As we end 2019 and anticipate 2020, let’s look back to the wild ride that this year was. I was personally looking forward to it because this is ARASHI’s 20th year and I had a lot of expectations. Now I can say the year went beyond those expectations. When ARASHI says “and more,” we really better be prepared.
This list focuses on the group so individual accomplishments or activities are not included, except for the Rugby World Cup, where Sho was a navigator for NTV; and Nino’s marriage, because these items have implications–whether direct or indirect–on the group. The list does not really follow a timeline and there would probably be many other things that won’t be included since there are only 20 slots in keeping with their 20th birthday.
1. Hiatus announcement — No one saw it coming, not even the nosy press. I still remember that day, Jan. 27, a Sunday. I was at work. I was shocked, like most fans and the rest of Japan. I have written about the decision that implies 5-1=0, their two-year-notice, the aftermath and why the decision is a class act. There have been many uncertainties and worries since the announcement but as the year progressed, ARASHI matched their words (“We want to spend these two years expressing our gratitude to our fans”) with actions. I have come to terms with their decision because as a fan, I can only support them. It’s their life after all. It’s sad but I will always wish them the best. They deserve nothing less.
2. JOURNEY exhibition — The exhibition, JOURNEY, that traces their 20-year career opened in July at the Sony Music Roppongi Museum in Tokyo. It features state-of-the-art technology, costumes and other items of interest from their two decades including their individual rooms with personal stuff, like Nino’s Japan Academy trophy, Aiba’s drama script, Jun’s concert notes etc. The goods are also awesome (their collaboration with Disney and their drawings of Mickey Mouse, as well as the acrylic ARASHI family “travel” and “beach” sets). But just like their concerts, admission is limited to fan club members and, of course, you have to ballot. (I wasn’t successful in all my three attempts.) The exhibition will be moving to Osaka next month and to other cities in Japan onwards. Hopefully, they will bring the exhibition overseas.
3. NHK 2020 STADIUM — They were chosen as special navigators for the NHK 2020 Olympics/Paralympics program. This has given way to speculations that they will be involved one way or another with the Olympics, considering that NHK is also the national broadcaster, but all that remains to be seen. The show resumes airing in January after going on a break in the last quarter of this year. This is major since the Tokyo Olympics is a showcase of Japan to the world through sports. Being involved in one of its related events is already a privilege not given to every celebrity who aspires.
4. Launch of official YouTube channel — They uploaded five of their songs: A.RA.SHI (1999), Happiness (2007), Truth (2009), Monster (2010) and Love So Sweet (2007) on YouTube on Oct. 9 marking their official debut on the free video streaming platform that has been notorious for taking down Japanese videos over copyright violations. For a country, and an agency, with strict copyright laws, going on a platform like YouTube is a big step that also entails a change in their mindset, not to mention business models. Their use of the YouTube platform has been very inclusive, especially for international fans, who previously had to rely on unofficial translations for their content. Their channel continues to grow and now has almost 2.5 million subscribers.
5. Launch of SNS platforms — They held a press conference on Nov. 3, on the day they marked the 20th anniversary of their CD debut, streamed live on their YouTube channel. They announced the launch of their official accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Weibo and TikTok, a move that was previously unthinkable. Some said that Johnny Kitagawa first had to die for the jimusho to start opening up to the world, but as Jun would later reveal, their foray into social media had been in the planning for a year. Such length of planning is nothing new to ARASHI (their hiatus was in discussion for over a year) and the degree of preparation shows in the quality of their content (English-subbed videos, bilingual captions–Japanese and English, HD photos and videos). At the time of the announcement, I was one of those who thought we would return to regular programming afterwards, meaning no updates unless there are important announcements to be made. But they have since surprised everyone with their regular updates, particularly on Instagram Story (at least twice a week), allowing fans a peek into behind the scenes of their work. Nothing too personal to maintain that healthy distance they’ve always kept with the public (at least no selfies yet in bed but maybe Sho will surprise us one day), but it has bridged the distance with fans. After all they said that they came to SNS to be “closer” to the fans.
6. Turning Up, their first digital single — A few hours after they launched their SNS platforms, ARASHI did their first (and so far only) IG Live, where it became obvious how they–except maybe for MJ–were all noobs in this. Then minutes later, they appeared in the chat of their YouTube channel ahead of the global premiere of Turning Up, their first digital single. They traveled to Los Angeles to film the music video, which has now been viewed 20 million times. Who knew there will come a day that ARASHI will go digital, and even premiere the accompanying music video on the internet, when we previously had to wait for the release of their single or album before we could even enjoy any of their audiovisual content, most of the time for months after the pre-orders?
7. Digitalization of 65 singles — Following the release of Turning Up, they also made all 65 singles in their 20-year career available on streaming platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, Amazon etc.). We all know how digital does not earn as much as physical content so this was practically giving their life work (at least those 65 singles) away. Let’s face it, entertainment is big business and agencies still have to earn. It’s not charity. But we also know that these songs have already earned a pretty penny and could serve as a future reference for the jimusho that has been known for its archaic ways. At least now when people ask about ARASHI, there is an official reference we could point them to.
