I cried because I didn’t want to audition.
-You’re really cute in this photo of you as a baby.
I am cute, aren’t I?（笑）People mistook me for a girl quite often. My sister used to put hair bands on me and toyed around with lipstick.
-You’ve an older brother too?
Yeah. My brother is two years older than me, my sister; four years. I’ve always been the youngest, and I still feel like one.
-You’re used to getting spoiled then?
Oh I was pretty spoiled. I always stuck to my mother. Apparently whenever my mother was on the phone for a long time, I used to grab her apron and I would never let go of it.
-How about your first love?
I think it was when I was in pre-school. I was playing with my friend and with my friend’s sister. I fell over or something and injured myself. My friend’s sister piggy-backed me all the way home and I was like, “This is it!”（笑）
-Then, when did you start playing soccer?
J League had started when I was in pre-school, and by the time I was in primary school it was hugely popular. I used to play at the park using those bars as goals. I started playing in a proper team when I was in Yr1.
-Where did you play?
I wanted to play as goal keeper, like everyone else. But I wasn’t a strong kicker, nor tall enough to get higher shoots（笑）So, instead I played forward.
-You auditioned for JE when you were in Yr6, am I correct?
My sister used to watch this TV show called “Pikaichi” with (Domoto) Koichi-kun in it, and there, she saw this ad on how they were holding a JE audition, so she sent my form off, and I didn’t know.
-You didn’t know?
No. For one thing, I had absolutely no interest in becoming an idol, and the audition was on either Saturday or Sunday, which meant that it doubled with my soccer training. So I refused to go, crying the day before. I was all like, “I don’t wanna go, no, I don’t wanna go, no.”
-Why did you audition in the end?
There was this thing in my class, how it was “in” to have all these badges on your pencil case of all the participating countries of the W.C the next year. My parents promised me to buy me one of those badges, and I went.
-Ahahahaha. So, how was the audition actually?
I went to the venue in my casual clothes, but I remember seeing this one kid with a really cool, fashionable hat. Later, he turned out to be Inoo (Kei).
-Did you guys chat?
Nope. But I do remember how at the audition, when it was the time to express yourself, Inoo put his hand up and started singing Kinki Kids’ “Flower”. He was terrible. （笑）
-Did you do anything?
Actually, I didn’t. After the audition, I started getting called up to take lessons. Those lessons were either on a Saturday or on a Sunday, so they’d call you up on Friday…but then I wouldn’t be able to go to soccer, so I absolutely hated getting those calls, Every week I was tempted to pull out our phone cords.（笑）
-You hated it that much?
Soon after I entered JE, I was selected as a back dancer for “Music Station” as a Jr. There I made mistakes in my dancing, so I was secretly rejoicing that from next week onwards, I would never be called up for lessons-I would go back to my normal life. But then again, the phone calls would come, and every time I’d complain and wail about having to miss out on soccer, and every time my parents would buy me another one of those badges and I’d go.
-Then, how did you end up liking it?
It’s-well, I was always liked by my elders. Rather than being with those of my age, I was often with A.B.C. and KAT-TUN. I remember Totsu- (Totsuka Shota) and I went home the same way? Anyhow I quickly became friends with him. I ate out with Kamenashi (Kazuya)-kun and Akanishi (Jin)-kun, and they often drove me home.
I hated being called “cute” though. I hated it when people ruffled through my hair and stuff. Whenever I got calls from Akanishi-kun I’d be like, “Sorry, I’m in the middle of a game right now.” and I’d just coldly hang up. （笑）But then, I guess in the end, it’s those elders’ kindness that slowly made me like Jr’s.
-Then, what did you tell your friends at school, you know, about being a Jr.?
I never told them. One of my friends told me that they saw me on Music Station, but I’d still be like, “What are you talking about? No way I’d be on TV.”（笑）Even when I needed to miss out on soccer training, I’d say that I had a small get together with relatives to attend to. It was hard, because that excuse made people think I no longer liked soccer.
