I can’t believe I waited nine years until last year to watch Arashi in concert. It was only my second tour this year and I wish the three hours were longer.
Arashi once said that their concerts are the only chance they get to interact directly with fans (they don’t do handshake events anymore, which they did when they debuted). It’s also the only stage they have where they take total control of the production.
Not everyone is able to watch their TV show recordings (through balloting, but what else) and they have a script for that. But for concerts, they have the free reign to choose the song list and control the production.
Many years ago, Arashi was scolded after a tour (was it 2002?) and was told:
“If you continue doing concerts like this, no one will go to watch you!”
That served as a wake-up call for them and how. From arenas, they eventually reached domes and the ultimate concert venue before it was closed down for renovations ahead of the 2020 Olympics: Kokuritsu or the National Stadium that can accommodate up to 75,000 people a night. They set the record for performing there for four consecutive nights at one time, the only group to have done so.
Since that time they were lectured (“Arashi is a group that forgets the times they were praised but not the times they were scolded.”), they strove to come up with concerts that were different, memorable and unique. In 2005, they debuted the moving stage that has been credited to Jun; it allowed them to reach members of the audience that were far from the main stage, a difficult undertaking especially if you are performing in domes that can accommodate 50,000 people or more.
Arashi are trailblazers when it comes to concert production in Japan. In the NHK documentary Live & Document that was broadcasted last year for their 15th anniversary, their one-of-a-kind concert stages were highlighted. Just when you think they have done it all, the next tour comes around and you get bowled over again. I am always amazed at how they keep on topping themselves with every tour and the effort they put in mounting such lavish productions–that make their concerts an experience and not just a song-and-dance event or one big party–makes me respect them more.
Their concert production process must be an interesting one and we somehow read glimpses of it in their interviews and blogs like Jun’s monthly Enjoy. Before the Japonism tour started, he wrote on how they were all in the dark and it was difficult times. That time, it wasn’t clear what he was talking about but when the first reports from the tour started coming out, I realized it must have something to do not only with the theme but with those tricky penlights. As we all know, they started using the synchronized system in Digitalian last year, where fans had to queue at tents outside the venue before the concert to sync their lights. There were fans who were not able to sync their lights due to different reasons so this year, J made it easier for everyone. They put a sticker on each seat that sent out a signal whenever you hover the Arashi logo on the penlight over it and voila, you are set for the concert. Trust Matsumoto to come up with things like this to make the Arashi concert experience a memorable one.
But truth is, it’s a teamwork. As Sho said in the NHK documentary, J may take the lead but everything that he implements has the approval of the other four. Jun and Riida are known to make trips overseas (to Paris before LOVE and to Vegas before Japonism) for research. They probably pick up ideas from their trips that they can use for their tours. And as seen in Arashi Training Camp in 2011 before their Scene tour, they also hold a brainstorming session for the set list. Mounting tours is no joke for Arashi especially since they do it at most twice a year (if we are to count the Blast concerts in Hawaii last year and Miyagi this year on top of the album tour).
At this point, they can just kick off their shoes and do whatever whenever wherever but they never take their audience for granted. Perhaps they think it’s the only way they can repay the fans for their support through all these years: by giving them something they can enjoy together and be proud of.
In one of his ending speeches in the ongoing Japonism tour, Sho spoke about how, over the years, they have worked hard to come up with different concert stages, but that this time, they wanted to take a look back. Japonism is actually a tribute to Johnny’s, the agency that has nurtured them since they were juniors hoping to debut. Anyone who has been to a Johnny’s World show may probably not find anything new in Japonism, but for Arashi fans, it is something they have not done extensively before or in a three-hour production.
It may just be a coincidence but in the NHK documentary, they spoke on how it would be okay to take a detour, and perhaps that is Japonism, where they return to their roots complete with Shonentai choreography and idols on skates that bring to mind SMAP.
But of course, it’s not just Johnny’s pop culture. They beautifully blended in Japanese culture as well and from the opening song, Sakura, they set the mood already. It’s also worth noting that they invited taiko and shamisen musicians to play at the concert, on top of the brass and regular band they had. The presence of the traditional musicians were one of the highlights of the show and it was so beautiful watching Arashi perform with them onstage.
The Japonism stage was gorgeous with the red pillars and Japonesque elements here and there. The attention to detail, including the sakura petals that pour down on them during Japonesque, is breathtaking. Of course the kira kira costumes are still very much present but it’s necessary if they want to be seen in such a huge venue. This year, there seems to be an unspoken competition on who mounts the best solo stage (they joked about this in the first leg in Nagoya). From tapdancer Nino to stuntman Jun to acrobatic Aiba to drummer boy Sho to magical Ohno, the solos had their own charm.
Japonism is a three-hour extravaganza of J-pop, Johnny’s and Japan and I don’t know how they do it but in the two nights I watched them (the first night was on Riida’s birthday), I realized how time flies indeed when you’re having fun.
Going to an Arashi concert starts with the atmosphere. It’s in the air, from the moment you get off the train and walk to the concert venue (in my case, Kyocera Dome in Osaka). You don’t have to know the directions by heart because for sure, everyone would be going in that direction: from schoolgirls still in their uniforms to princesses, Kaibutsu-kun to Ohmiya SK to those wearing the GUTS baseball kit, to flashes of blue, red, green, yellow and purple; or simply those toting the Japonism tour bag or wearing the tour shirt.
Arashi fans are also a friendly lot. The positive vibe in the air from outside the dome pouring inside is just so palpable. Strangers coming together for a concert feel more like kindred spirits.
