March 12, 1999 — Kanagawa
Oda: The 11th generation audition was called the “Suppin Utahime Audition” (“Makeup-Less Songstress Audition“). Singing was all I had — this was my chance. Had it been called a “dancing audition” or a “beautiful girl audition,” I probably would’ve given up from the get-go. I got lucky with the word “songstress” being in the title.
The Beginnings of a Songstress
— Tsunku♂ has previously stated that he thinks the all-time top vocalists of Hello! Project are Matsuura Aya, Takahashi Ai, and you.
Oda: He said that in reference to how our skill levels were when we’d just joined Hello! Project. I don’t know whether he still holds that opinion of me or not. I’m just glad that there was at least one point in time where he felt that way.
— The first time you met Tsunku♂ was at the S/mileage audition.
Oda: That was actually the first time I’d ever sung with all seriousness in front of other people. I was always a shy person. But he heard my singing when it was still “pure” — before I’d done any voice training and all that — and he got curious about me because of it. That made me glad.
March 7, 2002 — Nagano
Haga: I first came to like Morning Musume all thanks to my aunt. She was exposing me to all kinds of TV shows, CD’s, and magazines since I was 0 years old. I even watched Hello! Morning in real time. That’s why for my 4th birthday I wrote in my signature board: “when I grow up, I want to join Morning Musume.“
Gifted Education From Her Aunt
— You were exposed to Morning Musume before you’d even become aware of your surroundings. Which era of Morning Musume did you like the best?
Haga: The Morning Musume right after the 9th generation had just joined the group. “Maji Desu ka Ska!” was what captured my heart — I just loved how happy and cute it was. But then right after that they released “Only you,” and I thought it was so amazing how one group could sing songs that were so happy but also other songs that were so cool.
— A surprisingly accurate analysis for an elementary schooler!
Haga: “Help me!!” was the first CD I ever bought and I still treasure that CD. Something I love about Morning Musume is how it has something that other normal idol groups don’t really have — that certain amount of “lameness,” in a good sense of the word.
July 13, 1989 — Yamaguchi
2003/01/19 ~ 2014/11/26
— As the 8th leader you were a central figure in the group breaking through once more, and that has resulted in the name “Michishige Sayumi” becoming almost deified.
Michishige: I was genuinely happy to have been told things like that. It felt like my 10+ years of hard work had finally been recognized. I’m no god though — I even got a leg cramp during a very important part of my graduation concert. But I think even in that moment, the fans all knew: this is the real Michishige Sayumi. Like, “I guess Michishige Sayumi will remain Michishige Sayumi until the very end.” (laughs)
— From the very beginning, you had difficulty with singing and dancing. Rather than standing out in performances, you got your big break through variety TV. Later, your image as the group’s leader became properly established, and then that graduation concert happened…
Michishige: I consider myself a perfectionist, and yet, there is always something lacking about me. That was the case for those entire 12 years. Even with the leg thing, it wasn’t just that one instance — I’d be getting cramps all the time and thus causing trouble for others. I’m bad at singing, bad at dancing, I’m a deeply jealous person, and I do not have a good personality. (laughs) In those 12 years, not once was there a time when I was truly perfect. So I feel that, in a way, maybe that graduation was actually very fitting for me.
July 7, 1997 — Fukuoka
Ikuta: I wrote a message in my kindergarten graduation album that said, “I want to join Morning Musume together with my friend.” Morning Musume was very popular at the time of course, as was Minimoni. I especially loved Yaguchi Mari.
— Minimoni did indeed have the support of many kindergarteners and elementary schoolers at the time.
Ikuta: What I liked about Yaguchi was how happy and bright she was, but it was also her eye-catching looks — she was like a cartoon character in how easy it was to spot her. I had a huge collection of Minimoni merchandise. One of the more rare things I had was this Minimoni PC software… It was like this, “let’s get good on the keyboard together with Minimoni!,” type thing. Minimoni was pretty much guiding my whole life back then.
