What Only I Can Do
April 4th, 2015. The opening ceremony of Kinki University had ended.
As my congratulatory address was being displayed on the screen, I found myself thinking about the long, winding road I’d taken to get where I stood.
I thought about my beginnings as that ordinary young man from Osaka. I had my professional debut as the vocalist of a band called Sharan Q. I became an idol group producer. I became the president of an entertainment business company. I met my wife. I got married. I became the father of three irreplaceable children. At times I was so busy, I didn’t even have time to sleep. I was a carefree user of cigarettes and alcohol. I was diagnosed with cancer and I had to have my vocal cords removed.
I’d be lying if I said I had no regrets regarding the path I’ve taken in life. But as I was standing up there on the podium, I felt happy from the bottom of my heart. Physically I was standing there on the stage by myself, but I felt like my family was up there with me, all of us holding hands together.
I’m not alone. For as long as one is alive, they will be presented with countless of new doors they have the choice of opening. “Don’t think of this as having been a mistake. Don’t think about how you should’ve done something differently. Don’t regret the past. All of us make mistakes, but at the end of the day, you should feel glad that this is the path you’ve taken. It’s thanks to all of us walking on those paths that we’re all right here, right now. That’s why you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing right now. That’s why you’ve had the chance encounters of your life. Let us all live our lives in a manner that allows us to feel this way!” That’s what was running through my mind. I was, of course, saying those words to myself as well.
It was in that congratulatory address where I first revealed to the public that I’d had my vocal cords removed. This information was reported in all kinds of media outlets later that day, and not just on talk and variety shows, but even on serious TV news shows. There was no reason for me to keep secret the fact that I’d had my vocal cords removed and could no longer sing. Indeed, I knew I’d have to tell the world about it sooner or later. I simply wanted some time after the surgery. Once I’d given my wife and the rest of my family time to cope with the situation and we all felt ready, I could finally let everyone know.
My address at the university was supposed to be a message of support to the new students and their families. However, my words were unexpectedly broadcasted throughout the entire country, and I got many messages not only from my acquaintances but also people I’d never even spoken to before, learned men and all. And I thought I was supposed to be the one doing the supporting…
But I was sincerely grateful for all the messages, and reading through all of those heartfelt words, I feel like living my life to the fullest, facing forward. Seeing just how far and wide the news reached, I’d like to believe that Kindai’s opening ceremony was a success.
I wrote in my speech about “what I can do — what only I can do.” That’s something I continue to think about myself.
For me, it’s making people happy through music. To write down my experiences and hopefully be of help to someone out there. And surely one of the most important things only I can do is to be a father to my children and a good husband to my wife. That also means continuing to make them get excited about something. “I want to sing! I want to try doing that! I want to touch that! I want to go there!” (What this “something” is, I don’t know — it could mean music, or producing an amusement park, or being a game creator, or building a city.) One thing I’m sure about is that I want to leave behind something that will be considered the best in the world.
I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing so far as “Tsunku♂.” But alongside that, I want to make use of my experiences so far and find a new skill to create something that makes you think “this is something only Tsunku♂ could’ve done.” As to what that is? Well, if I knew the answer to that, that’d take half the fun out of it. But just like how Sharan Q in our amateur years were giving it all we had, just to make those closest to us happy, that, too, led to results.
If someone was to ask me, “Tsunku, did you quit being Hello! Project’s producer because cancer changed your way of thinking?“, my answer would be “no.“
It was actually in the autumn of 2013 when the president of Up-Front Group — current label of Sharan Q and home of all Hello! Project members — had a proposal to make. He asked me how I felt about stepping down as the producer of Hello! Project.
I felt like I still had a lot more to give. I had plenty of ideas for the future, and Morning Musume had only just changed directions, too. I wanted to watch over them for a while longer. The president, however, said “you really ought to get some rest soon. I’m very worried about the condition of your throat.“
At first I was extremely surprised. We talked about my future hopes and theories for Hello! Project — all sorts of things. But ultimately, I ended up stepping down as the producer of Hello! Project, remaining as one of its songwriters as well as the sound producer of Morning Musume. Shortly after, it was discovered that the cause of my throat troubles was cancer. I went through chemotherapy that turned out to be ineffective, and then had my vocal cords removed in October.
