September 14, 1986 — Fukui
2001/08/26 ~ 2011/09/30
Takahashi: Right around the time when people started calling it the “Idol Warring Period” and we suddenly had more rivals and less exposure, Tsunku♂ said something to us. “It’s because it’s a time like this that you need to raise the level of your performances.” It was such a relief to hear him say that. It seemed like nothing was going well for us, and yet, now it suddenly felt like I could see the road ahead. It felt like I had been shown the direction that we were supposed to take.
— The group’s Golden Era that had begun with “LOVE Machine” was showing no signs of slowing down even in 2001 when the four members of the 5th generation joined. However, there were tough times ahead.
Takahashi: It was so, so difficult. “Platinum Era” is something they started calling it only after I had graduated — we received zero acknowledgement in real time. I just barely got to experience the Golden Era, but when the 5th generation joined, things in Morning Musume began to change. We couldn’t help but always struggle with the thought that it had been our fault; that we had lacked something.
“Had I Not Aspired to Be Here…?”
— Ever since you first joined though, it feels like you had always been highly praised for your singing and dancing.
Takahashi: I wanted to join Takarazuka when I was little, so I was practicing ballet and singing at the time. I was a member of the choir club and I’d take part in singing contests, too. I came to like Morning Musume thanks to the influence of my teacher at school. I would listen to the early songs a lot. To someone like me — a girl from the countryside of Fukui — they were so mature… They seemed larger than life.
When Goto Maki joined the group it made me even more curious about them, seeing how someone my age was now in the group. I thought, “maybe I could get in, too…” So when I saw an advertisement in the newspaper, I decided to apply.
— You didn’t find out about it on the TV?
Takahashi: They were so slow to broadcast “ASAYAN” in Fukui — there was around a four-week delay. That’s why when new episodes were aired, there would always be an onscreen text saying, “the applications are now closed.” We would learn about how they were taking applications only after the deadline had already passed. We didn’t have internet yet either, so we had just given up.
Moreover, there had been a rumor going around that there would be no more auditions after the 4th generation, so I was quite surprised to learn about it. That’s why when I saw that advertisement in the newspaper, I applied without any second thoughts.
— Did you tell the people around you that you had applied?
Takahashi: It was a small town and I was worried about what might happen if I failed, so I kept it a secret. In that regard, I was glad about the 4-week delay. (laughs) But it turned out that two other students from my junior high school had also applied — there had been three applicants just from this one countryside junior high school in Fukui. It felt awkward seeing each other there, but that just goes to show how popular Morning Musume’s auditions were at the time.
— It feels like you would have a sense of rivalry there, not wanting to lose to the girls from your school.
Takahashi: I’d never taken part in an audition before, so I actually didn’t feel anything like that. If anything, it felt strange how I was progressing further and further along in the auditions.
There were other applicants that were so knowledgeable about Morning Musume, it made me wonder what they liked about me. I did like Morning Musume, but I wasn’t like a super passionate fan or anything. They even posed this quiz to me at the judging. Like, “can you name the coupling song of this single?” I could not. And yet, the TV cameras seemed to be following me around constantly since the beginning. I didn’t like that, just because I was so nervous.
— They were paying attention to you ever since your audition.
Takahashi: I can see that now, but at the time I didn’t get it at all. The staff would ask me like, “why did you cry just now?” I would just think to myself, “Why would you ask me such a mean question? You know why!” My mother alone was apparently feeling impatient and going, “wait, could this mean…?!“
— How about when you made it to the training camp?
Takahashi: That’s when my spirit of not wanting to lose was finally awakened. I thought, “seeing as I’ve made it all this way… I want to pass the audition!” I even turned down a ballet recital and a choir competition in order to take part in the training camp, so it was like, “I have to get in! There’s no going back after this!“
I took on the training camp with everything I had. It was right in the middle of summer vacation, so once I passed, I moved to Tokyo straight away. I went back to Fukui just for two days, but I was so busy with the start of my activities in Morning Musume that I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my friends.
— You had made it to Morning Musume. Your dream had come true.
Takahashi: There was so much for us to learn though. We spent the first month doing lessons constantly. Moreover, it was only us four new members — it wasn’t until later that I finally became fully aware that I was a member of Morning Musume.
We’d been given these schedules that included only the four of us… Until one day, it featured our seniors’ names alongside ours. I remember feeling so moved and going all, “uwaaah!” That was the first time I truly felt that I was now a Morning Musume, too.
