Watching Arashi’s announcement video on their hiatus was the hardest video I had to watch as an Arashian (and this includes the videos from their variety shows that would give you second-hand embarrassment haha). So I dreaded the press conference later that Sunday night because recent memories of Johnny’s groups holding press conferences looking severe in a tensed environment were still fresh in my mind.
But I’m sure there were a lot of questions that needed to be answered and I did have some myself. Questions like what will happen to Shiyagare and VS Arashi–their group variety shows? Are we going to get confirmation on Kohaku hosting speculations for the next two years? Will there be a pre-hiatus tour considering that their 5×20 Anniversary Tour ends in December 2019, leaving 2020 until they end their group promotions free (for now)? And of course there was the big question WHY.
But my initial dread was unfounded. Arashi was just…well, Arashi, when they faced Japanese media. Many noted too how they wore casual clothes (the same clothes they wore in the video announcement) and not the too-rigid and formal black suits that their colleagues have worn in their own press conferences. They also stood on a small platform just a few meters separated from the press creating quite an informal, accessible atmosphere. And… they were mostly smiling and light-hearted. It was very Arashi.
How could they be calm, collected and even managed to trade jokes with the reporters when they were making a major career move that would break their fans’ hearts? But imagine if they were looking severe, gaunt and broken–how would we feel too? It would have been double the heartache. Their demeanor, I realize now, was meant to soften the blow. They had to be strong for everyone because if there’s anyone who realizes the impact of the decision they have made, it’s the five of them, but most especially Riida. And I’m sure the other four didn’t want to burden him any further by making him feel guilty. As it is, Riida must have been burdened with the life of an idol and being Arashi’s leader for the past 20 years he didn’t need additional load on his shoulders (thankfully he’s not nadegata like Sho).
The presscon did not only explain the “why” (Riida wants to live a life free from “idol rules”), but it also made everyone understand the process that each of them took to reach this decision. As Sho and Nino emphasized, this was not Riida’s decision alone, it was a collective one.
Sho said it beautifully too in his interview on News Zero last night (Jan. 28): “It is difficult for a single person to decide the future of Arashi but it is also not possible for a few people to tie down one person’s life.”
This shows the depth of understanding and trust within Arashi. It would have been easy to let greed take over and just continue with four of them if one wanted to quit. Hell, they are at the top of their game, why lose all of that now? Why sacrifice the group and the rest who might still want to continue? But they didn’t. Of course, as Sho also said, it may be different for other groups, but this was the best option for Arashi–again, 5-1=0.
I just finished reading a book, The Culture Map by Erin Meyer, which offers insights on navigating cultures especially in a globalized workplace. There is a part there that discusses how the Japanese arrive at a consensus with every one in the team starting from the bottom first putting in their inputs to say, a single idea or proposal, and then it progresses to the next hierarchy. In this case, Arashi is neither the bottom nor the top (that would be the jimusho), but they are the face of the brand called “Arashi.” They’ve said time and again that they are just the frontmen of Arashi, which is made up of many people from their managers to staff to the corporations they work with like JAL. So in building that consensus, the five members talked among themselves first before Riida even brought it up with the management.
That process started in June 2017, when Riida first brought up his desire to quit. Their discussions went on for a few more months, sometimes as a group, other times Riida one-on-one with a member. Based on Sho’s interview and what he said in the presscon, other members also met separately. Sho, as the second eldest and often referred to as Arashi’s “shadow leader,” must have felt it was his role to facilitate reaching a consensus, an acceptable compromise that would satisfy everyone. As he said, he wanted to hear what everybody thought and find a point where they all could meet.
I find this very characteristic of Arashi. For them, it has always been collective. It doesn’t mean that because Ohno is the leader, he gets to decide. In fact, as Sho said, “We didn’t do this because Ohno is the leader…we listened to Ohno because he is a member.” This shows the sense of ownership and accountability that each member has toward Arashi, the group or the brand. Of course it was built on the back of their hard work, blood, sweat and tears. It also counts that all of them are equally popular, but regardless, it is a testament of how organic Arashi as a group is. That it is the sum of all five parts. That whatever they decide on, it’s a result of discussions and consultations, and that once they reach a consensus, they stick to that no matter if one or the other previously disagreed with it.
It was only eight months later, in February 2018, that the matter finally reached the jimusho. There were several more meetings with the staff where a “break” instead of “retirement” or quitting from the group was broached. The fact that Riida didn’t know a break was possible makes me wonder what kind of work culture the jimusho has. Of course, other Johnnys idols have taken breaks but their groups continued with their activities. Riida’s break is different because he is not only the one taking a break. While the other four will continue with their individual careers, they are also taking a break from the group. They reached this final decision in June 2018. There was a gap of seven months before they made the hiatus announcement on Jan. 27.
I have to say–props to everyone who knew of this since June last year. Arashi must have kept this in confidence with those people they trusted, people who won’t sell the story to the tabloids that thrive in potential scandals like this. Imagine if the information leaked and the kind of attention it would have gotten with such bombastic headlines screaming: “Ohno wants to quit!” “Discord within Arashi!” “Arashi members in disagreement over future plans!”
The fact that such news like this was kept under the lid for seven months, right until Arashi themselves announced it to their fans, is short of a miracle in this era of social media and fake news. No one saw it coming, not the fans, certainly not the media (is that nasty rumor website that loved to concoct Arashi rumors still alive? I forgot the name.). And it was all for the better because it saved the fandom from being dragged on a rollercoaster ride, and it protected Arashi from diminishing their reputation by opening themselves to never-ending speculations. Imagine the kind of circus it would have caused. We’ve seen it happen to other groups–the anxiety and feelings of uncertainty among fans, the unwarranted speculations, the unnecessary drama.
All it took was three hours, more or less, from the time the announcement video was released to the time they held their presscon. Of course within that short period, anxiety was flying all over social media but that soon was addressed when the five members made their first public appearance since the announcement. In just a matter of hours. Not only that, in a little over 24 hours, Sho was on News Zero addressing questions and expounding more on the hiatus and Arashi’s future plans. Whoever planned the timing of all these deserves commendation.
So there we have it–Arashi’s two-year notice before they go on an indefinite hiatus. This two-year period is meant to give Arashi time to express their gratitude to those who have supported their 20-year career through concerts (I’m ready to be surprised with more, Arashi-san), to help fans come to terms with it, to allow networks (NTV, Fuji) of their group variety shows and companies (JAL, Japan Post) that they work with as a group leeway to map out plans, and to fulfill pending contracts that they have (I wonder if a member hosting Kohaku in the next two years is part of this?).
Others give a two-week notice, but Arashi has given two years. It’s going to be quite a long goodbye, but short if, like me, you will never ever be prepared to lose–hopefully temporarily–a constant presence in your life.
(Next post will be “Ohno-kun’s Summer Vacation” and the announcement aftermath.)
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