My dream? “To get into JE”.
-So, what were you like when you were little?
Umm…I wasn’t really shy or anything.
When I was little, my parents used to hold a gymnastics class. My older sister; she’s 2 years older than me, and she used to take lessons there. I was so tiny back then I couldn’t stay back home by myself so I’d go to that gym with them waiting for them to finish up. I used to talk to all the parentals so I guess that’s why I wasn’t too shy back then.
-Didn’t you do gymnastics?
I…well, that didn’t really come to mind for some reason. And there’s also that I started dance when I was 3 years old, and from then my world was about dancing.
-What got you dancing?
I don’t actually remember that well, but I think it’s my mum. I recall at first, I felt that dancing was hard; I kept on moving opposite ways because of my inability to keep with the rhythm.
-But you endured it.
I think it’s that feeling of accomplishment that you get as commitment proves to overcome your weaknesses one by one. After two years, I begged my parents to put me in with another class.
-Then, when did you first display interest in JE?
I wonder. At first, it was that my older sister and my mum liked Sakurai (Sho)-kun, and I guess I was influenced by that. By the time I was in preschool even I liked JE, and my dream was “To get into JE”. It was right when Arashi had debuted, and I was always singing to their songs.
-And…you and your love for Ohno (Satoshi)-kun is pretty well known.
I went to Arashi’s live when I was in Year 1 or 2. Until then I had this impression that Ohno-kun, don’t get me wrong, but I had this impression that he was that carefree guy. But then on stage, when I saw him there, dancing, he was so different, so kakkoii. I really wanted to stand on that stage, and amaze everybody like him.
-So it was your will to audition for JE.
Yes. I sent off my resume at the end of Year 3, and my mum was so excited about it.
-How did you feel when you were told that you passed the first stage?
A little into Year 4, the letter with all the second stage dates & locations arrived. I was so happy. I was like, “Yes!”
-How was the audition?
I lived in Shizuoka back then, so I had to go on a bullet train with my mum-I was so nervous. I mean, they were going to judge on my dancing and everything. I didn’t really think about getting in or not getting in, but then again, I spent my life dancing since I was three, so I didn’t want to lose to other boys.
-You auditioned for “Ninja Hattori-kun” straight after the JE audition, right?
Johnny-san came up to me and he was like, “Hey, are you interested in auditioning? Go ask your mother if you can audition.” I originally wanted to get into JE to dance, so I thought movies were totally out of the question. I was like, “Let’s go hooommmeee” “I wanna sleeeppp” “Let’s go hooooommmeee” to my mum, all whinging. But she was like, “I’ll get you a new game” so I ended up auditioning. （笑）
I passed the audition for the movie too, so really, it was two birds with one stone. （笑）It’s baffling when you think about it. Had I not auditioned for the movie, I may not have been here at all.
-How was shooting for the movie?
During the filming, I lived in a hotel in Tokyo for about a month and a half. In the interview that was part of the making-of, I remember saying that it was fun, and I didn’t feel lonely at all. I pretended I was tough. Whereas actually, I was always feeling lonely, and there were times when I fell a little ill. Those times my mum came straight from Shizuoka. It was heart-warming for me, and I felt really supported.
Yabu-kun, who was sitting next to me, hit me on the knees
-And so, after that your activities as a Jr kept on growing?
I was still living in Shizuoka, so it was only sometimes for interviews that they called me on. So, at first I didn’t really do things like dancing behind senpais.
Even when they called me on for interviews, I wouldn’t have friends so I’d be just sitting there, nervous, until the photographer would call my name. I’d do my shoots, and then sit back down on that chair, shutting up to myself. The others would be used to it, so they’d be chatting and playing games.
-Did you want someone to talk to you?
Well…not really because I’d grow even more nervous. （笑）From what I remember, there was this time when I happened to have an interview with Yabu (Kota)-kun. We didn’t have much of a conversation, but Yabu-kun, who was sitting next to me, would hit me on the knees, and I’d hit him back. I think actions like those got my to slowly blend in.
