Beloved by Fans of all Ages, Idol Group Arashi Says Goodbye after 21 Years

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Arashi members attend a press conference on Nov. 3, 2019, to mark the 20th anniversary of the group’s debut.

After 21 years as a key source of entertainment and music nationwide, the popular idol group Arashi has called it quits as of Dec. 31.

The five-member group was a major draw across a wide demographic, as its image matched fans’ desire for stability and normality during particularly difficult times. Arashi’s appeal can be effectively described by various buzzwords that were popular during its heyday.

■ Impressive records

Arashi has produced numerous hit songs since its 1999 debut, including, “Love so sweet” and “One Love.” According to the music company Oricon Inc., Arashi hit No. 1 on the Oricon weekly chart with 54 of its singles, an all-time record. Last year, the group sold more than 1 million copies of a concert video, becoming the first male artist or group to hit that milestone.

Its 2018-19 nationwide tour drew about 2.38 million fans over 50 performances. What’s more, Arashi or at least one of its members has served as the men’s emcee on NHK’s annual year-end program Kohaku Utagassen an impressive nine times.

■ Emphasis on group

Arashi owes much of its growth to its members’ individual activities, which started around 2005.

Jun Matsumoto, for instance, starred in the hit TV drama “Hana Yori Dango” (Boys Over Flowers), while Sho Sakurai appears on a news program. Kazunari Ninomiya’s performance in a Hollywood film was highly acclaimed, and Masaki Aiba has grown into a much-loved TV personality.

Satoshi Ono was the foundation of Arashi’s musical endeavors with his superb singing and dancing skills. He’s also known as a talented artist.

While making the most of their individual personalities, the Arashi members have always emphasized their work as a group. Their comical interactions and warm presence on TV programs have been a pleasant experience for many viewers. The group’s stage productions were grand and demonstrated its excellent teamwork when performing together.

In an Oricon Monitor Research survey focusing on Arashi, a woman in her 50s said: “When I see them on TV, I feel calm and at peace. They’re a symbol of happiness. But they’re cool when singing or at concerts.”

Many fans likely share this opinion.

Arashi was not a leader among the groups waiting to debut when it got its start.

Said columnist Nameko Shinsan: “I get the sense that the group got the name ‘Arashi’ without careful consideration.”

Seeing the members work hard together to hold their own against other, more powerful up-and-coming pop stars, some might have felt the “spirit of the weed” — a 1999 catchphrase referring to an energetic attitude to survive various challenges.

Arashi’s attitude also reminded many of “kizuna,” the Japanese word for human bonds that was strongly emphasized after the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, along with the phrase “one team,” which symbolized the national rugby squad in 2019.

An ever-friendly demeanor was another one of the group’s characteristics. It’s like a high-quality but inexpensive piece of “fast fashion” (a popular phrase in 2009), far removed from luxury-brand products that are not necessarily popular with everyone. They look reliable and are liked by many.

■ Strong continuity

In 1997, two years before Arashi made its debut, a large securities company and a major bank collapsed. After the initial shock, there were bleak phrases such as “unequal society” and “winners vs losers” that became commonplace in 2006 and spread throughout society to symbolize the era. Much of the public felt it was difficult to live a stable, ordinary life.

Hirohito Suzuki, a sociologist and research assistant at Toyo University, said: “I would describe Arashi as ‘great and ordinary.’

“While people have been looking for stability for the past 20 years or so, the group has continued to demonstrate that being ordinary is great. Its soundness and unwavering stability matched the values of the time.”

The five Arashi members did not create a hierarchy among themselves but continued to run together. Their modest approach was befitting of the “soshoku danshi” phrase that became popular in 2009. It literally means herbivore men, likening gentle young men to non-aggressive herbivore animals.

That image comforted people living in the era of slumping businesses, which in 2009 sparked the term “haken giri,” meaning the removal of non-regular workers dispatched by temp agencies through actions such as not renewing their contracts.

Today is an era when people are required to conform and show “compliance,” a phrase that gained a lot of traction in 2007 regarding social and moral responsibilities. Misbehaving celebrities are not forgiven, but instead face severe criticism and have routinely been forced to step out of the spotlight.

Said the columnist Shinsan: “Arashi was referred to as a miracle group because none of its members was forced to quit. I feel the fans and members had joined hands to carefully protect Arashi as a kind of sacred being.

“The group represents some typical characteristics of Japanese people — seriousness, sensitivity and the ability to read situations.”

Many idol groups from the past bowed out after a short time in the entertainment arena, their bright youthful vigor seemingly burning out.

In contrast, Arashi was loved for its display of the members growing up, similar to the group SMAP, a predecessor at the Johnny & Associates entertainment agency.

Arashi did not have a mega-hit song like SMAP’s “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” (The one and only flower in the world), which sold 3 million copies, but it showed potential for growth. Last year, the group saw its first million-seller with the single “Kite,” once again showing greatness in a modest way.

■ Entering the digital world

The group, which had experienced very few stumbles, made its biggest splash when it decided to halt its activities.

The five members held a press conference in January 2019 to explain the circumstances that led to the decision, including the fact that Ono asked the opinions of his mates in 2017, saying that he wants an unencumbered lifestyle.

Over the two-plus years since that statement, the group has organized various events to express its gratitude to fans as a way to prepare a soft landing. Its 2020 plans were almost all canceled because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The group was instead active on the internet to follow “social distancing,” a word that became part of the lexicon last year.

Johnny & Associates, the group’s professional representation, used to be reluctant to go online, but modified its strategy to incorporate the distribution of music via social media in November 2019.

Said Suzuki: “I was surprised to see that Arashi, whose work base had been television, has distributed a documentary via Netflix for the past year.”

“It’s also symbolic that they decided to conclude the group’s history with a live broadcast on New Year’s Eve,” Suzuki said.

Arashi’s videos and music will still be played in the digital arena in the future, with its fan base continuing to exist. Members of the group will remain active in the entertainment world, with the exception of Ono, who will take some time off.

There is also the hope that the group will eventually reunite. Many fans will continue to watch and support the members and their further development.