Breaking news stuns fans
Arashi posted a video message on its official fan club website on Sunday evening. The 38-year-old leader of Arashi, Satoshi Ohno, said in the footage that he told the other members in June 2017 that he would like to end activities as Arashi at the end of next year.
"We discussed it over and over...and then decided to go on hiatus," he said.
A few hours later, the group held a news conference to explain why and how they came to the decision. "My desire for freedom gradually grew," Ohno said.
"I have come to feel that I want to experience a world that I have never seen. I have not tasted ordinary life since I entered this industry," he said openly.
Most of the members were stunned when they heard the leader's proposal. Ohno even thought about retiring from his agency at first. While the group could have continued their activities without Ohno, they felt that they weren't complete without him.
"I didn't think it would be right to force someone to do something he didn't want to in order to please others. I felt it was necessary to spend as much time as we needed to come up with a decision that everyone would be happy with," member Sho Sakurai said.
"We reached this conclusion as we felt Arashi is not complete without all five members, and we can only give 100% when we are all together," member Kazunari Ninomiya added.
Ohno got teary-eyed when he talked about the members' efforts to find a solution that would take his wishes into consideration. "They said, 'Let's keep smiling until the end,' and that made me feel so fortunate and happy to be a part of Arashi," he said.
Shock spreads across Asia
Soon after the announcement, fans took to social media, sparking a frenzy. "I can't go on living," many of them posted on Twitter. But soon after the group's press conference, people were relieved to know the group was just going on hiatus and not breaking up.
"I am touched by the strong ties between the members," a fan tweeted. "Now I can look forward to seeing them return even more powerful than before," another wrote.
Chinese fans of Arashi also took to the microblogging platform Weibo. One person expressed confusion, saying that they were suddenly slapped with a two-year countdown. Another post urged the group to return someday.
In Taiwan, where Arashi has held concerts, local media outlets reported the announcement as breaking news. The online edition of the United Daily News ran a story with the headline, "Fans are crying," and reported that people were in a state of shock and disbelief.
Stars consider stepping out of limelight
Ohno's comments show how hard it is to be a star. The 38 year old has been in the entertainment industry for 20 years, constantly being watched by the public and sacrificing his private life for his fans. It is natural for him to want a pause and a change of scenery.
Stepping out of the limelight in one's prime has become a recent trend in Japanese show business. The retirement of pop superstar Namie Amuro shocked the public, including hundreds of thousands of fans who then went on to buy tickets for her final tour in Asia last year. The star, who was 40 years old at the time, said she wanted to leave her fans with a memory of herself at her best. Another Japanese star, 36-year-old Hideaki Takizawa, also retired last year, saying he will concentrate on producing and business.
Arashi is not retiring. But its leader's comments and the group's decision to suspend activities may encourage those who want to rethink their own career to take a break.
The Arashi members say they have no plan after 2020. With two years left, "We will do our best until the last minute," they said with a smile.