What did you want to become when you were a child?
Something like Doraemon, or a monster. I wore pyjamas which looked like a cartoon-monster costume. I probably had a strong desire to transform into something else.
What kind of child were you?
During kindergarten, I liked sandboxes. I made sandcastles and destroyed them. If I had to say, the destroying part was my strong point (laughs).
You were a naughty child?
That's right. But when I enroled in elementary school, I started to play often with girls. Since I have a sister who's two years older than me, other girls often came to our house to play and they let me join them. We went skating and they took me by the hands to teach me. I liked girls, I also played with them a lot during class breaks. The guys who saw that envied me and drew around us.
During elementary school, you were taking various additional lessons, right?
Calligraphy, soroban [a type of abacus], English conversation, swimming, piano, drawing, cram school. I always had some kind of lessons. They also made me study hard and I was told by my parents, "Become a pilot or a lawyer". There was no choice for me. But I thought if I were to operate some vehicle, a train would be better than a plane.
Which lessons did you like?
I hated them all. After all, I was forced to take them.
Did you skip them?
I pretty much always went. But once, I did not want to go to my swimming lessons, and, though I always went by bus with my sister and a friend of hers, I said, "Let's get there late", so we walked there. In the end, we got lost and caused a great uproar throughout the neighbourhood.
For how long did you continue with your lessons?
When I started middle school, my parents released me from them, telling me, "From now on, it's your own responsibility". With that sense of freedom, I only did things I liked (laughs).
Did you also play with girls in middle school as before?
I did mock sword fights with the boys on the hill behind school. Reaching puberty, making friends with girls became embarrassing. But I really teased the one I liked... With the opposite result that they disliked me. I did anything to stay near to her. But when I asked, "What are you doing?" she only went, "None of your business." (laughs). They don't like that.
You auditioned for Johnny's Jr. in 9th grade [third year of middle school], right?
My mother sent in my resume, so I didn't know that I had applied for it. Out of the blue, she said, "I thought if you hadn't passed, I wouldn't have said anything" and told me that I got through the paper screening.
Were you interested in the entertainment industry?
I cannot really remember, but I had written "I want to become an entertainer" in my graduation album, so maybe I told my parents that I were interested in it. Maybe they realised "This kid is just not interested in studying", so they looked for a different path.
What did you think when you suddenly were told that you passed the paper screening?
In the beginning I didn't want to go to the audition. It wasn't about the entertainment world, but above all I didn't want to leave the city. It felt like I was forcibly taken there.
How was the audition?
I was a rascal. When the dance examination started, I only laughed and danced cheerfully when the choreographer and the president [he means Johnny, obviously] came by (laughs).
That was sly!
Right? They looked at me and then I could see that they checked something, so I thought, "I definitely passed." But if I think about it now, I laughed only in front of adults more because our family was transferred a lot than it was something I did intentionally.
What do you mean?
Every two, three years, my father was transferred at work, so whenever we moved, it was time for courtesy calls in the neighbourhood and with the people from my father's workplace. I read the atmosphere, or should I say I got used to thinking, "How can I please the adults here?"
I see. How was it when the lessons started?
I was happy I was chosen, but when I was called to the lessons, it was too much of a bother and I skipped them. I wanted to skip the next one too, but I was put into the car by my parents and they forced me to get out in front of the practise place, so I took part in it.
How were the other Juniors?
There were a lot of elementary school students who joined at the same time. But since I also had a baby face, the others probably thought I went to elementary school too.
But you were already in 9th grade. Didn't you think, "Oh no, I'm behind"?
Not at all. I didn't think, "In the future, I definitely want to be part of the entertainment world". It felt more like a part of extracurricular activities. I got a sense of responsibility after we debuted. I still skipped lessons when I was in high school. I didn't understand the seriousness of things.
So it was bit by bit that you became more motivated?
Right. Rather quickly after joining, we appeared on Music Station. After the rehearsals, I went off to the backstage room when (Imai) Tsubasa-kun said to me, "Nice haircut!". I had a shaved head back then. This was the first time a senpai I used to see on the TV spoke to me, I thought, "he's a great person" and was happy. It was the time Takizawa (Hideaki)-kun and Tsubasa-kun led the juniors, and they told us, "Do your best!"
You had a shaved head?
I wanted shorter hair, so I went to my grandma's barber shop, and before I knew it, it was all shaved off with the hair clippers (laughs). I didn't really care about hair styles, so I thought it's fine like that.
How was the first time standing on stage?
