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2014 Election Book Interview – Takahashi Minami

This is an interview with Takahashi Minami, found in the 2014 version of the Senbatsu Election Book.  Interviewer is in bold, Takamina’s answers are in quotes.



Listening to your speech last year, it seemed like you were pretty unsure about whether to run in the election or not. What about this year?

“The decision to run was much easier than last year. (Oshima) Yuko isn’t around anymore. So in order to keep the public from thinking ‘The AKB group has gotten weak’, as a long-time member of the group, I made the decision to fully participate. That was my own reason, but I think another reason to participate might be as a way to repay AKB and Yuko… . Besides, to me, participating in AKB events is “making memories”. Since I’ve reached this stage, I just want to experience each and every thing the group does together with the members and fans. But don’t take what I’m saying as a ‘graduation flag’ or anything (laughs).”

I’m worried about it (laughs). You’re always at home at handshake events. Your fans must be very warm people.

“They really are~. Just like last year, when I put in my candidacy this year, they told me ‘Thank you for running in the election’. And so many people told me that. I’m always being reminded of what good people my fans are. I’m sure no matter what happens with my situation, they’ll keep cheering me on. It goes for the election as well. Even if I chose to withdraw this year, I think they would have understood. That’s why I want to fight in the election alongside them.”

Do the fans come to handshake events with the air that they’ve “come to meet a good friend of theirs”?

“It goes beyond the relationship between idol and fan, it’s absolutely ‘person to person’. That I’m being supported like that is, in a sense, a point of pride for me. It becomes an incentive. THE ALFEE’s Takamizawa Toshihiko-san, who I’m on ‘Shin Domoto Kyoudai’ with, is celebrating his band’s 40th anniversary this year, which is amazing! And so there must be fans who have been supporting the band for nearly 40 years. I guess they would be called something like “comrades who lived through the same era together”. I think that’s wonderful. Sharing the same time with the people who have been supporting me while I repay them, getting older together, I think it would be wonderful if that could happen.”

By the way, this came up in our conversation already, but do you think the ‘AKB48 without Oshima Yuko’ will be all right?

“Since we’ve already had this problem so many times in the past, I don’t think I can answer any way except ‘it will be all right'”.

As the General Manager, are you the advance guard in pulling the group along?

“Of course I feel that way, but as far as ‘pulling the group along’, it really means ‘there are people for me to pull along’, right? I feel that from now on, the 48 group can’t continue on that way. The most important thing is just how much everyone feels ‘I want to be in AKB’. The things that I’ve been doing up until now are things I’ll keep doing. I’ll put everything I have into supporting the group. After that, what direction the ship sails will be up to the members who are shouldering its future”.

Takamina, you kept saying, ‘Yuko is a billboard for AKB that everyone has put up’. Who seems like they might be a successor to that billboard?

“Speaking from what I’ve concluded, I don’t think anyone can fill the hole that Yuko has left. Just like any of the other members, there is no replacement for Yuko, so… . Instead of filling in the hole, dig it up! Or that’s what I’m thinking, anyway (laughs)”.

And how would you go about digging it up?

“Attempt to build something new. Up until now, the 48 group has been one big department store with Oshima Yuko’s image as its billboard. It felt like ‘Please look at this sign, AKB is over here’. But from now on, though they’ll be small, each member will run her own shop with its own advertisement out front. With those all assembled together, they’ll make up AKB. I think that would work out well. It would move from an all-in-one department store to a whole shopping mall full of different stores overflowing with personality. If they can complement each other, that hole will naturally fill up, and from there I think a new power to charm people will be born in the 48 group.

There are a lot of young members who are working very hard, such as “the three musketeers” (Okada Nana, Kojima Mako, and Nishino Miki), Owada Nana-chan, and (Mukaichi) Mion-chan, whom Yuko personally chose as a center for ‘Heavy Rotation’. There are currently a lot of girls like them who I think will become very noticeable in two or three years. However, what I really want to convey to them is that if they don’t each treat AKB with as much care as possible, there won’t be a two or three years later. It’s for their sake, too.”

It’s not restricted to Yuko – lately, members wanting to take the next step and move on have been graduating one after another.