On my first night, there were salarymen who were spotted with their families that Arashi used it as a topic-starter for their MC. On my second night, I sat next to an obachan who came with her granddaughter. The obachan was a Sho fan and she had an uchiwa with Sho’s name on it. The uchiwa was made by her granddaughter, who was a Nino fan (ironically, she did not have a Nino uchiwa). On the way out, I was walking side-by-side with a boy (I guess in his pre-teens) who was with his parents; otosan was even looking hip in a leather jacket. I’ve seen families too last year. Perhaps the family that Arashi together stays together? Whatever it is, the wide audience net only shows how Arashi appeals to all ages. They once jokingly said that their concerts are so general patronage parents feel it is safe to bring children over.
Whether you’re a kid, teenager, salaryman/office lady or bachan or tochan, there’s something you will find relateable in their concerts. But I think the biggest draw for Arashi is how down-to-earth they are. Watching them perform in such a huge venue and seeing how they try to reach out even to the farthest stands is an amazing sight for me. However, it’s not enough to sweat it out onstage and run from one end to the other for the sake of the show just to “reach out”. If there’s no sincerity, if their hearts are not in what they’re doing, they will never be able to speak to their audience through their performances.
This is the reason why I was teary-eyed when they sang Kimi e no Omoi while behind them, the video showed their dates of birth morphing into the Johnny’s groups that debuted before them and their photos from their chibi days to their return to their “birthplace” in Hawaii last year.
The lyrics of Kimi e no Omoi are so poignant too and perfectly express the message that they probably want to tell their fans:
ずっと君は 僕の夢を 願い続けてくれたから
今そっと 君の幸せだけを となりで願おう
Zutto kimi wa Boku no yume wo Negai tsudzukete kureta kara
Ima sotto Kimi no shiawase dake wo Tonari de negaou
You always prayed for my dream to come true
So now, I only want to quietly pray for your happiness by your side
Arashi has been in the industry for 16 years. It took them seven years to hit their stride and gained recognition on the 10th. That they are still able to top annual charts on their 16th year is already a bonus that they themselves acknowledge. These guys…they are unabashed in saying they think they are living a dream, and yet, they continue to work hard, not taking anything for granted knowing how blessed they are (and how there are others waiting eagerly in the wings to take over them; #truth).
So I find it fitting that they end Japonism with Bokura ga Tsunaideiku. Once more, the lyrics speak so much about the journey that they have taken.
知らない時代でそっと 誰かが 背中を支えてる
Ano hi ga tsutaeru kyou wo Tsunagu hateshinai michi
Shiranai basho de sotto Dareka ga Senaka wo sasaeteru
The past that led to today is connected by an endless road
People in times and places that you don’t know have been gently supporting you
An Arashi fangirl would know life is hard dakedo happy in supporting a group that is not on social media and is impossible to stalk (don’t even try). There is absolutely no chance for live interaction except during concerts or School of Arashi (or for the lucky ones, those who get to watch their TV show recordings but I’m sure they’re made to sign NDAs).
But this very culture that they have nurtured with their fans since the beginning has shaped a fandom that focuses on their work and the group, and not too much on the personal or the individual members. Of course there are fans who are crazier than others, every fandom has their share of those kind.
But one can feel the fandom coming together in a live concert, whether you’re a Riida fan or Sho, or Aiba, or Nino, or Jun (“but I love them all!” is a common disclaimer by any Arashi fan when asked who their ichiban is). It doesn’t count whether you’re Oguri Shun switching your penlight to purple or Tsumabuki Satoshi switching to red; whatever color you switch to in your penlight does not matter (because Jun has made sure to sync them for the most part of the concert anyway). Cultural and language barriers are broken down because once these five guys that fans lovingly refer to as bakas appear onstage, it’s a collective experience that you take home with you with fond memories. You may just be one of the 50,000 in the audience, but you feel so connected with everyone as you show your love to the artists you have come to watch perform, not by pointing mobile phones at them (unless you want to be kicked out of the venue) but by singing along and waving the penlights together with the rest, and just soaking in the moment and having fun. And perhaps that is what Arashi sings about when they perform Bokura ga Tsunaideiku.
きっと いつか この道に戻るよ
僕ら ずっとひとつ We’re walking on the road
Jidai ga meguri Toki ga nagarete
Chigau ashita wo Oikaketemo
Kitto Itsuka Kono michi ni modoru yo
Bokura Zutto hitotsu We’re walking on the road
“Bokura ga tsunaideiku”
Onaji michi wo…
The eras change and time passes
Even if we chase after a different tomorrow
We’ll surely come back to this road again someday
We’re always as one We’re walking on the road
“We’re being connected together”
On the same road…
The end of the final song is so touching. The video fades to a clock ticking from the time of Arashi’s debut on 1999.09.15 to the current time (down to the second) and place, in my case, Kyocera Dome, Osaka on 2015.11.26 and 2015.11.27. As I stared at the screen, I felt I have been part of an Arashi moment.
I wish they sang Tsutaetai Koto in the encore. It’s my favorite track in the Japonism album aside from Kimi e no Omoi and the lyrics would have been perfect for the encore.
今までも そうこれからも どこまでも ずっと
Imamademo Sou kore kara mo Doko made mo Zutto”
Everything up until now And everything to come Wherever we go Forever
Thank you for everything
And I also wish they sang Furusato, but I guess this song’s special place is in Kouhaku and Waku Waku. But these are trifle when being able to watch them live is already a wish come true, and that not everyone is able to do.
Imagine for eight years, I was contented buying their concert DVDs and watching them from the comforts of home, mainly due to the fear of The Great Ticket Battle. But now that I have overcome that psychological barrier, I regret nothing.
Arashi live needs to be experienced. It may be a surreal experience that even as I write this, I wonder, did it really happen? But yes, they’re real.
And you know one thing? Arashi is larger than life.
[Song translations from yarukizero]
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