I got to appear in Tackey's concert. When I stepped out onto the stage, the audience was sparkling with the pen lights. It was like you suddenly stepped into a planetarium. Feeling like in a dream, I danced my choreography, it happened in the blink of an eye. After taking a breath, I remember how all the Juniors said, "This was really fun!"
Was being a Junior going well after that?
Hmm, I don't know how I should define going well, but they regularly let me appear on TV. But in my head, my high school life took priority. Since I wanted to take part in the culture festival, I told my manager, "Don't schedule any work on that day", and he was livid. I went to a boys school, and if it wasn't for the culture festival, there were no chances to talk to girls. In the end, in the first and second year I couldn't go because of work, so in the third year I complained to the manager: "Don't take all the fun away from me!" and he got mad, "Suit yourself!", and I went to the festival. I wanted to hang out with high school girls no matter what (laughs).
Hahaha! KAT-TUN was formed in 2001, right. What was your first impression of the members?
(Tanaka) Koki had a 'senpai' image. I had a lot of work with Nakamaru together, so he was like a friend, but regarding Taguchi (Junnosuke), Kamenashi (Kazuya) and Akanishi (Jin), it was more, "Who are these guys?" It felt like they put only the rebellious guys together. Only guys who, when being told, "An idol should do this", got pissed off and couldn't even smile during photo shoots. On top of that, since everyone was so strong-willed, we kept having conflicts. With Koki, it happened that only our eyes had to meet to start a fight. I don't know why.
What was the fight you remember the most?
Probably during the play "SHOCK". Nakamaru made a mistake and I couldn't cover it up. This was pointed out by Kame backstage. I seriously hated Kame at that time. He was all, "if it was me, I'd do this" "I'd do that", blah blah blah. He maybe has forgotten this, but he told me, "You don't think about your friends one bit!". I got really mad at those words and it turned into a fist fight. I understand Kame said it for the sake of the group. I often talked to Nakamaru about what should become of this group. I said, "I don't wanna hear this from some guy I don't know!"
You had fights, but actually, everyone was thinking of the group.
Right. Of course we often had pointless fights, maybe even years after debuting. Nakamaru said to me, "I didn't think we could become such good friends". At this time, everyone had lots of stress. It was a time full for awkwardness, where we fumbled trying to build human relationships.
Having these conflicts, you still could continue with the group despite that. Was there something bigger?
No matter how often we disagreed, KAT-TUN is something like a home to us. A place you can definitely come back to. That's why, no matter how much we disagreed, the next day we were unbelievably calm again.
With the members, there really came some strong individualities together.
It was almost too much, in the beginning even our dancing didn't go together at all. Our choreographer was mad at us the whole time. They were mad, but at "SHOCK" for example, they said, "Dance here by yourself" and gave us our turn. We were all rebellious, so we didn't realise that they only got mad at us because they had expectations in us. We thought, "They always get mad... but if that's the case, just don't send us out on stage!" (laughs)
That's the rebellious age (laughs). What did you think about debuting?
I wasn't really consciously thinking about it that much.
Nonetheless, was there any impatience since both NEWS and Kanjani8, which were founded after you, debuted earlier?
Even though NEWS debuted, I thought, "Congratulations". But when we were called to the Volleyball broadcast and after arriving at the grounds it turned out that we'll be NEWS' supporters, I was perplexed.
So you must've been happy when 2006, 5 years after formation, your debut was decided?
Was I? First, I was more confused. We did concerts, we sung on TV, we released DVDs. I couldn't really register what the difference between debuting and not debuting was. That's why in the interview right after the decision of our debut nobody was all, "Hooray!". It didn't really sink in.
When did it?
For me, when the debut interview was over and the manager who had been with me ever since my time as Junior drove me home. When it was just the two of us in the car, he told me, "Congratulations on the debut", and with that I slowly registered it, maybe.
You said earlier that you got a sense of responsibility starting with the debut, but when was the switch?
With debuting, whether it was concerts or anything else, the number of staff dealing with things increased rapidly. Seeing this, I think I grew aware of what responsibility constitutes. With this, the realisation that I'll keep on doing this work for life was born. Before the debut, my future was unsure and I also seriously considered a life outside of the entertainment world. But with debuting, I discarded all the possibilities outside of KAT-TUN.
KAT-TUN were popular since before your debut, but despite that you were thinking about a different life.
There are countless groups which cannot debut. Like there are seasonal groups. Actually, I think we got to do concerts earlier than NEWS or Kanjani 8. But still, both groups debuted before us. I thought, there are also worst case scenarios.
Who do you confide in with such worries?
