Sunday, 15 June 2014

Leadership: Shimizu Saki

{So some people be saying that Cap'n ain't enough of a leader for Hello! Pro. While I don't be disagreeing with Maimi, the generally proposed alternative, I feel that they be disrespecting the Cap'n, saying that she ain't much of a leader. I ain't the type of Jigglypuff to be engaging in debate,but I'd like if ya got a taste of the trials 'n tribulations of this girl stuck at the head of 7 girls, with their very scattered personalities.}

『CD&DL Data (2014 March - April edition)』

Leadership: The knowledge of a Leader
This month: Shimizu Saki from Berryz Kobo

In this serialisation, we seek knowledge from the leaders of female idol groups. In this second of this series, we present Shimizu Saki, who acts as the 'Captain' of Berryz Kobo, who are celebrating the 10th anniversary of their début in March.

With the 7 scattered personalities in the group, to have worked together for 10 years is pretty amazing

Within Hello! Project, Berryz Kobo is the only group without a 'Leader', but instead has a 'Captain', right?

I heard that the reasoning behind that was that we were all from the same generation when Berryz Kobo was formed. There are senpai-kouhai relationships in Morning Musume., and ℃-ute had a new member join when they made their début, but Berryz Kobo was a group formed with everyone in that same Hello! Project Kids generation.

After last year's spring tour, you wrote on your blog, 'Since I’ve had a passive personality up until now, I feel like rather than leading the members along as Captain, I’ve supported them from the shadows', but under what situations does that passive personality come forth? {Note: Translation of the quote from Ro-kun's translation of that blog post on blog! project}

I'm concious about those around me. At times when we need some spirit at live performances and for new songs, I lose the group presence of mind, even though I'm thinking I should give something like a pep talk. I think about things like 'Shouldn't you think over it first before saying something harsh?' or 'It doesn't seem like there's any reason to work them up myself, does it?' I don't think I've ever gotten mad at the members either. So my style is to always propose things, like 'Should we do it this way?', and my style definitely isn't the type of leadership where I'd go 'I'll lead you!'

Have you been the passive type ever since you were a child?

That's right. I was a kid who stuck herself behind people. When asked 'What would you like to play?' in a group of girls, I'd respond with an 'Anything's fine'. I never could say what I wanted.

You've never been a class representative either?

Only once, in my 5th year of primary school, I was the chairman of the animal care-taking committee. I enjoyed working on the animal care-taking committee, and I was also higher in the school year... But when I tried it out, I thought that it completely didn't suit me! I had no idea what to tell the underclassmen, and I don't think they've had such an unreliable chairman before.

When you were nominated as Captain for Berryz Kobo, being in the 6th year of primary school, was it because you were the oldest at the time of Berryz Kobo's formation?

That's what I think. However, Momo (Tsugunaga Momoko) was also in the same school year as me, and Momo herself mentioned 'I'd like to take on leadership opportunities'. It wasn't like there really was a sense of there being an age difference among the Kids, so it made me wonder, 'Why did I get picked?'

Do you feel like you would have stepped down if you could have?

At the beginning, it felt like somebody else's problem. Like 'I'm just called the Captain', I didn't have any sense of responsibility. But in the midst of all sorts of decisions being made, with the début announcement to the press and the announcement of our releases, our manager-san told me time and time again, 'You have to be mature', so the awareness that I 'had to do it' slowly surfaced.

What duties did the captain have in a group composed of primary schoolers?

It was mainly bringing everyone together, calling them, things like 'Let's assemble!' or 'Be quiet!' At first we thought that Berryz Kobo was like a carefree, after-school club. It was simply fun, and we'd make quite the racket. Rather than being a place of serious business, it felt more a place for us to do as we pleased. We had sticker exchanges in the dressing room, we really were children. I was just the same, but our manager-san told me 'You have to be attentive. You shouldn't just come together and play'. I felt for the first time that I had to flip the on-off switch inside everyone.

Reflecting back on that time, member Natsuyaki Miyabi-san mentioned that 'Captain was reliable, and she was also concerned for us'.

That wasn't my intention at all. The warnings of the the adults made me curl up. They constantly mentioned, 'Because you're the Captain', so rather than my own circumstances, I could do nothing but think about the group. We were referred to as the 'starting members' of Berryz Kobo, and we heard that there was the possibility that the members could shift, so the members felt like rivals at the same time, and our nerves were pretty much set abuzz. I thought that a captain shouldn't butt into that. Therefore, it was difficult to heed the cautions I had been given.

Amidst that buzz, how did you bring together the group?

