September 23, 1985 — Tokyo
1999/08/22 ~ 2002/09/23
Goto: The amount of time I spent as a member was a mere three years, but there’s no question that it was the most intense three years of my entire life.
— It really was a surprisingly short amount of time. One thing is for sure though: when that blond-haired junior high school student made her first appearance on TV, something had instantly changed all over Japan.
Goto: I’d only dyed my hair because I was on my summer vacation. That was back when that whole gyaru boom was happening and I just got swept up in it…
— But you were taking part in an idol audition. Were you not worried about the hair hurting your chances?
Goto: I liked the way I looked. And besides, while I did hope to become a singer, I also wasn’t the type of girl to hold back from doing something I wanted to do just because of that.
— You have also said that you were able to proceed in the auditions only because you didn’t go on your school’s field trip.
Goto: Going on the field trip, we would’ve had a certain dress code. I absolutely did not want that. I intended to go in full makeup, wearing a paleo skirt and everything, but the teacher said no. So I withdrew from the field trip and went to the audition instead. (laughs)
— You were a completely unprecedented junior high schooler.
Goto: Yes. In many ways I felt that way myself, too. After some time had passed, I actually went and asked the people at the company, “Why did I pass the audition?” They told me, “it was funny how you said you’d dyed your hair just because it was your summer vacation.“
Honestly, they may have made a mistake if that was the deciding factor. (laughs)
— After you passed, did you not think to dye your hair black for “LOVE Machine“? You were now an idol, after all.
Goto: Well, seeing as I’d already dyed it, I thought I would dye it to a “cleaner” shade of blond. So I asked my senior at school to dye it for me, and the result was that completely dirty-looking blond. But then the manager said it was fine as it was, and I went in to the cover photo shoot like that. I myself was actually reluctant to do so. My mother was enraged about it, too.
— You had been able to debut… but with blond hair. As your mother, she must have felt very disappointed about it.
Goto: She thought I would’ve looked much nicer with just some white highlights in my black hair. (laughs)
— That was her take on it…?!
Goto: Neither of us could even imagine any of the things that awaited us. We didn’t know anything. We simply went along with whatever everyone was telling us.
An Overnight Top Idol
— There’s a famous story of how when you first joined, you didn’t even know who Yaguchi Mari was.
Goto: That’s so embarrassing… Really, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, “you are in no way qualified to be joining Morning Musume.” (laughs) Not even knowing the members’ names… I’m amazed that the manager and my seniors were able to remain patient enough to deal with me.
— Regardless, you were made the center of the group straight away. You must have felt like you were under pressure.
Goto: I didn’t even know that the center position was this amazing thing. I’d joined the group all by myself and I figured it was just par for the course. It was only later when I learned how like the 2nd generation hadn’t received any lines in “Summer Night Town,” or how Abe Natsumi had sung the previous song, “Furusato,” all by herself while the other members only sang backing vocals. Little by little, I started picking up on how the air in the group felt weird because of me.
— That said, your life must have completely changed with “LOVE Machine.”
Goto: I didn’t personally feel that way — I was only living at home as usual. It just felt like suddenly I had one thing after the other that needed to be done, work-wise. That’s all.
— It must have brought about a change within the group how the public was now paying so much attention on you.
Goto: Maybe it all played out that way because of my position. I often noticed how my seniors felt annoyed with me… In the beginning they used to call me by “Maki,” but suddenly it became “Goto!” That would make me think, “did I do something wrong?“
Afterwards, being chosen for a unit and getting to have an early solo debut, there was this perception that everything was focused on me. But I was simply doing my best, and in my childlike mind, I suppose I was pretending like I had no idea what the adults were thinking.
— Plus, it’s not like you could have done anything anyhow, even if you had vented your emotions to them.
Goto: We didn’t get to decide on a single thing back then. Our songs, our costumes, our positions in the group, our hairdos… We had our schedules all decided a year in advance. Sometimes we might get to choose if we wanted the box lunch with the fish, or the box lunch with the meat — that’s about it. (laughs)
— Would you have taken part in the auditions had you known how this was the reality of the idol life?
