Like many people, I’m sure, when I first got into AKB48 my attention was drawn to the front girls. They were the ones who appeared on TV the most and so it was easier to get to know their personalities. But as I got more attached to the group some of the more unappreciated members caught my eye. Sayaka is one such member.
Sayaka is a second generation AKB member joining with Yuko and Sae when Team K was formed. She was named captain of Team K. But then scandal happened. You may remember me mentioning that idols are held to a very high standard in terms of behavior. And sometimes even perceived indiscretion is enough to harm your reputation. The scandal involved an older male, Hiroi Ouji, staying the night at Sayaka’s apartment. Adding to the scandal was the fact that Ouji produced the AKB musical in which Sayaka won the lead role, leading some to wonder if she had won the role in an honest manner. Both denied that anything inappropriate had occurred. The relationship between the two is that of a student and pupil with Ouji advising Sayaka on acting. Sayaka commented that since Ouji is older than her father it never even occurred to her that people might think that something had occurred between them when he spent the night on her couch. But because of all of the negative attention it brought, which Sayaka felt responsible for, she resigned as the captain of Team K. “I am woeful that it sounds like I’m making excuses,” she said, “I’m sorry for all the fans who support me, and also for AKB members… I’m sorry. This became such a big issue, and it is all my fault. I should be the role model for other members, but I’m not qualified as a captain anymore.” Some fans felt that she should have left the group because of the bad press, but others stood by her and continued to support her.
Sayaka kept working hard despite how unqualified she felt. The members of AKB supported her. And about four months later Akimoto reinstated her as the Team K captain. She later admitted that she never really stopped doing the captain’s job but at the time didn’t feel that she could ask the other members to look to her. However, the scandal had lasting ramifications. Sayaka had been a part of almost every single since she joined AKB. But since the scandal broke she has had a part in only three singles, two determined by senbatsu election (where she dropped from 12th in prescandal 2009 to 17th which she held steady at in 2010 and 2011) and one from last year’s janken tournament. So while many fans continue to support her, the management of AKB has clearly still not forgiven her completely opting to keep her in the undergirls rather than as part of the main singles, although she does sometimes fill in for senbatsu members during live performances.
I can trace how I was drawn to Sayaka fairly easily. Once Eric and I had out first oshimen picked out it became clear that our favorite team was obviously Team K. I picked up the DVDs of Team Ks early stage shows and there I found Sayaka. Like Takamina she has an incredibly strong and unique voice (hers is the other voice I can consistently pick out, even in group songs).
The other thing that drew me to Sayaka was the fact that she can speak English fairly well. I would say that until recently she probably had the best English in AKB48. And as a fan who speaks English and taught English to Japanese students this is a very endearing quality.
Sayaka has a distinct appearance with her height and the fact that she is half Filipino. She’s a girl who won’t give up and is honest almost to a fault. She’s known for being a rather sporty girl. She has practiced Aikido since the 5th grade and has a 2nd Dan Black belt. She has also completed the Tokyo Marathon for the past two years, which I find to be incredibly impressive. In 2011 her time was 6:53:53 and in 2012 her time was 5:34:13 smashing her goal of finishing in under 6 hours. She improved so much even without being able to train as much as she would have without her busy AKB schedule. It’s really inspiring.
Sayka has always loved acting and singing and after she graduates from AKB she hopes to continue as an actress. She’s appeared in a few movies already, as well as a few dramas and even a number of stage plays. Most recently she has taken on the role of Princess Ann in the stage adaptation of Roman Holiday, the same role famously played by Audrey Hepburn. It’s a role that’s very different from her normal character and she looks forward to showing a new side of herself in the role. I haven’t seen her act much, but she is very expressive and I’m so happy for her for winning a big part like this. It certainly bodes well for her future as an actress.
In many ways Sayaka needs my support more than Yuko or Mayu or Takamina do. While those three are consistently in the top 10 Sayaka struggles to remain in the top 20. In this year’s election the main single will be cut down to only the top 16 members. So if Sayaka stays at 17 she will not be able to be a part of the senbatsu. And while my other oshimen will be in all of the singles that follow, this is one of only two chances a year that Sayaka seems to have to make it in and the other relies entirely on chance. My hope is that Sayaka supporters will go all out this year to keep her in the senbatsu and boost her rank and Akimoto will decide that she is worthy of being a senbatsu member again.
And to close here is Sayaka’s introduction video from a simpler time before the scandal and the anxiety that followed it.