With Michishige-san's graduation completed on the 26th of November last year, we called it a day, but the next day it was back to work as usual. I spent that day without feeling like the leader at all. However, I gradually got more solo jobs, things like radio appearances and interviews, and the staff-san increasingly teased me by going 'Yo! Leader!' (laughs). But I still couldn't get used to being called the leader...... At interviews, one question that would invariably get asked would be 'Moving forward, what sort of group would you like the group to become?', and I had no idea what to answer. I honestly wanted to say that the 13 of us would do our best, but because we had just started (with the new organisation) , I hadn't thought of anything. Then I slammed into the wall of being the leader. Even when we got told off, there often was this feeling of 'Despite you being the leader', it took some time for me to accept that.
--- There must have been huge pressure, succeeding the large footsteps Michishige-san left as leader.
I'd prepared myself for the comparisons with her from the start. Even at handshake events, I would receive unrelenting words from the fans, such as 'Your MC can't compare to Michishige-san'. It gave me a shock, but it would be my loss if it got me down, so I decided in my heart that I would do my best.
---Did you speak out to the members about your anxiety and pressure?
I did not. Of course I was anxious, but I'd like to enjoy my time with the members. It's not just me, we all harbour that anxiety, so without burdening them with more things to worry about, I felt like I had to lead everyone at my own pace.
---Ever since you became the leader, have you ever had to bring everyone together and hold a discussion?
The 9th, 10th, and 11th generation have had detailed discussions, we've brought out our opinions about how we'd like to move forward in the future. My ideal type of leader would be 'A leader who does their best together with everyone'. Looking back over the history of Morning Musume。, senpai-kouhai relationships have been important, but this current assembly of girls are the closest in age we've had so far. We should make use of the close distance between the members, not that we'd mess around together as friends, but I'd like us to have a lot of conversations, and build a relationship of mutual trust.
--- How long did it for '15 to get coordinated and come out as a group?
The first concert we had as '15 were the Hello! Project concerts, where Suzuki Kanon-chan was injured, so we were unable to perform as a complete group, and I think it caused concern for the fans. It was about when the spring tour started, when our feelings started uniting as one. The big thing was that there was a month for us to practise for the spring tour, and I feel that it was during that time that all of us were heading in the same direction.
--- What was the difference between the practices of previous tours?
At any rate, we did a lot of independent practice. Speaking about walls that everyone definitely ends up hitting, for the 12th gen, it was a tough tale as they suddenly had to learn over 20 songs for our own tour. That mentality, where you just have to do it, it's tough, we've all gone through it before, so we understand. For independent practices, the senpai members who could join in taught the 12th gen. There were times where a single person led the 4 of them, and there were times when we taught them one-on-one. If the moves didn't match up, we'd all do the same thing countless times. It's an accumulation of small things, but it's because we did it steadily that we were able to welcome the first day of the spring tour without a hitch.
--- Were there a lot of things that you became aware of again by teaching the 12th gen?
In order to teach the kouhai, we had to reaffirm that our moves were united. Also, when Michishige-san was leader, if we slipped up, Michishige-san would match everything. There wouldn't be any mistakes when checking with Michishige-san. But it's because Michishige-san isn't around that we've had more discussions and arguments. No one wants to concede their own opinions (laughs). But we'd properly discuss and double-check our moves, and we'd try to find the answer as to whom should be followed. Everyone is giving their opinions to make the group better, which makes me happy, it's a good experience.
--- Compared to when the 9th gen joined the group, how did the 12th gen appear to you?
You could say that their perception was good, so I thought they had good heads on their shoulders. Once they're told something, they're quick to shift their actions. Of course there are things that they can't do, but it's much less compared to when the 9th gen joined. Maria-chan and Haga-chan were level-headed with their Kenshuusei experience, while Ogata-chan and Nonaka-chan are in senior high, so they're more grown-up than the 9th gen when we joined. What I admire about them is that they comprehend whatever they're told. Even after properly giving their opinions, they'd apologise.
--- Did you feel differently about your kouhai that weren't from the 12th gen?
The time period when the 10th gen joined wasn't that much different from when we joined, so I thought I'd have to work hard so that we wouldn't be told that 'The 9th gen is unnecessary'. Oda-chan was a capable kid from the start, so she didn't feel like a kouhai. So we said that 'The 12th feel like our first kouhai'. I also discovered the true meaning of having kouhai, like this is what the senpai must have thought, this is what Michishige-san must have thought. And so, I now feel like apologising for how I was when I'd first joined...... It must have been a big shock that, many times over, I wouldn't be able to do things, or I'd make mistakes, despite having been taught them and double-checking them countless times. Many times, I'd get struck the by the realisation of why Michishige-san told us off back then.