That would be Nakamaru. We're the same age and graduated from high school at the same time. We talked a lot about the future and our dreams. I talked to Nakamaru and made up my mind to apply at university.
I see. So with the decision of your debut, you resolved to carry on in this world.
Yes. Of course, it wasn't like everything was going to be all right as long as we debut. But if we do, after it we have no choice but make it by ourselves by any means. If it failed, that's all there is to it. There are often Juniors who say that debuting is their goal, but it's not like that. Debuting is like finally standing at the starting line.
Since your Junior time, was there something else you worried about aside from your future?
About my personality. In KAT-TUN, I was surrounded by guys with a strong individual sense and I thought, "I need to be something". There was a period where I didn't like that music called "Johnny's-like", so I listened to a variety of artists, dyed my hair blond, wore coloured contact lenses. I got scolded by the agency, probably the most in my life. But I still carried on.
There was also a time where you said "I can see fairies", right.
Yes. When topics are brought up during the MC at concerts, I thought I would say something which was definitely interesting. But since the others often talked freely, I thought I could not just do the same, and I took a step back. At this time, when I said "I can see fairies", it might have been a wry laugh, but the audience did laugh. After all, I wanted everyone there to smile, therefore I thought, "Ah, this is good" and kept claiming, "I can see fairies" for a while. Backstage, I was told my Kame, "This is definitely a lie!". I replied, "I saw them!" and it turned into a fight. If I think back to it now, I pretty much caused trouble for the other members (laughs).
What was the reason for changing this character?
When I did weird things, I often got told, "That's so like Ueda-kun". I didn't like this, so I also went back to black hair.
Back to your natural self?
It probably wasn't natural. In fact, it was only recently that I really became free.
Maybe about two years ago. And since this year's tour, I brought out my complete natural self. There maybe were people who thought "Huh?" but that is the real me.
Was the cause for you showing your true self connected to Akanishi-kun's departure?
Right. The five of us discussed a lot of things. We discussed as far as whether we should disband and do our individual things, or if we should carry on as a group. In our discussion, we agreed that we wanted to stay as a group. Well, we thoroughly discussed what is important now, or what we can do, or how the relations between the members should proceed for this.
So that's what happened.
After this, talking between fellow members increased. Since we have many years behind us, there are a lot of things we understand about each other. But everyone, including myself, is too considerate, like, "He has his own way of thinking", so there's a part we didn't advance into. We had a heart-to-heart talk and there were a lot of things we came to understand for the first time. Again, for me either Kanjani8 or NEWS would have been rough. I felt glad that I am in KAT-TUN.
And then this year's tour came around.
On this tour after two years, I really looked forward to be able to show my true self, and the new us.
Wearing colour contacts and dying your hair blond, saying that you can see fairies, was actually something you came up with after thinking about various things?
I don't know, I was alone with my worries and just did it my way.
What was the source of your strong-mindedness that you didn't stop even after you were told by the agency and by adults to stop it?
Putting it in a nice way, I was being straightforward. In a not-so-nice way, I was just being rebellious. I really felt hostile towards several people, whether it was the agency or the other members. But I did not waver in strongly believing that "I will do those things which I think are right". I always believed that other people probably don't understand what I think. There are also people who only judge me by my appearance. But I'm doing these things as a result of due consideration.
But I understood it by having discussions with the other members. There are things you don't understand if you don't talk about them. I skipped this. I realised that my feelings are also something that needs to be put into words to be conveyed. That really just happened recently. Now, even if I do something, I want to know the reason. When we are told, "You have this job", I want to know where the point and the strategy of us doing it lies. I want to pursue things only we can do. But at the same time, it is necessary for me to explain the meaning and intentions of my thoughts to the other members and the staff.
If you were able to tell the you of your Junior days something, would you like to say to him, "Talk more about what you think!"?
No, I think it's OK like it is. The present exists because of how I was back then. If I had been more sensible, I wouldn't have been in KAT-TUN, I think. This group made a point of gathering the rebellious types, I guess. Had I been a good child, I possibly would have been in NEWS, or maybe in no group at all. Of course with this sort of attitude, people probably didn't go further than "what's with that guy". But I wouldn't know about this, so I don't regret it.
Could this maybe also be your advice to the current Juniors?
I maybe can only say it because I'm in this position. But I do want the current Juniors to do as they feel like. There's nothing else you can do, since there is no manual for how you can debut. All you can do is acting in a way you won't regret. If you have regrets about "it would've been better to do it like that", tell yourself to go with this style. I'd like them to believe in what they decide on and fully go with it. It's probably all you can do. I also prepared myself like that.
What is that?