Goto: If “LOVE Machine” hadn’t been a hit, I probably would’ve ended up quitting after three weeks or something. But there was no going back after that.
— Moreover, “ASAYAN” was following you around constantly.
Goto: Yes. It wasn’t just the concerts: there was variety TV, music shows, dramas, commercials, musicals… I didn’t get any time off for the first six months after I joined the group. It was to the point where I remember complaining to the staff how I wanted to eat some actual warm rice. I think I demanded to have some watermelon, too. (laughs)
But while I was grateful for all the experiences I was having, “ASAYAN” really was tough. Me being only a junior high school student, it made me completely lose trust in other people.
— The cameras were on you all day, every day.
Goto: I didn’t even have time to sleep, and yet I could never afford to lose focus. The show would be so mean-spirited in how it portrayed me, too. I wish they would’ve tried to explain it to me, even if I was only a child. Now, I can understand how they were trying to capture our facial expressions in their “purest” form. But back then, it only came across as malicious.
At the training camp for Pucchimoni, they made it on purpose so that I alone overslept, and then they filmed the staff getting angry with me. I hated it so much, I ran away from the cameras just because I didn’t want to see them. And they aired me running away. After I’d run away from them, I found a fire escape where I could catch my breath. But when I looked up, there was a camera there as well. Without even thinking, I just gave the camera this glare. That, too, was aired.
— That, however, made you seem even more like a kind of idol no one had ever seen before. You became Goto Maki, the “cool, lone wolf type” who didn’t try to curry favor with anyone.
Goto: I’d joined the group all on my own so I had no refuge. And although it didn’t feel like they were completely making up this image of me, I was in many ways misunderstood, too. I really was just an average junior high school student.
— There was also much talk about the rivalry between you and Abe Natsumi.
Goto: Of course it wasn’t just like every other relationship between me and her. Nacchi had originally been the absolute center of the group, but then I joined and suddenly I was now the center. But then she would also come over for sleepovers at my house, we’d eat my mother’s cooking, and we’d go to karaoke together. It’s not like we were in a constant state of war — otherwise we wouldn’t have been able to properly perform on stage together.
We were both so busy and so stressed-out, we even gained weight right around the same time. (laughs) I really didn’t see her as like some big enemy that everyone wants to believe I did.
— No one wants to believe that! (laughs) When you talk about the time you both gained weight, you must mean the shoot for the film “Pinch Runner.”
Goto: The stress on top of the lack of sleep made it so that I was eating eight times a day. I was constantly snacking on something. It was like… since there was never any time, I’d just try to eat whenever I could. I started carrying around pastries with me in my bag, and I’d eat those whenever I had the opportunity. The worst was when we’d be doing a concert, and while Tanpopo was on stage doing a song, I would use those five minutes to eat some ochazuke and then immediately go on stage myself to sing and dance as Pucchimoni. (laughs) It wasn’t in any way normal.
— You just couldn’t help it?
Goto: It wasn’t so much that I was hungry, but just that I got a peace of mind from eating. I guess that’s just how cornered I felt. All the songs and the choreographies… We’d often have to learn everything in just a matter of hours. I was going way over my capacity, and I guess I was somehow trying to make up for that. And that went on for three years. Looking back, I can’t believe I could actually survive in that environment.
— They were extreme circumstances.
Goto: I wasn’t doing it consciously, but it got to the point where I didn’t want to give reactions to anything, no matter what was being asked of me. I started seeing less cameras from that point on. But I would flare up even at Tsunku♂ for the slightest thing, and… Oh, yes. Especially at my mother.
— She must have been your biggest and closest supporter.
Goto: My mother was genuinely happy about me having debuted. My family was running an izakaya and whenever my fans would show up there, she would enjoy that so much, too. It’s like she lived for that. Every night, she would wait for me to come home and ask me, “What did you get to do today? Where did you go?” But I would be so sleepy and irritated, I couldn’t give her a straight answer. It was like this little rebellious phase of mine.
