Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ramblings on Arashi's Leader

If you've been reading this blog, or blogs/websites like this, it's probably not news to you that Arashi is the male idol group that is currently dominating the Japanese entertainment scene. These five guys comprise a cultural phenomenon you're bound to hear of or come across, even if you're just a clueless tourist walking the streets of Tokyo. Arashi is everywhere. In my whole life, I've only been in Japan for a total of 7 days, and I've seen numerous billboards of Arashi members endorsing various products, I've overheard schoolgirls talking about a drama starring an Arashi member, and I've even picked out the melody of Arashi's Beautiful Days from a music box rendition that was playing as the background music to a Harajuku ramen bar. Make no mistake about it, Arashi is big, and it's a besparkling five-colored rainbow that has simultaneously bewitched generations of men and women (and all genders in between) alike.

Now let's zoom in and focus on Ohno Satoshi, the one true leader of this merry band of five, and one of the characters I find most fascinating in the industry.

Over the years, I've grown quite accustomed to seeing Arashi's unassumingly diminutive leader being described in varying terms. He's been called passive, lazy, lethargic and things in that vein. He's also been called passionate, creative, genius and things in that vein. Some have likened him to an old man, some to a pervert, a little kid, and many (I'm sure) would agree with me when I say that he also makes quite a believable woman, as well (Ohno Satoko, anyone?). He's known for being a happy drunk, a talkative fisherman, a shy artist, a nose-picking oddball. He can be quite passive, content to be herded like a compliant little lamb, and nod along, chuckling as if in a pleasant daydream, but there is also a lion that sleeps inside of him, and when it rears its head, he'll throw an unthinkable one-liner that immediately reminds everyone who the real boss is in the merry House of Storm.

Lately, with the celebrations for Arashi's 15th anniversary, there have been many revelations concerning our beloved Ohno, many emotional moments to be added to our ever-growing album of Arashi memories and many more reasons to love and cherish his existence in the industry. And as someone who has been slowly catching up on pre-2009 Arashi at the same time, I have to say that Ohno Satoshi astounds me with his depth, and the farther back you go in Arashi history, the more you can appreciate that this babyfaced man is so, so, so much more than what the media and even the fans normally give him credit for.

His Creativity
All right, so everyone probably knows by now that Ohno has some talent in sketching, painting, making figurines, coming up with dance steps, and just artistic things in general. It's one of the first things someone will say about Ohno if they're trying to acquaint you with his 'character' for the first time. And yes, Arashi's leader is an incredible artist, having produced quality work in various fields. Just check out some of his intense solo dances (which he choreographs himself), or the many portraits that he's drawn on TV (and off) for old couples, for other celebrities, or sometimes just for himself. He can act well, and sing well, and has a very convincing boke presence on variety shows, but what I find most fascinating about his artistry is his unique way of thinking. Ohno's a very creative character!

The thing is, most of the "Ohno talent" we see, like his acting and his singing and even to some extent his dancing, are all things that merely use him as a vehicle to express the artistic intent of someone else. Most of what he sings is not anything he himself had a hand in composing, and similarly, all the drama characters he's played are concoctions of some other brilliant mind. I'm not saying that what he lends to the visions of others is not wonderful and irreproducible in its own right, but it certainly does draw our attention away from what really goes on in his own mind. And I don't know about you, but I am actually fascinated with Ohno's mind, and I don't believe for even a second that he lives a state of "nothingness" (無) as he has on one occasion joked.

I guess his artwork would be the obvious place to start if you want a direct look at the preoccupations of Ohno's brilliant mind. I remember the first time I watched the episode of Himitsu no Arashi where he was asked to draw a portrait of their guest Becky on the spot (as an aside, Aiba was also asked to draw Becky for comic relief). Leader was literally handed a sketchpad and some colored pencils right there in the middle of the VIP Room and asked to just start drawing with Becky standing in front of him. Now, when I watched this, I had no doubt at all that Leader would produce something bearing a reasonable resemblance to Becky with maybe just a few artistic modifications (judging by his style when he draws in Mago Mago). And because it's Leader, I really didn't expect him to do anything above and beyond what he was asked. But I was surprised when they showed the actual drawing because Leader had actually not only drawn Becky per his usual style, but also replaced the pupils in her eyes with yellow sunflowers flaring in full blossom. Now that is a stroke of creativity that, when you think about it, really encapsulates both the brightness of Becky's personality and her very exotic-looking eyes! I never would have thought of likening them to sunflowers on my own, but it's one of those things where you see the ingenuity only after someone has taken it and put it right in front of your face.

