Clef Leaf is the second group to debut under NIPPON Columbia’s Label the Garden project. Although they are in many ways following in the footsteps of their predecessor Flower Notes, the group is by no means a copy of the former. Each member of this five-member group has a very unique personality. Izumi Kamiya (20), known as Izumin, is a self-described “unfunny girl from Kansai” who attaches herself at the hip to those she calls friends. Nana Yukishige (19), known as Hachi, is a goofy girl who seems to live in her own world most of the time. Kanami Ihara (17), known as Kanamin, is the most down to earth member of the group and loves to dance. Kana Itabashi (20), known as Kanana, is a girl with a lot of energy and an obsession with using the English alphabet in her speech. Miyabi Sakashita (15), known by her first name, is a girl who is more mature than her age in many ways and yet loves to talk your ear off like your average teenager. Together, the girls become a group who may be hard to control but will never bore you.
Just like their predecessor Flower Notes, the girls arrived to Label the Garden with a variety of experience.
Izumi was not involved in entertainment in any way before passing the audition for what is now the Label the Garden project. She has loved idols since she was very young and always dreamed of being one. She did her first audition ever when she was in her freshman year of high school. Although she didn’t pass, she came close and her resolve to become an idol was now set.
Miyabi began doing some modeling for local pamphlets when she was in the first grade. In sixth grade, she walked the runway in her first fashion show. Walking in front of so many people made her realize that she wanted to get into the entertainment industry herself. As a member of Clef Leaf, she uses the facial expressions and charisma she learned through modeling to represent herself and the group whatever chance she gets.
Kanamin’s dream of becoming an idol started early. In preschool she would watch the popular idols on TV and copy their dances. Confronted with deciding what she would do in the future after she entered high school, she realized it was now or never. After she found the Label the Garden audition, she decided it would be her first and her last audition.
Hachi took lessons in figure skating from the time she was a child up to high school. Now, if that sounds familiar to a certain other major group with a member from Osaka, it’s because they went to the same skating school. That’s right, Hachi is best friends with Haruna Ogata of Morning Musume 17’ and still frequently gets together with her for lunch whenever they both have free time. According to Hachi, Haruna gets very angry if her LINE messages aren’t responded to in a timely manner.
In Hachi’s case, she thought being a normal high school would be interesting enough and tried it out for a bit. It was only when she heard the “What do you want to do in the future?” speech at school that she realized that with her low academic ability she would only be able to go to what she called “a university for idiots like me.” That was when she saw the announcement for the Label the Garden audition. As your typical Kansai girl, she loves comedy and sees comedians as idols. The thought of being on stage just like them appealed to her. Now she wants more. She says her ultimate goal is to be featured in a school textbook. The other members couldn’t hold back their laughter at his.
Kana went through a variety of activities growing up. In terms of athletics she did basketball and badminton. For arts, she did piano and calligraphy. Upon entering high school, she decided that she wanted to be an idol and actually participated in the first Label the Garden audition. She ended up withdrawing before the final results were announced and went back to her hometown in Fukushima, where she performed as a member of a small local idol group. She tries to use the experience she gained in that group in Clef Leaf.
When asked who the idol was that made them want to become an idol themselves, Izumi responded with someone you could describe as “the idol”, Atsuko Maeda – a former member of AKB48. Miyabi wanted to do something in entertainment after seeing someone from her hometown, Jurina Matsui of SKE48, make it big. Kanamin loves Yuko Oshima, a former member of AKB48. For Kanana, it was someone a bit less mainstream. It was Rika Tonosaki of the now disbanded Doll Elements that pulled her in. As for Hachi, well she knew nothing of idols before becoming one herself. But she swears she is studying hard now to make up for it. She recently met and performed on the same TV show as Babyraids Japan and thinks that Manatsu Hayashi is “super cool and amazing” in everything she does on stage and is super nice behind the scenes. They all want to work their hardest to be as good as, or greater, than their idol.
When asked what they want fans to take away from Clef Leaf, they talked about what makes them different from Flower Notes. They are very close they are to each other even outside of work. According to Hachi, the five of them regularly get together and even have sleepovers. Hachi wants that closeness to be felt by the fans who come to see them on stage as well. She wants fans to feel “warm” when they are at their shows. Kanana burst in to the conversation to point out, using her alphabet love, that she wants their events to be fun (tano-C) and for everyone to walk away feeling happy (happ-E). Kanamin wants fans of all ages and genders to come to their shows and have a good time. Miyabi would love for people to see Clef Leaf and want to become an idol. Izumi agrees with that on the one hand, but that she hopes the group will always stay close to its fans.