Looking Up to Morning Musume
Ikuta: To me, Morning Musume were always big stars — someone I looked up to. There were lots of kids around me who also liked them, and there was this one friend especially with whom I made a promise that we’d join Morning Musume together. We both loved them to the point where she would wear like boy’s clothes and I would wear a dress and we’d dance to “Go Girl ~Koi no Victory~.“
It’s not that there was one specific thing that made me like Morning Musume — it was more like, before even noticing it, Morning Musume was already there in my life… and I was a fan.
August 10, 1981 — Hokkaido
1997/09/14 ~ 2004/01/25
Abe: In the beginning, it was a source of pressure for me being in the center and being the face of Morning Musume. But at some point down the line, I came to think of it as my destiny. I started to think, “this is the reason for my existence,” and once I did, I became able to overcome anything and everything, no matter how bad it felt like I couldn’t stand it anymore.
— Ever since the group’s formation, you were “Nacchi” — the center, ace, main vocalist, and face of Morning Musume.
Abe: Even as far back as elementary school, I always had difficulty doing the same things as everyone else. I’d always want to do something no one else was doing. So when I became a member of Morning Musume, it was this feeling of… “Me? In a group? Being an idol?“
— The same group that first began right there is now 20 years old.
Abe: It feels like a huge miracle. I think of it as fate. The bonds between us five original members are to the point where I think we must have been close even in our past lives. I mean, we ended up together despite all our age differences and different places of birth. Moreover, we were the ones who failed the audition; the ones who weren’t chosen. The group was formed through pure happenstance and lucky timing. It really is just a miracle.
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.
February 19, 2000 — Tochigi
Morito: It feels like I just made it in time for the 20th anniversary. I was already a member of another Hello! Project group, so I could’ve never imagined any of this happening…
The First Ever “Concurrent Member”
— One thing that’s interesting about you is how the way you came to join Morning Musume is different from all the other members. In fact, you’re a first in the group’s entire 20-year history.
Morito: Yes. I was a member of Country Girls first, and I joined Morning Musume while being a concurrent member of my first group. I had initially applied for the 12th generation auditions because of my admiration for Sayashi Riho, so I was very happy about getting to do this.
— Being a concurrent member, I would think you have a different perspective about many things compared to the other members…
Morito: After I failed the 12th generation auditions and joined Country Girls, I think after that point I only saw Morning Musume as our senior group.
— Did it feel wrong for you to be a member of a different group even though you had so hoped to join Morning Musume?
Morito: For the first month or so, I did feel sad about how I had failed the audition. But when the rehearsals for Hello! Con started, that sadness changed to me feeling so glad about how I was now in Hello! Project. Simply just being able to hold a mic in my hands and sing and dance was so much fun. I think it was in that moment when I gave up on my dream of getting into Morning Musume.
Part Twelve: “The Pinnacle of Desire: Unashamed Love”
Writers Yuzuki Asako and Asai Ryo
profile the lyrics of Hello! Project songs!
Song #1: Morning Musume ’17 – “Jealousy Jealousy”
Asai: Stuff happened and we took a break from the last issue our column was supposed to be featured on. People taking breaks — it just happens to be all the rage in H!P right now, too!
Yuzuki: And lots of stuff happened within H!P itself during our break.
Asai: I wish I could genuinely congratulate myself for the restart of our column… but truth be told, I’m actually a bit worried as to whether or not we’ll be able to go on…
Yuzuki: Back when Sayashi quit, and then later when Zukki quit, we were similarly saying “we don’t know if we can do this anymore…” But then they’d come out with something like “Watashi no Nanni mo Wakacchanai” or “Utakata Saturday Night!” and that’d get us back on our feet, but…
Asai: There’s lots of things going on within H!P right now, and while we of course hope that it all works out well for them, it kind of feels at times like we’re being seriously tested… tested to see whether we can remain as excited about H!P as before. And ultimately, the biggest change — even though it’s not something that’s only just started recently — is the decrease in the number of Tsunku♂ songs. It’s only obvious that the organization would keep introducing more and more creators, and sure, something like Tsuno’s “Utakata Saturday Night!” was great. But still…