"Your name starts with Y, right?" The sudden formation of a group
-And I recall that it was pretty soon after you entered that Ya-Ya-Yah formed?
Yeah. Our president was like, “Your name starts with Y, right?” and at the “Shounen Club” rehearsal we were lined up as Y, A, Y, A and he was like, “You guys, are Ya-Ya-Yah.”
-At this point in time, you still haven’t told your friends about JE, have you?
No. Soon we appeared on “Music Station” as Ya-Ya-Yah. The next day I really dreaded going to school. The thoughts about my friends finding out just circled my head-and yes, I was questioned, A LOT. I knew there was no longer any use to hiding it, so I told them everything. That would probably be how I stopped dragging things on.
-How did you feel in 2003, when the TV show “Ya-Ya-Yah” started?
It was just like, “I don’t really get it but let’s just do whatever the grown-ups tell us”. Having said that, when we were told that A.B.C. will be on the show with us, I was really excited.
-And that was the TV Show that held the audition Yaotome (Hikaru)-kun passed and became a Jr.
Yep. It was pretty soon after the show had started, that Hikaru entered.
-What were your first impressions of him?
They told us that he was really good at dancing, so I was wondering what he was like. And then, I was told to teach him the choreography because we’ll be singing “Yuuki 100%” with him on the show. I was like, “Why do I have to teach him this” He gently asked me to teach him the choreography, and yeah, I did teach him…just not so enthusiastically. （笑）It’s nearly been 11 years since that. A long time, really.
-What was your relationship like?
Best friends, allies, rivals, brothers… All of them seem fitting. We starred in “3 nen B gumi Kinpachi-sensei” together. There were times when I questioned how Hikaru was the main in the drama, but then at the same time, I knew he was committed to it. Our personalities were pretty much the exact opposite- him, organised, me, going with the flow. We argued a lot.
Well, at rehearsals, he’d be wanting to go through everything; thoroughly. But I’d be the guy going, “Hey, let’s think about this later and adjust it when we get there”-that caused conflict. It was usually about more…stupid things though. Oh yes, I remember. There was this time at a concert where Hikaru couldn’t find his performance clothes. Hikaru would be like, “You hid my uniform, didn’t you!?” and we’d break out in a fight, because really, I didn’t. He broke off after that, but I’d still be unsatisfied because Hikaru still blamed me for his clothes. In the end it turned out that Senga (Kento) mistook it for his own and wore Hikaru’s.
-Hahahahaha. So, with all this behind, what do you think about being called “YabuHika”?
The creation of Hey!Say!7 “Maybe this is my end of the road.”
-You’ve done some solo concerts as Ya-Ya-Yah too.
Yeah, except…my voice was breaking then. Johnny-san had once said to me that “The good quality you hold, is your high voice.” so I was really anxious about what I was going to do after my voice broke. I would be singing, and I’d be very sensitive to all the high notes that I sang that, didn’t seem as easy as before. I was worried I could no longer sing the songs I was able to sing before. Even at recordings, the people would ask me if I wanted to sing a key or two lower, but I’d be so stern about it, determined to sing it in the right key.
-What were your views on debuting back then?
I assumed that if I was to debut at all, it’ll be with Ya-Ya-Yah. I just felt that it’d be great if we could debut some time. But maybe…I did have some doubts about debuting. I really did not know.
-Did you ever consider quitting?
Yes I did. But I wanted to absolutely avoid any case like where, you know, I’d be left with nothing else. I knew I needed insurance on something. I thought it all through-I needed to get good grades at high school so I can go to university. If I couldn’t debut by the time I was to graduate university, I needed to quit, I needed to prepare for a normal working life. I don’t think that I was ever too focused on just debuting. It didn’t occupy my thoughts, but I guess as I went through many things, it was always there at the back of my mind.
-How did you feel about the creation of Hey!Say!7 in 2007?
Honestly, I felt I was in danger. Especially because right before that, there were times when us Jr’s shuffled our members around and sang. Like when I was put together with Kitayama (Hiromitsu), Kawai (Fumito) and Fujigaya (Taisuke). I felt we were being experimented on, and then we were faced with Kitty GYM. Hikaru was pulled out of Ya-Ya-Yah for that. I questioned his promotion, a lot.
