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'I want to live freely': Boy band Arashi announces end to 20-yr career, shocking fans

Members of the Japanese pop band Arashi, from left, Masaki Aiba, Jun Matsumoto, Satoshi Ono, Sho Sakurai and Kazunari Ninomiya attend a press conference in Tokyo's Minato Ward, on Jan. 27, 2019. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

TOKYO -- Popular Japanese boy band Arashi announced that they would be putting an end to their group activities at the close of 2020, at a press conference here on Jan. 27, shocking fans.

Roughly 100 members of the media, including eight television cameras, crammed into the press conference venue, a hall inside of the office of Arashi's management agency Johnny & Associates Inc. At the start of the press conference, band leader 38-year-old Satoshi Ono said, "We will be ending our group activities on Dec. 31, 2020. I wanted all of you to hear it from our own mouths," after which all five members bowed.

The band has been active in the Japanese music industry and across Asia for nearly 20 years without a single scandal, and the decision to end their hugely successful career was made after Ono consulted the other members. Ono began talking with members Sho Sakurai, 37, Masaki Aiba, 36, Kazunari Ninomiya, 35, and Jun Matsumoto, 35, in June 2017, and after repeated conversations, the five members agreed with Ono's wishes. "I would like to make 2021 a time to re-examine myself," explained Ono. "I would like to continue promoting Arashi with all my strength until then."

Ono had stated his reason for wanting to part ways with the group stemming from a wish "to live freely." Recalling the time he heard of Ono's wishes, Sakurai commented, "I was surprised. Since we are like brothers, I knew we had to find a solution that we all could agree upon."

"It was a shock," added Ninomiya. "Four members or six members is not Arashi -- I believe we can't give 100 percent to our fans unless we are five members." Matsumoto echoed the opinion of his bandmate, "In order to continue activities as a group, each member must have a strong will to do so. While discussing the issue among the five of us, we thought it best to mark an end to our activities at our 20th anniversary."

Of their plans for the future, Aiba disclosed, "At the moment, it's hard to imagine how we will feel after we finish our activities as Arashi." With a bright expression, he continued, "We will do our best with what has been decided now at the decided time."

--- Fans already missing Arashi

At the Johnny's official goods shop in the Harajuku district of Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, shock and sadness spread over the visiting fans as the news spread. A 12-year-old fan of Matsumoto from Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo, could not hide her surprise.

"They had an image of having an extremely close bond among the members, so I can't believe it," said the elementary school pupil. "I'm sad, but I would like them to enjoy their remaining group activities to the very end."

Yurika Terada, a 20-year-old university student from Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, said, her voice falling, "When you think of Johnny's, you think Arashi. It's a shame. I wonder if the television programs that Arashi hosts will also go off the air."

(Japanese original by Yuki Yamamoto, Tama General Bureau)

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