— What was your first impression of your seniors?
Takahashi: I just withered in their presence. They felt so far away from me. They seemed like people I wasn’t allowed to directly look at — I couldn’t look my seniors in the eye. There was such a big difference between us and our seniors that the four of us 5th generation members were treated as something else entirely. Even after that first month of lessons, they would keep the four of us together and we’d always be referred to as the “new members.” It was like the 1st to 4th generation members were “Morning Musume” while the 5th generation were just the “new members.”
On many occasions, I doubted whether we were actually even members of the group. But then I just told myself that it was simply because of the difference in our abilities. At the time we didn’t have fellow members as our mentors, but rather our manager. Had it been a senior of ours instead, I feel like we could’ve closed the distance between us sooner.
— So it felt like there was a distance between you?
Takahashi: The four of us generation-mates would talk amongst ourselves, thinking about what we ought to do. But it wasn’t an issue that was going to get solved by just us four talking. The staff were so intense, too. They would get angry with us no matter what we did, so it made me distrustful of people. The first year — before the 6th generation joined — was especially tough. The four of us became so negative. But Ogawa Makoto had a bright personality so we all just tried to cling to that, and somehow we were able to get through it.
— So you were thinking of quitting as soon as you had made it into the group?
Takahashi: Many, many times. I just wanted to go back home to Fukui. I felt stressed-out being apart from my friends and family, I was so busy I didn’t even have time to sleep, and there was so much that I had to learn. On the tour we did right after we’d joined, there were these specific songs of which they said they wanted to “show a nine-member Morning Musume,” meaning the 5th generation wouldn’t take part in those songs. So it was like, “why were we even made members of the group then?“
We would receive a new song and go record it on the very same day. The four of us would get into the recording booth, listen to our seniors sing, and write down every single thing that Tsunku♂ said. Looking back on it now, that was a great learning experience. At the time it was so difficult that I just wanted to run away, but now I feel glad to have experienced that.
— Eventually, you began interacting with your seniors and the mood and environment in the group changed, didn’t it?
Takahashi: Kago Ai kindly approached me. We were close in age and we shared the same name, so she’d often say to me like, “let’s go together!” I was genuinely happy about being closer to one of my seniors. Up until that point, it hadn’t often felt like I was actually a member of Morning Musume, so I just felt so glad to be acknowledged as a group-mate by another member.
Of course I was also glad when Tsunku♂ praised my singing, but being praised by Aibon was a different kind of “glad.” It gave me confidence, and being acknowledged like that made me want to try even harder. It didn’t feel so much as if someone giving me a push, but rather as someone putting their arm around me. I now saw which way I was supposed to go and I became more positive.
— There were lots of difficult experiences, but were there equally as many positive ones, too?
Takahashi: Receiving lines, noticing more people in the audience holding my fans and supporting me, people acknowledging my hard work… Those were the kinds of things that would make me glad.
— As you continued to devote yourself to your activities, you received an unexpected opportunity.
Takahashi: When we were doing “Sou da! We’re ALIVE,” the manager came up to me and said, “we’re going to give you a chance.” He told me that everyone gets a fair chance, and this was to be mine. He said it was up to me if I was going to seize that opportunity or not. I didn’t quite know what that meant — “seizing an opportunity” — but I just danced with all my might next to the center, Yaguchi Mari. It was a big deal for me personally, going after it so recklessly that time.
— You were acknowledged for your effort, and afterwards you would go on to be chosen as the center yourself.
Takahashi: That made me happy of course, but I had conflicting feelings about it, too. I was now the only featured member of the 5th generation and I didn’t know what to do about that. If there was anything troubling me and I tried talking to my generation-mates about it, they’d just go, “at least you got some lines.” So then I couldn’t say anything to them. I had thought they were the people I could talk to about anything and everything, but now our relationship had changed to some extent.
— Did you try asking your seniors for advice?
Takahashi: I was close with Aibon and Non-chan, but it wasn’t really the type of relationship where I would ask them for advice. My other seniors would occasionally give me advice, but for the most part, it was Tsunku♂ who I would go to for advice.
— So Tsunku♂ would give you advice even aside from the technical aspects of the job.
Takahashi: Yes. I would ask him about things related to the group and even the more trivial things, like what I should do about my hair and stuff. Tsunku♂ is not only a producer but also an artist, so he can understand how we feel. When I’d consult him about something, he would answer my questions from a different angle than the manager.
