Today marks the day of Keyakizaka major debut. 6 April 2016, 20 girls were introduced to the press to become Nogizaka sister group. What kind of music they would produce, what kind of appeal they would develop to grow a fanbase, all was unknown. Among those girls stood a rather young and plain one, wearing a mushroom haircut. With a calm and poised speech, she declared her will to do her best on behalf of the group. Little did we know that she would become the unmovable center of Keyakizaka. The further we dove into her world, the more questions roses. Just who is Hirate Yurina? But this is precisely her appeal : this mysterious side of her. Fans wants to know more about her, and for each layer of her personality lifted, the more fascinating she become.
“Techi” comes from her name “hirate” (平手）and friendly suffixe “chan”. To make it more original, “Hirate-chan” became “Hiratechi” then “Techi”. Credit to @yurina46tento.
Prior to their first release, Silent Majority, there was roughly 2-3 months of introduction during “Keyakitte, Kakenai?” their regular variety show. Hirate isn’t the extrovert kind of girl, and started the series as very quiet and humble. This shyness is quite understandable after all, this is the first time most of the girls step into the idol world. You could catch sparkles of excitement from her when MC (Tsuchida & Sawabe) talked about japanese comedians (she’s fond of them), but overall she was just waiting for the two host to ask her questions and react from it. It can be seen as passive. Furthermore, her lack of reactivity encouraged Tsuchida to tease her in some extent. It is true that, at the beginning, Yurina was intimidated.
A girl whose hobby is to listen to music, who practice basketball as main club activity, and dislike haunted house. Techi’s profile is not what you could call uncommon. To be honest, with girls with unexpected skills like Horsemanship or past modeling work, Yurina comes pretty average. But is it really a rebuke? To be reserved makes the girls look cute and innocent (and thus explain why people want to tease them). Granted, she is not creating opportunities of wide laughter in the studio like Oda Nana or Ozeki Rika, but many times her airheadness brought comical situation and liven up the mood. For example, when doing the monomane of GO!Minagawa (a comedian) she was the only one who accompanied the move with his “sound” signature, making her embarassed.
The innocence of a 14 years old, makes her lovely. It could be just that, but fate was preparing a different path for her. TAKAHIRO-sensei, the main choregrapher of the group, had authority of the first senbatsu choice as he was in charge of Silent Majority dance. And while Techi ability to dance and facial expression weren’t outstanding, he felt Yurina’s strong feeling toward her dear Keyakizaka, and his intuition lead him to chose her as Keyakizaka first center. From there, early fans witnessed a change. The change.
“At crossroads brimming with people, where will you go? (Being washed away) Wearing the same clothes, wearing the same expression…”
Silent Majority, the first and most well known track of Keyakizaka. A rugged location, filled with an heavy atmosphere where girls in military outfits shout their opposition to a crooked society of hypocrite adults. This powerful message, needed the appropriate attitude to be conveyed accurately. Techi did better than that; she traded her feeble character and became an avatar of rebellion. Her grip exploding in strength, her stare you can’t escape from, and sharp moves made people forget she was only 14. Despite her discrete debut on Keyakitte, she turned out to be a formidable vessel to deliver the meaning of the song.
Was it thanks to an incredible amount of training? Sometime it’s about something else too. In Sekai ni wa Ai Shikanai, there was this particular shoot where the MV producer had to screen the girls at the Gymnasium, the choregraphy sequence in particular. While the girls started moving, Techi was remaining still, fixing her hands. “what is she doing?” he thought. Because she was supposed to move at the same time as the girls. And when asked, Techi said “i realized how grateful i was to be part of them, and wanted to picture it deep in my memories”. After consideration, the producer noticed that standing still when everyone else was moving, naturally created a focus on her. Also, her smile toward Yonetani nanami felt natural and expressed this very gratitude she talked about, making the scene soothing. He then decided to keep it.
If a song is bland and plain, to be cute or excellent in dancing won’t change anything. But when the song has the potential to be a tube, it’s important to choose someone who has the style/character that fits the song to release his full potential. Yurina has this particulary skill to “understand” a song. Listening the track over and over, feeling the emotion rushing in her mind, and finally embodying it. In Futari saison, each performance is different. Whenever she’s happy, and look at her comrades dearly, her dance will become lively. If she’s feeling down, her solo will have a tormented feeling on it.
