Arashi storms to crossover appeal

Kyodo News

If you think boy bands are a source of fascination for teenage girls only, think again. Popular boy band Arashi is broadening its fan base, using its boy-next-door image to capture the hearts of older men.

The five members of Arashi, which debuted in 1999, had a busy year in 2009, scoring a number of successes in the wake of the group’s 10th anniversary. Arashi means “a storm.”

Their songs regularly featured in the Oricon sales charts for singles, albums and music DVDs. The band also made its first appearance on “Kohaku Uta Gassen” (“Red and White Song Battle”), the famous music show that NHK televises every New Year’s Eve.

One of several male idol groups created by the giant entertainment agency Johnny & Associates, Arashi is easily one of the best-selling acts in the country, with six regular weekly programs and nine commercials featuring the group or one or more of its members. The five members are Satoshi Ono, 29, Sho Sakurai, 28, Masaki Aiba, 27, Kazunari Ninomiya, 26, and Jun Matsumoto, 26.

NTV is using one of their new tunes as a theme song for the Vancouver Olympics, and Sakurai, who is a newscaster on NTV’s “News Zero” program, was tapped to be a commentator for NTV’s live coverage of the Winter Games.

Arashi’s popularity, according to the boy band’s legions of fans, young and old alike, stems from the “closeness” of its members.

Yoshikazu Takeuchi, a 54-year-old writer, recalled being impressed by a DVD four years ago of one of the band’s concerts and how he became fascinated by the closeness of its members, as exhibited when they appear on TV.

Before he knew it, he was a certified Arashi fan and started joining fan events. On Jan. 21, Takeuchi was among around 60 fans at a talk show in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, featuring the boy band.

Takeuchi, who has started his own blog devoted to Arashi, said: “With Japanese society tired from the economic slump, people are probably looking for something to soothe them. The band behaves well but they’re not goody-two-shoes.”

Sharing Takeuchi’s sentiments, a 50-year-old woman from Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, who went to the talk show with her 23-year-old daughter, said it was fun watching the members act like close friends on a school trip, adding she likes how they don’t try to outdo each other.

“They act like they are a family,” Kumiko Arayama, 61, said at another talk show in Osaka Prefecture.

A 53-year-old woman said, “I used to hate Johnny’s celebrities for some reason, but I’ve become less prejudiced after seeing the good qualities of Arashi.”

The number of parents accompanying their children to Arashi concerts has been increasing over the years, with a housewife in her 40s from Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, saying, “I can bring children here without any worries, as we can enjoy ourselves at the concert, just like going to Disneyland.”

By the time Arashi closed the curtain on their 10th anniversary concert tour on Jan. 17, they had drawn 760,000 fans.

Industry pundits say Arashi’s popularity is fast catching up or even eclipsing that of the longtime successful boy band SMAP, which is also part of the Johnny & Associates stable, a nest for molding male pop idols.

“Other idols, starting with SMAP, tend to show off, but Arashi, even if they fail, just take things in their stride and laugh it off, and this makes the fans think they are just being themselves,” said Mika Naito, a 39-year-old writer and critic who professes to be a longtime fan of the Johnny stable.