-Were you able to see Ohno-kun through becoming a Jr.?
Once when I went to Tokyo for an interview, Matsumoto (Jun)-kun was shooting at the same studio. I went to greet him, and I told him that I loved Arashi. He asked me which song I liked best, and I said, “Tomadoinagara”-he told me I was old fashioned. （笑）I also told him that I was going to their concert in Nagoya, and he invited me backstage.
-So you met Ohno-kun for the first time backstage of that concert?
Yes. They were all doing their make-up and everything, and as soon as I spotted Ohno-kun, Sakurai-kun came up to me and played with my cheeks and everything-I was so happy I don’t even remember what I said to Ohno-kun. （笑）
After that, they let me in backstage to the Jr.’s room. All of a sudden, some guy came up to me and asked me if I knew who they were. My mum whispered in my ear that it was Kitayama (Hiromitsu)-kun-now that I think of it, that was Kitayama-kun. And Fujigaya (Taisuke)-kun was there too.
-How did you feel about debuting back then?
At that live, I saw the all the audience from the path connecting to the stage. I aspired to walk further on the path to get to the other side, where you could get a clearer and larger view of the audience. But back then, all I wanted to do was dance, first behind senpais, eventually behind Arashi.
I want to dance with him.
-How did you feel about not being called on because you lived in Shizuoka?
I saw a lot of Jr.’s on TV. (Nakajima) Yuto-kun and (Yamada) Ryosuke started to dance in positions that drew a lot of attention, and I envied them. Especially when I saw Ryosuke on TV, I wanted to dance with him.
-You moved to Tokyo when you started Middle School?
I moved because of my father’s job. I always wanted to move to Tokyo so I could do more as a Jr. It came at a great time, really. Everything is about luck and timing in my life. （笑）
-Did your activities as a Jr. flourish after moving?
Yes. Straight after I moved, I was called on for a rehearsal of Jr.’s concert at Budokan. I practiced as normal, and then the next day, for some reason I was put in position with the main crew of the Jr.’s. People like Ryosuke, Yuto-kun, Inoo (Kei)-chan and (Arioka) Daiki-kun were there. I was like, “EH!?” because they were all the members you saw on TV; I was so happy. Yeah, extremely happy.
-And so your aspirations to dance with Yamada-kun were suddenly coming true.
Yes. Back then, everyone used to call Ryosuke “Yama-chan”. I wanted to befriend him, so I fooled around and called him “Kaba-chan” and he was like, “Hey, I’m gonna get angry at you” but then I’d still call him “Kaba-chan”…it was fun.（笑）
-I’m sure it wasn’t absolutely filled with happiness, didn’t you face hardships too?
Well…I guess…it was hard keeping up with the choreography that everyone already knew, having to learn it from the top.
-It was hard even for you?
I used take lessons about 5 times per week, so I thought it’d be easy. But actually, there was an immense amount of choreography, with so little time to remember. A Jr. needs to learn choreography to a song in 3-4 hours. Maybe even two songs. It was difficult at first, not being able to keep up with the sheer speed, even when I’ve been dancing all my life.
-How did you overcome that?
When we got free time during rehearsals, I asked people like Ryosuke and Yuto-kun to go over the choreography with me. The choreography also differed between everyone, so it was like, ask this guy for this song, as another guy for that song.
-That sounds troubling.
Well, I didn’t really think of it as trouble. I liked dancing, and there was that joy of being able to stand on stage that kept me going. I could finally stand on that stage.
-How was it, being able to stand on stage for the first time at the Budokan concert?
At a rehearsal, I was fooling around with Ryosuke and I was showing-off a ballet pirouette. Our choreographer happened to see me doing it, so he was like, “Hey, what do you think about doing that in the opening?” So I instantaneously got a solo. It’s pretty incredible.
-A sudden promotion.
In the opening, I’d go out there by myself, doing pirouettes, and I could feel the other Jr.’s and the audience thinking who the hell is this boy. But it felt good to finally stand on that stage.