-And then Hey!Say!7 was formed.
It was right when I was starting to question my debut as Ya-Ya-Yah, and when I was thinking “Maybe this is my end of the road.” I was also in 3rd year Senior High school so really, I had to think about my future career.
-But you didn’t quit, did you?
There was this time once when I was meeting up with Johnny-san. He was like, “Hmm…Yabu & Hikaru…you guys have Ya-Ya-Yah….What should I do…” and he was writing up a list of names, all of them were Jrs.
Well, come to think of it now, he was probably writing up the members of Hey!Say!JUMP. He gave me a list of names, which included Hikaru & I, and he said, “What do you think?”
-What did you say?
I really didn’t know what to say, since Yamada (Ryosuke) and (Nakajima) Yuto and stuff were all younger than me, with Okamoto (Keito) I’ve never even spoken to him, once. It was also that influence my words could have on these people that made me unsure of what to say. Whatever I said could change all these lives. I could have told him that I wanted Hikaru & I to stay in Ya-Ya-Yah, but then again, if I didn’t take that opportunity and debut, I would’ve ended up waiting for years. All that went through my mind, and I just said, “Yeah…it’s…alright.”
-What made you say that?
I knew this was my turning point. Earlier, I did say that I wasn’t too focused on debuting, but that was when I realised that in my heart, there lay my strong will to debut.
After that, Johnny-san said to me that he wanted Hikaru & I to lead this group. We were always the little ones being minded by our senpais, and we have never done anything like taking leadership. There’s also how both Hikaru & I have always been the little one of the family too. I wasn’t sure if we could manage it ,but I knew we needed to.
-So it was a decision with determination.
I was delighted, yet I was in pain. I had mixed feelings about it, really. I was told that I was to tell no one, no matter how close they were to me, about debuting as Hey!Say!JUMP. No one from Ya-Ya-Yah, except for Hikaru & I, were to know about this. It was very painful to keep it from my members, who innocently knew nothing. When Hey!Say!7 was formed, we had a deep talk about how we needed to stay strong as a four. Just to hear about Hey!Say!JUMP right after that…
-That must’ve been really hard for you.
When someone debuts, at least tens of thousands more people get upset about it. Many hundreds, perhaps thousands of people dream of debuting. Being chosen means that you need to accept and move on with those feelings on your back. Being part of a group called Hey!Say!JUMP, I felt guilt towards the other two, and I was in pain myself. Even so, I knew that because I was chosen, because I am doing this, I need to do it at my best.
Guilt towards Kis-My-Ft2, A.B.C., and Jrs
-JUMP’s debut concert was in Tokyo Dome, as I recall?
I don’t think the people who came were there because they loved Hey!Say!JUMP. Kis-My-Ft2, A.B.C., and many Jrs performed at our concert. I’m sure they didn’t want to “visit Hey!Say!JUMP’s concert” I felt guilty of what we were making the Jrs go through.
I was good friends with Kitayama & Totsu as a Jr, and we used to eat out together, you know; a couple of times every week. That didn’t change a lot after my debut, but it was very sad thinking that somewhere in their hearts, their wish to debut made my existence uneasy.
-How did you feel about Kis-My-Ft2 & A.B.C-Z’s debut?
Oh I was extremely happy-as if it was happening to me. I’m pretty sure Kis-My-Ft2 & A.B.C-Z would kick me in the head if they heard me say this though.（笑）Yeah, I was very happy for them, and I felt rivalry. I think I texted Kitayama saying “Congratulations” when their debut was announced. He replied with something like, “We’re rivals even more from now on”.
-I’ve heard you went to A.B.C-Z’s debut concert.
