Hiragana Keyakizaka46 story Part 1: An idol group with one member
On 21 August 2015, at a venue in Tokyo, a final audition was being held for the girls who would later debut as members of Keyakizaka46. Before the announcement, the participants were called on stage to have their pictures taken. However, nobody stood on number 17’s position. The truth was the girl who’s supposed to stand in that position was taken back home by her parents to Nagasaki. The girl’s name was Nagahama Neru. A journey that started from misfortune, changed into a touching story for a group named Hiragana Keyakizaka46, instigated by her her.
A sudden desire to apply
Nagahama Neru was born on 1998 in Nagasaki. “Neru”, a rare name with the meaning “to think out“. Ever since she was kid, she was already smart, enjoyed reading books, and when she was in high school she managed to enter a prominent school that had always been number 1 or 2 in the prefecture. She does not dislike studying. Ever since she entered high school, there were times where she studied 16 hours before an exam, and yet for some reason, her heart was always clouded.
There was a certain sight that she remembered well. One day in winter, when she was in her1st year of high school, while taking a detour on her way back home, riding a train that pass the seaside. The sea of Nagasaki was orange from the sunset.While looking at such beautiful scenery, listening to her favorite song from Nogizaka46’s album “Toumei na Iro”, when suddenly she started crying. She herself was surprised, but her tears kept falling.
At that time, she was thinking about her future. Ever since she was child, she had already experienced traveling overseas, even more when she joined an international exchange organization in her city. She dreamt of working as a ground staff in the airport, and for that reason she planned to go to a vocational school after graduating high school, however her school rejected it and she was forced to go to a normal university.
“In the end, I can only follow a fixed rail, I will do as my school told me to do.” She thought. She started to think about her dull future.
She was also a person who was extremely concerned about human relations, and felt confined inside her class. The weight of her heart displayed through tears, and it overflowed out of her eyelids.
Just around that time, there was an audition for a new project after Nogizaka46. The truth was, when she was in elementary school, she joined a computer club, and always stole chances to watch AKB48 videos. When Nogizaka46 was formed as AKB48’s official rival, she decided to support Nogizaka46 as her idol. However, because she didn’t have the desire to become an idol, she did not apply for the 2nd gen audition for Nogizaka46. She thought that just by listening Nogizaka46 songs from her earphones, she’d already happy.
But on the contrary, ever since she entered high school, her days were full of problems, and impulsively she developed the desire to join this new project. At that time, she didn’t know what she wantedto do as an idol, she left her motivation to become an idol as empty.
The girl that was given the “S” rank
The staff at that time, who has now become the management for Kanji and Hiragana, still remember her audition form. At first, they were interested in her rare name, “Neru”. Her school was an elite school. When they saw her picture, her big eyes made them feel like she was fit to be an idol. Among all the forms that was sent, her form was seen as the best. After passing the first round, she attended the second round in Fukuoka. In front of the other participants, she showed her skill which was the “Monkey Arms” by extending her arms, and singing “Marika ‘17” from Ito Marika, a member of Nogizaka46.
She was an honor student, and yet she was also a cheerful and talkative girl, and she was cuter than the picture she sent. By this point, the judges had given her the “S” rank, which holds the meaning of ‘special’, a ranking higher than the acceptance rank of “A”, and amongst the 20 thousand applicant, it was only given to a few people. She received the notification that she passed the 2nd audition when she was staying with her aunt who lives in London.
The truth was that the notification was given first to her parents in Nagasaki, but her parents didn’t tell her. Her parents already knew that their daughter applied for audition, but they figured their daughter would continue her studies in Nagasaki. Thinking about it, this accident might have been the cause of the accident that will occur later. However, at this point of time, Nagahama’s train of thought was “It’s not like I will pass”, so she went to Tokyo to attend the 3rd stage of audition with the intention of sightseeing Tokyo. However, unexpectedly, she managed to pass the 3rd stage of audition.
Her mother cancelled the plane ticket that was already purchased, and stayed in a hotel that was prepared by the management. For the first time, she had a serious talk about this with her family. From the video call, she could see how worried her mother was. Tomorrow was the final audition for 46 participants, including Nagahama Neru, her mother was worried that because this was a “46 group”, all 46 participant will be accepted. Of course not everyone will be accepted, but if they were, their names and face would be announced to the public. Neru would also have to transfer out of the school that she had so worked hard to get into. However, after a long discussion with her parents and her older sister, they came to the conclusion of “Let’s support Neru”.
And the next morning, her mother decided to go to Tokyo by plane to accompany her in the final audition.
