I’ve always considered myself too old to take pleasure in Valentine’s letters. Not that I received a lot of them when I was young, but because I’ve pretty much moved on from that phase in my life. Which makes me wonder why I’m almost squealing like a 15-year old who just hit puberty when I received the Valentine’s greeting card from my oshimen, Kaede Ishiyama. It’s totally unbecoming for a man who just hit 36 a few weeks ago, and who’s old enough to at least be her uncle.
Perhaps, it is because of the story why she became my kami-oshi in the first place. As a witness to her journey from audition to the election, I was impressed at how quickly she developed herself into a force within the group. From bottom ranker to Team L Captain, it is a Cinderella story that is still very much unfolding.
My support for Kaede – or Kay as she’s commonly known – started out as a crush. She not only has the physical attributes I’m historically most attracted to (long-haired, half-Japanese), but she also has the attitudes I consider attractive (her sense of responsibility, perseverance, drive, diligence). Of course our “relationship” exists solely within the framework of idol-fan interaction, as anything more than that is prohibited (and I don’t think I stand a chance if I tried anyway).
Establishing this “connection” between an idol and her fan is the bread and butter of the 48 Groups. That’s one of the big reasons why members of the MNL48 Fanclub VIP are being given these exclusive perks: birthday greetings from your oshimen, and personally written seasonal greeting cards. They are to establish a connection deep enough for the fan to continue supporting her. Even the greeting cards with very generic messages written on them are still hand-written, and in most cases, have plenty of scribbles to hopefully make up for a what might seem to be a “copy-and-paste” message.
I’ve been blessed with an oshimen who actually knows who I am. It certainly helped a lot in making both her birthday greeting to me, and the Valentines greeting card I got a lot more special. I still remember being nervous and scared while waiting for my turn to give a message (I have stage fright, and I hate speaking in public) in her seitansai, but in the long run, I’d say that it is a blessing because she noticed me.
I eventually found out that she has been reading this blog (and I was screaming inside with delight when I found out), and now whenever I write, I am always conscious of the fact that she may be reading it and wondering if I did alright.
When I received my Valentine’s greeting card, I didn’t have any expectations as to what is written in it. Having a personalized greeting would be nice, but I’ll also be equally happy even with a generic message. Hand-writing messages – even if they’re all the same – takes time and effort, especially with all the scribbles and doodles they added to make it more attractive. The important thing for me then was that it came from Kay.
But what I received wasn’t just a message of thanks for my support, but also something deeply personal that touched me. Kay didn’t just thank me for my support and reiterated that she’s reading my pieces, she also inquired about the health of my mom, who was confined at the hospital for two weeks last January.
I think I mentioned it to her via instagram, because one of her posts (or stories, I can’t remember which), brought a smile to my face after a long, tiring, and worry-filled week taking care of my mother. The thought of your oshimen also thinking about your worries, telling you to get some rest and stay healthy, is priceless.
The “fan” part of me wanted to believe it at face value, mostly because I wanted it to be real. The other part though, is screaming at me to get a grip, that Kay was merely doing her job. One of the hardest things for me to do with regards to this letter is differentiating the business aspect of things (Kay is an idol, and writing letters to Fanclub VIP members is part of her job), from the hopes of having a potential real connection. Any fan dreams of having a real, tangible connection with their idol, whether they want to admit to or not. Something that will break the fourth wall and “convince” us that this is real. The science of fishing us through our emotions down to a T.
As a fan, I always run the risk of falling “deep into the rabbit hole” by overthinking things, and with all honesty, it is hard NOT to. Even after years of following idols, I still tend to get caught up with the excitement whenever I see them perform. Is that wink for me? Is that heart sign for me? Did she see me? Does she know I was waving at her? Those feelings are compounded by the fact that there’s a whole venue full of fans wondering and wanting the same thing.
At the same time, should it matter if she actually meant it for me or not? Shouldn’t the fan in me be satisfied that she did her job well enough to make me forget about my problems even for just a moment? Shouldn’t I just be happy without thinking too much about the deeper aspects of the idol-fan relationship, its scope and limitations, and ultimately, what it all means?
Deep inside, I do want it to mean something. And I don’t mean it in a romantic sense. Getting up early in the morning to travel from Bacoor, Cavite to Centris Station in the heart of Quezon City can take a lot out of you. Giving up precious rest time for the chance to stand for thirty minutes in the line, enduring the heat, all for an event that lasts at least two hours, all for the chance to see MNL48 perform and maybe, just maybe, your oshimen will notice you.
After reflecting on it, I realized that I was not only hoping to be noticed by MNL48 Kay, but also by Kaede Ishiyama, the girl behind the idol. My sub-conscious is trying to latch on to the “real” person over the contrived. Perhaps a need to establish a deeper connection without breaking any rule?
Idols are individuals we put into a pedestal to adore. We let the culture impose severe rules on them because they are supposed to be ideal. We connect to a member because they – to our mind at least – are the representation of that ideal.
As a fan, I placed MNL48 Kay on a pedestal because of the girl Kaede Ishiyama, her moxie at going from bottom-ranker in the auditions and General Election, to being selected as a senbatsu member for two times in a row, one of which will go down in history books as MNL48’s first Gold and Platinum certified single. The dedication, discipline, and hard work required to keep up with the top girls is not something to be underestimated, especially when there are 41 other girls trying to get in.
I doubt I will ever be able to truly understand the gamut of emotions I go through whenever I see my oshimen and the other members of MNL48. Being so emotionally invested in the group means that there will always be a part of me that will try maintain and nurture that connection in whatever way possible, within the confines of being a fan.
Thank you for the Valentine’s greeting card, MNL48 Kay. It was really nice and touching of you to ask for our well-being. Rest assured, she’s doing OK, and still wears the pink Kay T-shirt your mom gave me. Your idol journey, your efforts, and your hard work have all impressed me and your “Icings“, and we look forward to seeing more from you. And….uhmm… say “hello” to Kaede Ishiyama for me. 🙂