February 15, 1999 — Osaka
2014/09/30 ~ 2018/06/20
Ogata: 20 years of history — I really do think that’s incredible. It’s because my parents’ generation knows about Morning Musume’s history and their achievements that they gave me permission to go to Tokyo and take part in their auditions. The group’s history is what allowed me to even take on that challenge in the first place.
— So your parents were forced to say, “well, if it’s Morning Musume…” Did it make you think about the greatness of your seniors?
Ogata: They used to be only these people on the TV screen for me… like, just these “amazing people.” So then when I first met them in real life, it had such a big impact on me that I couldn’t even talk. They’re all so kind. It felt different from meeting Sayashi Riho, who is someone I also admired. The original members especially, it really felt like I was meeting these hugely influential superstars. It made me want to brag to everyone I knew about having met them.
— You also got to collaborate with them, didn’t you?
Ogata: That made me feel like I was only a fan again. Honestly, when I look at the CD covers, it doesn’t even make sense to me that I’m pictured there with them. Half of me feels glad about it, while half of me is just confused.
The Greatness of Morning Musume
— You had to convince your parents to let you apply for the 12th generation auditions. What made you think of applying in the first place?
Ogata: I took lessons in figure skating for ten years. Up until my third year of junior high school, skating was pretty much the only thing I had ever even tried. That’s how serious I was about it. However, my goal had been to reach the 6th skill level of figure skating, and by the time I could even pull off the double axel jump, that’s when I felt I had achieved enough. I was then able quit figure skating without any regrets.
— You had a sense of accomplishment after having pursued this one thing for so many years, and you now felt ready to take the next path in your life.
Ogata: After I quit figure skating, I joined the track and field club in high school and started leading a normal high school life. But then it began to feel like I lacked excitement, or like… that something I’d felt when I was still doing figure skating. Somehow it just didn’t feel like it was enough.
— You must’ve been searching for a place to express yourself.
Ogata: I’d been training in figure skating since the age of 5, and so before I’d even noticed it had become an integral part of my daily life. Back then, I didn’t know how I really felt — like how I actually wanted to portray myself in public. But once I quit, that’s when I realized: “I did like being in the limelight. I was doing a sport that really fit my personality.” But I also didn’t feel like going back to skating, simply because I’d already put a stop to that chapter of my life. So I was searching for another way that would let me be in the limelight like that.
— That’s when you came up with the idol route.
Ogata: Idols in general were so popular with my friends that not a single day went by when I didn’t see them on TV. And as someone from Osaka, I also liked NMB48. But for me, it felt like idols were synonymous with Morning Musume. Plus, I had an admiration for Sayashi. I don’t think I would’ve been an idol had I not made it into Morning Musume.
— It seems like Sayashi has been a big presence for all of the new members since the 12th generation.
Ogata: To me, it was just so unbelievable to see someone roughly the same age as me being able to dance so boldly. And right when I was so obsessed with Sayashi, I discovered the requirements for Morning Musume’s auditions which said the age limit was up to the first grade of high school. It was like my feelings were perfectly in-sync with the auditions, and so I applied, fully expecting to fail.
— Do you remember the audition itself?
Ogata: I remember feeling zero nervousness whatsoever. I was an innocent high schooler who wasn’t thinking about anything at all. Even if I’d wanted to do my best, it’s not like I could sing or dance in the least, and I knew nothing of the world of entertainment either. If anything, I just felt happy about having been able to come to Tokyo. I was only thinking about how I wanted to get some sightseeing done before I had to go back home. I never expected to actually pass the audition.
Hardship Leading to Regret
— What do you think was the deciding factor in you passing?
Ogata: I’ve only ever met Tsunku♂ two or three times, and I’ve never gotten the chance to speak to him directly. But he was a judge at my auditions, and at one point they had us do an oogiri battle — we had to make jokes about themes that they gave us. I just thought to myself, “I’m going to make Tsunku♂ laugh!“
— As a Kansai native yourself, I can imagine how enthusiastic you must have felt simply just being told that you were to do oogiri.
Ogata: Maybe they liked how I got so totally into it.
— Previously, you had only shown the same kind of passion towards figure skating.
Ogata: I’m the type of person who can only be passionate about one thing at a time. I lose sight of everything else.
— Did you become equally as passionate about Morning Musume when you made it in?
Ogata: I think so, yes. I did have some uneasiness because I had no prior experience with singing or dancing, but I also had an impression of Morning Musume being this place where girls who could initially do nothing at all would join and they could then develop themselves, so I quickly felt confident in myself for having been chosen. I saw it as my chance to show everyone just how hardworking I could be. That’s when I got really passionate about it, and I started doing my best trying to learn how to sing and dance.
— With that said, I’m sure it wasn’t easy.
Ogata: It was very difficult in the beginning just because I knew nothing. I really didn’t know a single thing about entertainment industry work. I genuinely thought people working in that field only had to work when they were appearing on TV or when they were performing concerts. I was astonished to find out just how many lessons we’d be doing behind-the-scenes and how we had to learn all the variations of our formation dancing — how everything was built from scratch. It made me worried when I learned the truth: hidden behind that dazzling thing on stage is always a great deal of effort.
— But wouldn’t you also be practicing a lot in order to look dazzling at your figure skating contests?
Ogata: Figure skating is an individual sport, so whether you practiced or not was all your own responsibility. Whether you did your best or not would be reflected in the results. But Morning Musume is a group, so if I make a mistake, it becomes the responsibility of the entire group. Having joined Morning Musume, that’s when I first felt that sort of a feeling of responsibility through doing all those group activities.