Yep I did. In the MC, I think I said something like, “I love A.B.C-Z more than anyone here.” （笑）
I remember being envious of Hasshi (Hashimoto Ryosuke). I was really wanting to be in A.B.C-Z. But for one thing, I can’t do back flips, for the other, I’m Hey!Say!JUMP.（笑）Okay, well I’m joking, but then I did really envy Hasshi. I wanted to create something with the 4 big brothers of A.B.C. So when that was finally accomplished in the musical “SHE LOVES ME” I silently apologised to Hashimoto.
-Arioka (Daiki) -kun mentioned in last month’s interview that you were “Always the outliers”. I feel that JUMP has always been shouldering many things.
I think that’s very true. At countdown concerts, because we have members who didn’t spend a lot of time dancing behind our senpais, we did get the feeling that Hey!Say!JUMP was kind of …different from other groups. That difference is still there. Even now, I feel that our senpais don’t know us.
"Why was Yabu-chan there, then?"
-How did Hey!Say!JUMP’s bond grow to be strong?
I think the largest reason behind that is the number of times we do lives and concerts compared to other groups of the same sort of age. We had many occasions when we had the time where we sat down and discuss how we can make things better, how we can entertain the audience and let them have the time of their lives. It’s a repetitive, accumulative process. At first our dancing was all out of time and unless people like Hikaru & I told everyone to get up and carry on, we weren’t a very enthusiastic group. It was an accumulative process; the more we did it, the stronger our bonds became.
And also there was that senpai factor in our group too. Everyone treated me as their senpai. I didn’t really like it because they weren’t treating me as a member of the group, but as a senpai called “Yabu-kun”. I thought, that’s not right, so I’m going to do my best to be the group idiot. If I fooled around, everyone fooled around.
-So you were always acting for the best of your group.
Yes, but…I think that was a while after we debuted…one day our choreographer came to talk to me privately. He said, “Yabu. What you’re doing is important, you need to take those walls down within your group. But always keep in mind that whatever you do, the rest of the group follows. So whether it be the work itself, or general manners as an idol, you need to do properly and independently.” I felt responsible for the group.
-DId you tell off any members in particular?
I guess I was pretty strict towards Keito. Keito was young, and every time he got in trouble, he used to cry. I think his pride didn’t let him cry, really, so every time he did, he’d be like, “My head hurts, my head hurts.” It was pretty obvious.（笑）
-Any other members?
Well it was pretty bad when Takaki (Yuya) was in Gokusen. （笑）I knew he was putting a lot of effort into that drama and carrying out his role. But there were times when he was acting exactly like his role even in his private life and with JUMP. He wasn’t in Gokusen, but he was still glaring at all of us. （笑）The rest of the group would be doing something fun, while he’d be standing outside of the circle, alone. He’d be staring at us coldly. I thought, what if our staff, our fans saw this? They would most definitely think that Takaki is left out of the group; he’s not willing to be part of it. But he’s not like that. I know Takaki from when we were Jrs. He’s kind, he thinks of his peers, but he’s sometimes a bit of a chicken. I just knew that this wasn’t going to be good, neither for our group, or Takaki himself.
-What did you do about it?
I knew how he felt too. He worked with people who were not from JE, and he felt the need to widen his views. He was hanging out with the Gokusen members too. But if I didn’t think it through and just told him off, it would have made things worse, so I tried to ask Takaki out to eat, and when he was meeting up with the Gokusen crew, I just “happened” to join in. I joined in where I only knew Takaki.（笑）
-Was it effective?
I don’t know. I just hope that in a few years, he’ll realise that maybe, he was a bit weird back then. Like, “Why was Yabu-chan there, then?”（笑）Actually, he’s been mentioning things about back then lately.（笑）
-Did Okamoto-kun say anything?
Nah, he’s still trying. （笑）But that’s what’s good about him.
We went through so much, together.
-When do you feel grateful for the members in JUMP?
I felt that the strongest 2 years after we debuted, at Tokyo Dome, which was the last destination of our tour.
-What happened there?
Well, I was the first to speak for our closing speeches, ready to sing “Born in the EARTH”, and…as I spoke I saw the arena filled with people, I started to tear up…I never thought of crying, especially in front of our audience, because that wasn’t kakkoii. But then, I started crying, and I couldn’t stop.