I saw the collected members, I was struck.
-In 2007 you were chosen to be part of Hey!Say!7.
I was called on when I was dancing behind KAT-TUN, with the other 4. Johnny-san had a white board with him, and he’d write “Hey!Say!7” on it. It was as if he was saying, “This is you guys from now on.” I was so happy; it was the first time ever that I was part of a group.
-And 6 months after that your debut as Hey!Say!JUMP was decided.
Yes. At first we were told it was just another magazine interview, but when I arrived at the meeting, there, there were the Hey!Say!7 members as usual, but there were also Yabu-kun and (Yaotome) Hikaru-kun and Inoo-chan so I thought it was strange. But then I realized that it was right before the volleyball championships, and there was that question of debuts arising within the Jr.’s. Back then Ya-Ya-Yah, A.B.C., Kis-My-Ft2, J.J. Express were the main groups in the Jr.’s, and then below them were us, Hey!Say!7. So it was assumed that one of the four groups were going to debut. I never thought it was going to be us. Because, it hadn’t even been a year since I moved to Tokyo and finally started dancing with the other Jr.’s. But as soon as I saw the collected members, I was struck. I saw the possibility of a debut.
-And you were correct.
Apparently there were members who were told prior to that date, but I was one of those who weren’t, so I was there, curious yet excitedly aware of the situation. （笑）
-An unexpectedly early debut. Didn’t you feel lost?
Well, I didn’t really have time to feel lost. We had our concert at Tokyo Dome, left with the puzzling question of why we held our concert at somewhere so big. I can’t even remember what the concert was like; I was so nervous. The best I could do back then was to dance as I was trained, sing as I was told.
-All your dreams came true at a sudden jolt.
Yes. So it was a shame I didn’t get to dance behind Arashi in the end. But then again, that’s too much to ask.
-It may be so.
I couldn’t just give up there, so after I debuted, I told Ohno-kun I wanted to dance behind them, but he was like, “Nope, you’ve debuted, Chinen-kun.” I still wanted to do something with him. Like how Taguchi (Junnosuke)-kun and Higashiyama (Noriyuki)-san did a stage. I hope to be able to do that sort of thing with him one day.
Whether my high school life would be fruitful, I knew it was all up to me.
-Is there anything else in particular that you felt about debuting?
Um…well sometimes, maybe it’s just me being oversensitive, but from time to time I felt the glares from other Jr.’s. I think we all felt it. We skipped over A.B.C and Kis-My-Ft2, and all the other senpai’s we respected. There were times when they had to dance behind us, and we felt very uncomfortable and sorry.
-Any senpai’s you were good friends with?
Tsuka-chan (Tsukada Ryoichi). Tsuka-chan didn’t just support me in acrobatic terms, but he was also took very good care of me overall. Often we went home together, and he’d treat me to a meal. It was especially touching how even after we debuted, he still treated me the same, even thought he must’ve felt something about us.
-You debuted when you were in 2nd Year middle school. After that you went to Horikoshi High School with Yamada-kun & Nakajima-kun.
Well, to be honest, I didn’t really want to go to high school. （笑）We already made our debut. I thought that meant it was better for me to concentrate on following that single path. I thought through it until the very last minute, and I applied.
-What made you decide so?
One thing was that people from my agency advised me to “Think about my fans”. And, I thought about it. Fans of my age. Fans of younger ages. I decided to follow this path. So I felt there was no point in going to high school. But I was only assuming there was no point, it was not an opinion deriving from experience. If, just what if someone decided not to go to high school, just because “Chinen-kun didn’t go”? Whether my high school life would be fruitful, I didn’t know, but I knew it was all up to me. That’s why I decided that if I were to go, I would do everything properly, would go to school, and do my job.
-I see. So, how was high school?
It was so much fun. I’m glad I went. （笑）I was separated from Ryosuke at one point, but I was in the same class as Yuto-kun the whole time.
-What kind of memories do you have?
