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.