The thing that makes Clef Leaf stand out from other idols is the same thing that makes Flower Notes stand out: they aren’t trying to be something they’re not. There is no gimmick. They are simply idols in the purest form. However, when asked if they have anything they want to try, most responded in the same way.
They want to try anything and everything that will expose them to more people. They don’t really care what the concept is, but they are fans of The World Standard and thinking doing something that is unique like they do could be interesting. They aren’t sure whether it is because Wasuta, as The World Standard is known, is cutesy or what but they- and this is where I begin to see one of the most likeable things about Clef Leaf; they are unable to stick to just one topic. Their answers often go on and on until either Izumi or Kanana wrap the topic up, though the two of them admit they aren’t actually very good at it.
Regarding what their goals are for the future, both personally and as a member of Clef Leaf, there was one thing all goals had in common – both their personal and professional goals were something that would benefit Clef Leaf.
Professionally, one of the group’s main goals is to fill Shibuya WWW, a live house used by Label the Garden for a group life at the beginning of 2017, by the end of the year. Miyabi would also like for them to be on more television shows that at are broadcast nationwide in order to get their name out. Kanamin aims higher than Shibuya WWW, she wants the group to perform at Budoukan. Kanana dreams of doing a 47-prefecture tour, which would definitely include a stop off in her hometown in Fukushima. Her ultimate dream would be to do that and then perform overseas.
As for personal goals, Izumi finds it hard to separate her personal life from her professional and says that her main goal is to take whatever media offers she can get and use them as an opportunity to promote the group. Miyabi would love to get back into modelling, but wants to make sure that whatever she does has some benefit for the group. Kanamin’s personal goal is to find something that she can do to help the group appeal to female fans. Now, this doesn’t mean she dislikes the idea of male fans, she just dreams of the day where girls will look up to the members of Clef Leaf and think “Wow, I want to be just like her.” Hachi doesn’t really know what she wants to do, which is pretty much Hachi when it comes to everything. She is learning how to play the ukulele and loves comedy, so thinks that maybe she do more appearances on radio shows with comedians she likes. Kanana wants to continue working on her talking skills in order to appear in a variety of media.
If they hadn’t become idols, Kanana would likely have gone into medicine. She began studying it before becoming an idol and thinks she would have continued. Hachi would have stayed living at home with her parents for a long time and would not have gotten a part time job to help out as she hates the idea of having one. According to the other members, she is the burdensome type. Kanamin thinks she would have gone to a vocational school in the field of beauty and fashion as that is something she has always loved. Miyabi think she would have ended up in the entertainment world one way or another, because she really enjoyed the modeling she did at a young age. Izumin feels like she would have gone to the college she got accepted to, searched for something that she was passionate besides idols, found a normal job, but then ended up with regrets that she never became an idol.
Izumin and Hachi have been members of Clef Leaf from the very beginning. As such, they have experienced the disappointment of not being chosen to be the first group to debut in Label the Garden. I asked them to talk about how they felt when they didn’t get in and what they did to ensure they would make it the next time.
Hachi says that she initially felt numb. In her mind, she was destined to be chosen, and so it came as quite a shock to her that she would not be in the group debuting in the winter of 2016. She suddenly had a lot more free time than before and could do nothing but watch as one by one first generation members of Label the Garden gave up and left. She came close to that point herself. However, looking back on it now, she believes that she failed the first round because she was meant to be a member of Clef Leaf. Every time she talks to fans, she is happy that she didn’t quit.
Izumin was even more devastated than Hachi. She gave up a lot to move to Tokyo and become a member of Label the Garden. She took and passed the entrance exam to a university that she then chose not to go to because she had made up her mind to move to Tokyo to participate fully as a LTG member. She was now living in Tokyo by herself, but had nothing to show for it. Now that is in a group, she is determined to make that group a success as a tribute to her family and friends who never gave up on her.