I listened to everyone's opinion, and thought about it deeply. It wouldn't be good for the group if we proceeded with only my opinions. After we were done with work, I did my utmost best to hold 'Berryz Meetings'. There, we listened to everyone's opinions, and if there were disagreements, we'd tell each other on the spot. But still, the youngest (Sugaya) Risako and Kumai (Yurina)-chan hardly ever stated their own opinions, so I had one-on-one talks with them.

You called them up?

Something like that, but it wasn't like I told them 'I want to hear your opinions', but whenever we had breaks, I thought about how to make it even just a bit easier for them to talk.

As a captain, was there nothing that you felt you could savour?

Since fundamentally, the captain should talk at times when we're asked to give a brief comment, I'd often be focused on whenever we got on television. That was something I felt I could savour. But that was after the passage of many days and months. At the time, I thought that making a concluding comment was a bother.

There definitely were a lot of things that you were worried about.

I had my eyes on the members and paid attention to their needs, yet conversely, the number of warnings I was receiving from the adults was on the rise. And comparisons were often made with other groups, both within Hello! Project and the idol world in general. In the end, how the group is evaluated is the leader's responsibility. So I felt twice as pressured.

The adults said 'stomach-churning' things as well?

I often cried late at night. Nothing might have happened, but I would just be spacing out and the tears would come. It's something I can laugh at now, but I thought about all sorts of things seriously. But, it was better for me not to cry in front of everyone. Not wanting to appear unreliable, whatever happened, I would only cry once I got back home.

Getting to such a peak level of stress, were there any situations where you felt in a pinch?

With Berryz Kobo, you're going to have 7 opinions, so it's difficult to bring them all together. But when our feelings needed to be united, I used my head and my strength. When I got back home, I felt like toppling over.

Like just before a tour?

You got it. And recently we've been coming out with our opinions on what sort of outfits we'd like to try, and what songs should be in the setlist. Since all of the members have their own thoughts, it's really difficult to come to an agreement, and it ends up with us going 'Here, use this'.

It ends up being a heated discussion?

We don't get into intense quarrels, but we go 'Is it really like that?', and the atmosphere starts feeling sticky.

Does it come down to the captain's judgement in the end?

Rather than that, we talk it through to the end. We jointly contribute our opinions countless times, 'This is what I think. Based on this reason, let's do this'. Eventually, they'll agree, and I'll gently bring it to a conclusion.

It may take time, but all 7 of you come to an agreement.

That's how it is. Since everyone wants to craft something great together. Although there are times where I've considered using the 'Leader decides' card, but in my case I state my opinions while listening to those of the others. It's not like I'm the one leading the troops.

Although Berryz Kobo went through auditions, you weren't directly assembled into a group, but originally were buddies who went to lessons together as the Hello! Pro Kids. Did that make things harder to do, or easier to do?

Definitely not harder. Although we had quarrells over things we wanted to say. Besides that, when ℃-ute, who were part of the Kids together with us, made their début, we really felt this sense of impending crisis. The members of ℃-ute were really vexed that we had got to début before them, so you could really feel the force ℃-ute had at their début, and we discussed what we could do in a Berryz meeting. It would be mortifying if they overtook us. There was no way we'd allow that. Coming out of that discussion, we were fired up, not wanting to lose out. At that time, the whole group was abuzz, and in addition, our focus had shifted. With ℃-ute, we still have this mutual, friendly rivalry between us.

In the midst of that, did you feel like you had a clear understanding of your ideal image of a captain, Saki-san?

I think it's someone who wants to lead in the way that they can. When Yoshizawa Hitomi-san was leader of Morning Musume., she was 'handsome and stylish'. But I couldn't do the same thing, and trying to probably wouldn't have united the group. And so, I stopped with it, even though I admired her. For me, it's definitely better to do it by talking it over with everyone, and everyone would develop through that.

And so, was there anyone who joined you from that point of view of bringing together the group?

With Morning Musume.'s Takahashi (Ai)-san and Niigaki (Risa)-san, I talked about my worries. Takahashi-san said 'It might be difficult to advise them since they're all the same generation, but they're all adults, I'm sure you can advise them without getting mad'. That made me feel better, and I was able to speak my mind with them, and I think the way I gave advice changed.

How so?

Previously I would say things like 'We can't do that', but now I'd freely go 'Oi, do it properly~'. They get it, and are like, 'OK', and the atmosphere doesn't get so sticky.

Indeed, you're all adults now.