8. Rugby World Cup — While this is more Sho’s–he was appointed as NTV’s special supporter for the Rugby World Cup that Japan hosted–this is also significant for ARASHI as their 64th single, BRAVE, was used by NTV as its RWC theme. Thus far, BRAVE is their last physical single, and will remain that way should they decide to limit their future releases, if any, to digital. And for that, it will be a precious collector’s item (holds on to mine tightly). And who knows how many rugby fans became ARASHI fans or at least got to know them through this?
9. Performance for Emperor Naruhito — The honor to sing at the enthronement festival for Japan’s new emperor cemented ARASHI’s position as the national idol group. They performed “Journey to Harmony” written by playwright Yoshikazu Okada and composed by Yoko Kanno, known for her anime and video game soundtracks. I can just imagine how their parents, born in the Showa era, must have felt as they watched their sons whom they raised through the Heisei era, perform for the new emperor in the Reiwa era. More than all the other accolades that ARASHI has earned, this must be the cherry on top. On that stage, they were not top idols but Japanese citizens who have been chosen to perform for the emperor, who is Japan’s symbol of state. (They even made the empress cry.)
10. JET STORM — A few hours after performing for the emperor, ARASHI got on a private plane to do a whirlwind two-day tour of four Asian cities: Jakarta, Singapore, Bangkok and Taipei. It was the first time for Jakarta and Singapore, and a return to Bangkok (to which they still owe a concert after the scheduled AAA stop was cancelled due to a coup) and Taipei that they visited in the first JET STORM in 2006. Soon after the 2006 visits, that included Seoul, they announced their Around Asia with Arashi tour so there were high expectations that they would do the same this time. (As of writing, they haven’t announced any other tour but as an Arashi fan, you learn that hope springs eternal.) And because they have SNS now, they gave real-time updates on Instagram and Twitter and later posted capsule videos of each stop on YouTube. Before, we had to wait for the release of the AAA DVD–those days of waiting for months to a year are gone.
11. Nino’s marriage — Upon their return to Tokyo, Nino registered his marriage on 01.11.11 (since it’s a new era), but the news would only come out late the following day. It wasn’t exactly a shock because there have been rumors about his private life, but perhaps majority of fans did not expect that he would get married before the group goes on hiatus. Much has been said, for or against, but it is pointless to argue since nothing people say will change the fact that he is married. It is his life to live and his to decide what to do with it. It is significant though because he is the first to get married in the group, and not just any group but the current top one in Japan. I don’t think it will affect ARASHI’s popularity in general but we shouldn’t expect him to start talking about it every chance he gets. This is how idol culture works particularly in Japan and comparisons to Western celebrities, whose private lives are open to and accepted by the public, will be fruitless since they are rooted in different cultures and social mores.
12. 5×20 Anniversary Tour — They concluded the tour celebrating their 20th year with a total of 51 shows (including the special shooting in Tokyo Dome on Dec. 23) on Christmas Day itself, with live viewing available to more than 150,000 fans in theaters across Japan. The tour has taken over a year to finish and is their biggest, mobilizing 2.37 million people. They even helped boost the profits of Tokyo Dome, breaching 10 billion yen, due to the sales of their merchandise. The tour was as extravagant as the previous ones (2 million pieces of Swarovski crystals as backdrop for one song alone and the biggest screen they’ve ever used, among other details) and gave the fans that sense of the 20 years of ARASHI. Here’s hoping that this won’t be their last tour before they go on hiatus.
13. Kokuritsu comeback — ARASHI will be returning to the newly renovated National Stadium for a two-night concert in May next year.They are the only artist that performed there for six years in a row from 2008-2013, before the stadium closed for renovations ahead of the Summer 2020 Olympics. They will be the first artist to hold a concert there too (they graced the opening ceremony last Dec. 21 together with Dreams Come True, Yuzu and athletes). As revealed, the Oympics organizing committee approached them for help in testing the logistics of the place two months before it is used for the Olympics. Of course the battle for the tickets will be tough even if the new Kokuritsu’s full capacity is at 80,000 (which I doubt will be the audience numbers for the concert since they would need a lot space for the stage). Nevertheless, I am looking forward to how they will do their comeback to Kokuritsu, considering that the infrastructure and design have changed (the partial roof will make it a challenge for fireworks and they definitely won’t be able to zip-line across the stadium again like they did in 2009), but in concert director Matsumoto Jun we trust.
