Tomomi Itano

Tomomi Itano Photo courtesy of avex International Holdings, Ltd.

Graduating from AKB48

Tomomi Itano

Tomomi Itano has been called the “Queen of Commercials” in Japan. She has gone from a first generation member to a 2013 “graduate” of AKB48, a Japanese girl group that took Japan by storm in 2005 to become a social phenomenon. According to Guinness, AKB48 is the largest pop group in the world, originally made up of 3 teams - A, K and B, each with 16 members. It is one of the highest-earning musical acts in the world, with sales surpassing a record US$226 million in 2012. On August 27, 2013, Tomomi had her final graduation performance with AKB48 and is now working hard on her career. Tokyo Journal ’s Executive Editor Anthony Al-Jamie talked with Tomomi Itano to find out about this 22-year-old superstar.

TJ: What did you do before you joined AKB48?
ITANO: I was a student in junior high school.

TJ: How did you get discovered?
ITANO: My mother bought a book about auditions for me. In that book I found the ad for an AKB audition and applied for it.

TJ: Did you do anything like take singing lessons before that?
ITANO: I did nothing when I was a junior high student, but I had taken dance lessons since I was a kid.

TJ: If you’re in AKB48, you’re not allowed to date, right?
ITANO: Right, AKB48 members are not allowed to fall in love.

TJ: Does AKB48 have any other rules?
ITANO: One is that we are not allowed to dye our hair too red. I can’t think of any other specific rules, but we should behave as others do anyway. In other words, one should not stand out.

TJ: What did you do just after you joined AKB48?
ITANO: We took lessons all day long in dancing and singing.

TJ: Until what time?
ITANO: From about 10 o’clock in the morning to 10 o’clock at night. We had lessons all day long at the beginning, but gradually we attracted a lot of fans and appeared on TV programs. We have been active for eight years.

TJ: What do you do in your free time?
ITANO: I like to go to amusement parks like Fuji-Q and Disneyland.

TJ: Have you been to Disneyland in the U.S.?
ITANO: Yes, I went to Disneyland in L.A. But the castle was so small! I also went to Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park in L.A. because I like roller coasters.

TJ: Did you go on the big ride, the Revolution?
ITANO: Yes, because I like scary rides!

TJ: Have you been to Knott’s Berry Farm?
ITANO: No, but I want to go. I want to go to their Knott’s Scary Farm for Halloween!

TJ: When you joined AKB48, were you forced to adhere to a strict schedule?
ITANO: Yes, we couldn’t get enough sleep because we were so busy.

TJ: Did the members live together?
ITANO: No, we lived separately.

TJ: Then it was not that strict?
ITANO: No, it was strict!

TJ: Do you want to be an international superstar?
ITANO: Yes, I do.

TJ: Have you ever trained with foreign vocalists?
ITANO: No, but my voice trainer has a long career in L.A. She is Japanese but her teacher is American.

TJ: Do you plan to come to Los Angeles for training?
ITANO: Yes, but when I learn to sing better. Also I can’t speak English well.

TJ: Do you like English?
ITANO: Yes, I do.

TJ: Do you think English is essential for your career?
ITANO: Yes. I’m beginning to study English.

TJ: Are you taking English classes?
ITANO: Yes. Also, my half American and half Japanese cousin who lives in L.A. will teach me English.

TJ: Do you visit L.A. often?
ITANO: I stayed there for a week recently, and I’m going again soon for a TV program, “Another Sky.”

TJ: What other countries have you visited besides the U.S.?
ITANO: I’ve done some work in China.

TJ: Where would you like to travel?
ITANO: France and Italy.

TJ: You graduated from AKB48, right?

TJ: Would you please explain what “graduation” from AKB48 means? Did you decide to do this by yourself, or did your agent decide?
ITANO: I made the decision myself. Because I always performed in a group, I wanted to dance and sing alone. So I decided to graduate from AKB48.

TJ: Did you have to meet with the founder Yasushi Akimoto every day when you were in AKB48?
ITANO: No, just sometimes.

