The Arashi ni Shiyagare (嵐にしやがれ) Christmas Special began classy, with a choir singing “All I Want for Christmas is You”, but I can’t help but feel that it would have been better if Arashi themselves had done a song.

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Still, it was a lot better than starting off with a 90-minute special with the Tokyo Ii Mise Kudoi Mise segment, which I was vaguely worried they might do.

The show was billed as having a handsome young man, a beautiful girl, and some first experiences (stuff they haven’t experienced before). The first two should be easy, but that third point is a bit tricky if it’s applied to the Arashis rather than the guests.

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The handsome young man in question was Miura Haruma-kun, who last appeared with Arashi on VS Arashi as far as I know, and did a great job there. But that went well because they had a chance to be active – if all they’re going to do here is sit down and chat, I doubt even Miura-kun could keep the audience engaged.

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Fortunately, they decided to throw out the normal pattern (at least for a bit) . . .

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. . . and to have Miura-kun cook his specialty – karaage – with Ohno-san and Sakurai-san. We got to see the reactions of the other three Arashis in the corner.

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Taste test time. Is the cook himself allowed to declare it delicious?

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Well, Miura-kun did, then brought it out for everyone to try.

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Okay, but after that we got Nino-kun’s segment, after all.

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Nino-kun always makes sure to get some early pictures or clips of his prey. Miura-kun doesn’t look embarrassed in the least, though. Well, he’s been in show business since he was four – since that picture was taken almost twenty years ago – so I guess he’s desensitized to seeing pictures of himself in his youth.

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Well, it’s no wonder that that cute kid grew up to be Miura Haruma-kun.

By the age of seven, he was already in a morning drama, and he got his big break at the age of 16, when he was one of the leads in 14-Sai no Haha.

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They hit the key points of his résumé . . .

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. . . showed a clip from the movie Kimi ni Todoke that looked like it was recorded in the late 80s or early 90s even though it’s from 2010 . . .

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. . . then showed interviewed women to find out what about him they liked. Probably didn’t take too much effort to get some opinions on this, and the opinions were not surprising at all. Can you believe that they liked his face?

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This led to a discussion of the ‘type’ that Miura-kun and the Arashis each like. I think I can skip this part.

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Nino-kun almost looked like he was sitting this one out, too (he wasn’t – I guess he was just getting tired standing there while they were all sitting?):

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Anyway, this discussion of types took way too long – five minutes, if you can believe it.

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When it was finally over, they switched to the second guest – gymnast Tanaka Rie-san. Again, someone I most recently saw in a VS Arashi episode. They apparently decided to get through the baby pictures right away rather than leaving them up to Nino-kun – showing them as part of an intro VTR. Rie-san’s brothers are gymnasts as well (so are her parents), and at least one of her brothers appeared on VS Arashi alongside her.

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She announced her retirement from gymnastics two days before this episode aired . . . but unless this is live, doesn’t that mean that they recorded this and are talking about it before the official announcement? I guess that’s why they need managers – to keep the order of events sorted out. Anyway, this was her first variety show appearance since that announcement.

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Asked about how she feels about her retirement, she said the usual stuff, but also pointed out that the pain caused to her body now really forced the issue.

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Rather than talk in-studio, they decided to try a Christmas party at a hotel. Now, they prefixed that with a “hajimete” (for the first time), but I’m not clear who it was a first time for. For Tanaka Rie-san? I’m pretty sure the Arashis must have had a Christmas party in a hotel at some point, though perhaps not in front of a camera.

Anyway, they departed the studio . . .

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. . . and Ninomiya-kun was the lead host during the car ride, but the other members piped in with questions for Rie-san without reservation.

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Nino-kun ended up asking her preferred type of man (this pattern again . . .), and then her preferred type of Arashi.

After Nino-kun got disappointed by that answer (just joking), he decided to cheer himself and everyone up with a bin full of party goods. Rie-san handled distribution, assigning Nino-kun to the Rudolph reindeer hat and Aiba-kun to the Groucho Marx eyebrow-glasses-nose-moustache combo.

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While Nino-kun kept the Rudolph hat on, I noticed that MatsuJun quickly dumped his red nose. Aiba-kun took a bit longer to dispose of his disguise, but just switch to a less obtrusive one.

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They reached their cosy party headquarters . . .