Ohno's mind really is a unique and wonderful thing. I think he's a guy who, despite his lethargic demeanor, is actually quite good at thinking outside the box and coming up with things that most normal people would not have come up with. Remember his "doodling" task during the Atarashi Arashi program in July 2013?
Left: Original image in book.
Right: Ohno's doodling on the original image.
During Atarashi Arashi, Ohno had to sneak into a library with his "doodling team" and draw over certain images in random books that they found interesting. I think that for most people (certainly for me, at least), the first instinct when asked to "doodle" is to add funny mustaches or hairstyles or weird sprawling plants and raindrops in the background. But that's most people. Ohno Satoshi is not 'most people,' and what he came up with was simply ingenious! He started out with a plain image of a famous Japanese historical figure and turned it (literally) upside down into something completely different-- a grasshopper! When this was revealed on the show, I remember gaping at the screen, wondering how on earth Ohno managed to think of that during the short time he was allotted to do this task? Like, how does this man just look at a picture of some old Japanese guy and think: "hmmm... those folds in his robes look like the eyeslits of a grasshopper... and if you flip him upside down..."?! After watching this, I was more convinced than ever that Oh-chan's mind is something that is both genius and beyond the operating wavelength of normal people like me.

Ohno's doodle #2. Top: original image. Bottom: Ohno's doodle.
Ohno's second doodle in the show was something just as brilliant. Again, he starts with an image of some old Japanese dude, and again, he uses the unique lines in the folds of the robes and rotates the original image to create something entirely different. The people on the show marveled at how Ohno even managed to preserve the style of the original ink painting when he drew his fish, and I have to agree. Ohno Satoshi is definitely someone who not only has the technique and skill, but also the artistic vision to pull off some truly astounding pieces of work.

His Yaruki Man Man
Many people assume that just because Ohno likes to joke about wanting more free time and wanting to escape from his idolhood, he sees idoldom as something secondary in his life, as if being an idol was just something bothersome he had to put up with out of duty and respect and practicality (as a means to fund his hobbies), but that couldn't be farther from the truth. The truth is that Ohno has actually always thought of his job as something important to him. Sure, there were probably times when he felt a bit stressed and overworked, and he has openly admitted to wanting to quit, but we have to remember that despite that, he has also shown some extraordinary motivation. On this year's Arashi 15-anniversary Live and Document, Nino and Jun revealed that during the low-point of Arashi's popularity, Leader actually said something very leader-like and stern; in response to their complaints that Arashi weren't getting good enough projects and their wish to scrap everything they'd been doing and reinvent themselves, Ohno chastised Matsumiya with something along the lines of "If you can't even do your current job properly, how can you hope to do something even more ambitious?" And he was so emphatic about it that both Jun and Nino remembered it over a decade later. Nino even said that it was something he based his work ethic on. So please, Arashi fandom, never again should we scoff at Ohno's work ethic or call him lazy (except maybe in jest), because who knows how many little scenes like this there were in the long history of Arashi? Who knows how many hours Ohno spent on perfecting his voice and dance in the hopes that it would win more fans over during their dark days? Or how much effort it actually takes him to review scripts and think of those spot-on one-liners he's so good at delivering on their variety shows? Such a well-tuned voice and flexible body don't come out of nothing, and both certainly require some work to maintain; even genius minds like Ohno's need practice to stay sharp enough to deal with the constant barrage of interviews, media appearances and promotional events that he is subjected to as an idol (especially since there are lots of things like magazine interviews and solo appearances on variety shows where he does not have the security of his fellow members).

So I'm just saying, even though Ohno rarely advertises his behind-the-scenes efforts as an idol, even though he's way more likely to go on an unending tangent about his fishing fantasies than he is to talk about how hard it was to come up with a certain choreography, he is still very much a hardworking idol who wants Arashi to sparkle and shine just as ardently as any of the other members. Just because he acts laid back and likes to focus on the laid back parts of his life doesn't mean that he's actually that laid back for real. His form of aggression is the silent type, and I'll repeat myself to emphasize the point: the guy dances/choreographs. Think about how long that takes, and what he must do to keep his body in shape. The guy sings. Think about what he has to do to keep his voice in shape. The guy draws and sculpts. The guy also has to be on variety shows and film dramas. He might act like he just does it, no big deal, the same as he's been doing for the past 15 years, but in reality, it is a big deal, and he's an incredibly remarkable man for accomplishing all this and keeping it up. 

His Humility
Ohno might not talk much, and when he does open his mouth, the things that come out of it might seem absolutely ridiculous 90% of the time, but he is actually quite a mature person. He likes to deprecate himself, and say that he's never grown up. He's not sexy or mature, he says, but the truth is, he is. The sexiness, I think, is a given. But from the way that he decided to stay in Arashi, the way he kept on doing his job even through those dark years when all he wanted to do was run away from it, the way he overcame his initial insecurities and fought on, step by step, not taking any shortcuts, in an industry so cruel and capricious... All of that shows a great deal of maturity and humility that started from a very young age.

By now, it's not really news that Ohno Satoshi was the least known member of Arashi when they debuted. It was mentioned in Arashi-den during their 10th anniversary how Ohno had the least number of uchiwas in the audience, and he revealed on one of his early Hanamaru Cafe interviews that his confidence was quite hurt by it. He eventually overcame this because 1) the unconditional support of his mother moved him to keep working hard and 2) his own overflowing gratitude and appreciation for his fans got the fans to know him more, and when they did, they naturally fell in love with him. But this little glitch in his history has certainly left a lasting impression on him, which is why even now, when he is enjoying unprecedented popularity, he still lives in a state of humility and disbelief, as if all this is nothing short of a miracle, as if every opportunity to appear in a show or do a concert or release an album is something to be treasured and taken seriously.