I was literally with Yuto-kun the whole time. And, well, maybe it’s a bit weird saying this myself, but us two were pretty straight forward and when we had volley ball for sport, we were like, “Yep, let’s do this. I mean volley ball=us.” （笑）And when we saw classmates cheating, we were like, “Let’s keep to the rules!”
With Yuto-kun, when we were 1st Years, there was some school event where we stayed over for 3 nights or so, and he was chosen for the male leader, nominated by our teacher. It was such a hard job that he got a little bit sick but then, even now, when Yuto-kun and I are talking, we go back to that high school sort of mood, and we feel a little reminiscent.
-And in 2nd Year high school, you became part of NYC.
It wasn’t something you could just do, you know, be a part of two groups simultaneously, so it was great. Except, there’s only the three of us in NYC, which meant if we appeared in a TV show, the likelihood is that we’d all be having to talk-and that was nerve wracking. （笑）I’m glad Ryosuke was there with me, and it has also been a great chance for me to realize the importance of members. It’s just that even now, for most of the time our activities are with JUMP, so I genuinely feel guilty for Yuma, at the same time, I really do feel that Yuma is a very strong person.
At times we laughed, at times we cried. That’s how we earnt everything; one by one.
-I acknowledge that you put a lot of time and effort into everything you do. But it seems all too fairy-tale-like hearing your story.
I guess I faced less hardships than everyone else. 80% of my achievements are consisted of luck. I’m a believer in that everyone will face the same amount of hardships not matter what; whether it be earlier in their career, or later. Even looking at JUMP as a whole, you can tell that it’s mostly just luck. We were just luckier than other groups. So I’m sure there will be many things in the future that we would have to face. I try to remind myself that we are all fighters, constantly in a battle. Most of all, I believe that we can make it through.
When we debuted, we weren’t very used to standing on the stage. It was like we were constantly tight-roping unlike other groups who had the experience to get over all these things. We only just made it. But as we did all these things, we had our fans with us. Looking back on it now, we cried a lot.
The last stage of our 2nd year tour was at Tokyo Dome. We were alone that time, unlike at our debut, and the seats were full. We saw the seats high above lighting up with pen lights, and it was so beautiful we all cried. We never said direct words, but there we finally knew for sure that we all felt the same way. Our bonds grew stronger. You know, fans are so powerful. They in fact are the source of our power. We stand on the stage so we can make them smile, cheer them up, so we can give them power. But when you think about it, our fans give us more power than we can ever give them.
We all cried at our 2nd SUMMARY too. I did the trapeze for the first time. Ryosuke tight-roped for the first time. It was fully packed; I’m pretty sure that was one of the hardest shows we’ve done. At the rehearsals, we didn’t really pull it off. I guess we never actually been through a rehearsal without someone falling. We were all dreading the outcomes because the quality was so poor; I mean, how could we let our audience see this? When we managed to pull the full show off on the very first day at the very first performance, we all cried. You may think that crying comes along only with the last day. But we were so worried that this performance was going to be a failure.
-You were that anxious?
We were lucky to have debuted so early. But that meant our experience, nor our performance were up to the mark. At times we laughed, at times we cried. That’s how we earnt everything; one by one.
-Arioka-kun mentioned that when things weren’t going too well for him at SUMMARY, your text helped him pull through.
I…don’t actually remember that one. （笑）But it’s warming to know that what I did helped Daiki.
-So, do you have occasions when you were helped by your members?
Oh, countless times. When I had to do the trapeze at SUMMARY, we couldn’t spend a lot of time on it in the rehearsal. Every practice was important, and as I was about to pull off my trick, I saw my members, silent, looking at me, in my eyes, so I can concentrate. That’s when I thought, “They’re looking at me. They’re there for me. I can do this.” When I pulled it off, my members came up to me and gave me a high-five. Really, I’ve always been supported by my members.
-If there was another factor that allowed you to overcome your hardships, what would you say that is?