A word said by the mother to take her daughter home.
On the morning of the final audition, the staff in the hotel informed the judges that Nagahama Neru would be forfeiting the audition and was going home with her mother. The surprised judges quickly reached out to the mother, and the discussion was cold heartedly shut down. No one could stop the mother, and her daughter was at a loss for words and kept crying without being able to stop her tears. In the end, the judges told them “I’m sorry if it’s not my place to say this, but i think there is a lack of communication between you and your daughter. Neru-chan, if you want to be an idol you should tell your honest feelings to your mother, and for the mother, you should listen to what your daughter has to say, and please think about this again”. And with this, the final audition started without participant number 17.
But why was the mother, who just last night decided to support her daughter, suddenly taking her home? Neru’s parents were working as teachers in a high school in Nagasaki, they had raised 3 children, they had never been strict on their daughter nor have they ever pushed her to keep studying, forbidding this or that, and in this case too, the mother had said that she would support her.
However, the mother didn’t understand the 46 group. Moreover, the world of entertainment was still unknown for her. While onthe plane heading towards Haneda Airport, the more the mother kept thinking about it, the more fearful she became, so when she landed in Tokyo, the mother wanted to take her daughter home. When the mother reached the hotel, Nagahama who thought that her mother had come down to support her was shocked to hear that she was taking her home, despite the fact that she really wanted to pass seeing how far she had come.
Nagahama who had never rebelled against her mother, eventually heeded her mother’s words. Like with school, she thought that once again she must walk following the path others has decided for her, and how sad it was. Nagahama was shocked that her kind mother would forcefully take away her potential future from her. While waiting for the plane in Haneda Airport, Nagahama left a biting question for her mother
“Mother, are you satisfied?”
The effect Nogizaka46 gave to her parents
Her tears were dry by the time she got home. With a face devoid of emotion, Nagahama watched the results of the audition she should’ve gone through, on the news on TV. The successful participants waved their hands to the camera while smiling, a group that was originally named Toriizaka46 was renamed into Keyakizaka46.
“Isn’t it better if we give Neru the chance than giving up before trying? We should’ve saved her when she already hit a wall.” Her older sister tried to cool the awkward mood after the mother had taken her home without discussing with their father first. The mother’s heart felt heavy watching her daughter keeping her silence while watching the news, she felt like she has done something unforgivable. The father, seeing the condition his family was in right now, tried to contact Keyakizaka46 management that same night.
“My wife has taken my daughter home, but is severing her of her dream the correct course of action? I don’t know. Only that, as her father, is there is anything that i can do? I am contacting hoping that there may be another chance.”
At that time, there was an unlikely coincidence. 3 days after the final audition, there was a Nogizaka46 national tour in Fukuoka. Nagahama had been looking forward to this concert, and she had bought a ticket from a long time ago. The management decided to invite her parents to this concert, so the mother could see and understand what kind of world they were trying to build.
On the night of 23rd August, the Nagahama family went to Fukuoka to watch the concert, and with that chance they will see something that will changeNagahama Neru’s fate.
In this year’s national tour, there was an opening VTR that told the story of one of the members. The VTR screened in Fukuoka was about Akimoto Manatsu and her father.
Akimoto said, “When i passed Nogizaka’s audition, i contacted my mother right away. I thought she would be happy, but she was shocked instead.”
Akimoto managed to enter a school that combined junior high and high school, and she was also an honor student who had become the student council president. When she was in her 3rd year of high school, she applied for Nogizaka46’s audition and was opposed by her father. After passing the audition, Akimoto took a hiatus from Nogizaka and clashed with her father. When she got accepted into a university, she returned to Nogizaka46, what her father felt right now seeing his daughter enjoying her life on TV was poured out through a message that was read on the VTR.
“I’ve been unable to say it, but i no longer oppose you, i am now on Manatsu’s side.”
After seeing it, Nagahama’s father sensed an overlapping wave of emotions. “Every parent must’ve been worried about their daughters when they send them into the entertainment industry”
Meanwhile, upon watching the concert, the mother started changing her feeling too. “Idols that she once had prejudice against, turned out to be wonderful, working their hardest without giving up.”
“This group was built seriously, if my daughter has found something that makes her want to do her hardest, then i should’ve understood what she wanted instead of forbidding her”.
After the concert, Nagahama’s parents went to meet the management staff to ask “Is it possible to change the result of the audition now?”. However, of course they cannot let someone who didn’t participate in the final audition in just like that. From here on, a unique idol life from Nagahama Neru will start.