“People often say they want to see the past me, but past is past, and all I can do now is now.” -Hirate Yurina
There’s a theory that seeks to explain why Yurina did so well as Silent Majority center. An answer to where she draws all her bottomless energy. In a song that express anger, rebellion and freedom, the best way to convey those feelings is to actually have lived it in the past. This theory rose when fans noticed that during Yurina’s “jibun history” (my story) instead of taking pictures of her younger self or family, she’d prefered to talk about her favorite comedian duos. To incarnate “the girl in the train”, people speculated her past hid somber events that caused this emptiness within her. All in all, the reason why she fits so much in songs about pain and suffering is simply because she’s hurt as well. What makes her want to run forward so much, if not to run from a painful past?
The truth is, i was also fascinated by this theory. I wanted to know Techi’s past. However, i also realized that adhering to this theory was also comforting myself in what i wanted Techi to be : the girl from the train. But Techi is Techi, and the gloomy girl from the Yamanotesen and her are two different person. Hirate Yurina has this burning desire to change because deep inside her, she wants to live a fulfilling life. And by that, it means to live any kind of experience, to the fullest. Her way to apprehend a song is the same way she apprehend her life : She lives it and grows from it. The Yurina during the first Silent majority performance is not the same Yurina during Kouhaku utagassen. The yurina from the past is not the same Yurina as now.
And this is striking at how we also perceive idols. Fans knows : Stereotypes picture the idol genre as sub-music making money out of girl’s cuteness and innocence over delusional single middle aged japanese men. But the truth is, Idols are just the reflect of mankind : girls who want to find their way, who they are, through a bumpy road with many obstacles along the way. Instead of crying over their fate, they work for a way out. Even if there’s no guaranteed success, even if it’s painful, the girls show lot of courage and move forward. Yurina, with all her workload, opportunities, and newfound nakamas, embrace everything to grow and get stronger. This courage inspire me to do my best. Supporting her, is like supporting myself. By being courageous facing the future, she became a great idol. By being herself, she became a great individual being.
“Backstage, Yurina is all lively and kiddy. But when the times come to perform, she switch on to Keyakizaka Ace. It gives me goosebumps” – Imaizumi Yui
Nadeshiko is an ancient japanese word for “loveable girl”. Glass canon is a gaming vocabulary that define someone with high attack/damage but weak defense. Yurina proved many times she had great mental resilience (able to perform 10 songs+ in ariake colosseum), although she also stated many times she doesn’t consider herself as “able” to perform as Keyakizaka unmovable center. A self criticism very severe, implying her power unleashed during performance lean on frailness of mind. She did thought of quitting, and with her young age, it can’t be helped to be inexperienced. A giant of paper, who risk of consuming itself if not able to manage his energy properly.
Center is a lonely place. Despite the light of the spotlight, the 0 position is actually a dark ceiling, where mistakes are prohibited, where there’s the most pressure. But I beg to differ, Keyakizaka is not all about Hirate Yurina. Those many hands bolstering her back, this warmth surrounding her, is what makes her keep going. Those experiences she mentioned earlier, are also meetings. Coming across her newfound nakamas changed her life. Moriya Akane with whom she can act like a spoiled child, Suzumoto Miyu with whom she can share her everyday life, and Nagahama Neru with whom she can confess her worries. Being around her friends, is also where Techi is in her most natural state. Her teammates put her at ease, as well as being fuel for doing her best.
Earlier we supposed Techi drew her energy from pain. My new theory, or faith, is that Techi draw her bottomless energy from gratitude. Even though she has been pro active to make things work, she always have this kind humility toward what the present brings to her, like american family who thanks God for the food. Doing her activities to the fullest, not wasting one bit of energy, is a way to express her gratitude toward the staff, her friends, and family. This is also Keyakizaka motto: humility, kindness, and bonds.
“She looks so serious and cool on Stage, but she did also pranked me when i was sleeping! And used a scooter in Handshake even though Staff forbid it! And…” – Suzumoto Miyu
There’s no “true” Yurina. No character, no fake attitude. The girl who entered Keyakizaka “in order to change”, like a diamond glass half-full, half-empty, has finally become whole by focusing on “becoming” instead of “being”. To follow Yurina, is like walking on a journey where each day is a surprise. Because we don’t know which Yurina will come up next. The 48group is about “Idols you can meet”. What if the secret motto is “idol you can see grow”? If that the case, Techi, from the very fiber of her being and will, incarnate those words.
A courageous girl, not naive but conscious, fragile but resolute, sometimes childish but always grateful. It isn’t this oversimplification where an Ace is a girl with perfect dance, singing or comical abilities. Techi has qualities and imperfection as well, but it’s how she faces it with a brave heart that makes her incredibly beautiful and interesting. All in all, her ability to absorb, convey, sublimate Keyakizaka46 songs justify her position of Ace. The potential of Yurina might look like exceptionnal, but is it really relevant, since what she’s only doing, is being herself? Maybe she just excels at… being human.