However, even now we're really enjoying ourselves too much that we don't hear the staff-san, so there are times when they're like 'Listen here!' At the Hello! Pro concert held in Hokkaido this January, while I was rehearsing for my solo song, the other 6 were outside playing in the snow. They dived in it, and had snowball fights. Even though the girls from the younger groups didn't go out, since it was cold. They sent tons of photos without me through LINE. It makes you wonder if they've grown up, or if they haven't (laughs).

Do you have discussions with Tsunku♂-san?

I'd consult him during our live rehearsals, and occasionally I'll message him. There was once when the group didn't feel united and I consulted him, and he said 'There are times when the waves at sea aren't even, so I think you should enjoy yourself. Once you've gone through this period, you'll become united again'.

When was that discussion?

About 2 years ago? It might just have been me who thought that we weren't united, but we were adults, and everyone could read the situation, so we didn't have to hold a meeting, and there weren't any quarrels or anything. Everyone held back just a little, and I feel that they didn't say what they wanted to say, so I wondered, 'Will it be okay like this?'

Did you tide that over?

Things changed a lot last year, after the Nippon Budokan announcement. Once again, everyone was like 'I want to do this' or 'Isn't that a bit different?', and we got into disputes due to our frank emotions. Our opinions were all over the place, but they were left unsaid, and we had no idea what the others were thinking, and I think discussing is important. Since then I've properly talked with them, and the Budokan live was deeply satisfying. And since I feel that we can go even further, it acted as a huge checkpoint for us.

Going back in time, let's continue with that blog post after the spring tour, '10 years is a critical point, I have to be more proactive in leading the members. That what I've now realised'. Why that declaration at that time?

Morning Musume. had been getting consecutive 1st places in the singles chart, and ℃-ute had gone ahead of us with their Budokan announcement, it felt like Berryz Kobo was being left behind. At that time, I'd been thinking about a lot of things during our tour. Until then, it was rare for me to put our goals in words, but I wondered 'If I said it, how many people would back me?' First, nothing would start if I didn't say anything, so I announced that goal.

Honestly, did you lead after that?

Since I had said it, I'd just be flapping my mouth if I didn't do anything about it. I focused my energies again. Without colluding with the behaviour of the members, I had a face-to-face talk with each and every one of them. As usual, there wasn't any scolding, but when push came to shove, I had to be a reliable captain. I had gained that awareness.

Did your behaviour change in any specific way?

Once again, I started talking with everyone. Although Momo was the same age as me, and we've been together for 10 years, we hadn't had any particularly deep discussions before. I'd always thought from long ago that the person who most understood our work was Momo, but there was something that made me embarrassed about having a face-to-face talk.

Just like how you'd feel awkward having a serious discussion with family?

That's how it felt, yes. But, for the sake of improving the group, it definitely would be better to have a discussion. And so, when I promptly held a discussion with Momo, she really understood, and immediately gave her opinions. Her comments were related to things like 'Let's convey how great Berryz Kobo has become since our announcement', she helped me think things out. Basically, Momo goes off and does something funny, then I have a serious comeback, then Momo adds on to that, that's how we communicate. When either of us is going through a crisis, we'll help each other out, that's our relationship.

Currently, Momoko-san is flourishing in her solo activities on the variety circuit,  what are your views on that as the captain?

I think of it as an opportunity for the group. Putting aside whether or not I'm a fan of how Momo acts on TV (laughs), people will get to know of Berryz Kobo, and then that might spur them on to come to a live, and if that makes them interested in us, that's something to be happy about. Wherever we go, there are small children calling out 'Momochi', and I think that's quite a high level of acknowledgement. Although surprisingly she herself has a heart of glass (laughs), she makes all sorts of notes in a notebook, so she's actually pretty diligent.

In the previously mentioned blog post, you designated Miyabi-san as the sub-captain.

Up to then, anyone could put forward their opinions, but standing at the head of them was Miya. 10 years through, and we now have a sub-captain, I think that the group is now more settled. Although she herself has said that 'I'll do it without caring about the title', it's still good in that case.

With all that trouble, we'd like to ask about the other members. It wasn't really the case that Sugata Risako-san was that mature at the outset, was she?

I'd rather say, she's really was kid. Since she didn't give out her opinions, up until about 3 years back? Suddenly she started talking about the things on her mind. Her thoughts never wavered, and she really got into the discussion, that was cool of her. As Risako changed in a big way, the atmosphere of the group changed as well.

You could say she grew up. You could also say the same about Kumai-san's height as well (laughs).

That's the most obvious, visible change, isn't it (laughs)? There was a period of time where she had grown over 10 cm in a year, I was surprised, like 'Since when did she have to start looking so far downwards at me?' There was a point of time when she was embarrassed about her height, but she's gotten over it now, aiming for the Sky Tree (laughs).