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. . . which is called the hotel’s “Imperial Suite”. Umm . . . I’d prefer ‘Emperor’s Suite’ if it came to that (paralleling a Presidential Suite), and think ‘imperial’ might be a touchy word for Japanese to throw around (and Americans and British, too, for that matter – lots of countries should probably avoid calling stuff ‘imperial’).

The overnight cost for staying at this suite? A ludicrous 577,500 yen (around $5775). Maybe not in the heart of Tokyo, but I could rent a pretty nice house for a month or two with that kind of money. But the suite is much larger than what we get to see – it’s over 3000 square feet and the entire fourteenth floor of the hotel. So yeah, not too shabby. Suited to an Emperor’s entourage, I guess.

This was the first time Tanaka Rie-san fired a cracker:

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Then the doorbell rang and the food arrived. The total cost of the meal was shown, and it was 17900 yen (around $179). I guess it could have been worse.

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I have to say, though, this is looking like an advertisement for the hotel and the food delivery service.

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At least they seemed to have picked out the food Rie-san likes, and she was positively glowing as she saw the food and got a taste of it.

Put food on the table and a camera in front of it, though, and the comedians will surely start showing up. Ninomiya-kun gave Takahashi-san from Savanna forewarning, though, so he was the first to arrive.

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Takahashi-san brought a party game with him in which they had to avoid popping a balloon. It’s a bit difficult to describe, so if you really want to know how it works, the best way is to just watch them play it.

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Seeing them ponder the balloon and test its limits was fun.

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But I think the game ended on a bit of an anticlimax.

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And what do you do when that happens? You bring out a different game, of course.

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Here, though, the party split up, with Sakurai-san and Tanaka-san venturing out to acquire some cake while the others played. I’m sure they could have just ordered a cake delivered, but correctly determined that this would be more fun to watch.

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While on their nighttime stroll, Sakurai-san and Tanaka-san talked about some Olympic experiences and, passing by an interesting stop, asked its staff if they could film inside as they checked things out.

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Wow, did they look like an adorable couple here.

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Back at the suite, Watabe-san was naturally the next comedian (and I use the term loosely) to show up and grab a share of the food. Probably got tipped off by the staff.

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Sakurai-san and Rie-san finally made it to the cake shop . . .

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. . . and brought back a mini-cake for each person except Watabe-san. The editor put a little note at the bottom of the screen explaining that since they didn’t know Watabe-san would be there, they didn’t get a cake for him.

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By the way, Watabe-san didn’t stay silent about this lack of cake for himself, so he ended up getting some cheese cake that I think Rie-san got on the side because she really likes cheese cake.

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After that dessert, Watabe introduced the “shake hand game”, where a person has to figure out who shook their hand in what order (after having shaken the hand of everyone at the party while covering their eyes). Rie-san did the guessing.

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With that game, the Christmas party segment ended and we went back Miura-kun for something that looked like an Aiba quiz even though Aiba-kun wasn’t introducing it (announcer Masu Taichi-san took charge instead).

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The quiz was to determine elements of the most popular Christmas date.

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I look askance at this sort of thing to be honest. After an hour where they already seemed to running commercials for stuff – giving us prices and everything – it’s too convenient for them to be plugging date spots, styles, and food a few days before Christmas – right when guys and gals would be wracking their brains trying to put together a good experience for their dates.

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How about a dinner cruise? Guess how much it’ll cost.

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While it was an excellent episode – clearly much better than the average Arashi ni Shiyagare and entirely worthy of the title ‘special’ – there were really two different episodes built in. The Miura Haruma episode was an above average episode, but not spectacular. The Tanaka Rie episode was clearly the special part and way better than the studio stuff Miura-kun got to do with the Arashis.

There was also a gap in character between the guests. Miura-kun, while charming and experienced with TV, is quite reserved and doesn’t really pal around with the Arashi guys. Rie-san, however, not only had a broad smile throughout most of the show, but also looked entirely comfortable around the guys (even though she was the only girl at a Christmas party with seven guys, which is sort of strange). It’s remarkable how amiable she was, and I hope we get to see more of her on television now that she’s retired from gymnastics – she’s certainly a great guest.

The Most Omoshiroi (Interesting) Arashi was divided between Sakurai-san and Matsumoto-kun. Sakurai-san’s key scene was the cake hunt with Rie-san, and MatsuJun’s was the quiz at the end with Miura-kun.

Okay, so it was a solid special to end 2013, and maybe that should give us some hope for 2014. For now, I’m looking forward to my first look at the New Year’s special, which will have absolutely nothing to do with the future of this show.