“The activities Acchan (Maeda Atsuko), (Akimoto) Sayaka, (Shinoda) Mariko-sama, and Tomochin (Itano Tomomi) have been doing are really encouraging. If you judge by their popularity in AKB, they’re also popular outside it, and that gives me hope. Like Kikuchi (Ayaka) who aims to be a model, Haa-chan (Katayama Haruka) who’s making great strides as a stage actress, etcetera, I’m praying from the heart for everyone who graduates to find success. And if the junior members’ goals pan out for them, there’s nothing better than that.”


From here on, the graduates will probably increase, won’t they?

“From the beginning, AKB has been ‘a place where you work hard developing the ability to strike out on your own and make your dreams come true’. So it’s not a unhappy thing for graduates to increase. Some could say “I joined AKB to help out my future self”. Rather, who I’m really worried about are the members who will go on to graduate years from now. The moment those girls take the happy state of affairs AKB is enjoying right now for granted is the moment the door to their future closes… . But the situation the group is in now is a very fortunate one. In a week we’ll shoot 2~3 commercials, and a day will be set for the whole group to record. All the different media providers we record for will gather in the same studio for us, so we can do several recordings without interruption.”

But you at least have a certain degree of familiarity with the world at large. Would you say that your situation won’t change much even if you graduate?

“Of course not! When AKB’s faces leave, whether it be original members or senbatsu members, it’s worrying for them. As much as I do work outside of AKB, I’ve experienced the fact that reality isn’t so sweet. That’s why I try to do things in a way where I won’t be misunderstood as thinking ‘There’s plenty of people who can replace you’. Up until just a few years ago really, things were extremely hard for AKB in the entertainment world. We had to grit our teeth and just do it, but now it’s the opposite. Taking that first step, an intimidating world waits for you at the beginning. The members up until around the 9th generation have felt that, and so they’re a bit more subdued. I’m worried about the members after them. They don’t have the free time to consider how thankful they should be that people follow their daily activities… . That’s why, so there aren’t a bunch of “AKB refugees” showing up in the entertainment world some years later, I want to convey the things I have to convey to the other members. Even if they look at me like they wish I’d shut up (laughs).”

You’re as earnest as ever, you really do love the 48 group (seriously). And to think for your appeal to the voters today I thought about asking things like ‘where on your body do you wash first when you take a bath?’

“Ahahaha! What kind of question is that? (laughs) But I can’t help it. I am who I am, my personality doesn’t change.”

Putting your role to watch over your juniors as General Manager aside, what goals are you yourself aiming for right now?

“At present, having been made captain of the new Team A, I want to make it the ultimate team, but I also have other goals. There are things I want! From the beginning of this year, this whole time, there’s something I’ve been burning for that I’ve kept secret from everyone else.”

And what would that be?

“At the end of the year, I want to seize the Japan Record Award!”

The award for best song 3 years in a row was on the line last year, but regrettably, the prize went to someone else.

“The first year we received the grand prize, I was really happy. It was like repayment to Akimoto (Yasushi)-san for what he’s done. However, somewhere in my heart I wondered ‘Is it really okay for us to win it…?’ That didn’t change the second time around. However, last year was different. The song that was up for the award, ‘Koi suru Fortune Cookie’, is a song that had quite clearly been accepted by more different kinds of people than our songs up until then. Everyone was more interested in it than we thought they would be. Everyone was talking about it, from little kids to veteran artists. I was moved to hear that it was considered a song that was ‘loved nationwide’. That’s why I wanted it more than anything, that Record Award. With pride in our hearts, we all wanted to win it… . That’s why, this year, I want to try to win it one more time! I want to show everyone in Japan that ‘AKB48 doesn’t get discouraged’!”

As expected of the General Manager, how passionate! Any last words for the conclusion?

“This year, I’m gonna do it!”

Your meaning is a little obscure, I think~ (laughs). What are you aiming for in the election?

“I went from 5th, dropped to 6th, then to 7th, then back up to 6th. And then last year, I was in 8th place. I did a lot of thinking about this year’s election, and as a result a desire came out. I want to make it back into the top 7! Uwaa~ I said it. I wonder if that’s okay…”

I forgot to tell you, but in the book, we placed you at 4th.