In stepping down as the producer, I was also forced to downsize my own company through which I’d been creating works for Hello! Project. To all my comrades who fought alongside me for those 10+ years, I feel grateful to you from the bottom of my heart.
Having to downsize the company meant that I had to make lots of tough decisions even while I was hospitalized. Even with tubes coming out of my body and with almost no physical strength left, I had to have those discussions with my staff on the phone or the computer. Those were some very tough times. But my wife did her best to support me and my children were there smiling at me, and somehow through gritted teeth I managed to weather the storm. “If only I’ll be able to get through this ordeal, I’m sure there’s something else waiting for me in the horizon.“
Looking back, the company president took Sharan Q under his wing even though we were just this bunch of self-important guys from Osaka who’d had a semi-popular band for a while when we were still in our twenties. He gave us a place in his company and even gave us a salary — even though there were no guarantees we’d ever make him a dime of his money back.
Now, before I’d even realized it, I’m approaching my late forties, and to this day the president is someone I’m indebted to — he was one of the first people to come see me in the hospital after my surgery. He is, indeed, like my Tokyo father. There have been so many times when I’ve gone against his decisions. “No way! Anything but that!” But in the end, that has all led me to where I am now, so I have nothing but gratitude towards him. That’s why I’d like to think that there is some hidden meaning in this outcome as well.
However, there’s one thing I want to emphasize.
It was not my idea to resign as Hello! Project’s producer. I’m not so weak that I couldn’t have kept on going writing songs for them. I did not come to hate Hello! Project. I continue to love Hello! Project from the bottom of my heart. Now I get to do things like write books and spend more time with my children, and thanks to that, I’ve started seeing new worlds — worlds that I’d never seen before — and that is already coming out in my work. People who can see the bigger picture make decisions that often aren’t understood by others, but at the end of the day, if it eventually leads to people agreeing that maybe the right call was made after all, then ultimately it’s all good. I believe that is what will happen in this case, too.
In hindsight, that day in New York on October 5th, 2014 marked the end of one “job” in my music career that I’d been working towards for over half my life. That’s why I had to see it through — to see with my own eyes what I had created; to hear it with my own ears. It was more important to me than anything. True, thinking about the state I was in at the time, I suppose I really wasn’t in any condition to be going to New York. But in return, I got to experience the grand culmination of everything I’d done, and I got to do it together with my family.
That moment in time and space in New York… To the members of Morning Musume, and to every fan from all over the world who gathered there on that day: thank you. I’m glad I went.
The Reason I’m Writing This Book
As long as there is a demand, I plan on continuing to write lyrics and compose music. I’ve had the good fortune of being able to have been involved in some releases in 2015 after my surgery, even though it’s very, very little compared to when I was writing a hundred songs per year. However, from now on I’m going to have my heart set on creating things that I can create only because I’m the way I am right now. That is, of course, assuming I continue to get offers in the future as well.
While producing game software comes with the downside that I often can’t talk much about what I’m working on until it’s released, being involved with the newest installation of Nintendo’s Rhythm Tengoku series, released in June, made for great emotional support during my time of illness. The games are in development for a long time until they are finally released into the world — I’d been involved with several earlier games so I knew from past experience the feeling of accomplishment it brings. This time, however, I was diagnosed while we were still hard at work on the game, which I’m sure made Nintendo very worried. Yet, they continued to work on the game together with me until we could finally release it. I’m deeply grateful to them for that.
When I went to New York to see Morning Musume’s performance there during the writing process of the music for that game, I also made my acquaintance with someone who I would later write lyrics for — just another reason I was convinced I’d made the right call in going there.
As I was writing this epilogue, I heard the news of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata’s passing. President Iwata is someone I’d been deeply indebted to ever since the first Rhythm Tengoku game. We were just exchanging messages the other day when he expressed concern over my health… It really is a shame.
