The following is a translation of this TV Asahi Post article (東京から900km通勤でアイドルを一度断念。再びステージに立った少女<橋本桃呼>), written by Mori Yuusuke and published on August 15th, 2019.
Written by Mori Yuusuke, Photography by Sugizo
Produced by Akimoto Yasushi, second generation Last Idol member Hashimoto Momoko was a girl who continued to dream about becoming an idol in Yamaguchi Prefecture, over 900km away from Tokyo.
Having been entrusted with leading roles all throughout her elementary school arts festivals, she auditioned for Hello! Project because her older sister liked them.
Although she didn’t pass, she started her tenure in the Hello Pro Kenshuusei.
However, the commute from Yamaguchi to Tokyo became difficult to sustain, so after four months she gave up on continuing her time there. Although she was suggested to give up on her idol dreams by her family, she decided to try again when she saw the applications for the 3rd season of Last Idol opened.
Her mother told her “this is your last chance,” and just like the title of the show she challenged her final audition, and took hold of her dream admirably.
From the same Yamaguchi Prefecture which produced that Michishige Sayumi (former Morning Musume), let’s take a look at half of Hashimoto’s life, where she continued to struggle as she continued to dream of becoming a national idol.
In school arts festivals, she was “always the type wanting to do leading roles”
In June 2003, Hashimoto Momoko was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
((photo at 4 months old))
The third girl of five siblings, for as long as she could remember she loved singing and dancing.
“From kindergarten, I’ve always wanted to enter that sparkling world, and I indistinctly thought I wanted to be on television. I’d write and compose songs with my older sister, and we’d sing our original songs at our family birthday parties.”
((photo at about 2 and a half years old))
Even when she started elementary school, that feeling of wanting to be at the forefront didn’t change.
“When we had our school arts festival play, I’d always want to be the leading role. I thought, ‘I’ll win that leading role at auditions!,’ so I was always standing out. I’d usually be the main role, and if the main role was a boy, then the leading girl. At the time if I recall correctly, I played Yuki-onna.”
Through her older sister liking Hello! Project’s idols, Hashimoto came to know what an “idol” was, and gradually started to admire them.
“I wanted to become an idol since about the sixth grade. However, being from Yamaguchi, I wasn’t really able to attend any auditions. Then I heard STU48 was going to be formed. since the base would be Hiroshima, we thought we’d be able to commute, so my older sister and I tried out, but failed at the last screening. On the flipside of that, because we had made it to the end, I thought if there were another chance I might be able to pass–I got a weird sense of self-confidence, haha.”
Although she narrowly missed out on STU48, after that she’d try out her abilities at various auditions.
At her older sister’s recommendation, she auditioned in November 2017 for “Hello! Project’s 20th Anniversary Audition.” If she passed, it’d be the opportunity of a lifetime to potentially join one of H!P’s groups.
“I had made it to the final round, but in the end, no one had passed this audition. Instead I took lessons as a part of the HPK.”
“I was able to handle the strict H!P lessons”
From there, four months. Hello! Project, known even amongst the industry for having a lot of idols with the greatest performance skills.
To raise my own dancing and singing skills, I continued the strict lessons as a KSS.
“No matter how hard I tried my best they’d always be really angry, so to be honest, at the time I thought it was hell. But looking back at it now, I absorbed a lot of manners, and having taken all kinds of lessons, it was super beneficial.”
I have an episode so you can understand that strictness.
“There’s practice to ingrain a 16-beat rhythm, and if you miss it just a little they’ll get really angry. Because of that, I think I found a sense of rhythm… Oh, it might not be good that I said that, which is embarrassing (haha). However, I’ve noticed even at karaoke that I’m the only one keeping [the right] rhythm.”
Even though it’s strict, Hashimoto continued the beneficial lessons, but gradually the cost of commuting from Yamaguchi started to add up.
Finally, she stopped her KSS activities.
“It’d become difficult to continue attending not being guaranteed a debut, and it was taking a toll on the five of us. I was ending junior high, so my mom said, ‘maybe you should focus on your entrance exams?,’ which I started to agree with. I had considered quitting show business completely.”
Then, lyrics from a song she heard suddenly kept her going.
“It’s from my absolute favorite Kobushi Factory: ‘Ashita tenki ni naare.’ I heard <No matter how many times you fail, the next time might go well, so it’s OK to stand up again>, and thought I’d like to try just one more time. Just then, I saw the Last Idol auditions, and that they’d cover your travel expenses. I thought with that I’d be able to commute, so when I talked with my mother she said, “this is final chance,” so I thought I’d give this my everything.”
“I’m the type to want to stand out, so I definitely want to become center!”