“Why would you put that hurdle there?! (laughs). This year, please allow me to stand firm here as AKB48’s Takahashi Minami. Thank you for your support!”

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AKB48’s Takahashi Minami’s Leadership

This is an article written by Matsuyama Jun, a man who studies and writes about leadership. In a multi-part article, he talks about Takahashi Minami’s leadership and his impression of her from a couple of the AKB documentaries. [Original Article – AKB48高橋みなみのリーダーシップ]

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10. AKB48’s Takahashi Minami’s Leadership

Right now, from children to the elderly, there probably isn’t anyone who doesn’t know of AKB48. As a national idol group, they are staples on TV, radio and in magazines.
They are produced by Akimoto Yasushi, but commanding the entire group is the leader, Takahashi Minami.

I did not know AKB48 very well, but recognizing my own blind spot, in a stroke of ambidextrous thinking, at one time, I had enjoyed watching the AKB48 documentary movies (in 2012).

There are two works, “Documentary of AKB48 – Show must go on – Shoujotachi wa kizutsukinagara, yume wo miru [While being hurt, the girls dream]” and “Documentary of AKB48 – to be continued – 10nen ato, shoujotachi wa ima no jibun ni nani wo omou no darou? [10 years from now, what will the girls think of themselves as they were right now?]”

In those DVDs is where I first learned of the leader Takahashi Minami and her quick wit. I was surprised. Surely here was a “leader of leaders”. She laughed and cried along with her comrades, and was able to voice stern words at times when necessary. She is an example of an excellent leader.

However, in the movies, Takahashi Minami confessed of herself, “I wasn’t really the leader type”.

Is leadership innate? Or is it acquired?

I come across this question quite often, and I have a distinct “theory of leadership”. The grounds for my argument comes from the standpoint of someone who works in a setting that develops leadership through coaching and training. And when I think of Takahashi Minami, who went through a metamorphasis from someone who wasn’t a leader type to someone who became a splendid leader, I think the leadership that Takahashi shows in the AKB48 documentary movies serves as valuable evidence towards my “theory of leadership”.

In my book “The Leader Who Can Laugh at Himself Wins in the End”, I mentioned Takahashi Minami’s leadership along the likes of Sakamoto Ryouma and Steve Jobs. It’s not written in that book, but the strong image I got from the movies of Takahashi Minami as a leader will be written about in the next book.

Leadership is Influenced by “conviction” and “resolution”
.

“Conviction” and “resolution”.

These are staple keywords in every debate about leadership.
Takahashi Minami is kind. And at times, when she can be a strict person, it is because she “has the resolve to be hated”. This may be because she has the kind of strong “conviction” that supports that “resolve”.

Takahashi Minami is recognized as having the respect of the other members.
“Takamina [Takahashi Minami’s nickname] is amazing.” “I can’t be like her.” AKB48 members like Oshima Yuuko, Shinoda Mariko and Kojima Haruna sigh in answer while being interviewed.

When I think about leadership, I think that I will focus more and more on the “resolve” that supports a leader as an important concept.

10 years from now, Takahashi Minami may be acting as a leader who has crossed over the limits of AKB48. I have high hopes for her!

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Takahashi Minami | Natsuichi Essay | “23-Minute Miracle”

Many of the 48 group girls have been given a book to read and do a book report on in partnership with Shueisha for their “Natsuichi Toshokan” project. Takahashi Minami’s essay was on “23 Funkan no Kiseki”, a short story by James Clavell, the famous author of the novel Shogun. Here is the original source for Minami’s essay [23分間の奇跡]

 

Takahashi Minami: “Reading 23-Minute Miracle

People’s, and especially children’s, way of thinking is pliable.
I thought so once again while reading this book, and even thought it was a fearsome thing.
The things we hear and see and the people we meet in the short period of 23 minutes all shape our lives.
I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

But even I’ve met someone who’s changed my life. It was when I was in 4th year elementary school. A teacher transferred to our school from another school. My class had few students, and we were all together in the same class from year one until then. The good thing about it was that we all got along together very well, but the bad thing was… we were a class who gave the teachers a hard time. The boys in my class were all really looking forward to picking on the new homeroom teacher. They really didn’t like teachers. That’s why, when the new teacher arrived, wearing his characteristic blue Italian jersey, they saw him as nothing but new prey.