— How long did that “little rebellious phase” last?
Goto: For the entire three years. I started taking more days off from school and leaving early more often, so I couldn’t see my friends as much and I would fall behind in my studies. Even at school I was rebelling. One time, it became a big deal when I felt that the teacher was being unreasonable, so I kicked a chair. (laughs) They even called the president of our company over that day.
— That “rebellion” even reached as far as Tsunku♂ himself.
Goto: It was all just in my head, but I had this idea that Tsunku♂ actually hated me. That’s why I would try to defy him… And that continued all the way until my graduation. Tsunku♂ produced my graduation concert as per his image of what it should be, and even there I’d be butting heads with him at the rehearsals. I was seriously thinking to myself, “Why does Tsunku♂ get to decide about my graduation? Why don’t you just do the concert yourself then?! Leave me alone!” I was acting like such a child — I feel so sorry about it.
And yet, after the concert ended, he simply told me, “good work today.” It was all thanks to Tsunku♂ dealing with me like an adult that everything went smoothly.
— You were extremely busy on top of also being in the midst of your rebellious phase. What kept you going?
Goto: Just one thing: the fans. One day, I simply came to realize how I wanted to be closer to my fans; how I wanted to be better friends with my fans. That made every day fun for me.
— That’s surprising. One might expect for the “always cool Goto Maki” to have been “cool” in that respect as well.
Goto: They would make me enjoy myself, and they would support me with their love. That made me feel that I, too, needed to make them enjoy themselves and give them my love in return.
— Were you actively seeking opportunities to be in more contact with your fans?
Goto: I had this box that was filled with heaps and heaps of fan letters, and I would pick some from them and write the senders back. I was supposed to be all rebellious, and yet, I would ask my mother to put stamps on the letters and send them for me. (laughs)
When we were performing in rural areas, if fans handed me letters as we were leaving the venue, I would pray that they would be there to greet us the following day, too, because I would write them replies using stationery from the hotel. If they were there the next day and I managed to hand them my letters, I’d be all “hooray!” as we set out for back home.
I wanted to be as connected as possible to my fans.
— The fans couldn’t have asked for better treatment. (laughs)
Goto: Yes. They really were my support. Tsunku♂ was the producer of everything in Morning Musume, so it felt like the communication with my fans was the one thing I had any say in. I wished for the security staff to treat the fans as kindly as possible, too. I genuinely wanted to speak directly to the people who supported me. Correspondence with my fans gave me hope.
— Knowing that, anyone would want to become a fan of yours.
Goto: When you’re up on stage, you can see who everyone supports when you look at whose fan they’re holding up, right? If I saw a person in the crowd who supported another member, I would have fun trying my best to win even them over to my side.
— How sneaky of you!
Goto: It’s fun how the fans all like different things about us; how they all had different reasons for coming to like us. To this day, I still receive letters from the same fans who used to support me back then. The fans really were the thing that kept me going.
The Importance of Perseverance
— With the 4th generation joining the group and you thus receiving some juniors of your own, one would think you finally had some room to breathe.
Goto: I’d been dancing so much in concerts from the time I joined, I felt like I’d internalized it and I was now able to dance without issues. But when I get used to something, I get bored of it. And so, suddenly, I came to hate rehearsals.
— Did your instructor, Natsu Mayumi, not get angry with you?
Goto: She did. But I was bored — there was no helping it! (laughs)
— With the addition of new members, the group’s songs and positions changed once more.
Goto: I’d never given thought to the “battle” for the center position before then. But when Ishikawa Rika became the center for “The☆Peace!,” I admit that I did feel a bit weird about suddenly being put to the side. But when they clearly explained to us, “We’re going to have Ishikawa do her best for this song. Abe and Goto will be there at her side for support,” I totally got it. I could accept it.
— Yoshizawa Hitomi then became the center for “Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~.”
Goto: It had been two songs in a row with someone else as the center, so I felt like, “okay, I guess it’s going to go in order like this.” But I received an equally desirable male role in that song, so I had fun. I wasn’t the center, but I had no complaints either.