--- Fukumura-san, you don't seem like the type that gets angry, but are you strict with the 12th gen for independent practices?
I do get angry. What Mitsui-san would often tell the 9th gen is that 'The first time is fine, but from the second time onwards, act properly at lessons'. It's for perfecting things like remembering choreography or the way to hold microphones, things besides the usual skills. We'd bring it up with them at times when they weren't doing things properly. Sometimes, if they were unable to do those things after countless attempts, we'd get worried, like did they fully understand it? It's not just me, any member who noticed something would speak up. Those strict feelings stem from us not wanting them to go through the blunders that the 9th gen experienced when we joined, at all costs.
--- And those blunders were?
The teachers would get extremely angry, and say things like 'Get out of the rehearsal room!', it was pretty terrible for us (laughs). We didn't want that to happen to the 12th gen. The 12th gen went through the same thing at the Hello! Cons. They didn't perform well at the rehearsals, and were told to 'Get out for this song!'
--- Not just limited to the 12th gen, did your relationships with the members change when you became leader?
I pay more attention to the members. I have to understand them more, like, 'What sort of character does this girl have?' Recently, the fans have often told me, 'Fuku-chan, you've got a poisonous tongue' (laughs). There's a reason for that, I think that I'm the tsukkomi, so when an opportunity presents itself in the flow of an MC, I'll come out with something scathing. For example, when we're playing around with the idea that Oda-chan and Ayumi-chan are on bad terms, just calling her 'Oda' without a honorific would be unthinkable to the old me. But Oda-chan's mentally strong, she'll tide things through in a fun way, similar to Eripon. I can drop the honorific because we have that trust. This way of thinking, like whether I should liven up the place, or drop the topic, it's thanks to Michishige-san, who taught me about the various aspects of MC-ing.
--- Your spring tour started on the 14th of March, but we hear that all the members were crying before you started performing on the first day.
When we were doing our yell before the concerts, Kanon-chan was the first to start crying. I think that she was glad to be on-stage, as there was a time when she hurt her leg and couldn't dance. Kanon-chan had never cried before a concert in the past, so it was a surprise, and then everyone started crying. But for me, there was no need to cry at that point. However, I cried at the end of the concert. It was my first tour as the leader, and there were so much more things to say at MCs, I was really uneasy, like, could I do it properly, can I see the faces of the fans? So at the final MC, the moment I finished leading into the song, like 'With that, let's make this last one a blast!', the tears just wouldn't stop pouring out, as what I was most nervous about was the MCs (laughs).
--- Indeed, the leader holds a big responsibility for MC-ing.
I was told 'You're the leader, so you've got to wrap things up'. I understood how important it was. The words of someone with a track record like Michishige-san would ring true, yet I thought that at the time, what I said would only sound like lip service. So I thought that I wanted to talk about my true feelings. I thought that what came first wasn't 'like a leader', but 'like myself'.
--- Were you aware of being 'like yourself' before you became leader?
It's the opposite, I'm the type who'll follow people, so there's a lack of me showing my true self. For example, even when we're on variety shows, while I'm busy thinking, 'If I say this, the mood will change', or 'Is this the appropriate thing to say in this place?', someone around me will say the things I'm thinking, and I'll feel relieved, like 'Ah, that was correct'. I often feel that way. Like I was afraid to say things. Now, that's no longer the case at all. Even now, with my personality, I'm probably more comfortable going along with people. But the leader is the representative of the team, so I thought that I had to properly make remarks, my way of thinking has changed.
--- Going back to what we discussed at the start, was there anyone you complained to when you became the leader?
Certainly, I probably relied on my parents during the Hello! Cons. After lessons ended, the moment I would see my parents, who had come to pick me up, I'd cry, going, 'Ah, that was tough', and get it out of my system. At the worst period, I cried every day for a week, and my parents would laugh (laughs). Without worrying and asking 'Are you okay?', I'm grateful to my parents who'd go 'Crying again?' with a laugh.
--- Specifically, what was the hardship?
It wasn't the group, it was myself. Just doing Morning Musume。 was hard enough, but doing the Haro Sute Dance Club at the same time was difficult. I started a day later than the rest, and couldn't do the dance at all, and while we were practising for the Dance Club, my mind was filled with the 12th gen, so I hated dancing at the time. But as the days passed, the Dance Club practises became refreshing instead. Being able to practise dancing that was completely different from the norm, you feel its effect, like your level has been raised.
--- This is deviating from the topic, but in our previous edition, Sato Masaki-san appeared in a solo interview, where she said that she wished that the leader would depend on them more.
I really feel the support being given by Masaki-chan, and it's good that she thinks that far. Even though she's a friendly girl, I feel that she wants to tell me what she's worried about, what she's uneasy about.