Hello! Project and love – are H!P members forbidden to date?

The announcement of the upcoming disbandment of Kobushi Factory was a shock to a lot of us – even more to those who saw a certain instagram post making the rounds just a day earlier:

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A message of love to his girlfriend of one year.

In this, unfortunately public, post a person celebrated the one year anniversary with his girlfriend. That’s very cute. However, users of the Japanese site 2ch proved themselves once more to be real detectives (or stalkers, depending on your point of view): The girl in the picture is supposed to be Hamaura Ayano, Kobushi Factory’s ace. They pinpointed this discovery on the analysis of the girls‘ phone (and phonecase), backpack, hairstyle, armband and shape of face. With the announcement of Kobushi Factory’s disbandment just a day later a lot of rumours surfaced: Did Ayano get fired for having a boyfriend?

First of all: No, Ayano has not been fired. In the history of Hello! Project there have been only 3 contract terminations:

  • Kago Ai, after having been caught smoking while being underage (which is a violation of the law in Japan) – a second time. For the first time she was suspended and put under housearrest.
  • Fujii Rio, „due to her lack of compliance in the rules“. It is not certain what she did wrong exactly, but some fans have noted her being unenthusiastic at events and even missing for TV recordings – some people suspect she skipped appointments and was therefore fired.
  • Taguchi Natsumi, though insiders have leaked that her contract was rather terminated by her own will than from management’s side.

Secondly: Even if Ayano had decided to graduate due to her „scandal“ the group could have gone on with 4 members. The more important point to the end of Kobushi however was Hirose Ayaka deciding to enrol at a music university and therefore graduating from the group. Judging by their blog posts about the announcement the members all strongly felt that they wanted to go on as five – or part ways completely.

It is possible, however, that the emersion of Ayano’s „scandal“ lead management to publish the decision sooner than intended.

But back to topic: Is it possible to get fired from Hello! Project for dating?

There is certainly no proof that dating while being a member of Hello! Project is forbidden. As mentioned above, of the three only contract terminations inside Hello! Project to date there is only one that vaguely has to do with dating.

The curious case of Taguchi Natsumi

Taguchi Natsumi was a popular member of Kobushi Factory and known to be one of the groups most charismatic members. Sadly, she got caught up in the tragedy that ran over Kobushi in the year 2017: Fujii Rio wanted to leave the group to become a nurse, the agency however wanted her to stay until late summer – probably to promote the still running Ninja movie starring Kobushi members. She started to behave inappropriately and was fired – as mentioned above. Around the same time Ogawa Rena went on hiatus for her anxiety neurosis and graduated shortly after – but not before pictures of her and her boyfriend have been leaked on twitter.

Natsumi was close friends with both of them, especially with Rena. In a blog post she posted a picture with Rio after her contract termination, censoring only her face but not the reflection below. Rena did a Line Live stream and to prove that she is the real Ogawa Rena she showed Natsumi’s face because they were hanging out at the moment. Two months after Rena’s graduation pictures of Natsumi with her boyfriend were leaked on twitter. Her contract was terminated one month later.

However, insiders have mentioned that she wanted to end the contract herself because she felt guilty. One TV reporter who was a fan of hers and is rather close with Up Front made it clear that her appearing on Rena’s Line Live was more damaging than her pictures being leaked. So even in this case there is no proof that here is a no-dating rule among Hello! Project.

Let’s take a look at the past.

Yaguchi, Miki, Megumi vs. Goto, Ayaya; Yuuka

In the history of Hello! Project there have been tons of girls of varying ages, therefore dating „scandals“ were to be expected in an agency as big as this one. However, the company itself rarely acted on them. Since Hello! Project started over 20 years ago a lot of the old articles have disappeared, but some stories stay in mind. Let’s have a look some of the more popular cases.

Early Morning Musume had tons of dating scandals. They were mostly young girls after all and due to their popularity paparazzi followed them around like crazy.