It’s just… this new teacher was different from all the teachers we’d had up until then. With just a few words, he was angry at us and started to lecture us. I think he was the first person who had ever gotten outwardly angry with our class.

At times, like a child, he would be the fastest out to the grounds to kick around the soccer ball. Up until the end, everyone called him “old man” and admired him. To us, he acted both as a teacher and a father, and maybe it was because I met someone like him that I started to trust adults a little bit.

I believe that every encounter is a necessary “miracle”.

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Takamina – True or Not? Urban Legends

This is a feature from the May issue of Bomb magazine that Takamina covered.
(One line I couldn’t figure out in #6 was omitted, something about switch-flipping).

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True or Not?
Takamina Urban Legend

As expected of the General Manager, there are many plausible stories revolving around Takamina. Since we have this opportunity, let’s get as much of the truth out of her as possible and verify these urban legends about Takamina!

Legend #1: You have the strongest ability to sense the supernatural among the AKB members. You’ve seen a woman in a red raincoat in the AKB theater.

This is a “scary story that really happened” that was recreated in a VTR. I think I was around 14. Everyone had been playing tag in the pitch black theater. When I was “it”, I was looking around for everyone, and a woman in a red raincoat was walking around… I told everyone about it, and none of them believed me. But on another day, the manager got a strange reaction from the security company. He told them to please investigate with cameras, and when they did, the woman in a red raincoat was there in the footage. She’s there in the theater a lot. I’ve also seen a soldier standing in the wings of the stage.

Legend #2: You have never taken a bath with other members.

It’s not that I’ve never gone in the bath with them. When everyone was staying over [at an inn] for the Christmas party, I was pulled in and forced to get in the bath with everyone else by Mariko-sama (laugh). I said “Stoooop, pleaaase”, but Yuuko convinced me with a pouty face (laugh).
I like to take baths alone.

Legend #3: You were accepted into AKB because you are 148cm tall and your birthday is 4/8.

I think so. When I do interviews, that’s the thing people have the most interest in. They say, “You’re 148cm tall and born on 4/8. You were fated to join AKB”. I even talked about the strange connection I have with 4 and 8 in my digital camera diary.

Legend #4: When you were accepted to AKB, you deleted all your friends’ addresses.

I deleted them. It seems pretty stupid when I think about it now, but it was like a Buddhist rite. It wasn’t when I joined AKB, but when I graduated from middle school. I joined AKB halfway through my 2nd year of middle school, and all through my 3rd year of middle school I had both my studies and AKB activities. And then when I graduated, I thought my friends would become a distraction. Even if they said “let’s go out and have fun”, I wouldn’t be able to, and that would become stressful. I thought that if I deleted their addresses, I could rest at ease without having to regret not being able to hang out with them. That was the heart of the mystery.

Legend #5: You are in the habit of giving your clothes to junior members.

I do give them clothes. Just recently I gave some to Yui and Sayanee, I also give them to Kitarie, Sashihara, Shiichan and others. They all actually wear them. It’s just, Yui wears them wrong (laugh). For example, I’ll give her one or two skirts and tops. Even though the skirts might not really go with those tops, she wears them together anyway. I keep thinking “that’s wrong”, but I’m glad she wears the things I give her. Every time I see Murashige, she would bug me about the banana parka, so I gave it to her the other day.

Legend #6: You’ve never showed your face without makeup.

In the past, that was true. But since I turned 19, I’ve started going makeupless a lot more. It’s become a pain. Nowadays I go out without makeup.

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Kitahara Rie 2013 Election Interview

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

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Even after she decided to put in candidacy for the election, Kitarie’s smile was unchangingly bright. Now, what kind of emotions are coming and going within her heart? I asked her her thoughts on what the election means to her.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s something particularly special. Up until now, my rank hasn’t really changed a whole lot (laughs). It’s just that, when the election ends and my rank comes out, every place I work at takes a look at that rank. That’s why I have mixed feelings about it.