14. Appointed as special envoy for culture and sports to China — On Nov. 30, Japan PM Shinzo Abe went to Tokyo Dome presumably to watch ARASHI’s concert (but his schedule showed he was to arrive there at 8:30 p.m. which is like the tail-end of their concert so he must have just caught the last part). He posted about the meeting to thank them for performing for the emperor earlier in the month. It is notable that it was the prime minister who went to them, not ARASHI paying him a visit at his office. That speaks volumes in political language. That visit must have implied and could entail a lot of other things, and this symbiotic relationship between politics and entertainment is not a new invention, so it wasn’t exactly a surprise that they have been appointed as special sports and cultural envoy to China. And while there are those not happy about this appointment, I see it as an honor to represent their country, NOT the current dispensation, overseas. The tougher, more unpleasant side of this appointment though is the country of their assignment. But then again, maybe that is the reason why they were chosen, because their personalities have managed to overcome sticky situations and potential minefields since before.
15. Announcement of Beijing concert in spring — It was curious how this was confirmed as early as Nov. 3 during their YouTube press conference, but following the news of their appointment as special envoy, it made sense. This marks their return to China too, having performed in Shanghai in 2008. This is noteworthy because given the stormy (pun intended) ties between the two countries, they are still able to hold a concert there. It won’t result in world peace but we shouldn’t also dismiss the capability of soft power to tear down barriers. And if ARASHI, in their capacity as idols, could contribute through their work, then by all means. And being able to perform overseas again naturally gives hope that there will be opportunities in other countries as well.
16. Netflix documentary VOYAGE — First it was rumored to be a movie for release on YouTube next year. But it turned out to be a documentary on Netflix aired worldwide that will have 20 or more episodes as filming crews (at least three according to the news) follow them through 2020 until they go on hiatus. The first episode airs just a few hours before the new year and it might be a good indication of how 2020 will be like. For sure it will be a rollercoaster ride. Prepare boxes of tissue.
17. Collaboration with ONE PIECE — With the release of A.RA.SHI: REBORN, a reworking of their debut single, came the announcement that the music video will be a collaboration with ONE PIECE. This is the brainchild of MJ, who has read the manga since it was released in 1999 and who approached its creator Eiichiro Oda. Both ARASHI and ONE PIECE are 20 years old so it’s like icons from the same generation coming together. The music video premieres on Jan. 4.
More information about this collaboration in this thread:
18. Oricon Artist of the Year — This distinction is on the back of the release of 5×20 All the BEST!! 1999-2019 (which sold 2.1 million copies) and 5×20 All the BEST!! CLIPS 1999-2019 (the DVD sold 353,560 while the Bluray sold 436,068). ARASHI won six crowns (including album, DVD and Bluray) and was the best selling artist with 20 billion yen ($182.6 million) in revenues. It was the first time that the 20-billion-mark was breached. The 5×20 All the BEST!! 1999-2019 album also contains the song 5×20, which is a sequel to 5×10, the song that ARASHI wrote for the fans to mark their 10th anniversary. This song, however, is more an ode that they made for one another.
All of us together
Is something we’re grateful for
We don’t take it for granted
It’s something that makes us happy
Let’s smile, and celebrate today.
Find the lyrics and translation here.
19. Most followed account on Twitter Japan — It took them a long time, with people saying they were already behind the times (and rightly so in this era), but the response to their foray to social media shows that fans were only waiting for them to take that leap. They became the most followed account on Twitter Japan this year, with 2.2 million followers since they launched it on Nov. 3.
20. Ootori for the first Kōhaku in the Reiwa era — Getting invited to perform in Kōhaku Uta Gassen or the NHK Red and White Song Battle, the traditional musical year-end program in Japan, is an honor. It is a showcase of Japanese music and not only the currently famous idols and musicians are invited, but those who have contributed to the music industry through the years. There’s a wide range of genre from pop to rock to enka and everything in between so it’s always a wonderful education on Japanese music, and also exemplifies why the country’s music industry continues to thrive even if critics say that they have remained insular. But I digress… it is not only the invitation to perform that’s considered an honor, but also being chosen as the ootori (literally big bird) or the finale performer. This is the third year that ARASHI has been chosen to be the ootori, and on their 20th year too. It took them 10 years to be invited to Kōhaku but their progress has been fast, having been picked as the host the following year. They hosted it for five years as a group, which is the first time it has happened in the history of the program. Afterwards, Sho, Aiba and Nino have taken their turns to host. This year, Sho will be hosting. Aside from their performance of A.RA.SHI and Turning Up, they will also perform Kite for the first time. The song was written and composed by Yonezu Kenshi and will be used as NHK’s theme for the Olympics and Paralympics. For sure, this year’s Kōhaku will be one of their most notable appearances ever.
Going through everything that happened, it seemed like the hiatus announcement was made only yesterday. It felt like the year was going to trudge on miserably after the news but it turned out to be an exhilarating year as an ARASHI fan, marked with so many changes and highlights. I am sure that we will all look back to 2019 and probably will think it was the best year of our Arashian life. But the best is yet to come. MJ has said that they haven’t announced many things yet. Will we ever be ready for 2020 though?
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