affection for you. There are episodes when they show through. Although, on TV, you haven’t been able to break out of being seen as “a stray cat who was taken in”. With your resentment towards yourself, and TV viewers pointing out again and again ‘that’s not the Sayanee I know’, you’ve been fairly cornered.
“I know it’s bad that I haven’t been able to break out of the shell I’m in, but that’s also a part of myself, so I’m a little bit sad about it….”
This spring, you were presented with a large opportunity. You were given a concurrent position in AKB48’s Team K.
“The other day, when the new Team K performed for the first time at Saitama Super Arena, the fans who watched were saying ‘You were really dazzling today, Sayanee’. And there were a lot of people saying it, too! Actually, since my own fighting spirit was on fire, I thought ‘Ah, did it come around to me?’ In Team N, I’m always going out with ‘Team Spirit’. Dancing with representing Team N foremost on my mind. But I figured out that I can polish up a different side of myself in Team K. During the time I’m in this team, I can shine as an individual, I think.”
Not as a representative of the NMB48 group, or as the captain of Team N; when you’re in Team K, the “beast” may awaken.
“It’s a really good stimulus!”
Who do you get motivation from in Team K?
“I get it from a lot of people, but the foremost would be (Matsui) Jurina-san, who’s also a concurrent member. She burns with desire, in a good way. When Jurina-san is there, she draws your eye”.
Jurina is the possessor of a fiery passion, isn’t she?
“She really is. That’s why, when I’m standing next to her, that fire comes across to me, and even I feel like I might lose to her! My heart is so set on our rivalry that it might cause trouble to her actually… and when I think that, I end up repressing myself. But when I realized I was doing that, I tried to bare my heart toward my opponent in my dancing… . Even I’m surprised about it”.
You’re speaking very lively now. You’re spoken of as one of the successors to Oshima Yuko. So by putting you in Team K, the old home of Oshima Yuko, do you feel like they’re trying to awaken something in you? Or do you think it was just coincidence?
“Actually, the day before the big shuffle, I met Yuko-san at a music show we were recording for, and she asked me a question it seemed just came to her mind. ‘What would you do if you were told you’d have a concurrent position with Team K?’ Since I had never thought about it before and I wondered what to say, I answered something like ‘I think I’d like to try it.’ And then Yuko-san just said, ‘I see, well I’d be happy if you came to Team K’ and walked off. And then the next day, my concurrency with Team K was announced…”
The concurrency might be a coincidence. But then there’s the feeling that Oshima Yuko wished for the team she poured her soul into to help polish you up as well. By the way, something that was a big factor in this imagining of you at #1 is that you have the same “hourglass figure” as Oshima Yuko. Right now, sports clubs around the country have posters of you stuck up on their clubroom walls, saying you’re their idol.
“It’s not that great… But my friends have also told me that when you do an image search for ‘Yamamoto Sayaka’ on the internet, all that comes up are pictures of me in a swimsuit (laughs)”.
The other day, Yuko-san saw a cover of you on a magazine in a bikini holding a guitar for some reason, and she thought in surprise ‘What in the world is that girl doing!?’
“Before, when I was asked to do gravure in a bikini with an apron, Yuko-san pointed it out and said ‘That’s a little extreme!’ (laughs)”
You must like to be photographed in swimsuits.
“No way! I’ll just say this. I’ve always been really embarrassed when it came to doing gravure! On top of that, it might just be my imagination, but doesn’t it seem that recently the amount of cloth in the swimsuits has been getting smaller, and the demands getting bigger…?”
But, since it’s you, you definitely won’t complain.
“There’s a part of me that wants to answer my fans’ expectations, and with the requests of the staff who are helping me prepare, I just end up doing it… . I keep saying that, but behind those covers of me you see at the convenience stores is my own desire to push myself forward (laughs)”.
So it’s a good kind of embarrassment (laughs). Well then, in the end, seeing as we imagined Sashihara Rino at 2nd and Watanabe Mayu at 3rd, please ring out a declaration of war!
“To declare war on those two, who are so big… your demands are high, huh~. They’re both seniors whom I respect. Sashihara-san has her individual activities, of course, and it’s thanks to her presence that the HKT group has kept getting bigger and bigger. Her power of production is really something! And most of all, she’s the first member from a sister group to reach #1 in the election. I think seeing her like that became a huge goal for sister group members.
Mayuyu (Watanabe Mayu)-san is a stoic person to the end. I love how high level her professional consciousness is! I want Mayuyu-san’s faithful fans to be rewarded, too. A declaration of war…? Oh, that’s right. Because it’s those two, I want to overtake them someday. With that high hurdle in mind, I’ll do my best!”