July 19, 2005

Book Review: Ikoiri Musume

Ikoiri Musume
By: Sakura Momoko
ISBN: 9571028789
262 pp.

If you are a fan of Japanese pop musical group Morning Musume, then you have probably dreamed of meeting the members in person. But if you are in touch with reality, you probably have not called their talent agency, Up Front, to make a date with each of the members. Author Sakura Momoko is an exception to this rule; She is a fangirl who got to live out her fantasy of spending time with each of the members of Morning Musume, and got paid to write a book about it.

Sakura Momoko is the artist and author of Chibi Maruko-chan comics, and the creator of the classic cartoon of the same name. These works are loved by young and old, male and female. Sakura has also written books of essays about her life. These qualifications pay off. She gets to have adventures with Morning Musume, and we get to eavesdrop on the fun.

Sakura and Iida Kaori visit a museum dedicated to an art prodigy who died at nineteen. Sakura and Yasuda Kei watch a movie (Spirited Away) and make rings at a silversmith's workshop. With Goto Maki, she visits an aquarium where they play with dolphins. For the date with Yoshizawa Hitomi, they go fishing. Rika and Sakura design a t-shirt together. Kago Ai and Tsuji Kago predictably spend their dates eating. Abe Natsumi suggests a picnic, and they follow that by playing at an amusement park. Yaguchi Mari convinces Sakura to make a day-trip to Korea for a Korean feast. Nigaki Risa and Konno Asami go ice-skating with Sakura. Lastly, Takahashi Ai and Ogawa Makoto team up for a day at Sakura's studio, with the strangely unambitious goal of designing a badge. Sakura ends the book attending the rehearsal for a big Morning Musume concert.

In the preface to the book, Sakura describes her goal in writing the book as an attempt to uncover the real character and personality of the girls who she loves and admires. However, it is too much to expect that spending a few hours with the girls will allow her to uncover anything that has not been revealed in the countless hours the group spends on television. Bringing along a couple of chaperones from the management agency for the dates does not help things. In spite of these obstacles, the book is personal. The members talk about their families. Yaguchi tells that her father will phone her and make her talk to his coworkers, proving that he is the father of one of the members of Morning Musume. They talk about leaving their hometowns to live in Tokyo to work. Kaoiri mentions that when Morning Musume began, she was still attending school in Hokkaido, so she had to commute by plane! They talk about what they do in their precious little spare time. Many of them enjoy taking pictures in those photo-stickers machines popular in Japan, and they also like karaoke. I'm sure those activities are a nice change of pace from all those singing and performing in front of a camera that they do.

Sakura adds a lot of the humor in the book. Goto Maki suggests flying in an air-show jet. When that is rejected, she suggests skydiving. Sakura's premonitions of death at these suggestions had me laughing out loud, as did her clumsy attempts to befriend a dolphin that can smell her fear. Sakura shows reluctance to try any activity, other than eating, that will take her out of the comfort of her home. It brings to mind the lazy and lovable Chibi Maruko-chan. The adventures proposed by the Morning Musume members get her into a movie theater and into an ice-skating rink for the first time in years. She also constantly worries about the mobs of Morning Musume fans—she worries much more than the members themselves. Probably for similar reasons, she is conspicuously missing from all the pictures in the book.

Of the three books about Morning Musume that have been translated into Chinese, this book is easily the best. But just like all Japanese TV programs subtitled in Chinese, the English gets mangled in the process. When Tsuji eats a churro, it gets turned into a "chorus." Unlike the last book I read about the young stars, this book rarely wonders about what the future holds for them. As a fan, Sakura probably realizes that most of the members will fade into semi-obscurity, and even if they continue on as stars, their lives are as exciting now as they ever will be.


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