I was in Tokyo from March 27 to April 11, 2018, my second trip to Japan and one that was planned around this year’s series of four Hello! Project Hina Fes concerts, the centerpiece being the Morning Musume reunion concert on Saturday afternoon, March 31, featuring all five founding members of MM, followed by a Hello! Project reunion concert with other former MM members that evening. Sunday’s concerts would be the usual Morning Musume Premium and Angerme/Juice=Juice Premium that we get at Hina Fes most years. It wasn’t easy getting the tickets, but, with considerable help, I did. I also tried for an Angerme concert the following weekend, but had no luck with that one, so I opted for a ticket to Airi Suzuki’s solo concert two nights before I was scheduled to leave. Thanks to meeting up with a friend while in Tokyo, I also managed to attend another J-pop event, a single release for a group I’d never heard of before, Erabareshi, that has some connection to Tsunku, the mastermind behind H!P. For this entry, I’ll focus on the Hina Fes concerts.
The Spring 2017 Country Girls concert is the last full CG concert featuring Momoko Tsugunaga and it represents the group at their peak, before Momoko graduated from Hello! Project and before CG went into part-time mode, with two members reducing their activities with the group and the other three being split up among other groups in H!P. As such, it’s a document of just how perfect a unit CG was and how completely unique they were. Other than the four Country Musume songs performed in the concert, every other song was a Country Girls song and the kind of number that is best performed by Country Girls and no other group in H!P. Sure, other groups can attempt “Doudatate Ii No” and “Koi Dorobu,” and possibly succeed, but there’s a style and sound that CG has perfected that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in H!P. And I can’t imagine any group attempting “Peanut Butter Jelly Love.” Without Momoko doing the opening vocals, the performance is impossible to replicate.
The Morning Musume Spring 2017 concert DVD, which was released on Sept. 20, is easily one of the best MM concerts I’ve ever seen. Everyone is at their peak here, enhanced by the breathtaking first MM concert appearance of 13th Gen, Kaede Kaga and Reina Yokoyama, who hit the ground running, performing with energy and confidence, and are given lots to do. I don’t recall either of my two favorite Gens, 4th and 9th, knocking it out of the park in their first time at bat.
I recently re-watched the Hello! Project Winter 2012 concerts, recorded in January of that year, and noted that Morning Musume featured both 9th and 10th Gen in its 12-member lineup and S/mileage had two members of 1st Gen and four members of 2nd Gen. Afterwards, out of curiosity, I put in the Hello! Project Winter 2011 concerts just to see how different they were and I was immediately struck by the major changes in lineup in both MM and S/mileage.
MM went from five members to 12 in one year, losing one and gaining eight:
S/mileage went from four members to six, losing two and gaining four:
Last week, Morning Musume celebrated its 20th anniversary. Given that I’ve been a fan for twelve of those years, I thought I’d take a look back at the group’s changes during this period and recall my own ups and downs as a fan and reactions to those changes. First, a little history. Back in 1997, pop singer-songwriter Tsunku staged a contest on the talent show, “ASAYAN,” to find a female vocalist for his band, Sharam Q. A young lady named Michiyo Heike won, but Tsunku was so impressed with the five runners-up that he rehearsed a song with them, took them into the studio and recorded them singing it (“Ai no Tane”). He then instructed them to sell 50,000 copies of it in a week and if they succeeded he’d give them a recording contract and manage them. The rest, as they say, is history. Those five girls, Yuko Nakazawa, Aya Ishiguro, Kaori Iida, Natsumi Abe and Asuka Fukuda, became Morning Musume and Michiyo Heike became a sad footnote in J-pop history, never once recording a song with Sharam Q, but reduced to doing a few solos at MM concerts and releasing a handful of singles.
I became a Morning Musume/Hello! Project fan on Monday, August 29, 2005, twelve years ago today, after watching a VHS tape of the Hello! Project 2004 Winter “C’MON! Dance World” concert that I’d picked up on a whim while looking for anime tapes in HQ Video, a New York Japanese video store. It was the first time I’d ever heard any MM/H!P songs and after hearing “Go Girl! Koi no Victory” (above) and “Ai Araba, It’s All Right” (below), I was hooked.
Cut to 2017, when it has become a rather trying time to be a fan of Hello! Project. On one hand, there are many talented young ladies sprinkled among the six major groups in H!P and an abundance of enjoyable new songs coming out from them. The concerts I’ve seen from this year have all been wonderful and are ripe for multiple viewings: C-ute Saitama Super Arena Final Live, Hello! Project Winter 2017, Hina Fes 2017, and the H!P Countdown Party from Dec. 31, 2016-Jan. 1, 2017. I’ve still got Momoko Tsugunaga’s final concert and Morning Musume’s Spring 2017 concert lined up to watch. For every favorite member that leaves H!P, there are plenty of potential new favorites lined up to take her place.
I’ve got so much material on Momoko Tsugunaga, who recently departed Hello! Project after 15 years to teach Kindergarten, that I’ve decided to break it up into different parts. This first will be devoted to pictures I took of her: in New Jersey, Paris and Yokohama. I had a press pass for the first two trips, but not the third. I was fortunate to be able to see her and photograph her with all three of her H!P groups, Berryz Kobo, Buono! and Country Girls.