That just by doing this, there's nothing to be done if I can't debut. Of course I also considered quitting countless times. When KAT-TUN was founded, it was my first thought. I was, "Why do I have to join these guys!" (laughs)
Well, when was the last time you thought about quitting then?
When I considered taking the university entrance exam. I was told by people around me, "Is it really necessary to take the exam, you're popular even without having debuted." But I thought, "Who will take responsibility for my life when this group won't do well anymore?"
How did you choose the path of "KAT-TUN" over the one of university?
I seriously planned to take the exam. There was a set day for the exam and I told my manager, "I'm taking the exam on this day, so please don't schedule any work for it". But then it overlapped with the last show of Popjam, hosted by (Domoto) Koichi-kun. On top of that, the recording was in Hokkaido.
Were you at a loss about what to do?
Yes. This was like life's crossroads. I was asking myself what to do, but I chose KAT-TUN. I had resolved to do this in a sense. And because I took this choice, we're here now.
You're very strong-willed, but did you ever feel like you failed before?
Hmmm. Maybe not. No. I thought "Oh..." before, about some things, but my heart didn't break. Being disheartened and broken means failure. [He's referring to the meaning of the two characters the word for failure/frustration 挫折 is composed of] I never thought about failure. There are countless things which don't go as I thought, which aren't realised. But I can still hold out. Even if it's impossible now, in half a year or a year's time, this dream can be fulfilled. Because I will put more effort into it. Failure is when my heart breaks with a "There's nothing left to do".
So it seems each person grows up at their pace.
Probably. But I of course didn't get this far on my own, I was supported by several people around me.
By whom for example?
My family played a big part. My father, who hardly ever gets deeply into my work, watched my dramas and sent a mail after concerts are over. He also came to a show this year and wrote, "I've always come to your concerts, but your facial expressions this year were great. Maybe it shows that you're getting all this work done. Please keep it up". It's maybe a bit condescending though (laughs). My mother, my sister and her husband also come to the concerts every year. A teacher from middle school comes too. Even though I gave them much trouble. This teacher always looked for me first when it was time to clean up, because I used to skip and disappear elsewhere. They look back all fondly, "Despite being such a kid..., time passes so fast". Even though I did not notice it, I was looked after by several people. I'm grateful for this.
Beside that, the fans' existence plays the biggest part in me being as I am now. There was a one day difference between my second solo concert and a KAT-TUN one. Mine was decided on in a hurry, so I worried about whether the fans would come. But a great number of people were there, and when I asked in the MC, "Who also went to the KAT-TUN concert yesterday?" quite a lot of them raised their hands. I was encouraged by so many of them coming. I very much felt the value of being supported. I thought, I'm glad for choosing this job.
It really is like that.
I think our work is wonderful. The people who cheer us on are having fun, and their feelings are turned into a positive direction. This power is in myself. Thousands of people enjoy it when we're having concerts. When I see everyone smiling, I'm glad from the bottom of my heart that I'm standing on this stage.
You have a great power.
Yes. But it's not me who holds this power, it's this job which possesses it.
Well, what's something you'd like to try in the future?
More than wanting to do something, I'd like to do well at anything. I think we can do it. Since each of us has his own strong points, there are several possibilities. So right now, I would like to make KAT-TUN even bigger.
And something you want to do personally?
Since I like acting, I'd like to explore it further.
What do you like about acting?
The moment were you stop being you. There's a moment where the character you've been given comes alive on its own. Of course there's the pressure of important scenes, the blow when you end up stuck. It gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment when you overcome this and do a really great scene.
When did you become aware of acting?
I think the drama "Runaway" was the starting point. We were a passionate group. How can I describe it... Everyone was riding on this passion. I really understood the feeling of wanting to make this a good work. There were many things I noticed, like "I can do those kinds of facial expressions". Whether expressions or emotions, widening my repertoire can always be traced back to making KAT-TUN even bigger, be it singing or variety.
So it seems like a good thing that you encountered the path of acting.
Yes. I noticed it right now during the talk, I've maybe always liked pretending to be someone that I'm not. When I was a child I wanted to transform into something else and when I joined the Juniors I played various types. Characters are a role you've been given and not your real self. But there are also things you notice for the first time then. Like what kind of things this character says or how he moves, and then you think, "If this was me...". Here, I met a part of me I wasn't aware of before. By acting as a different self, I maybe actually was searching for myself. Some things you won't understand hiding inside yourself and some things you understand by looking at it from the outside. I always seemed to play something, I probably was looking for myself the whole time. And I think from now on too, I will always keep on searching.