— You were friendly with the 4th generation, weren’t you?
Goto: Somehow the members would always end up doing makeup and eating at different times, and we’d find ourselves split up into two teams: the “big sister team” and the team with me and the 4th generation. I was close in age with Yossie and Rika-chan, and with the 4th generation joining the group, I do believe they had a bit of an effect on my character.
— Were you able to get along with the “big sister team?”
Goto: Sure — if I could handle their sudden bursts of moodiness. (laughs) But we were so busy that we all felt constantly on edge. It was so difficult, it’s no wonder they had to lash out at someone. Because in all fairness, I did the same.
— That’s a very mature way of looking at it.
Goto: We’d have clashes of opinion at concerts. There would be disagreements. We’d be in rehearsal, and I would be rehearsing while also thinking about things like how far would I be able to see during the performance, or just how much of what I did on stage would the fans be able to see from their seats.
But then one of the seniors got angry with me, saying I wasn’t giving it my all with my dancing. I’d think, “I’m not you — I have my way of doing things. Just dancing as hard as I can in rehearsal doesn’t necessarily make it a good rehearsal.” We butted heads over that, and throughout the rest of the day we never even made eye contact. But it’s not like we’d drag out arguments like that: by the following day’s TV shoot, we were already back to normal. It felt like I was going through a cycle like that every day.
— You had an image of being someone who didn’t listen to what their seniors told them. You’re now saying that it wasn’t just an image.
Goto: I would listen when I needed to, of course. There was so much I didn’t know, and my seniors would be angry with me constantly. But after some time had passed, I started to feel like my way of doing things should count for something, too. That was something I just wouldn’t back down on.
— Were there other areas where you similarly persevered?
Goto: Well, sure. Because everyone was constantly getting angry with me. (laughs) Even at my very first concert, Natsu got angry with me and we had to do practice it all over again on the day itself. When I finally managed to get it right, she praised me. That was the first time I cried.
They got angry with me when I couldn’t read the kanji characters on a cue card during a TV shoot, and they got angry with me when we were performing a cover on NHK’s “POP JAM” and I didn’t get the choreography right — we had to shoot it all over again.
They got angry with me during a promotional tour in Fukuoka, too. I had been told that we’d get to go eat out for the first time during my promotional tour. I was looking forward to it. But the manager kept angrily preaching at me for something or the other and I was starting to become worried about our reservation at the restaurant — we were supposed to be going to this pufferfish place. So I interrupted to ask, “are we okay on time…?” Naturally, that just made the manager get even more angry. (laughs)
— It sounds like all of your memories are of people getting angry with you. (laughs) I’m amazed you had the courage to actually ask about the time!
Goto: I was only a child after all. I just wanted to eat pufferfish. I really do think it’s amazing that they even chose someone like me.
Music: Something You Foster Yourself
— Your “cool character” was so prominent, I can’t help but feel surprised hearing you talk about these things.
Goto: When I was a junior high schooler, I was told that I was the “mistress character.” Nacchi, she was the “lawful wife character.” That’s why she was always all-smiles. She was like the sun whereas I had a “dark side”… which was supposedly a good thing. At first I didn’t understand what they meant by that, and I didn’t like having this image of somehow being the “bad guy.” I just happened to be given that role without any input from me. But it did give me the opportunity to get comfortable, and ultimately I feel glad about it.
— When I first met you ten plus years ago, that was actually my impression of you at the time, too.
Goto: People’s impression of me tends to change when they actually meet me in-person. It’s like they’re thinking to themselves, “…she actually speaks!” (laughs) Of course I do. People start by having this super negative impression of me, so it’s not hard to improve on it. In that sense, with Nacchi, you simply can’t separate her from that smile of hers. I really admire her for that.
— It was a difficult three years for you in many ways. But just seeing how big of a hit “LOVE Machine” became, I’m inclined to think that it was the right choice for you to join the group.
