In my seeking to understand Japanese culture, I found a YouTube video, and found it very interesting.
Ohori Meshibe (also known as Ohori Megumi, but that was her name for this recording) was a 25 year old AKB48 member who was given an opportunity, but with a catch: we’ll give you a solo debut, but you have to sell 10,000 CDs within a month or you’ll have to graduate.
So for a month, she went all over, selling one CD at a time, giving little performances all over the place, and even ended up sleeping on the ground one night (though there was a cameraman there so I’m very much doubting that she was truly in any danger). Finally, the month was over, and this documented her trying to get over the finish line in the last day.
Halfway through the day, she had a nervous breakdown, and Sata and Kiyoto ended up having to go out and entertain the crowd while she pulled herself together – and it was a close thing, she even started to hyperventilate a bit.
But there are a few observations about this, some of which I found out through other means.
Many westerners would have given up and accepted their fate, honestly, at about the time that she had her nervous breakdown. We would have ran out and never looked back. But she pulled herself together, went out, and ended up meeting her goal, after many of the other members came by and helped out. Her fans also pulled together and filled the last “hug event”. This is the Japanese idea of “ganbatte” – or “try your best” – anything less than your best is not an option, and it seems they just pull themselves together and get it done.
This is even more poignant because of something they don’t tell you: she lost her beloved grandmother – the only person in her family who supported her idol career – two days before the producer pulled her into a room and offered her the solo debut. So she was already dealing with a lot, and then…
I don’t know how much of this was scripted, to be honest. Probably more of it than appeared. I’m also not at all sure if she would ever have been allowed to graduate. I’m even not sure if the timing of it wasn’t an accident so that it would increase the drama. But it shows a lot about Japanese “ganbatte” culture. She tried her best, even surmounting some pretty incredible odds.
And it’s hard to not find that inspirational.
Lately she got married and had a child. Which seems to be the ending of all idol (or gravure) related activity, as Japanese culture seems to expect women to raise children when they have one (something I generally respect, tbh). Still, I wish her well.
I think they already had the idea of SDN48 in mind, and this was effectively her audition for that, and she ultimately played a major role in the genesis of SDN48 (the “adult” version of AKB48), centering their first single. If you watched the AKBingo episodes prior to episode 9 above, following her saga in selling this single, you would see how she had to learn to sing forcefully as a solo, not timidly as the third row backup that she normally was, whose voice was never the focus of a song, and also to learn many other things–how to be resourceful. She was the frequent target of jokes back in the day because of her age, but no one said the same about Shinoda Mariko, or Kojima Haruna, both of whom stayed in AKB48 to a much greater age. And now, Kashiwagi Yuki is up there as well.
Akimoto Asushi has a very different management style than I’m used to. I don’t know if this is because of the particular industry, media, or the culture. He seems to manufacture crises and expects his talent to either rise to the challenge or get out. This was a particularly egregious example of that, but I think what happened to Sashihara Rino also was kind of that – he took advantage of something bad she did in order to force her into a role that he thought was more suited for her. It’s partly about good TV, but I think he’s a fan of “throw them into the fire and whoever comes out alive gets all the goodies”.
It makes for good TV but it’s obviously very hard on the idols at times. It turned out okay for Ohori-san, but I wonder if it was a bit too much.
Easy for me to armchair quarterback, though. The culture differences are fascinating.