— Not long after, you got your first taste of discouragement…
Ogata: Our first performances were at the New Year’s Hello! Con, and those rehearsals were quite tough. I came in not even knowing what rehearsals were; not knowing any of the choreographies or the line distributions. It’s like, they showed me my position and they put a mic in my hands, and I was just standing there going all, “huh?“
Makino Maria would help the rest of us 12th generation members with our dancing, and Oda Sakura would come and help us with our rehearsals even on her days off. We would rent a studio to do our dance lessons, and we still couldn’t keep up with our seniors. I just felt so bad for causing all this trouble for our seniors and the teachers who were trying to teach us everything from zero. Now, seeing how capable our juniors in the 13th generation are, it only further reminds me just how hopeless the 12th generation was in the beginning.
— You were in a world of professionals now — simply just saying, “it’s my first time so I can’t do it,” wasn’t going to cut it.
Ogata: The most painful thing for me was thinking how just by me joining Morning Musume, I had with my presence caused a drop in the level of this group with such a long history. Country Girls had also just debuted at that same Hello! Con and everyone was so excited about them, so that made me feel all the more frustrated. With figure skating, I had been doing it nonchalantly at my own pace. But now, for the first time, I was starting to care about what others thought of me, and I was also starting to become more competitive.
— I would think you also found joy in performing all those songs together with the seniors you so admired.
Ogata: Emotionally, I wasn’t yet at a place where I was really able to “enjoy” myself. But I did feel joy in knowing how these people who I held as my personal goals were so close to me, and also in the love I could feel in the lyrics that Tsunku♂ wrote for us. To me it felt like while everyone was focused on our seniors who were all looking so cool in the front, Tsunku♂ would instead be looking at us members in the back a lot. That made me happy.
— Morning Musume has an image of being a very “sports-oriented” group, and yet I guess even to someone like you who had been very serious about sports before it made you feel a lot of new kinds of emotions.
Ogata: I think it’s just because I had such a strong feeling of not wanting to destroy my beloved Morning Musume. But just having been able to do activities with Sayashi, who I so admired, was such a precious experience for me… Looking back, I should’ve learnt more about singing and dancing from her, and I should’ve just spoken with her more in general. I do regret not getting to do more with her. Since then, I’ve just been trying to make up for my shortcomings in any way possible. It feels like I’m still running forward.
— Even now?
Ogata: In the beginning I was constantly running ahead at breakneck speed, but lately it’s like I can adjust my pace depending on how fast I need to go. But I’m still always running.
An Everlasting Home
— It has been four years since then. You’ve announced your graduation, having found yet another new path for yourself. You must have felt some sort of a change within yourself.
Ogata: I’m happy how through all these various activities I might have influenced some people. In Morning Musume, I’ve of course gotten to perform concerts and things like that, but I’ve also gotten to do so much more. I still don’t think I’m much of a singer or dancer, but as someone who likes to talk, I’ve been able to make use of that side of me on the radio. It was actually that experience that first made me start thinking about leaving and to start heading towards the next thing awaiting me.
— Did you make any new discoveries during these four years you spent in Morning Musume?
Ogata: There are some groups that don’t have these senior-junior relations, but I realized how good it actually is that they’re very much present in Morning Musume. Speaking politely, having some manners… It’s important to learn about proper etiquette. It brings the group together so well.
The thing that makes the group right now so pleasant to be in is how we’re all rivals on-stage, but then in rehearsal the seniors will teach things to the juniors, and in private we can all goof around together. Then, when the time comes, it’s back to being seniors and juniors again, and we get into that serious rehearsal mode again. Morning Musume is a group of professionals who are capable of changing gears like that.
— And before even noticing it, you too had become one of those professionals.
Ogata: It makes me glad when people tell me that. It makes me feel that the four years I spent in the group didn’t go to waste. For the longest time I used to feel like the “newbie” of the group and I was always impatient and busy thinking about how I had to get rid of that feeling… but then it just naturally happened by itself. I think this awareness is something that has been cultivated by the OG’s and the past 20 years. When you feel the weight of such a deep history, that awareness just gradually starts building up in you as well.
— It’s proof how everyone in Morning Musume is connected.
Ogata: It made me happy how even though we’d never even spoken in these 20 years, the OG’s would feel a kind of a connection between us and they would talk and act so kindly towards us. I do strongly feel the bonds between us, and now with us current members being the ones carrying the torch, I feel like we have make that connection even stronger.
Morning Musume has always had new members joining and old members graduating — even during the time I was a member, three of my seniors graduated. And yet Morning Musume has always stayed connected, and so the group will probably always continue to have members joining and graduating. I’m very proud of the fact that I could be a even a tiny part of that long history.
— What is Morning Musume to you?
Ogata: It’s home. Right now there are 13 people living there, but in the past there have been many more people who have also lived in this house. Sometimes one of them makes a visit back home and everyone gives them a warm welcome. The members are the family living in this home. Just a while ago, Kudo Haruka left home and started living by herself. (laughs) Soon it will be my turn. Whenever new members join the group, it feels like the family is welcoming new family members to their home.
— It’s now been 20 years since that house was built. Do you feel that your home will continue to stand in this plot of land known as the idol world?
Ogata: I hope it’s going to be there forever. 20 years is a long time… but it’s not enough. I hope it’s going to be known as a national idol group even when I’m an old granny — I want to point at the TV and brag about it to my grandkids all, “you know, a long time ago, this grandma of yours used to be in that group.” (laughs) Even if old members graduate, the group will never end for as long as there are new members joining, too. I hope all kinds of different members get to play a role in the group’s future as well. I do feel like it’s going to last forever.
“What is LOVE?”
Ogata: I feel like this song symbolizes Morning Musume ’14 with Sayashi Riho as the center, as well as the group’s formation dancing. Lately it has been included on many of our concert setlists, and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to become a part of that heart-shaped formation we make. I actually know Sayashi’s choreography to this song, too.