I vaguely remember a TV commercial of a group of mountain climbers on a hike. “Aren’t we stopping? I’m stopping,” tired, someone blurted out,
“this is the best place to stop.” The rest had no choice but to stop on that spot as well and when they did, they realized they were standing on the summit of the mountain overlooking a majestic view, the blue ocean in front of them.
I recall this to illustrate the hiatus that Arashi is taking in less than two years, a collective decision that they arrived at since June of last year but was only revealed on Jan. 27, their “rest stop” as climbers of Mt. Fame.
Arashi is undoubtedly the top male idol group in Japan. Their fandom (which has grown exponentially from 2.3 million just before the announcement to 2.7 million and still growing after) contributed 32.8 billion yen revenues to the economy last year (I think this only covers concert attendance, merchandise, album/CD sales, AND they didn’t even release a new album last year). The projected loss of their hiatus is P100 billion yen per year. They have consistently topped the Oricon charts (monthly, not only daily or weekly) every time they released a single, album, DVD/BD. Last year, they ranked as the Most Favorite Artist in Oricon once more; they have topped this eight times, an all-time record.
These figures and charts are accomplishments that other artists can only dream of. But Arashi is more than just numbers. To think that their hiatus announcement elicited reactions from Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the governor of Miyagi, the mayor of Fukushima, even the US ambassador to Japan; fellow celebrities including athletes, mangakas, composers; co-workers, corporations, friends, people they’ve touched through their work, fans–all these show how they have been woven seamlessly into Japan’s sociocultural fabric.
They have scaled heights that they didn’t even dare dream of. When they first performed in Kokuritsu in 2008, nine years after they debuted, they thought it was going to be the last time they will perform there. They took photos (with Sho bringing a professional camera), thoroughly enjoyed that moment and basked in it. Understand that Kokuritsu is more than Budokan’s symbolic and often romanticized significance or the 55,000-capacity Tokyo Dome. Setting foot in Kokuritsu is like the pinnacle for any artist or athlete. It was the site of the 1964 Summer Olympics (it is currently under renovation for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics) and where Japan’s national football team plays for their home matches. In addition, only one artist was allowed to perform on its grounds a year (apparently because of the damage that concerts cause on its grounds that needs to be maintained). That privilege was given to Arashi who called Koku their concert home base for six consecutive years from 2008-2013. (Read this translation of the Arashi at National Stadium “bible.”)
They’ve had many breakthroughs since including getting invited to perform at NHK Kohaku for the first time in 2009. It took them years to accomplish these which made their success even sweeter. When they marked their 10th anniversary in 2009, they were surprised at the extent they were being celebrated. And now as they turn 20, they remain at the peak of Mt. Fame while there are others who continue climbing that mountain, with many of them probably unable to reach the summit.
Had they been driven by greed, they would choose to continue scaling this mountain, to take advantage of the position that has been accorded to them as Japan’s national group. But greed has never defined their goals and dreams. If it had, they would have released gazillion versions of their singles and albums just to ensure they top the charts (this refusal to go into that marketing path prompted the Oricon president to call them “traditional artists”) and they wouldn’t have done anything but tour the entire year, at the expense of their individual growth as artists. If they were greedy and ambitious, they would have forayed outside Japan and gone “international.”
But they weren’t, and neither did they become cocky. They remained to be the Arashi everyone knew–humble, down-to-earth, self-deprecating, just basking in the moment, enjoying themselves. On TV variety shows, their senpais continued to tease them as if they were still struggling juniors while they still played along with their kouhais. They were never the type to throw their weight around and act bigger than everyone else, even if they were. They always deflected the spotlight to others and were willing to stay in the background or sidelines (at the 2018 Johnny’s Countdown that also served as Tackey & Tsubasa’s farewell performance, they remained on the side stage when it was time to give their message that they had to be ushered to centerstage by their senpais and kouhais, and in last year’s Music Station Super Live, they walked with their kouhais back to the dressing room instead of taking the individual cars that were sent to drive them back).
From the vantage point where they stand now, the view must be magnificent. An illustrious career that has transcended the limitations of an idol’s public recognition, their position unwavering despite nasty gossip and many attempts in the past to sully their unity and expose the chinks in their armor, if any. And yet, they are ready to lose all that.
Was it during Digitalian or Japonism when they started talking about their next stop–whether it was to stop, take a U-turn or slow down–with everyone implying that they would face the same direction, whichever option they would choose? They have always been practical people–eyes on the stars but feet firmly planted on the ground, as they say. They have been very vocal about their fame fading one day, that nothing lasts forever even if their continuous success came as a surprise to them.
Sho’s illustration of standing on top of a mountain and seeing how things go downhill from that position is indicative of this practicality. Jun, at the Jan. 27 presscon, said he had thought of ending Arashi one day while they were still in top form. Nino, in the same presscon said, nothing was ever definite. More than anyone else, the Arashi members themselves were very much aware of how fickle fame is. One day you’re on top, tomorrow you’d be at the bottom of the heap. They never let the success they have get into their heads. Now, they want to quit while they are still ahead. Perhaps to pursue individual interests they haven’t been able to do due to consideration for the group–these could include artistic challenges or personal choices like settling down. Whatever path they take starting 2021, it goes without saying that Arashi is already so much a part of their DNA, an identity that they will carry with them forever. And the fact that they are not disbanding, just taking a pause, only makes their brand even more precious, like a precious stone that will soon become rare, thereby increasing its value even more.
They are not only practical, but they are also brave, to make such decision at this juncture. Would others have done the same? Based on the reaction to the hiatus, it could have been the best decision they ever made. The fact that it wasn’t calculative at all if we are to base it on their initial fear and nervousness in breaking the news as well as the length of time they deliberated on it, only shows how highly intuitive they are, a trait common among successful people. As Steve Jobs said, intuition is more powerful than intellect.
As this continues to unravel, the decision is turning out to be in Arashi’s favor, adding more weight and power to the brand that they have built, that even when they are going on hiatus, the spotlight shows no signs of fading or shifting any time soon, but is instead shining even brighter on them.
And this is why Arashi is a class act.
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