Finding friends for Nagahama Neru
In the Keyakizaka46 management meeting, they immediately started discussing a course of action for Nagahama Neru.
“Let’s make a final examination just for her, and then we accept her there.”
“What if we let the fans decide whether she can join Keyakizaka46 or not?” etc.
The person who was always providing the ideas and final decision wasKeyakizaka46’s executive producer, Akimoto Yasushi, who said, “After considering her parent’s feelings, i think i want to give another chance for Nagahama Neru. But if we put her in now, it won’t be fair to the other members. Because of that, let’s make a different team in Keyakizaka46, Hiragana Keyaki, and make her it’s first member, then we hold another audition to find her friends so they can do an act together there.”
The truth was, 欅坂46 was supposed to be named けやき坂46. Like how 乃木坂46 name was taken from a place, けやき坂46 was also a name of a hill within the metropolitan area. However, when it was about to be taken for a fortune telling, staff mistakenly wrote it down in kanji 欅, and 欅坂46 was foretold to be the luckiest one, so they decided to go with the kanji name. So the group name of けやき坂46 was recycled.
And most importantly, it’s to show that Hiragana Keyaki was a different group from Kanji Keyaki, with the intention of suppressing animosity to Nagahama.
Altough management had seen her passing the standards, to prevent attack from fans she would be conducting her activities in Hiragana Keyaki as Kanji Keyaki’s junior. So what is Hiragana Keyaki supposed to be? Is it an under group? Or something new? Even till now in 2018, neither member nor staff knows the answer. It can be said that the history of this group is their journey of the members on finding their true identity.
“Talkative and not shy”
On September, the manager and Keyaki tte kakenai’s director went to Nagasaki to meet Nagahama Neru. As they took a walk, they asked about her life there and the conditions during the final audition. The first impression the manager got upon meeting her was:
“Talkative and not shy”
Nagahama who was born in Nagasaki, lived on Goto Island from the ages 3 to 7 years old. Living in a place rich with nature, her days consisted of her playing, fishing, climbing trees, her childhood was full of activity. Because both of her parents work, during the day she was taken care of by her neighbour’s grandmother, everyone on the island was already like a family, growing up in such an environment had made her friendly.
2 months after the Nogizaka46 concert, before she joined Keyakizaka, she lived a normal life without hiding that friendly side of her. Just like the other members, on October she was already moving to Tokyo, but at that time the other members were not informed of her. When they were in the office too, they had never met each other, she also attended the dance training by herself. However, she was excited about her new life in Tokyo. When she applied for the audition, she didn’t know why she want to become an idol, but now she realized that the truth was she didn’t care if she became an idol or anything else. She just wanted to get out of the path decided by someone else for her.
Studio filled with screams and tears.
One day in November, Nagahama came to the studio to record Keyaki tte kakenai?. While waiting for her name to be called as a surprise from backstage, she started to get scared and started crying when she realized that she would be standing in front of a real TV camera all by herself. When the MC announced that there would be a new member joining Keyakizaka46, all the members screamed. When she heard the sound of her interview video in Nagasaki from September, she felt like she wanted to go home.
Wiping her tears and entering the studio, she then introduced herself. She was introduced as a member of Hiragana Keyakizaka46, and together with that it was announced that there would be an additional member audition for Hiragana Keyakizaka46. Before Nagahama’s appearance, at that time there was actually a ranking announcement for the most popular member from their first event.
For a group where it should be “Let’s work hard together to get a CD debut” suddenly being revealed that there would be a ranking announcement for the most popular member for the first time, of course they were all surprised. And after that, there was an announcement about a new member joining. Moreover, the MC said, “Nagahama is an under member like in Nogizaka, and when additional members join Hiragana Keyakizaka46, there may be position changes within Kanji Keyakizaka46”. It’s not a surprise that there were members who cried.
In Nogizaka46, Unders were a term for members who didn’t make it into Senbatsu for a single. Senbatsu and Unders were being mixed up constantly in every single based on their popularity and expectations given to them. In other words, the member thought that the future competition will be harder with Nagahama’s enterance.
The recording for the first segment ended in uproar. Then, an incident happened just before the recording for the 2nd segment. Suddenly, a member who sat next to Nagahama clearly rejected her.
“Sorry, i don’t think we can be friends”
She had just entered, and yet she was already facing strong rejection from a fellow member. This was the start of Hiragana Keyakizaka46, an idol group with one member, in great upheaval.
Translator: keykoykuy & Hunter934
QC: toomuchidea & seri