Goto: Even now, people still associate me with “LOVE Machine.” It definitely got me a lot of attention. Yes, I do believe it was the right choice. When people are paying attention to me, that makes it feel fulfilling for me as well. It’s fun. It allows me to have a positive attitude.
— There was this certain energy in your TV appearances as well. Just this “power” emanating from all of the members…
Goto: “Utaban” being a good example that. If you just sit there doing nothing, you’re going to get buried under everyone else. That’s why everyone would be trying to push their way to the front; trying to show off their character. Just knowing that you’re successful leads to a feeling of confidence, too.
— A feeling like you’re just riding the wave, knowing no fear?
Goto: Yes. Even I personally know that I went too far sometimes. There were things that, as an adult, I now regret. But at the time I was giving it my all, and us trying freely to exhibit our character would make us interesting. It felt like Morning Musume was constantly evolving.
— The group had so much character, it felt like something was always happening. It gave the fans a sense of excitement.
Goto: But it can be a paper-thin difference between whether what you have is “character” or a “complex.” The generousness of society for allowing me to turn my complexes into positives… Tsunku♂’s warmth… The greatness of the “Morning Musume” name… These were all things that allowed me to grow up strong.
— You couldn’t possibly have had any complexes yourself, could you?
Goto: I had plenty. The thing that bothered me the most was actually my habit of walking pigeon-toed. (laughs)
— You didn’t strike me as ever doing that.
Goto: It bothered me especially much when I was dancing. But then Tsunku♂ made me feel confident that my way of walking pigeon-toed was actually cool. That’s when I stopped worrying about it and I could perform with confidence.
— You first took part in the 10th anniversary unit, and now it’s been a further 10 years since then. Time sure flies. What do you think about the Morning Musume of today?
Goto: Back then, it used to be like this bundle of character; like a public co-ed school. Today, it feels like a private girls’ high school. They’re all such good girls, but I would like to see more of each of their personalities.
— Do you ever get curious about who gets to sing your lines?
Goto: I do! Also, whenever someone performs one of my solo songs, I’ll have fans reporting to me about it on my blog.
— How does that make you feel? You’re not active in singing yourself at the moment, but others continue singing your songs even to this day.
Goto: It makes me very happy. Even when it comes to my lines, I want them to not worry about anything and just express the lyrics freely. I want them to try and exceed the originals and think of the songs as if they were their own. I personally was so happy when I received lines in songs that were released before I joined the group, like “Manatsu no Kousen” or “Memory Seishun no Hikari.”
— You received lots of lines that were originally sung by Fukuda Asuka and Ishiguro Aya.
Goto: That’s right. And I didn’t try to sing those lines exactly like Ayappe — I was consciously trying to sing them in my own way. That’s why I want the current members to also sing and perform the songs without needlessly worrying about anything.
— Do you still listen to the songs from when you were a member?
Goto: As soon as I became a solo artist, I stopped listening. To me, Morning Musume’s songs were something that used to be drilled into me — they didn’t have an image of being something I would just listen to in my daily life.
— So you would listen to other genres instead?
Goto: For the three years that I was a member, I just didn’t have the time so I never listened to any music in my private life. So after I graduated, I started listening to all kinds of different genres like I was trying to make up for the lost time.
— It’s true that your songs as well as your performances became something totally different compared to your Morning Musume era.
Goto: I was trying to go in a more mature direction. So then when I was told that my next song would be “Te wo Nigitte Arukitai,” I seriously resisted. Like, “Why do I have to sing something this childish?! Argh! Tsunku♂, you’re the worst!“
— You hated it.
Goto: I did. But songs are all about how you foster them. My juniors seem to have liked “Do it! Now,” but that was my graduation song and I had such an emotional attachment to it, I can’t call it my personal favorite. It just makes me remember how hard I was trying my best for those three years. I almost never come to like the songs on their own merits… There’s always these happenings with each song which gives it a weight, and that’s how I’ll come to like it.
— So what ended up happening with “Te wo Nigitte Arukitai“?