Well, if you were to really dig deep into this, I’d say it’s my love for this job. But I mean it when I say that my members are the largest contributing factor. When I face any doubts, my members are there for me. When I face any failures, my fans will be there for me. So I can continue to face new challenges, and that’s how I’ve always pulled through the hard times. Although I shouldn’t be over dependent on my fans, I guess I can’t really help but count on them. （笑）
The real JUMP is still to come.
-It seems as though so far, JUMP has been following some shiny path, but hearing your story it lets us see that you have done everything step by step.
It’s not to be put in past tense, we’re still moving on, step by step. We’ve only just started to grasp the meaning behind Johnny-san’s words.
“You guys should just do what you want.” He always said so. “Just do what you want” It’s not like we held ourselves back from what we wanted to do, we were just…reluctant. Some part of us wasn’t sure whether it was the right thing to display such opinions. But now, we’re all comfortable in believing what Johnny-san has told us. JUMP became more like…JUMP. Now, when we are to have concerts, we try to put in as much as we can, telling everyone of our opinions on what we want to do for our fans. That’s how we’re changing.
JUMP used to be a very obedient group. Someone from JE would be like, do this, and then do that, you’ll be fine, and we’d all just nod and do as we were told. But now we’re able to tell them what we want to do ourselves. I think that’s how JUMP is going to become JUMP from now on.
-Do what you want to do. It’s simple, but it’s also very important.
Of course maintaining that balance is hard. There was this one time when JE wanted us to do this thing at one of our concerts. But from our point of view, we weren’t all too enthusiastic on that. Our choreographer-I guess he picked it up from our body language- he just said, “There’ll be times like this. But this is for your good. For now, do as you are told to the best you can.” It’s only recently we became aware of what we should do, and what we want to do. And the time’s finally come. It’s now our time, when we can do what we really want to do. It’s already been 6 years since our debut, but the real JUMP’s only starting. Our members have started to tell each other how they feel, and say what they wanted to say. It’s only just started. The real JUMP is still to come.
I want to see a view that no other group has seen ever before, with the 9 of us.
-So you guys haven’t had huge fights within members?
Nope. Seriously, we haven’t had fights. It’s more like, Daiki & I are talking, and Hikaru-kun happens to be sandwiched in between us, and he just yells at us “STOP YELLING INTO MY EARS WHAT ARE YOU GUYS? SPEAKERS!?”…and Daiki & I quietly complain （笑）Even when this stuff has to do with work, we’d tell each other how we don’t feel quite right about it, but whenever it’s about to break into an argument, we just stop. I guess it’s because most of our members are the type of people who try to avoid arguments as much as possible. I’m like that too.
-By the way, did you have any rebellious times during your childhood?
Um…well, not really. Maybe when I was in the younger grades at primary school. When I was playing with my class mates at the playground, I accidentally made one of my friends fall over and injure themselves. It wasn’t that much of a big deal but the school contacted my parents. When I went home my mum was crying. She was like, “Why do you do this,” I never made my mum cry. I felt really guilty, and that was when I learnt that even if you didn’t mean it, you could hurt someone and make them sad. I guess that’s how I came to sense potential dangers and tried not to get involved.
-Because you don’t want to hurt anyone?
Yes. But now, I see that with these members, I don’t have to worry about clashing in opinions and fighting over them. Because, we can all cry, not just a few, all of us are mates who can cry at that single view.
-It’s getting to the final questions…so, have you ever considered becoming a gymnast instead?
-Then how about quitting JE?
No. I don’t think there’s anything else but this for me. I’ve never even thought about living a life without JE.
-Now it’s truly the final question. What sort of group do you want Hey!Say!JUMP to be?
What sort of group…it’s hard to verbalise, really. It’s not like we want to take someone, or some group as a model to do this. I want to go somewhere no other group has ever been before, I want to see a view that no other group has every seen before, with the 9 of us, and with our fans. I believe that Hey!Say!JUMP can do this. Hey!Say!JUMP can get to a view that nobody’s ever seen.