[In Last Idol, a weekly challenger nominates a standing member/position (out of 12 for Momoko’s season 3) to a one-on-one performance battle. The winner immediately takes over the position as a training member of the group.]
The members who remain at the end get to debut. There are other reasons why Hashimoto chose this program as her last challenge.
“Even before becoming an HPK, I was always watching ‘Last Idol.’ Because I’m the type who wants to stand out, I definitely want to become center. I thought it was really cool when Abe Nanami won the center position in the first season. Precisely because it was my last chance, it was huge that I could challenge for the spot I wanted.”
Hashimoto sang her absolute favorite Kobushi Factory’s “Ashita tenki ni naare” and got the center seat admirably. Her dearest wished idol activities started, and was able to be center on their debut single “Ai shika buki ga nai” in December 2018.
The time where her manager got upset with her “stand out type”
From a girl who wanted to be the main role and stand out from everybody to an idol.
What does she think now that standing on stage is an everyday thing?
“I’m very happy I get to be in concerts. I get emotionally moved suddenly when I’m dancing in the spotlight, watching audience members smiling and responding in various ways. When I was a KSS, I didn’t get to hold a microphone, but now I’m always holding one. Because I had that period where I took lessons not knowing whether or not I’d stand on stage, just being in concerts now, I’m very happy.”
As she spoke, she reflects on the one time when she was allowed to hold a microphone during her HPK days.
“After we had our debut, we had our first performance. The song was ‘Seishun Beat wa 16.’ I was extremely happy the moment I was able to hold a microphone for the first time. I got a solo part, and it was the last, most important one. Because I want to stand out, I thought I’d really bring it home at the end and winked, but my manager got really mad and I remember feeling down (haha).”
She was the hungriest to be on stage.
So because of that, her happiest moment as an idol is hearing her fan calls.
“When I’m on stage and they shout ‘Momoko!!’ for me, that’s when I’m happiest. That’s when I truly feel like I’m wanted. When I’m able to talk to fans directly and they say ‘this part was really good,’ that’s when I’m glad I tried something [new], then I think, ‘what should I do next?'”
As someone who wants to stand out, the secret worries “conflicts because she’s center”
Wanting to stand out, no matter when. If you look at it from behind, it could be the manifestation of professionalism that can’t lack when appealing to fans more than anyone else.
Although that’s her, she talks about her recent fears on standing out.
What does she mean?
“Because I won the first position through battling, I get to be the center of the second generation… but I wonder at times if someone like me is OK to be center. First generation Abe gives off that “absolute center” vibe, doesn’t she? However, I wonder if I’m not like that.”
The choreographer for their upcoming September single “Seishun Train” is akane, the coach for Osaka Tomioka High School’s Dance Club that got national attention for their “bubble era dance.”
They’ve started their “hardest dance yet” in June, and while the members are split in order to groups A, B, and C…
“Even though I’m the Second Generation center, I was group C. I thought, ‘as expected, I’m really that bad.’ There are girls in group A from the Second Generation, so I thought maybe that girl’s better suited for the front. I’m continuing to struggle amidst my feelings of wanting to be in the front and me not being good enough.”
Having continued to be in the front, she’s also tasted failure. Standing back up, what dreams does she have looking to the future?
“My dream of appearing on ‘Music Station’ has already come true. I didn’t look at what my manager had sent, and instead saw it by chance on the previews for next week’s episode. When Last Idol’s name came up, I went, “ehh?!” and burst into tears. I was really happy. I’ve also been saying this for forever, but I want to be on Kouhaku Utagassen. I mean that’s what everyone watches on New Year’s Eve, right? When I watch the idols on Kouhaku, I think they’re so amazing and sparkling that I also want to be on that stage one day.”
What are her goals for herself?
“Because I want to stand out, I want to try to do work in all kinds of genres. Acting, modelling, variety… I want to try all kinds of stuff. As an idol, I would be able to go anywhere and act without [causing] embarrassment. That’s what I want to be.”
Hashimoto Momoko: Profile
Born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in June 2003. After her stint in the HPK, she auditioned for “Last Idol” and became a part of their second generation. Her special skill is ballroom dance, and her specialties are cha-cha and samba. Because she loves Doraemon so much and watches it every week, she said she was frustrated when she couldn’t watch Doraemon live when she appeared on “Music Station.”
Thanks to Rebecca for suggesting this article—I haven’t really followed the Kenshuusei and haven’t watched Last Idol, so this was an interesting read. It puts into perspective how some of the Kenshuusei do a lot to stay in the program, and that some of the girls who leave end up doing so for reasons beyond their control (outside of moving to Tokyo). Hashimoto also highlights how H!P focuses on rhythm enough to cover weak singing voices at first: because the girls can all stay on rhythm, H!P songs (and lives, especially) all sound competent with a solid baseline for them to improve.