Even if he didn’t always agree with what I said, he wouldn’t dismiss it outright like, “that’s wrong.” Instead, he would say, “well, I do get where you’re coming from,” and then offer his opinion in a considerate way. And because he did, it was easy for me to just accept his advice honestly. He even gave me advice when I asked him about the direction I should take after my graduation.
— Tsunku♂ really does love both Morning Musume as well as its members.
Takahashi: Our regular TV shows had ended, and our seniors — the people who had created the Golden Era — had graduated. We felt like we’d been left behind, and we didn’t know what to believe or what to have as our objective moving forward. But even under those circumstances, Tsunku♂ didn’t give up. That was when he advised us to raise our performance level.
Around those days, he would spend hours with us just getting the rhythm of our dancing right. He’d explain to us his reasons for all his decisions as to our CD covers and outfits. He supported us in a way that allowed us to fully concentrate on our performances. That was what kept us motivated.
Suddenly Being Appointed as the Leader
— During the Platinum Era, could the members feel any effects from their rising performance level?
Takahashi: It was tough keeping up with the lessons needed in order to improve, but the concerts themselves were fun. After Junjun and Linlin joined we even got to do a proper Asian tour, and all in all we were just focused on that feeling of unity with our fans and showing our professionalism on stage.
We treasured each and every concert, and I feel like even now we have a strong bond with the fans who were coming to see our concerts at the time. We had no media exposure, and yet there were people still coming to see us. That was a big source of motivation for us. It’s because we had people coming to see us that we could put on concerts and release singles in the first place. I felt so thankful to have the opportunity.
— Morning Musume became a group of diligent workers. Meanwhile, you also struggled with being the group’s sixth leader.
Takahashi: I was the one who was most surprised about me becoming the leader. Fujimoto Miki was gone so suddenly that I didn’t feel prepared for it in the least, so me and the sub-leader, Niigaki Risa, would often get into conflicts.
Gaki-san is kind of a busybody who worries a lot, so she would have strong opinions about what we should be doing. Meanwhile, I was only thinking, “why me?” I didn’t know what to do. And right around that time, Junjun and Linlin had joined the group as exchange students. We couldn’t even communicate properly and I felt more and more panicked.
— Gaining new members is already difficult in itself, but in this case you even had cultural differences to worry about.
Takahashi: It was difficult for us to understand each other. But then because I was always pretending like I didn’t notice how something was wrong, I got into this argument with Gaki-san. She went, “Why do I have to get angry with them?! You’re supposed to be the leader — you tell them!” It’s true that I was totally leaving everything up to her, but I just didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
So then we had a discussion, and we decided that Gaki-san would be in charge of Linlin, I would be in charge of Junjun, and we would both look after them.
— Were you able to reach an understanding with Junjun and Linlin?
Takahashi: I was so awkward, but we would talk while we were all just crying. But then, gradually, the two of them came to understand. That was simply the only way I knew how to do it at the time. Ultimately, everyone was there to give their support in making it work.
— There was a period of around two and a half years with no graduations or new members joining as the lineup remained fixed. Looking back, that was an unusual set of circumstances.
Takahashi: In terms of our activities as a group, it didn’t hurt us at all. I mean, the members were constantly polishing their technique so the performances themselves were only getting better. However, beginning from around that time, I did start thinking about when my own graduation might be — I felt that if I didn’t leave, the group could never renew itself.
Little by little, I started to figure out what I wanted to do in the future. Also, as I was nearing my mid-twenties, I started feeling a bit weird about how I was singing all these love songs and yet I wasn’t allowed to date. We’d release a new song and I’d think, “Oh, it’s a love song this time. I’m myself of the age when I could be in love…” As that kept happening, I started thinking about how I wanted to lead a normal life. After spending 10 years as a member, it’s no wonder I’d feel that way.
I knew I could keep going until my graduation if I could just decide when I wanted to do so. But I was having difficulty making up my mind. Moreover, Tsunku♂ had always said how “Morning Musume is a training ground,” so it felt like the true start of “me” was only going to happen when I graduated from the group.
— I would think you didn’t know much about the outside world, having been in the group for 10 years.
Takahashi: Exactly. I felt nervous about it prior to my graduation, and I struggled after graduating as well. I’d like to tell all the current members that they ought to try and find what they want to do in the future while they’re still in Morning Musume.
