or, how I learned to stop worrying and enjoy an obscure pairing with a sizable age difference
[a Sakurai Sho x Chinen Yuri pairing manifesto]
Warnings: This essay contains discussion surrounding a person who would be considered underage in the home country, state, and/or province of many of the readers, although potentially not Japan, as the age of consent, as far as I can tell, is 13. Additionally, there are vague spoilers for VS Arashi and D no Arashi and Hey! Say! JUMP's debut concert.
My love for this pairing started as a half-joke between a friend and me after seeing a daytime news report on Sho's MCing of Hey! Say! JUMP's debut concert. The interaction in the news video was simple: Sho briefly fawns over Chinen, gets called out by Inohara (from V6; the other MC), look guilty, and tries to explain it away. The entire interaction is not even 30 seconds long, and yet somehow, it clicked with me in way that other stage interactions and fanservice has not. The pairing was unheard of-- if Chinen wanted an Arashi member, it would be Ohno, and there are plenty of popular pairings for both individuals within their own bands-- but yet, something has made my love for it grow significantly since the first time seeing that video. Perhaps I feel more strongly about it because it came to me through first-person source material rather than through fanworks, or perhaps it's solely for the reasons I'm about to discuss, but whatever the reason, as they say, people have shipped pairings because of less.
Of course, everyone has his or her own headcanon, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. My opinions and headcanons naturally won't mesh with everyone's, and, obviously, this essay relies heavily on them. My ideas have been built on a variety of sources over the course of time, and as a result, I can't remember or find some of them again. I would love to further discuss any of my opinions in comments, and I do apologize if I can't find a source again despite having ideas built on it.
At any rate, at least, I want to explain a pairing which brings me joy in a way that is comprehensive to the reader, and at most, I hope to bring others joy through this pairing as well! I don't expect anyone to drop their Sakumoto or Yamachii or Sakuraiba or TakaChii banners and hop on board (and I certainly haven't!), but even if this pairing seems utterly crazy to you, I hope you'll read onward and give it as much a chance as any unpopular pairing.
As far as I can tell, Sho seems to like children. He pandered to them in the VS Arashi episode in which children made up the guest team, and he enjoyed Hamada Tatsuomi as the Plus One guest as much as the rest of Arashi. He's the one who introduces the nickname "Hamukatsu Sando," going on about how cute it is despite the fact that Hamada is clearly embarrassed by the attention. Going back slightly further, D no Arashi showed off Sho's interest in children in the infamous bed-wetting episode. Fascination with the bed-wetting habits of a seven-year-old aside, Sho's interaction with the boy in said episode isn't that of someone who's just doing his job; Sho shows clear interest in the boy, whether playing video games with him at the beginning or trying to cheer him up at the end of the episode. And again, in the toupee episode, Sho is the one who takes the son aside to comfort him and explain his father's condition to him, and it's Sho who seems to take the lead in playing with him.
There are any number of reasons that may be behind this (or he might just like children!), but one that strikes me in particular is his relationship with his parents. As is true of much of the information surrounding the home lives of idols, most of my knowledge comes from hearsay, but according to a variety of sources, Sho's relationship with his parents is less than ideal. Allegedly, Sho's father, who holds a Diet seat, and his mother, a professor, did not approve of his choice to enter the idol industry, and viewed his choice of career as beneath him. Around the time of Arashi's debut, rumour holds, Sho was on the verge of quitting the agency in favour of continuing his education more seriously-- in fact, along with Ohno and Nino's pending resignations, the fact that Sho, too, was close to quitting may have had to do with the timing of Arashi's debut. His parents' desires for him and influence clearly had a lot of sway over Sho's life decisions, and (despite the fact that over time I've lost track of the sources), in a few interviews, I've read him make allusions to their relationship being strained or otherwise less than perfect. This comes up in a few of his songs, as well; in "Chou Chou Arigatou" from Arashic, he references arguing with his father, and "Hip Pop Boogie" from Dream "A" Live is practically a defense of his choice of career path; it seems as if he's trying to convince someone (or himself) that being a "college graduate idol" is a respectable choice.