I love this side of Ohno. I absolutely love it. I love his self-deprecating humility even more than I love his ingenuity and his talent. Because it's what makes him approachable; it's what makes us fans connect with him, because we actually can feel very sincerely that Ohno needs us just as much as we need him, that he loves us and treasures us no less than we do him. And that, I think, is the highest and most beautiful form of a relationship between an idol and his supporters. 

His Magnanimity
Ohno, I think, is the definition of magnanimity. His heart is so big that it can hold not just the incredibly different four members of Arashi in it, but also loads of other people and things that he's had to deal with in his very exciting life. Ohno is, I think, someone who is incapable of intensely vicious emotions like jealousy or anger (he has even said in a magazine that he simply can't find any reasons to be angry in his everyday life); he is too zen for that. I found it particularly telling when he revealed that awkward little episode between him and Jun in the 15th Anniversary Live and Document. It was just such a perfect example of the type of person Leader is; even when he feels annoyed, even at the height of his stubbornness, he might not be able to apologize, but he sure as hell is aware of his own wrongdoing. He knows exactly what he's done wrong. And perhaps that's just his default position whenever disputes occur; he will always first look inside himself to see if he was at fault before trying to pin blame on others. That probably helps with his ready acceptance of others, because every human being has faults, and it's always easier to forgive someone their faults if you can recognize and admit to being imperfect yourself.

Leader is an incredibly self-critical person, really. When Arashi debuted, he chastised himself for being late to one of their early work days because he had held everyone up, and from then on, he has always strove to be on time; his thinking is that if he himself cannot be on time always, then he really has no authority to scold the other members for being late. Again, you can see that he's someone who tends to look within himself for his own faults before passing judgment on the people around him. That's really a admirable quality, and definitely something that we can all learn from. It's probably also one of the many reasons why Arashi clicks so well and why they haven't ever had a real fight. Because when there's someone like Ohno in their midst (be it as a leader or as a mere member), the atmosphere just changes. I mentioned before that Ohno scolded Matsumiya around 2002-2003 when they wanted to 'reinvent' Arashi because they were dissatisfied with Arashi's low popularity. Well, I think that's also an example of the way Ohno approaches work. Matsumiya (and Sho, too) were essentially complaining about the quality of Arashi's projects back then (which were, in all honesty, not half as enjoyable to watch as some of their later stuff like Mago Mago or Shukudai), and when Ninomiya said "下克上" in the documentary, I think he was implying that they were a bit dissatisfied with their superiors concerning this, too, which was why they wanted to scrap the projects their superiors were handing them to 'reinvent' themselves. Ohno's flat-out rejection of Matsumiya's proposal was really just a message to the entire group: Do your job properly and stop complaining about others. And that's exactly the type of leadership that Arashi needed, because in order to succeed, they needed to become a group that focused their energies on self-criticism and self-improvement rather than on finding fault with their circumstances and management. This is just my personal thought, but I think that Ohno had a lot to do with setting that sort of tone within Arashi. Other members may have been green and overly ambitious and frustrated with their waning popularity back then, and it is totally natural for them to want to take action to change their circumstances, but Leader very firmly set the tone for a no-shortcuts, when-life-gives-you-lemons approach to success, and we can all see that it's worked, not just to push Arashi to the top, but to keep them there for so long.

Anyway, I don't even know what this post has devolved to. It was meant to be a post of appreciation for Leader on his 34th birthday, but somehow I just ended up rambling on and on. I apologize if any of this sounds too didactic, but you know, there really are a lot of life lessons in the history of Arashi, and it might not be as fun as drooling over a member's abs or rolling on the floor laughing at a member's dorkiness, but it's worth giving attention to, and every once in a while, worth putting down into words on paper as well.

So happy birthday, Satoshi-kun! May you always continue to inspire us with your talent, your imagination and your gentle personality. I may not be able to express my admiration for you as eloquently as some others, but you have been no less of an inspiration in my life, and I can do no more than to wish you the best in all of your endeavors from here on out. May your 34th year bring even more challenges and excitement to your life!


  1. Lovely post on our beloved Leader of Arashi. :D

    1. Thanks :-) Our Riida certainly deserves to be beloved ^.^

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Arigatou HK... I'm all teary eyed after reading this. Everyone around me probably knows who's my ichiban is... He's none other than Ohno Satoshi :)

    He's not perfect, yet dependable leader. Yes, I agree with you... He's definitely NOT lazy as people joked him to be. Of course these are meant to be a joke or to liven up the atmosphere for a variety show. He's an important element throughout Arashi's colorful existence ^_^ I hope I'm not sounding a little bias.

    Thank you again. You have reminded me how much I love this man.

    // Anjerin

    1. I think of all the members, Ohno certainly is the one who has the most capacity to make me cry, too. It's just something about his look, his unassuming demeanour that seems to hide so much under the surface. So much that we probably will never get to see because as Leader himself says, he likes to sequester his thoughts to himself, whether they are good or bad.

      I think I could go on and on and on about Leader. It's a neverending love affair <33