Last September 15 was the 19th anniversary of the day Arashi debuted. I’ve been a fan for 13 of those 19 years, something I didn’t really plan nor could have predicted that I’d still be here years on. But some of the most wonderful things in life are not planned, they just work out.
I’ve been through many phases as a fan but Arashi has always been my home. As Sho said, they want Arashi to be an oasis for fans. And it is, in so many ways. Sure, I have family and real-life friends, but Arashi also has a special existence that is both inspirational and aspirational, and not an interest that I’ve seen fade with the introduction of a new boyband or idol or artist. To each his/her own but perhaps to me, they provide something consistent in a world where change–and death and taxes–are the only certainties.
Their music, especially their motivational songs, help me get through tough and difficult times. Their journey from the time they debuted on a small boat in Hawaii to being Japan’s biggest manband ship today has inspired me to carry on. Their variety shows have given me much-needed company when I had to destress from work. Their individual personalities have shown me that tolerance and acceptance of one another’s differences is possible. Their presence has led me to people I can call friends in real life. And in a more abstract form, they’re like best friends who help put me together when everything else is falling apart. They make life easier and more fun to live.
People would easily dismiss that being a fan is just a waste of time and emotions. Candidly speaking, it could end up that way if you put a lot of expectations and ride your dreams on your idols. I don’t expect anything from Arashi except to see them give their all to their work. I don’t ride my dreams and cast my lot with them either. They just merely provide coaching on navigating life. The story of their journey inspires me to do better. They’re like life coaches.
But being a fan not just takes the best but also the worst in us. It can make us fickle, just like fame. Today, we like someone; tomorrow, a different one. To be honest, I’m surprised myself that I have followed Arashi this long. But a fan-idol relationship is like any other, you need to nurture it every day. To this day, I still learn new things about them, and from them. And it counts for a lot that they and the fandom provide a conducive environment to making that relationship grow. While it’s safest to fangirl on your own because it saves you the drama and toxicity, it’s still nice to belong and be active in a fandom that provides you shelter and gives you rainbows when you most need them.
So here are my take-aways as a fan (not only of Arashi) who’s seen and been through many things in this pop culture journey (and a reminder to myself as I tentatively step into another fan journey with Didi). These are lessons (some were learnt the hard way) that helped navigate the tricky turns and unseen traps of fandoms, where, if we allow it, we’d be spending most of our time as fans:
Look before you cross the road. It’s best to check out the fandom from a distance before deciding whether to walk right into it. Some fandoms are openly friendly, some are so toxic you could smell the fumes even from behind a virtual screen. It’s your choice, for as long as you are aware of what you’re getting into the moment you cross that road.
By crossing the road, you have to defy what your mothers have always reminded you about, like not talking to strangers and keeping out of trouble.
When you talk to strangers… know that some fans are more passionate than others. Most of the time, beware of the kind that seeks out fellow fans because they will judge you based on their idea of what a fan should be, like streaming videos, voting on useless polls, screaming the loudest, spazzing the most, closing your eyes to the truth, only speaking of positive things while constructive criticism is an alien concept, etc. It is very easy to fall into that trap thinking you’ve finally found like-minded people. But there are so many things you never know about strangers and would only discover once you’re in the thick of things.
When you meet anyone’s eyes… in the virtual world, specifically on stan Twitter, this means responding to a bait. It could lead to trouble. Do not engage, at all cost. No matter how tempting it could be. Sure, there are times you can’t help yourself, your fingers are just itching to type while your blood is boiling. But if you do, know when to put a stop to it. No one wins an argument in the virtual world because there would be an alternate universe where the other side always believes it has won.
Choose your battles. Fighting over charts or who got the highest views or who was the first to do it? There will always be points of contention. My idol is more hardworking than yours. My idol is more talented than yours. More popular. More good-looking. It’s never ending. Always ask yourself if this will still be important a year from now. Will people remember that chart or that video? For sure, fans will be arguing about other things, but not everything needs to be a war. In the end, you’d have lost either your time, your marbles or your friends or all, so choose your “causes” wisely. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Know what’s important. Yes, there is strength in numbers and yes, it does count. BUT it should count in ways that are important and beneficial: like buying records, watching concerts, supporting films etc. Benefits that actually boost the artist’s career and market value, and will help give them longevity in the industry they have chosen to work in. If we have to invest our time, money and emotions, then let’s invest them properly and focus on the things that count.
Know when to walk away. You will be judged, evaluated, bashed based on what others believe are fandom-wide standards but in truth could only be the making of a noisy few. Sometimes walking away can be difficult but wise, especially when staying would contribute nothing positive to your fan life.
Embrace happiness. Being a fan is supposed to be a fun activity, not something that takes away the joy from it. I guess there’s no secret why I’m an Arashian to this day. Like critic/writer/TV host Terry Ito said:
“Arashi is like Disneyland, because it’s fun when I meet Arashi. When I see Arashi, somehow even if something bad happened yesterday, I’ll feel refreshed.”
I am here because it has enriched my life–the same way that finding satisfaction and purpose in my work, spending time with my loved ones, having fun with my friends, traveling to various places–have all enrich me.
It may be too early to say but that is how I also feel getting into the Wang Hedi world (as his ahyi).
But while I’m 13 years old as an Arashi fan, I’m not even 13 weeks into being a Didi fan (13 weeks being the safest to announce a pregnancy without risk of miscarriage). It’s still early days but hopefully I’d be able to bring with me all these things I’ve learned and continue to learn from previous fandoms, things I am only learning to embrace now, or things I’m just seeing from the point of view of another. Things I wished I knew before.
But it’s never too late to learn.
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