“Is taking a break even allowed?”
These were the words that Ohno Satoshi, Arashi’s leader, said when the possibility of taking a break instead of quitting the group was first brought up by Johnny’s Entertainment.
My initial reaction was–why, it’s not allowed?!
Employees are entitled to annual vacation/holiday/leave, whatever you call it in your cultural context. It shouldn’t be different with entertainment agencies, should it? While we all know how taxing the schedules of artists are, with due respect to the working class and overtime hours (death by overwork or “karoshi” is a reality in Japan), surely they also get days off.
But obviously, a day off or two a week or a vacation some days of the year was not what Riida had in mind. He wanted to live a “free life,” to experience how it’s like to be an ordinary person and not the leader of Japan’s top male group that brings in multibillion profits to the entertainment industry and other related sectors a year. He wanted to be free from the shackles of the life of an idol, who is always held up against the standards of a judgmental public and the expectations of fans.
Even if I’m not an idol who lives my life in constant scrutiny of the public, I totally get where Oh-chan is coming from. It must have been hard all these years and it’s not as if he made it a secret. In the recent 5×20 concerts, the other members would jokingly ask him: “Riida, do you have an announcement?” (On hindsight, was this an inside joke now that we know about the hiatus?) And he would playfully answer, “tomorrow is Monday, it’s my day-off!”
Even in previous episodes of their variety shows, relevant clips of which have recently cropped up on Twitter, he has always been vocal about wanting to rest, to go on vacation, at one time saying he wants a vacation everyday. Among the five, it’s always him and Nino who are known to be so keen to finish work, which is a very normal thing that we all could relate to. But Nino, he has his games to go home to, while Riida, perhaps he has his freedom he misses.
Like Sho, Nino and Aiba, Riida joined Johnny’s at the age of 13 (Jun at the age of 12); he is now 38. By the time they go on hiatus, he will be 40. He’s been working for 25 years and while he may not be at “retirement age” yet in the regular work force, consider the fact that he started working when he first entered his teen years. It was obviously a different environment he grew up in, attending voice and dance training as a Johnny’s junior, while boys is age were in school, perhaps doing mischief or gallivanting in Akihabara, Shibuya or Harajuku (think Pika*nchi Life is Hard Dakedo Happy). At 16, he was sent to Kyoto for a stage play and two years later, he debuted as a member of Arashi.
As Kokubun (TOKIO) said: “(Arashi) members have been chasing their dream since they were in their teens, so I, as one of their seniors who is also a member of an (idol) group, can totally understand the complicated feelings that arise as one progresses into adulthood.” (“J-pop band Arashi stepping out of celebrity storm to seek new life,” Kyodo News, 1/28/19)
Was it even Riida’s dream to be an idol? It was his mother who sent in his application and sort of bribed him to go to the audition. Of the five, Riida lives a very low-key lifestyle. He spends his days off fishing (an indication that he has spent too much time under the sun is his tanned skin that would be noticeable on their shows). He’s a bonafide artist with collaborations with Yayoi Kusama and Yoshitomo Nara, and had mounted the Freestyle exhibition of his works in Tokyo and Shanghai. He also designed a JAL aircraft in 2015 bearing the images of the Arashi members. (His artistic talent is on display on his corner in Shiyagare where he creates things with artisans.) He gets thrilled when someone like Matsumoto Jun comes over to visit because “a celebrity is in my house!” nevermind if he’s a celebrity himself. His childhood dream was to become a baker. All these indicate the kind of person Ohno Satoshi is. He’s a simple guy who probably wants to spend his days fishing, undisturbed by the pressures of being an idol.
At the presscon last Sunday, he told Japanese media: “I wanted to live freely. By leaving this (entertainment) world, I wanted to see views that I’ve never seen.” (“Popular Japanese boy band Arashi to suspend activities at end of 2020,” Mainichi 1/27/19)
The members would recall the first time he told them in their group email that he wanted to talk. Having been together for more than half of their lives, they probably sensed that he was serious this time, that’s why they’ve been engaged in dialogues since June 2017 until they reached a final decision a year later. That decision would send shockwaves through the fandom and elicited reactions from fellow celebrities, friends, colleagues, companies they worked with, regular people whose lives they’ve touched, politicians.
After the initial shock and disappointment, a swell of understanding and acceptance started to set in among the fans. I’m sure Riida and the other members did not expect this supportive atmosphere, considering how Sho had to assure him ahead of the presscon that it will be all right. The impending hiatus still weighs heavily on fans, myself included, just trying to imagine 2021 without seeing Arashi together. But no one could take this against Riida, who despite his earlier reservations to be part of Arashi and thoughts of quitting, had given Arashians a lot of wonderful memories. As a fan said, she would prefer to think of it as 大野くんの夏休み or “Ohno-kun’s summer vacation” to ease the sadness. Shortly after, the hashtag #大野くんの夏休み started to trend worldwide.
I’m sure by now Riida, who is the least likely among the five to have a secret social media account, has been told of this–either by Sho or Jun (the most social media savvy among them) or by watching the news. And I hope his remorse for subjecting his members and the fans to this hiatus is somehow eased. No one should feel guilty or feel bad for wanting to take a break. It’s self-care.
I’m rather thankful to the jimusho too for extending this privilege to Oh-chan (it does appear like a privilege, judging from how he reacted to the suggestion of taking a break). Perhaps the work culture in the jimusho is changing with the times and that’s all for the better. If Riida’s break and Arashi’s hiatus could set a precedent for the others in the agency and kickstart a healthy attitude within Japan’s entertainment industry, that would be a wonderful legacy indeed.
And even if it’s still two years away, the fandom has already been pondering what Riida will do during his “summer vacation.” Fishing, for sure. He’d probably do artworks and mount another exhibit (hopefully). And maybe he’d finally realize his dream of putting up a bakery, and what a thrill it would be to buy freshly baked bread from him. Whatever it is that he wants to do (he said he hasn’t really planned yet), I hope he enjoys himself and finds himself again. So that, when the time he is ready to come back (he promised to take care of himself because he doesn’t want to be a sore aged thumb that stands out among the five and make the public go–what’s with that guy?) whenever that is, he will be whole again and he would have a lot to share with his public.
Until then, fans will have to show Riida and Arashi that there is something worth coming back for.
(Next post: Why Arashi is a class act.)
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