It's not entirely unlikely, then, that Sho might have an affinity for children somewhat in relation to his feelings towards and relationship with his parents. If Sho felt as if his parents didn't love him or treat him with the warmth expected of a parent in his youth, he might, in turn, treat children with as much kindess as possible, or even wish to fill a gap in their lives that he did not have filled in his own. If not consciously, then subconsciously, his issues with his own parents might lead to a desire to be nurturing to children, to play with them and be close with them.
Or perhaps Sho's love of children is entirely unrelated to his parents-- it's impossible to know. Sho also has a brother who is 13 years his junior, so perhaps being raised with a much younger child led to his affinity to children. Or perhaps it's unrelated altogether, but for whatever reason, Sho seems to be almost fascinated with children, wants to be involved with them in some way whenever he works with them. And of course, this isn't to say that Sho's interactions with other children haven't been completely innocent and platonic; the intention of this piece is not to argue that Sho has fallen in love with every child on which he sets eyes or that Sho is, as a general rule, interested romantically in children. Rather, I only mean to point out that Sho's reaction to Chinen when he first saw him was similar to his reactions upon meeting other, younger children-- that of awe and fascination.
Sho's relationship with his parents and (assumably) related demeanor-- his consciousness with appearance and with "colouring within the lines," if you will, and his seeming anxiousness and/or embarrassment with things, especially his groupmates' actions, that are outside the expected norm-- also offer an explanation as to his fascination with Chinen. Past the initial spark of interest in his tiny stature and cuteness, Chinen embodies many things that intimidate Sho or that Sho can't comfortably fulfill. Where Sho faced conflict fulfilling his goals and ambitions, Chinen has never wavered in his desire to be an idol with Johnny's and Associates, and remains confident in his skills and decisions. Where Sho is anxious and worried about how his words and actions are taken, Chinen speaks his mind and shows affection openly. Where Sho is embarrassed and made uncomfortable by public displays of affection, Chinen sings his love for Ohno to the world, is unabashed to give fanservice, and is comfortable with closeness to others despite the fact his actions might be frowned upon by others. Where Sho hesitates and over thinks, Chinen dives right in, and I think that sort of difference from his own nature would captivate Sho.
It's much less difficult to believe that Chinen would be interested in Sho. After all, Chinen is a self-proclaimed Arashi otaku, such to the point that he has mentioned wanting to have five children and name them after Arashi's members. Though he has expressed his love for Ohno in particular out of all the members, he talks of his admiration for the group as a whole, and has mentioned in various interviews his enjoyment in Arashi's music, TV programs, and concerts. As such, it seems not unlikely that he might be interested in the other members outside of Ohno, despite his admiration of Ohno dating back to the time Chinen was in kindergarten.
It's no secret that Chinen loves attention. His goal to be in Johnny's since he was a young child shows as much, and it's clear that he loves the spotlight from the way he gravitates towards the camera and beams when he's on a stage. He seems to enjoy attention on a personal level, as well; from sitting in Takaki and Yabu's laps during the early days to constantly flirting with Yuto in concert to his obsession with poking Yamada's cheeks and getting Yamada to baby him, Chinen seems to look for attention from almost every member of the group. He seems drawn to the people who are most willing to give him the attention he desires.
And so, it follows, then, that he would be drawn to Sho, the only member of Arashi to show a continued interest in him. While Chinen has all but plastered himself to Ohno in the past, Ohno has continued to show no interest towards Chinen, and has in the past even used Chinen's obsession with him to his advantage. In all of his photoshoots with Chinen, Ohno has looked evasive and uncomfortable, even when he is clearly supposed to be smiling for the magazine photos. Outside of Ohno, Jun and Aiba seem to be mostly neutral towards Chinen, and Nino and Chinen's interaction on VS Arashi seemed to be on the less-than-friendly side. Out of all the members of the group Chinen idolizes, Sho is the only one who has shown interest in Chinen, and not just any interest. Having senpai croon about how cute and small he is seems right up Chinen's alley to begin with; the fact that Sho is a member of Chinen's favourite band is an added bonus.
Hey! Say! JUMP's appearance in Time
The first time Sho seems to have met Chinen (that I'm aware of) was when Hey! Say! JUMP, right before debuting, appeared in Arashi's Time concert. During the MC segment, Hey! Say! JUMP is brought out to introduce themselves and perform Ultra Music Power. They go down the row being introduced, and as soon as they get to Chinen, Sho immediately shouts "Cute!"