In my case, it was Ishikawa Rika who taught me that. After she’d graduated, she asked me, “Takahashi, what do you want to do after you graduate?” Up until that point I had only been doing as I was told, so I couldn’t answer her. She then told me that I should try and figure it out sooner rather than later.
— When you have a producer who takes care of everything, many of the members probably won’t possess that skill of self-producing.
Takahashi: Yes. I felt lost at the time. After thinking on it, I decided to go forward, doing things my way. Whether it was the right answer or not, I don’t know. But as I kept going it felt like I’d found my path. In that moment, I felt so glad that I’d gone through such an intense training as a Morning Musume.
— Even though you had experienced so much hardship during your time as a member…
Takahashi: They would get angry with me no matter what I did. Mentally, I could never rest until my graduation — my entire time in Morning Musume was full of hardship. But because it was so sports-oriented and because I got such an intense education in a lot of things, no matter where I go now, I receive praise. Even while I was still in Morning Musume, people would often praise me as being “dependable.”
Having received a training like that is nothing but a positive in my current life. I’m so grateful for it.
Groups Don’t Need a Center
— I’ve heard that you’re very curious about your juniors as of late.
Takahashi: It’s crazy. I’m even surprised myself by how much I just love Morning Musume now. I went to see them in concert and afterwards I called over some members that were on my mind, both to praise them as well as give them concrete advice as to how they should do something differently.
— Did you do so from the point of view of a producer, or from the point of view of a fellow artist?
Takahashi: Both, I think. (laughs) One time, I was watching Ikuta Erina in concert and she hesitated for a moment before giving a quick smile. So I told her, “You should maybe try smiling just a little bit earlier. I’m pretty sure the fans would like to see you smiling for a bit longer.” I don’t know, maybe I’m just too meddlesome, but concerts are a place where the audience gets to see you in-person so you want to always keep giving them something a little bit nicer.
I’d really like to give them advice on the singing as well. Like how in “Resonant Blue” you need to just go crazy and make it “resonate” that way, or how in “Shabondama” you need to really bring out the love within you and just make it explode. There’s so many things like that that I’d wish to tell them.
— What do you like about the current Morning Musume?
Takahashi: They all have proper personalities, and their MC’s are funny. That’s why I think it’s a bit of a waste… Back in the day, we had our own TV show where we would do comedy skits and that would further develop our personalities. Everyone was given a role and then you’d have to constantly think for yourself as to how you were going to play the role. I wish the current members had an opportunity like that, too.
Recently, the OG’s and the current members have been making some appearances together. But if we could have more frequent collaborations and opportunities to communicate with each other more, I think that would draw out the current members’ good qualities even more.
— You’re thinking about all kinds of things. What sort of a member would you hope to see join the group in the future in order to make everyone even more excited about the group?
Takahashi: Someone with the “wow factor” — someone like Goto Maki who had everyone talking. I want someone to shake up the rest of them in a good way, like, “this girl’s definitely going to be the center… I need to try harder, too.” I want to see someone with an inexplicable charisma; someone who everyone would agree looks natural standing in the center; someone with presence.
— You yourself already had some experience when you joined, so how important would you say the singing and dancing skills are?
Takahashi: I’d like for them to have some amount of talent, but singing and dancing are something you will learn through training in Morning Musume anyway, so I don’t think it’s that essential.
Not even Goto could do it well at first. Everyone seems to have the wrong idea about her. That girl really is the personification of hard work. And that’s the way everyone becomes when they have that sense of responsibility from being the center. It makes you realize how, since that is your position, you need to work hard.
— One can really sense your love of Goto Maki.
Takahashi: Even now I just love her. I first felt that I wanted to join Morning Musume because of Goto, and seeing her made me want to become as cool as her. My admiration of my seniors is what fostered me. Yes, my time in the group may have been full of hardship. But it’s one of my biggest points of pride how I could be active in the group for a time alongside Goto.
— Goto Maki, the object of everyone’s admiration… Abe Natsumi, the “face” of the group… And then, you. It feels like after Sayashi Riho’s graduation there has been no “absolute center” of the group.
Takahashi: There doesn’t need to be one. Because really, there was never any one person specifically chosen. Like, “she will be the center!” In my case, although I recognized that I had an important position, I would always be paired up with Miki-chan, Tanaka Reina, Kusumi Koharu, or someone else. I wasn’t singing alone. In Abe Natsumi’s case, it would be Fukuda Asuka, or Goto, or someone else.
