(The first entry I’m writing for the year is inevitably sad, and it won’t be the last one. As I process Arashi’s hiatus, writing would probably help me come to terms with it.)
No one saw it coming, certainly not me, a newly minted member of the official fan club (now numbering 2.5 million and still growing with 90,000 new memberships over the last two days; how it took me 14 years to finally be a FC member is for another post).
My friends and I were just discussing what dates and which venues to ballot for the 5×20 Anniversary Tour. The fandom has just celebrated Sho’s 37th birthday and was feverishly discussing the new rules in balloting for the tickets (now strictly limited to only FC members). I was just musing about how, despite their success, Arashi has remained humble and so down-to-earth, after reading the account of one of their kouhais during the recent Music Station Super Live. I was laughing at Kagawa on Shiyagare on Saturday evening and being excited about Jun’s NHK SP drama. Everything was good, coasting along smoothly. There were so many things to look forward to. Nothing could ever go wrong, right?
Then BAM! Breaking news in the middle of a lazy Sunday afternoon. Given my limited, Google-Translate-dependent Nihongo, I thought at first that it had something to do with Tokyo Olympics because of “2020”. But I froze when I saw the phrase “suspend activities.” My mind went blank for a while, not able to process anything, until I was stirred to go to Twitter and look for clarification.
Everyone on my TL was reeling from shock too. “What?” “This could not be happening.” “What is this?” “Is this a joke?” “Am I dreaming?” The news was first broken on Japanese TV that said a video had been sent to FC members too. As a new FC member, I was of course excited every time I’d get a new e-mail. But not this time.
At first I thought it was disbandment, but as more information started trickling in, it became clear–Arashi was going on hiatus starting Jan. 1, 2021. Dec. 31, 2020 will be the last time–in god knows how long–they will be together as Arashi.
As another fan said, she never thought she’d read the words “Arashi” and “hiatus” in one sentence. Arashi, for me, was something eternal, something that was a constant in this ever-changing world. I’d wake up each morning, check Twitter and find something to smile or laugh about on my Arashi TL, and I’ll be ready to face another day. At night, before I sleep, I’d scroll through my Twitter TL again to update myself–something is always happening in the Arashi world, we are talking here, after all, not just of Japan’s No. 1 idol group but of five individuals who are superstars in their own right, with their own careers as actors, TV hosts, in-demand endorsers, newscaster. If I had a bad day, I’d usually choose to watch their variety shows or concerts to de-stress. I’d go to sleep much calmer and happier, knowing that tomorrow is another day, and Arashi will always be there.
But today is Day 1 of trying to come to terms with their decision to halt group activities by Jan. 1, 2021. I’d be completely honest and candid–I was disappointed with Ohno (don’t kill me yet, please read through the very end of this post) although I was not really surprised. He was after all one of the three members who wanted to quit soon after Arashi was formed in 1999. But I thought that by the time they celebrated 5×15 in Hawaii in 2014, he had finally settled down with being a top idol. We all remember how emotional he was during the concerts and crying openly in their TV anniversary specials. I felt relieved and glad that his thoughts of wanting to quit have finally dissipated. I could never have been more wrong.
Following Arashi for 14 years doesn’t make me an expert on them but I do pick up some cues. After 5×15, for instance, I started to notice subtle changes like how they have become more expressive and more demonstrative about their bond. They have always had this clear-cut line between their professional and personal life, prompting non-fans to even question the bond that has often been cited by fans as the reason why they like Arashi. They never hang out after work, they haven’t been to each other’s houses until recently, they have different friends outside their Arashi world. But they started sharing the time they spend together and what goes on in their Arashi LINE room and became more generous with private photos and anecdotes. It felt strange at first, but now I get it. That the bond was probably strengthened even more that time as they started to process what would be the most important decision in their 20-year career. A decision that probably put that very bond to the test. I never had doubts about their bond even at a time that they brushed it off as no-big-deal because how could you fake working harmoniously with everyone else over a decade or more? This bond, this is the reason why I was confident that Arashi will be around forever–despite the disbandment, retirements and a member leaving their group that have been common in the industry. Alas, this bond is also the reason why Arashi will go on hiatus two years from now.
I have written before on how happy I am to see Arashi being happy doing the things they do. That I’d rather they quit if they’re no longer happy because it would most probably be painful to see them forcing themselves to go onstage, to sing, to act, just for the sake of their fans. I didn’t want to see them growing old in the public eye unhappy with themselves. I didn’t want them to keep on being Arashi just because I, as a fan, couldn’t let go of them. And this is precisely the reason also why, despite my initial disappointment with Ohno, I understand where he is coming from. I accept that this is all part of life, that they too get tired of their work, as much as we ordinary people do. That they think of retirement and look forward to it as much as we do. They’ve given us more than 20 best years of their life, how could we still ask for more? But it also doesn’t mean I am not sad nor devastated. Of course I am, and I have been acting like a crazy woman switching between laughing and crying for the past almost 24 hours.
Today is only Day 1 of the long goodbye before they go on hiatus. Fans have two years to fully come to terms with Arashi’s collective decision. It took them more than a year to reach a point that they could all agree on and they fully understand that everyone who will be affected by this–the fans, their staff, J&A, the companies they work and have contracts with, TV networks etc.–will need time to also accept and adjust to it.
But as Nino said, he will never understand what Arashi means to him until it all ends. As for me, now I understand what the Arashi bond is. That when they say Arashi is the five of them, not one more nor one less, it means that five minus one is zero (5-1=0). Five or nothing at all.
(Next entry will be about Sunday’s press conference.)
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