Foreign Language Introductions & Skills
Hachi, Izumin and the other two LTG members who remained after Flower Notes debuted used whatever free time they had to go to karaoke and dance lessons together to better their performance. They made up their minds to at least stay around for the announcement of what members would be joining the second major group.
The other three members of Clef Leaf had only just become members of Label the Garden when the second group was announced and members were decided. All three of them worked hard in the limited time they had to improve upon their weak points and be sure they would be chosen as members of the group.
Unlike many other groups, there really isn’t a seniority system in Label the Garden. Although three of the members of Clef Leaf were very new when they were chosen to be part of the group, they are not seen as juniors. Instead, Hachi says, they are a “team.” They want to work together to be successful.
I decided now was a good time to propose a “What if?” situation. I asked them how they would defeat Flower Notes if we were to imagine the two groups as rivals.
One Clef Leaf’s strongest points is that none of their members are from Tokyo. They think that having only members from a variety of areas around Japan puts them at an advantage over Flower Notes. The five of them have such different personalities and dialects that there is never a dull moment when listening to them speak, and the girls fee like this makes their group more interesting. In fact, their personalities are so different (and not made up), that even the girls themselves describe the group as having five points of a star. You’ve got the noisy one (Kanana), the princess (Kanamin), the childish one (Miyabi), the airhead (Hachi) and the girl-next-door (Izumin). Plus, they were quick to remind me again of how close they are outside of work.
Lastly, I asked them to talk about their debut single “Evergreen.” Like Flower Notes, who made their debut with “Koi Bana”, Clef Leaf debuted with a very powerful song. Izumi feels like the lyrics really capture the story of who they are as a group. Her favorite line is “If you can remember to laugh after the tough times, then you will enjoy even the bad days,” because she thinks it really gives strength to the listener. Miyabi really likes the part of the final chorus where Hachi sings “Are you blooming now after all these years?” as it connects with her and how she worked hard as a young model to get to where she is now. Hachi is a big fan of her opening line about seeds pushing through concrete to bloom, not only because she sings it, but because she thinks that everyone has hard times in their lives that they need to overcome. For Kanana, the most powerful line is “I have something to say to those of you living from tomorrow,” because she thinks it makes people realize they need to face the troubles that come at them in life with a positive attitude.
[Note: The video below is not viewable in the US.]
Clef Leaf - Evergreen MV
Hachi says that the Making Of is a must watch for fans, as it shows all the silliness going on behind scenes. Izumin says that one of the most interesting points to watch for is how often Hachi flutters her eyes at the camera when taking solo shots. And as Hachi tried to make her appeal to the camera, the other member stood just off to the side doing wota support moves like “catcher” to jokingly cheer her on. Hachi says that instead of being a distraction, the members’ cheers helped calm her nerve and helped her to perform better. Another interesting part of the Making Of is where we see them members quickly running behind the camera to plant themselves in another row of books. This continuous shot took several takes before the timing was correct and was extremely difficult to do according to the girls. Kanana says that her parts were especially difficult as she seemed to be the furthest from the camera in her row of books and she wonders why that was. Getting to film in a real location like a library made all of the members happy, especially the fact that they got to wear school uniforms.
[Note: The video below is not viewable in the US.]
Clef Leaf - Evergreen (Making)
Leading up to the release of their debut single, Evergreen, they sold talk sessions on what was then a very active idol communication application called Kimidake. A challenge was given to them. If they sold all of their talk sessions, their music video would be broadcast periodically on the Yunika Vision screen in Shinjuku for one week. And, they did it. Every day, at least one of the members went to Shinjuku and took a picture in front of the screen. Friends and family who were normally not the emotional type went with them and were overcome with emotion. The members hope that some of the people who paused to watch them will look in to the group and become fans.
Clef Leaf may still have a long way to go as a group, but they are working towards becoming known one step at a time. For them, the most important aspect of being an idol is the fans, and they want to hurry up and release another single. Releasing a single means more chances to interact with fans, and that is something that the five of them never want to forget to do.
For More Information On Clef Leaf & Label The Garden
Clef Leaf Website: http://columbia.jp/clefleaf/index.html
Label The Garden Website: http://columbia.jp/labelthegarden/
Label The Garden Twitter: https://twitter.com/LabelTheGarden
Label The Garden YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCTVeybqXbXKulcO_zeYGKIw
Label The Garden Blog: https://lineblog.me/label_the_garden/