To me, my placement at 13th last year was amazing, but society’s point of view on it, as well as the point of view of the fans and my own point of view, I think we all look at it totally differently”.

Within the past four elections, Kitarie has ranked 13th three times. There is a sense that being able to keep the same rank within the top 16 and its tempestuous movement is an immense feat.

“There’s an amazing sense of stability. Ranking 13th the first time was certainly a present from my fans. The second time, ranking 16th, I thought it went along well with my strength at the time. When I was pushed back up to 13th in the 3rd election, I was incredibly happy, and the 4th time… yeah, it was a miracle! (laughs)”

This past year has been one of surprises and upheaval for Kitarie. Last year in August, at the Tokyo Dome concert, her concurrency with SKE48 was announced, and from October to December, she appeared as a regular on the reality show “Terrace House”. It made a stir with fans and society alike for being the first time an idol under the ‘love ban’ was sent to live under the same roof with both men and women and the situation televised.

“I’m extremely glad I participated in ‘Terrace House’. For three months, absolutely nothing was private and that was difficult, but by working with others from my generation who are doing their best in different fields, my way of thinking has broadened. I would have made friends if I had continued living the way I had been, of course, but there I was able to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Since they were also people who were, like me, chasing their dreams with everything they’ve got, they said ‘It’s not shameful at all to follow your dream’, and I was able to think about that with a new outlook. On top of that, there are a lot of people who learned about ‘Kitahara Rie’, and that was a great chance for me.”

However, just because her name has become more famous doesn’t necessarily mean her rank will go up in the election. She seems to agree.

“I was given a lot of experiences, including experiences that have made me feel like I’m advacing down the road to my dream of becoming an actress. But to the people who are cheering on “AKB’s Kitahara Rie”, they might not be as accepting of this transformation. So this year, I’ve prepared myself for the possibility that my votes might decrease.

But at the same time, taking advantage of my appearances on dramas and variety shows, I may have made new fans, and even if a new fan puts in only one vote for me, that effect might build on itself. That’s why I truly don’t know what will happen in this year’s election. It took courage to decide ‘I’ll announce candidacy!’, and even now I’m really scared of the results coming out, but keeping that in mind, I really have to think about where I’ll go from here.”

You want to come closer, little by little, to your dream of being an actress. Now that that dream is getting stronger, I wonder how you view the unceasing wave of girls you’ve worked with in AKB and SKE graduating one after another?

“It might sound silly coming from someone who only had concurrency for half a year with SKE, but because I was thinking ‘I can do my best in SKE from now on’, it’s actually really lonely and sad. I’m friends with Kuwabara (Mizuki), and after I joined Team S, I became friends with Shii-tan (Takada Shiori) and (Hiramatsu) Kanako-chan, as well as Kuumin (Yagami Kumi), Ogi-chan (Ogiso Shiori), and Shawako (Hata Sawako)-san….

But on the one hand, I really respect members who decide to graduate. I’m envious of them, and I think they’re really admirable, because they don’t have a fallback or a place they can return to. That courage to face up to reality is something I don’t have right now.

Besides, after all, I love AKB and its members. I love the work I do in AKB, and I love the theater. It’s become so much a part of my life that I can’t even think of leaving it.”

During the interview, I was reassured by this girl’s lovely, serious attitude. It’s been 5 years since she debuted in AKB. She’s thought about many things, worried about them, and overcome them.

“From the beginning, I’ve been someone who tries to stick to a plan. That’s why I feel I can’t take risks. But I think that every once in a while, there are times when it’s better to jump into something without thinking about it too much. I feel like maybe I lack that vigor and resolution.”

Within AKB48, which is moving towards the next generation, where does she stand? She stealthily told me her goal for the election.

“Since I’m participating, I want to fall into the top 16. Ah, but, if possible, I’d like to be 13th again… (laughs)”

“13th”. That placement seems, after all, to hold a special place in Kitarie’s thoughts.

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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.

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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.

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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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