(The red subtitles are Sho speaking)
Once the introductions are finished, Sho immediately asks about the ages of the younger members-- he notices that Ryutarou is much taller than Chinen despite being older, and seems incredibly surprised by his. Sho also calls Chinen "Chinen-chan," a nickname no one else calls him.
Sho can't help from commenting again and again about how small Chinen is, and seems absolutely awed and amazed by his small stature. Chinen, for his part, seemed very pleased with the attention.
Sho asks Chinen how tall he is, and is awed yet again. Despite the fact that the rest of Arashi is less captivated by Chinen than Sho seems to be, Sho continues to stare at Chinen until it's time for Hey! Say! JUMP to perform Ultra Music Power. Chinen grins from ear to ear and seems to enjoy all the attention that he has won from Sho.
(You can follow Sho's line of sight to Chinen's wide grin).
All in all, despite not conversing much onstage during this encounter, Sho seems entirely won over by Chinen's tininess and charm, and Chinen is pleased as punch that Sho is so captivated with him. These two have more interaction than any other member of Arashi with any other member of Hey! Say! JUMP, and the rest of Arashi seems much less interested in Chinen than Sho. Sho is clearly enthralled by Chinen, though, and Chinen enjoys Sho's attentions-- the two clearly get off to a good start.
Hey! Say! JUMP's debut concert
During a Mezamashi TV clip on Hey! Say! JUMP's debut concert, while others are talking, the camera pans to Sho, who is kneeling down to look at Chinen.
He proceeds to touch Chinen's face seemingly pinching his cheeks, as Chinen grins on.
When Inohara asks Sho what he was doing, Sho looks guilty and replies that there was something on Chinen's face.
...to which Inohara responds, "You look like his parent," and Sho looks embarrassed.
While this clip is incredibly short and shows no dialogue between Chinen and Sho, it's almost as if it's a glimpse into something more intimate. Whether Sho was actually cleaning something from Chinen's face or was drawn in by his cuteness to pinch his cheeks or something else altogether, the expression on Sho's face when Inohara calls him out on it shows that Sho did not intend for it to become the subject of attention. And regardless of Sho's intentions, once again, Chinen is the person who Sho chooses to give his attentions yet again, this time in a more physical way.
Chinen's appearance on VS Arashi
While Chinen and Sho don't interact much in the episode of VS Arashi in which Chinen appears, at the very end of the episode, they have a moment of interaction. The section starts with Arashi reflecting on the episode, but soon, Chinen appears, flouncing over to sit very close to Sho's side-- closer than any of the Arashi members are sitting-- and grin at him.
Sho greets Chinen as "Chinen-chan," again, and comfortably puts an arm around Chinen as Chinen continues to smile. Notably, during the episode, while Sho was being the MC, he referred to Chinen as "Chinen-kun," but while they're in a more informal setting, switches to the nickname.
Sho leaves his arm around Chinen as he talks with him and the group continues their conversation. He doesn't remove it for some time, and Chinen continues to sit very close to Sho.
Though it's a very short bit, it makes clear that even 2 years later, Sho is comfortable being close with Chinen and calling him a cute nickname, or, at the very least, that he still wants to be close with Chinen.
No matter how you read into the above instances, it seems clear that Sho has some sort of interest in Chinen. When Chinen was young, Sho was drawn in by his cuteness and small stature, and even in 2009, he was still captivated by Chinen. In all occasions, Chinen seems pleased by the attention. Depending on how you read both Sho and Chinen, the match seems like a positive one; Chinen's affections could only raise Sho's self confidence, and Sho would certainly give Chinen the affection and attention he craves.
I hope that the sections about Sho and Chinen's personalities helps put the pairing into some context or makes it make more sense than a few short videos. Clearly, I feel that, despite there being very little source material, their personalities work together in a variety of ways, and the pairing clicks. At any rate, please give the pairing some thought! I'd love to talk about any aspects of it in the comments.
Additionally, most of the videos aren't linked. I think most of the videos are easily found on google, but I don't feel comfortable linking someone else's downloads, so they're not here.
On a closing note, I'll leave you with Sho's face in this video... if that's not love, what is?