Goto: I came to love it. (laughs) Whenever I’d sing it live, the view from the stage and all the related memories would get combined into my image of the song… I came to feel the warmth of the song, and now I love it.
— In that sense, you actually managed to handle your feelings and the way you think rather well.
Goto: You’re capable of anything if you can just adjust your thinking accordingly. Now, as an adult, I recognize the importance of not having preconceived notions as you go forward.
“Merry Christmas” for 20 Years!
— You have been burdened with the “Morning Musume” name since you were 13 years old. Have there ever been times when the name has felt too heavy for you?
Goto: I came to realize — maybe through my solo activities — that we we weren’t going to continue being these super popular, national idols forever. I definitely felt that sooner or later it was going to come to an end.
— You could look at it objectively.
Goto: I was just a child. It was such a dizzyingly busy three years that I had no time to spare — I just had to keep running. But every now and then I would think to myself, “this too will one day end.” But maybe it’s actually because I felt that way that I could keep running. I only have gratitude towards Morning Musume. I don’t think it’s “heavy” at all. I am where I am today because of Morning Musume, and for that I wish only to say, “thank you.“
— People have this perception of “Goto Maki = Morning Musume,” perhaps more than you even realize.
Goto: When I first joined the group though, that couldn’t have been further from the truth. (laughs) I was this close to quitting at any moment. But I feel like it’s because I did my best then that Morning Musume is the way it is today, and that I’m the way I am today. The group has existed for 20 years because each era had its people who did their best. It’s just that, when you’re in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel like your hard work is going to really lead to anything. But it does.
So with that in mind, I want the current members to do their best, too.
— It’s only a total of 41 Morning Musume members, after all.
Goto: There being more and more juniors makes me want to do my best, too. It’s incredible that the group is still going on. I’m grateful to them.
— It feels like it’s all connected.
Goto: Seeing as it’s the place where I came from, it feels like a family to me. And as for it having gone on for 20 years… I’d just like for each and every one of us 41 members to casually congratulate each other — as casually as if we were telling each other, “Merry Christmas!” I say “casually” because even if it has been 20 years, it’s only par for the course for Morning Musume. I hope that it’s going to go on for a long time to come yet.
— What is Morning Musume to you?
Goto: An opportunity. The place that made “Goto Maki.” It was the opportunity for me to get started in the world of entertainment as a singer. The opportunity for everyone to get to know “Goto Maki.” The opportunity that made everyone see me as a national idol. It’s the place that made me learn about what I have to do, as well as showing me what I wanted to do. It was like a form of compulsory education for me. It taught me about manners, and about the harshness of society.
And today, I strongly feel that it’s a place that I always ultimately end up coming back to.
— So you’re glad to have had that place.
Goto: It’s because of the other members that even now I’ll sometimes feel like listening to those Morning Musume songs. There were so many times back then that just made me think “why?!“… The managers, instructors, seniors — they would all constantly make me feel bad. But now, I only have gratitude towards them all. I’m even grateful towards the “ASAYAN” staff who pissed me off so, so much. (laughs) They’re all the people who made me into the Goto Maki that I am today.
— It really makes you think about the weight of these 20 years.
Goto: Without Morning Musume, I would’ve never been an OG or a member to begin with, and I would’ve never met my fans. It’s all connected. As you grow up, you have to start worrying about “common sense” and all kinds of trivial things. As a result, there was a time when I was worried because it felt like I was becoming a boring person.
But then I got to spend my youth with all these people of all ages instead of just my friends from back home. I got to have all these experiences; feel all these emotions… But most of all, it was those experiences I would’ve otherwise never had if I’d just been living my life normally. It really enriched my life. My teens were truly a fulfilling time for me. That’s why I just want to express, “thank you.” And if there’s one thing I can now say, it’s that for those three years that I spent in Morning Musume… every single day was fun.
Goto: This was a coupling song as well as a supporting song for “Saltimbanco,” and it’s a song that I find myself sometimes humming to even now. “Tsuugaku Ressha” is another song that makes me reminisce about those times. They’re some of those very unique songs that make me feel warm inside.