In that sense, I bet Sayashi must have felt quite pressured after me and Reina had graduated. I’m not saying there was anyone in specific to blame, but maybe everyone did rely on Sayashi too much.
— She was still so young and tiny when she had to take on the heavy responsibility of the center.
Takahashi: I’m not sure if there was anything I could’ve done, but I do regret not having been there for her. We did go out to eat several times, and if I noticed something I would always bring it up. But had I still been in the group, I might’ve realized sooner.
— So you’re against the idea of having just one center.
Takahashi: The reason anyone is made into a center is to make it easier to create an image for a group. Once the group’s image is set, then the songs, the outfits, everything can be decided on more easily. But that feels like it’s taking the easy way out in idol making. It’s like it hinders the growth of the group.
I mean, if you keep fussing over that image, there are less opportunities for members who want to branch out and try something new, and people will grow tired of the group because it always stays the same. Even the people producing the group won’t have that experience of, “since it’s this type of song this time, we should use that girl for this one!” They don’t get to experience that enjoyment; that adventure. It’s a bad thing for all parties involved.
— When you were the leader, it finally became possible for H!P Kenshuusei members to be promoted into the group, too.
Takahashi: I was glad that happened. When Fukumura Mizuki joined the group I remember thinking, “YES!” I’ve been told that when you’re in the Eggs or in the Kenshuusei, everyone goes through a time when they wonder just what it is that they’re working towards. So I think she was like a ray of hope — Fuku-chan joining the group meant that others, too, had a chance of making it into Morning Musume. It’s difficult to keep doing your best if you don’t know where you’re headed.
— You know as well as anyone how painful it is to keep going when you feel lost.
Takahashi: I’m very keenly aware, yes. That’s exactly how I felt, and you can’t see things objectively when you’re in the midst of it all. You lose sight of the right answers.
Similarly, the current members might be worried, thinking, “are we really okay with how we are now?” I hope they just believe in themselves and keep going. Yes, you’re in Morning Musume. But it’s okay to change. No one’s saying you have to be a certain way or that you have to mimic anyone else. People like to talk about the Platinum Era, and while I feel grateful for that, it’s okay for the members to just think, “right now we’re the coolest the group has ever been.” I hope they just keep daringly doing their best in their own style.
Morning Musume is Beyond Space and Time
— Morning Musume has had a grand total of 41 members. How do you feel about the group, looking at it as a whole?
Takahashi: It feels like it’s all connected. Even with members that I don’t get to see as often because of the distance between us — such as Sayashi — when I do meet with them, there’s always this feeling of relief. They’re all my allies and it just feels like home. The reason our bonds are so strong is because the connection that pulls us together is so strong. It’s so incredible seeing members like Fukuda or Ishiguro Aya — people who left the company years ago — singing “Morning Coffee” together with members who weren’t even born yet back then. This connection by the name of “Morning Musume” goes beyond space and time.
— It symbolizes those 20 years of history.
Takahashi: Exactly. Whenever I’m working on something and someone on the staff comes up to me and tells me they liked Morning Musume and how they used to watch me, it makes me feel glad for having worked so hard. Some people first came to like in Morning Musume when they were in kindergarten, and they still continue to like them to this day! That just goes to show you how amazing of a group Morning Musume is; how much appeal it has. It’s very moving. At the same time, it also makes me happy when I think about how I was part of it all.
— What is Morning Musume to you?
Takahashi: Something irreplaceable and unique. It had to be Morning Musume for me. I didn’t think I would come to love them this much when I first joined, but because I did come to love them, I was able to keep going. I used to be a big crybaby, and when I was a member I hated how I was always crying those tears of regret. Morning Musume truly was a training ground… There were so many painful things and I felt lost at times, but everything I learned there is useful to me even today. And now, my tears are all tears of happiness. I’m so grateful.
My love of Morning Musume keeps becoming deeper and deeper, so I will be actively seeking more contact with the current members and with Morning Musume itself!
Takahashi: It’s the song that symbolizes the Platinum Era, and we made it through lots of trial and error. The choreography felt different than anything else we’d done at the time and it was hard to get a hang of the groove. We even had to redo the cover pictures… I have a lot of memories of this song.