Finally, I would like to write about my reasons for writing this book. I tried to convey these things to you, the reader, throughout the book, but I’d like to clearly state them once more.
Firstly, it’s that I wish for everyone to listen to their own feelings. I myself was used to going to the hospital regularly to receive medical check-ups. Even so, I ended up getting sick and the discovery of my cancer was delayed — even though I could personally feel how something wasn’t right with me. So while medical tests are of course a good approximation of your health, you can’t trust the results in blind faith. Doctors are only human, too. They can miss things. It’s not enough that you go in just to get examined by the doctor; you also need to think for yourself and make sure what the doctor tells you actually checks out.
Secondly, writing this book allowed me the opportunity to look back on my journey in life and re-examine the choices I’ve made. In addition, being able to share these experiences with others, I thought I might be able to convey something more to everyone besides what I said during my speech at Kinki University.
Yes, I did have my vocal cords removed, but that doesn’t signify the end. The true battle with my illness only begins now, and it’s something I’ll have to be conscious of for as long as I live. Since making the announcement about my vocal cords, I’ve had many people approach me on the street. “I lost a breast to cancer.” “I had half my colon taken out due to cancer.” It goes on. Sometimes it’s the lady collecting tickets from patrons; other times it’s the taxi driver. There are many people battling with illness. I am nothing more than one of those many people. I intend to keep fighting until the very end.
I spent my twenties looking nowhere but forward with my friends in Sharan Q, wanting to succeed, wanting to get rich, wanting to become famous, working recklessly towards our dreams without a care in the world. Even though I can no longer sing, it’s because I met the other members and the history we have together that I’m the me I am today, and I’m extremely glad we achieved what we did with Sharan Q. It was all possible thanks to the fans always being there for us. Thank you for your support as always.
I was so busy throughout my early thirties, even the memories are dim. I started becoming more of a producer rather than an artist. Teaching others allowed me personally to grow, too. Taking the things I vaguely knew by feeling and teaching them to rookies such as Morning Musume helped me in making sense of those things on a deeper level, helping me to truly understand them. This really taught me a lot. Back then, I was so focused on the work in front of me, I simply couldn’t even picture the effect it would have on me or my body five or ten years down the line.
But I know full well I couldn’t have done any of that work just by myself. Thank you to all the staff, the singing instructors, the dancing instructors, everyone who helped me create those things. In the end I was forced to downsize my own company, but I want to thank the select few staff members who still remain. I’m sure I’ll give you hardship in the future, too, but I hope to have your support.
To all the people who were there for my family during my illness: friends and families who gave us their unwavering support, doctors who went above and beyond the role of a “doctor” and continue to give me and my wife advice, busy work colleagues whom I highly respect who took time out of their busy schedules to lend me an ear when I felt anxious regarding my future in the entertainment industry… The fact that I’m still here today even though I was on the brink of utter hopelessness is thanks to all of you. Also, our matchmaker who me and my wife still often consult regarding each and every little issue that pops up — even though we probably shouldn’t. (laughs) We hope to have your continued support as well. It was only after being diagnosed with cancer that I learned how life is full of wonderful new encounters with people from all over the world, just waiting to be had. I have but gratitude towards everyone and everything.
Looking back on my thirties, it was a time when I met my wife and learned both how difficult and enjoyable it is to live with another person. My wife taught me what it really means to love someone, whereas my children are the ones who finally made me into a real adult. “Having something to protect.” I feel like that is the single greatest happiness one can have in life.
For my wife and my children, I bet I seem way less cool now than I used to before my surgery. But if that’s the case, then what I need to do now is do something so extraordinary, something so amazing, it’ll wipe my slate clean. I simply must have my children think, “ah, our dad really is cool!” That’s how I plan to continue fighting as I go forward.
Lastly, the one thing I truly and honestly wanted to say with this book. It was a long-winded way of saying it, but when it comes down to it, I believe I can sum it up in a single line.
“I love my wife. I love my children. Therefore, I will live.”