(This is part of the series on behind-the-scenes while covering celebrities.)
My friend @kayteegee8’s tweet today reminded me that it has been five years indeed since the Asia Song Festival in Gwangju, South Korea, where I saw Arashi for the first time (KT’s second?).
I was in Seoul, where KT was based then, for a vacation and since the ASF was happening around that time, we decided to go and cover it.
Now, I know how people usually say that journalists are lucky to meet celebrities as part of their job. I am aware of how much a privilege that is, that’s why I always count as a blessing such opportunities when they come considering that entertainment is not really my coverage.
This happened five years ago so the edges are getting blurry with time though the details are still sharp in my mind.
KT and I went to cover the press conference prior to the festival at a resort in Gwangju (we took the speed train from Seoul). That resort is featured in one of the Arashi photobooks.
We arrived at the venue early to survey it and plan our seating. There were a lot of reporters and fans hovering around the area. We chose to sit at the front, right side of the room as it started to fill up with people. Arashi, who was representing Japan, was not the only one attending the press conference. There was Kelly Chen (Hong Kong), Koda Kumi who was also representing Japan, and a host of others I forgot who now. Obviously, we were there because of Arashi and not for the other stars.
Arashi was the last to enter the room. They walked inside in a single line with Matsumoto Jun taking the rear. I remember Jun because, as my ichiban, I was focusing on him. That time was his flipped hair era. He was… pretty. As soon as he entered, he surveyed the room and the stage, perhaps noting where they were going to sit.
Jun, Sakurai Sho and Ohno Satoshi sat at the table while Aiba Masaki and Ninomiya Kazunari sat on stools behind them.
The presscon went by in a jiffy and most of the questions were directed at Arashi that I almost felt bad for the other artists. Afterwards came the photo call and most of the photographers’ attention focused on the five boys.
A friend recently asked me that in situations wherein you have to cover someone you admire, how do you remain as a journalist and not behave like a fan? I said I treat it as a job but at the same time, I take advantage of the opportunity. As a fan, you have the edge with stock knowledge that a pre-coverage research won’t give you. And I always bear in mind that such an opportunity might not come again so I’d have to take advantage of it. This is why I usually have my photo taken with them or ask for autograph either for my friends or myself (if I’m a fan of the artist) knowing that this may not happen again. But I am always mindful that I do not fawn all over them.
I have a friend who refused to ask celebrities to take a photo because she was conscious of being a journalist, but whenever we go together to cover, I’d have to push her into taking a photo. It’s not merely for bragging rights, it’s for “documentation”. Seriously, you take photos for a whole lot of reason and isn’t a photo-op with a celebrity a good reason?
But I digress.
The concert was still the next day so KT and I had a chance to check out Gwangju. When morning came, we set out early for lunch and planned to go to the Olympic stadium early so we can secure our seats. Though we had press passes, it was free seating.
True enough, we were among the first few to arrive at the press-designated area of the stadium. In choosing where to sit, we were also mindful that there would be a gazillion of fangirls in front of our area later.
We were sitting under the afternoon sun listening to the sound check that was going on when KT noticed a group of guys arrive and take seats at the other side of the seated area. “Doesn’t that look like Sho?” she asked.
I turned and saw the group trying to act low key as they looked around the still-empty vast area that would later be filled with screaming fans. My heart was skipping as we confirmed that it was indeed Arashi, without Jun.
KT and I exchanged looks. “Let’s go over,” she said. I looked at her in horror. I seriously wasn’t prepared for this moment. All I prepared for mentally was watching them later in the show. As it was, I was already contented covering the presscon the previous day.
On my hesitation, KT stood up, grabbed her camera from the bag. “I don’t care,” she said, “I’m going there.” Of course I had to follow her.
We approached them and the one nearest us was Aiba, who had discarded his slippers and was sitting with both his feet up on the chair. We excused ourselves and I asked for an autograph, shoving a piece of paper at him.
He looked at the paper then at me puzzled. “Sign?” he asked, gesturing. “Yes,” I replied, “can I have your autograph?” He was starting to panic and was gesturing more wildly now. “Pen?” he said, “No pen?” Of course, me the idiot journalist did not have a single pen with me.
KT must have known that our guerrilla tactic of approaching the boys might run out of its luck so she asked for a photo with Sho who was standing nearby. My hands were shaking as I took her photo with Sho-kun that he offered to take a photo of her and Aiba. Then it was my turn and by then, the suit-clad bodyguards started to approach and alarm bells were ringing by now. There was no time for individual photos so I posed with both Sho and Aiba.
“Where are you from?” Sho asked. Yes, Keio boy spoke in English.
“Philippines,” we replied.
“Ohhh,” he said, “Philippines.”
Then KT’s moment came and she told him, “you’re great!” with matching thumbs up. ✌✌✌ Peace KT! ☺☺☺
All this time, Nino and Ohno were seated in front of us, their stiff backs turned to us. KT approached Nino and asked for a photo. The bodyguards were becoming more angsty as Nino looked at Ohno then at their manager. One bodyguard approached us but actually didn’t know what to say so… he made an X with his hands (which I also do now when in a foreign country and they could not understand that I’m saying “No”).
The bodyguards and managers closed in on the boys and we had no choice but to retreat back to our seats. They stayed a while longer but soon left when other people started to notice them.
That time, we were vaguely aware of the rules of Johnny’s Jimusho and frankly, if you were in such a situation, would you care? Besides, this wasn’t Japan that Johnny-san could throw his weight around. The bodyguards must have been unprepared for the sudden attack and just like in a guerrilla warfare, it’s best to take the other party by surprise.
I won’t dare post the photos from that brief encounter again but back then, fangirls scolded us for not knowing any better, and even scoffing on the authenticity of the photos. C’est la vie.
The performance of the boys was awesome later that night, but nothing could have topped that moment. If only Jun-kun was there too.
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