CHAPTER 1: To the promised place
Momota Kanako’s “Tomorrow”
When Momota Kanako returned to the backstage area of Seibu Dome, she was crying.
No, she was sobbing.
When I write it like this, you may think that it’s tears of joy, after hearing the announcement of their would-be concert at the National Stadium.
Yes, it’s true that she did cry tears of gratitude.
But after that came endless “tears of regret”.
Now, you would have thought that some big problems must have occured during the Seibu Dome performance, but no.
Yes, there were some minor issues with the sound system, but that was what caused Kanako’s “dissatisfaction”, and hence her tears.
It wasn’t that she was blaming herself for these technical errors. “When something wrong happens, we just need to cover it with our performance. But we weren’t able to do that today, and I just feel dissatisfied with myself.”
Seibu Dome at midwinter.
The corridors backstage were, no doubt, freezing cold. Not that it seemed to bother Kanako as she sat down right in the middle of the path, crying. Passing staff members tried to persuade her to wrap herself up before she caught a cold, but were brushed off with a curt “It doesn’t matter! I don’t care.” Even when the time came for the girls to go for their massage sessions, she remained resolutely rooted to the spot.
This was the first time anyone had seen Kanako like this. Many tried to speak to her, but the conversations were quickly cut short due to her emotional state.
But for those who constantly worry over how she always seemed to take things upon herself, seeing her cry in the corridor, in front of everyone, gave them a strange sort of relief.
Last summer, Kanako gave a long interview, in which she said.
“I have a problem. I’ll always say that I’m alright, even when I’m not. On the train rides home, I’ll shut myself away to solve the problem, and make sure I wipe away all traces of tears before I get home.”
In the past, whenever she faced with problems and felt like crying, she would hide everything behind a smile and dash off quickly from the venue. As she took the train back home on her own, she would shed tears in private. It was a heartwrenching thought.
But the Kanako that day was different.
She had broken down emotionally in front of others, crying and telling everyone that she was not, in fact, alright. It made the atmosphere so much lighter than ever before.
With Kokuritsu within sight, Kanako had finally broken out of her shell.
After about 20 minutes of crying, it was manager Kawakami Akira who finally got through to her.
“I’ll just say one thing. You still have tomorrow.”
Hearing this, Kanako stood up. Though she continued to cry, she quietly disappeared into the massage room.
Nobody knew if Kawakami Akira meant tomorrow literally, as the girls still had to report to work the next day, or if he was hinting at a longer span of time leading to the future. However, the soft, coaxing tone of his voice, without a hint of anger, seemed to indicate to the latter.
When she finally left the venue, the last train for the day had already gone. The illuminations which had decorated Seibu Dome to light the fans’ way home – a suggestion by Kanako – were about to be taken down. Its lights reflected onto the tears on Kanako’s face, making them shine, as if illuminating the way forth to Kokuritsu.
The impact of the announcement took its toll on the other members in the coming days, resulting in various dramatic scenes, but as leader and centre, Kanako quietly and efficiently dealt with all her duties.
The most memorable incident occurred during “Kouhaku utagassen”.
The girls were to perform “GOUNN” first, followed by a blackout before coming in with “Hashire!” with Kanako delivering her solo alone on stage.
It was a mutual decision to switch the lyric for that part from “Even so, the answer won’t come” to “The answer won’t come this year”.
Maybe it was a hint at how, regardless of this being their second appearance on the prestigious show “on the other side of Kouhaku”, there was still no conclusion for the team.
And then, the original plan was for the members to gather in front of Tanaka Masahiro, who would be in the judges’ panel, to give their thanks for the year. They would then end off with a “Z!”, together with Maa-kun.
However, moments before the performance, Kanako voiced her doubts with Kawakami Akira. “I just don’t feel right”. Up until seconds before they were to appear on stage, the two were engaged in a serious deep discussion.
At the end of the show, instead of the original planned words of gratitude for 2013, Kanako hinted at their ambitions and drive for 2014 instead. “Momoclo and Maa-kun will continue to progress-Z!”
Their goals were not just dreams anymore. For Momoclo, it was the National Stadium concerts on 15-16 March, and through this New Year’s Eve programme, they managed to deliver the message of “progress” to viewers all across Japan. (For Tanaka, though it was unannounced at the time, his striking White Star debut at Major League was a well-known fact).
The show held one more unprecedented surprise, when AKB48’s Oshima Yuko announced her sudden graduation. The finality of graduation was a stark contrast to Momoclo’s message of “progress in 2014”, as if holding a deep meaning towards the future. Kanako’s brainwave before the performance had hit its mark.
When February rolled around, the members had to give an interview for compilation into the National Stadium phamplet.
The goal was to hear each member’s personal voice and opinion, so the plan was to split up the girls and conduct the interviews at different venues and times. The members were kept in the dark about the interviews, so that there was no chance of them discussing their thoughts with each other.
In the end, there were a few common messages that came through from each member. “I never thought this would actually come true,” and “I assumed we were aiming for performing in the new National Stadium after it opens in 2020”. But aside from these, the different thoughts and ideas from each member could easily be seen.
Momota Kanako’s interview gave us the biggest shock. During the interview, she told us, word for word, the speech she would give at the end of the Kokuritsu concert.
We suggested to her that we should probably keep that out of the phamplet, which could be read by the audience before the concert. I mean, wouldn’t it be better if she delivered the message personally to the audience during the show? At that, Kanako looked at us blankly.
“Huh? Did I say something? Eh, what is it? I don’t remember what I just said!”
Yes, that was our Momota Kanako; the girl who could blurt out memorable quotes without even trying to.
Rehearsals and lessons for the concert hadn’t even begun at that point, and she was already imagining standing on Kokuritsu’s stage, with a clear view of what was going to come.
It was not that surprising. All along, the girls had always had their own ideas and plans, regardless of what we adults say.
The girls were now facing their own goal of Kokuritsu. “Why are we aiming for the National Stadium?”, “What should we do on the other side of Kokuritsu?”; Kanako seemed to already know the answers to these tough questions. Building the concert on these, it was easy to understand why their performance would resonate within the hearts of the audience.
In the end, Kanako never remembered what she told us that day.
Though she begged us to tell her, we never did. It felt as if the words would lose their impact if she was made aware of them, as they would only serve to restrict her. It would be best if she could stand on Kokuritsu’s stage and deliver her feelings straight from her heart. (In the end, we did pass Kanako the interview tape, but she chose not to listen to it.)
For Momota Kanako, the road to Kokuritsu began the moment she wiped away her tears at Seibu Dome. In that instant, she probably came to understand the idea of “tomorrow”.