What sort of person is Tokunaga Chinami-san?

I've never seen her look worried. She's constantly livening up the group, and her smile glitters like the sun. At times when I'm down in the dumps, she helps out just by making us laugh together.

How about Sudo Maasa-san?

She's a tolerant, level-headed person. Actually, 2~3 years ago, we hardly had any opportunities to have one-on-one chats. It's not that we were on bad terms though. But, during the period when I was depressed, although I said nothing, hers was the sole voice that asked if I was fine, and gave me a hug. It felt like, 'She noticed it!' Since then, we started consulting each other. I consult with Momo about work, and I consult with Maasa about personal issues.

Looking back at it again, you really are a group with irregular quirks.

I feel like if the 7 of us were in the same class at school, we'd definitely not be in the same clique (laughs). With such scattered personalities, I myself think that it's amazing that we've been doing this for 10 years.

By the way, for one of the recordings of your double-A-side single that's currently on sale, '1-oku 3-zenman Sou Diet Oukoku', Tsunku♂-san announced at the press conference for the New Year's Hello! Con that 'There are lots of members who have gotten fatter in Berryz Kobo'.

'You're saying that here?' That was what flashed through my mind (laughs), but there were rumours that Tsunku♂-san made songs about what he was thinking about, so among the members we were like 'Finally, the diet has come! OMG!' But now, everyone's set up goals that they're working hard at. Like, no eating after 9 at night. Even the chocolate-loving Kumai-chan has only one piece a day.

Saki-san's midriff-baring outfit is right on the mark though, but as captain, do you feel like you have keep an eye on that?

Well, as a girl, I understand the desire to eat, so it's complicated. But, whether I grow vertically or grow horizontally (laughs), either way it'll become uneven, and I feel that Berryz Kobo will move ahead in Berryz Kobo's own fashion.

Saki-san, having been tasked as captain since you were in primary school, do you feel that there was an influence on your character development?

For someone who'd only so far been entrusted with the animal care-taking committee, if I hadn't become the captain, I feel like I wouldn't have had others telling me to become reliable. I'd always be pampered by others, not having to state my own opinion, I'd become that sort of adult. That's why, now, it makes me glad to be called 'Captain' by the girls from other groups. Even now, I don't think I'm right for it, but I feel like when someone has to take up a position, you start getting the strength to suit the role.

Shimizu-style pie chart

I think that the breadth of one's vision, looking over each and everyone of the members, that's the most important thing. If you were to only pay attention to just one or two members, then you might end up neglecting the other members. For the sake of the group, think about each and everyone in the group, and if something comes up, notice it but don't bring it up. And then, you probably can't do it if you're mentally weak. Being in a position where you get all sorts of warnings from the adults, if you get discouraged from each and every one of those, I don't think you'll be able to go on for 10 years. Besides that, the ability to bring people together is important. I don't feel like it's something I've got, but it's because you have to gather together the opinions of the members and the group itself. What you have to pay attention to is, rather than putting yourself forward, what should be done by the group... You end up thinking that way naturally.

Breadth of vision: 70%
Strength of mind: 20%
Ability to bring people together: 10%

After-school talk
Interview ended

I feel like it was really quiet, being interviewed alone. Usually all 7 members of Berryz Kobo are around, it's really clamorous. At group interviews, when questions are asked, you shouldn't have overlapping answers, but that isn't the case when you're alone, so I could speak out whatever I wanted to say. I had to recall lots of things from the time of our début, and not much about the memories of the period after that. I guess that it might be since I was single-mindedly working hard. Today, thinking back to those times while talking about them, I've continued on for 10 years as a captain who's been reinforcing the members, so I don't plan wander from that path in the future. Because the 6 of them become really powerful when supported. And then, there's myself, who's unsuited to be their captain, since I'm developing while doing it. And if it falls on to you, dear reader, to pick up the responsibility of being, say, a class representative, I'd like to tell you, 'It'll turn out fine'.


  1. Yajima and Shimizu for the title of leader of HP? I demand trial by combat! But I guess Shimizu will call Sudo as her champion.. Yajima might not need a champion..

  2. An interesting read, I love Saki! I think she should be the leader of H!P once Sayumi graduates!

  3. Thanks for the translation! Captain is an amazing leader, as always. Her past is really sad, huh.

    And! I used your translation to translate it myself in French for my fanblog (of course I credited you but I prefer to tell you). Thanks for your hard work!! ^^