TJ: Did you train every day with a director when you were in AKB48?
ITANO: There was a director, but basically we practiced by ourselves, and a dance instructor gave us some advice.

TJ: And now how do you train?
ITANO: I practice by myself, and take lessons from a voice trainer and dance instructor.

TJ: Which do you like most: acting, singing or dancing?
ITANO: I like dancing and singing the best, but I am also interested in acting.

TJ: Who is your favorite actor or actress?
ITANO: Leonardo DiCaprio

TJ: Do you want to make a Hollywood movie?
ITANO: Yes, but when I learn to act better.

TJ: How did you get the nickname Tomochin?
ITANO: My manager chose it between options such as Tomochan, Tomochin, Tomomi or Tomo.

TJ: Do you exercise?
ITANO: Yes, I go to a gymnastic studio.

TJ: What is your blood type?

TJ: Have you decided in which countries you would like to perform?
ITANO: I’m not sure yet. I want to do a solo Japanese tour first.

TJ: Do you have more free time now than when you were in AKB48?

TJ: Do you have a daily routine?
ITANO: I wake up around 10 o’clock, eat breakfast and go to work. When I come home early, I cook and eat, watch a movie and go to bed.

TJ: What do you like to cook?
ITANO: Dumplings, pan-fried noodles, hamburgers, simmered dishes, among other foods.

TJ: How did you learn to cook?
ITANO: I follow recipes on the internet.

TJ: Do you read the Tokyo Journal?
ITANO: Yes, I’m going to read it from now on!

TJ: Do you have an idol?
ITANO: Justin Bieber!

TJ: Have you met him?
ITANO: I haven’t met him but I went to see his concert when he came to Japan.

TJ: Would you like to meet him?
ITANO: Yes, I’d love to.

TJ: What are your favorite colors?
ITANO: Black and pink.

TJ: Do you have any other hobbies besides cooking? Karaoke?
ITANO: Yes I do Karaoke a little. I also like playing with my dog.

TJ: What kind of dog do you have?
ITANO: I have two small poodles: one brown and one white. The girl’s name is Cheek because she has some color on her cheek, and the boy’s name is Cuta.

TJ: What is Cuta? Just a name?
ITANO: It was originally Cu from “Cute,” but I added Ta because it sounds like a boy’s name. Both names start with C.

TJ: Do you have any other hobbies?
ITANO: I like to watch movies and I really like watching “Gossip Girl.”

TJ: Why do you like “Gossip Girl”?
ITANO: It is a celebrities’ story. So you can enjoy their fashion and their love stories.

TJ: If you were offered a chance to appear in “Gossip Girl,” would you be interested in that?
ITANO: It would be great.

TJ: What is your next project?
ITANO: My first goal is to do my own tour. Then I would like to act in a Japanese version of “Gossip Girl.”

TJ: What would you say is your strong point?
ITANO: I am creative. For example, I can produce and coordinate my fashion and makeup.

TJ: What is your weakest point?
ITANO: I can’t get up early.

TJ: Do you have a dream?
ITANO: Doing live shows on the biggest stages. Also, I would like to appear on NHK’s TV program “Kōhaku” [Nippon Broadcasting System’s annual New Year’s Eve special featuring the most successful singing acts in the Japanese entertainment industry].

TJ: Do you have any plans for the near future?
ITANO: I am trying to improve my skills and want to start a small tour and release an album.

TJ: Do you have any advice for young people who want to become entertainers?
ITANO: When I was a junior high school student, I believed it was impossible for me to become an entertainer, but I did it. So I think it is important not to give up! tj

The complete article is available in Issue #273. Click here to order from Amazon

Written By:

Anthony Al-Jamie

Anthony Al-Jamie lived and worked in Japan for over 20 years. His in-depth understanding of Japanese language and culture has allowed him to carry out interviews with many of the most renowned individuals in Japan. He first began writing for the Tokyo Journal in the 1990s as Education Editor, later he was promoted to Senior Editor, and eventually International Editor and Executive Editor. He currently serves the Tokyo Journal as Editor-in-Chief.


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