-Why were you crying, do you think?
I think it’s the whole mumbo-jumbo of feelings coming out all together. When we first performed at Tokyo Dome straight after our debut, we could never pull the show off without the Jr’s, and our group was all over the place. In that moment, my memories flashed back through my mind. I knew that this time, these people were coming to see us. So many people were coming to see Hey!Say!JUMP. I was tearing up really badly I couldn’t talk, not even sing. Yeah…I still vividly remember that moment…I couldn’t stop crying.
-The other members were crying too, weren’t they?
They were. I realised we were all feeling the same, we went through so much, together. I could say from the bottom of my heart that I was grateful for these members.
How are we going to change
-Then, how did you feel when NYC debuted?
Well, I…when NYC debuted, I gave them a bunch of flowers in celebration. I felt that by being that person, Hey!Say!JUMP fans would feel comfortable to accept NYC.
-Any jealousy involved?
No way（笑） You know how Yamada debuted as a solo? Not one of our members had that sort of jealousy then. No one questioned why it was just Yamada, no one questioned why we couldn’t sing it as Hey!Say!JUMP, I don’t think that crossed anyone’s mind, even. I think we all knew that whatever Yamada does, his efforts will contribute to the success of the group. We were stimulated by him that we all need to do whatever we can to our best efforts, so we can all bring the group up. So, whether it be NYC’s debut, or Yamada’s solo debut, rather than jealousy, I think our group felt supportive for them.
We all started to think about how to spend our time. We realised that there wasn’t a day to waste. Making efforts for yourself eventually lead to the growth of the group. So we started to really feel that we needed to properly do things ourselves, not always relying on the group.
-It’s a good thing, then.
So, when we watch each other in our individual activities, at times we appreciate them, at times we watch them and go, “If I were them…” I think we all do that, really. Of course Kis-My-Ft2 and A.B.C-Z and Sexy Zone and all that are our rivals, but I believe that within our group, as individuals, we are all rivals. Like if one of us star in a drama, it’s supposed that the attention goes to that person. And, when that member is active as a member of Hey!Say!JUMP, it’s also supposed that there will always be people who never knew Hey!Say!JUMP until they realise that, that one individual is part of us. I think that’s the cycle that keeps us going.
-As in, get the attention, bring it back to the group.
Exactly. So when I see Yuto acting in “Hanzawa Naoki”, it really influences me to try harder.
-It sounds like a pretty good relationship to me.
Well, I was still called “Yabu-kun” by my members for a while though. It’s only recently, as in these 1-2 years that, that changed to “Yabu-chan” instead. Everyone except for Inoo & Hikaru called me Yabu-kun, but for some reason that changed before I knew it, really. I wasn’t a senpai anymore, I was part of the group. I think it’s a really good thing that I can stand level with the others. Having said that, I did kind of feel a little annoyed when Keito first started calling me “Yabu-chan”.（笑）
-Ahahaha. You really did think through all these things for the group.
I did say I was a baby, but then, after all, in the group I’m the eldest.（笑）
-Then did you consult anyone about your problems?
-All on yourself?
Well, it’s not like I said anything direct, but when we were required to make decisions, Hikaru’s existence was significant. I felt I wasn’t alone, that, I’m not the only one required to do these things. We’ve always been together, and we’ve been given similar roles within the group, so, even if we never spoke to each other about these things, the fact that Hikaru was there and I wasn’t the only one had helped me pull through. I was never alone in any turning point. I did say that I felt uneasy being called “YabuHika” but then, somewhere in my heart, I’m just embarrassed and I’m secretly happy about being called that. It’s like an honour.
-Finally, please tell us about your thoughts on JUMP in future.
Everyone is aiming to become a proudly presentable group, anywhere. As I said before, all our members know that every day counts. We share the thought that we all need to make the effort now. So, asking ourselves now and then, “How are we going to change? How can we change?” will definitely help us in bringing in positive changes. We are constantly questioning ourselves on what we lack. We’re like a whole block of positivity, so really, I can’t wait to see how we will be in the future.