  • Nazakaza Yuuko has mentioned at least once that she had a boyfriend in her first year of Morning Musume. They broke up because they hated being in a long-distance relationship. She later said she never had a boyfriend while in the group, but well…
  • Ishiguro Aya even took her manager to dates to make them look official. Shortly after she graduated she got pregnant.
  • In 2001 there have been pictures of a drunk Iida Kaori lying face down on the scrotch of JUDY&MARY’s Takuya.
  • Who could forget Abe Natsumi’s sleepover at Oshio Manabu’s house? But hey, they were just playing playstation.
  • Yaguchi Mari is, of course, a chapter of her own. While there have been pictures of her kissing a man in 2002, the real scandal which to this day is one of Morning Musume’s biggest scandal in history was her relationship with Oguri Shun. However, controrary to what some people think, she wasn’t fired but she simply left the group. It is likely that she thought she shouldn’t have a scandal as the upcoming leader (as this happened just after Kaori’s graduation).
  • There are tons of alleged affairs between Goto Maki and male celebrities. The most popular rumours are between her and Ninomiya Kazunari (Arashi) and NEWS‘ Yamapi.
  • According to insiders Kago Ai had at least one boyfriend during her time in Morning Musume. The most popular rumour was her relationship with ORANGE ORANGE’s Ryo.
  • Tsuji Nozomi had to leave Gyaruru because she got pregnant. To be fair, she was not a part of the „main“ idol group Morning Musume by then.
  • Platinum Era had its fair share of „dating scandals“, but since the group lost popularity the articles didn’t cause ripples that big. Another factor was probably the members‘ rather high age. Takahashi Ai allegedly dated Tegoshi Yuya (NEWS) in 2008 and Kiyokiba Shunusuke (Exile) in 2009.
  • Fujimoto is the other big dating scandal within Morning Musume. Funnily enough: In the beginning Up Front denied that it was Miki in the photograph with Shouji Tomoharu – but Miki later confirmed it on radio and decided to leave the group.
  • A magazine published an interview with someone who said he was Kamei Eri’s ex-boyfriend in 2008. The pictures in the article were censored, but later pictures surfaced that clearly showed Eri.
  • Tanaka Reina has never officially been in a relationship but apparently she dated someone in high school (around the time of Ambitious! Yashinteki de Ii Jan), but this only became public many years later.

But to be fair, the most iconic dating scandal was Matsuura Aya being seen in front of Tachibana Keita’s house – carrying toilet paper. Not only has she later confirmed dating him then, they even got married in 2013.

Onto younger groups we have:

  • Murakami Megumi left shortly after pictures of her with a guy were made public. Her wanting to focus on her studies was a lame excuse of course, but in the end she was not fired due to the scandal.
  • In 2008 there were pictures of Arihara Kanna with Johnny’s Hashimoto Ryosuke. There were no consequences from Up Front’s side, just people skipping her during handshake events.
  • Hagiwara Mai and Okai Chisato’s scandals were rather smiled at. °C-ute was already in their last years and even among the fans there was no uproar about the girls being seen with men.
  • The best known Berryz scandal was Natsuyaki Miyabi’s pictures with Hey! Say! JUMP’s Inoo Kei. Once again Up Front vehemently denied that it was Miyabi in the pictures. Some fans argue that as a punishment she was featured less in releases, especially for Buono!, but she was still in the group and not fired.
  • Back in the day there were leaks just like nowadays. There’s pictures of girls that look like Momoko and Risako kissing guys. It is of course never certain whether or not it actually is the girls in the pictures, but even nowadays they stir up the rumour machine.
  • Even S/mileage wasn’t free of dating. 2015 pictures of Maeda Yuuka and her boyfriend were leaked – some were dated to summer 2011, when she was still a member of the group.
  • One of the latest scandals was a picture of Onoda Saori with a boy. Again, some fans say she’s been put into the back of the group for the newest release because of this. However, we know that she’s busy with school recently, as she also misses events due to tests – as has been made official. Maybe Up Front wanted to give her a break.

What can we draw from this?

Generally speaking: Dating doesn’t get you fired from Hello! Project. There have been enough cases of Up Front actively defending the girl in question. Nowadays, as dating is only leaked through social media and not actual newspapers anymore, they decide to remain silent.

I can imagine that in the end, your future inside Hello! Project after a „dating scandal“ highly depends on your behaviour afterwards. Do you admit that it is you in the picture? Then you probably decide to graduate on your own – as wota won’t be easy on you during handshake events. Depending on how obvious the pictures were it will be nasty nevertheless.

What brings me to the conclusion: Not Up Front decides if you can stay an idol after your scandal, the wota will. If you think you can manage, you might get through. If not, you better graduate.

In Kobushi’s case they were already playing with fire, since both Rena and Natsumi had scandals. Even Ayano was photographed in company with a boy before, even though the picture was harmless and had no suggestive subtitle. Hirose Ayaka herself had a picture with a man, and in her case this was especially spicy since the man appeared to be a wota.

Therefore putting an early end to the group this way made sense. The timing was right since Ayaka was starting university this spring and shortly before disbandmend and graduation wota might be a bit more at peace about „their“ idol dating – since said idol has basically already left them.

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