Art of being a pop idol

Ayaka Wada copies the pose of Hishikawa Morinobu's "Beauty Looking Back."

Today, many Japanese entertainers have multiple skills to add value to their profession. For Ayaka Wada, a member of teenage pop idol group S/mileage, art is her favourite subject, regardless of whether it will eventually become her second career.

"You can't be friends with the painting if you don't show interest in the subject or open up your mind to it. You'll learn nothing from the painting if you do that," said the 19-year-old idol, adding that she visits exhibitions in smart attire to show respect for the art.

At the end of January, Wada visited "Ukiyo-e: A Journey Through the Floating World," which is currently under way at the Tokyo Metropolitan Tokyo-Edo Museum.

Wada is the leader of the six-member group S/mileage. The group made its debut in 2010 as "the Japanese idol group who wear the shortest skirts" under Hello!Project-a group of female vocalists and idol groups such as Morning Musume produced by veteran record producer Tsunku. S/mileage won the Japan Record Award for Best New Artist in 2010 and has released 15 singles since the group made its major debut.

Wada has trained in dancing and singing since she was 9 years old after winning an audition. She became interested in art when she was a high school student and since then, she has taught herself about the subject and chosen to major in art history at college.

Her unique insight and sensibility toward appreciating art grabbed the attention of an editor and a producer who believed that she could write something substantial about art. Currently, Wada writes a series of art reviews titled "Otome no Kaiga Annai" (A guide to paintings by a young maiden) on the website of PHP Inc., including reviews of such artists as Vermeer and Monet.

Wada provides reviews of her favourite artists and their work through questions and answers she writes herself. Her writing style is easy to follow for those who are not really sure how to appreciate paintings. A collection of her art reviews, including those posted online, will be published as a book this spring.

"I wasn't sure if it's OK for me to write such a column," Wada said. "I've read that kind of column for my study, so I just couldn't believe that I'd be writing art reviews. But at the same time, I thought I could do it as I have the support of many people."

Love at 1st sight

Her interest in art started three years ago with love at first sight at JR Tokyo Station. Wada was early for a meeting that day and was looking to kill time. That's when a poster for a Manet exhibition caught her eye. So she casually stopped by.

And she was shocked.

"The image of paintings I had for a long time was that they're always colorful. But I was shocked to see Manet's exhibition filled with black. 'The Dead Toreador' was particularly impressive. It was simply a man lying down. I was overwhelmed by the fact that this kind of scary motif can be the subject of a painting. I could rarely find colorful, cheerful paintings in Manet's work," she recalled. "Then I thought 'Why is that?' From that moment, I gradually became interested in art," she said.

She was intrigued by dark, somber paintings for a while and became fascinated with Rembrandt.

"At that time, I was simply viewing art and had no idea that some have a religious context behind them. I broadened the focus of my interest and began liking Impressionism," she said, adding that her interest now has spread to Japanese art.

Spreading fun of art

Despite her busy schedule, Wada visits exhibitions as much as possible and even goes to the same one again if she really likes it.

"It's not hard to make time for it. No problem," she said. "I love art and want to keep studying it." She said being an idol is not a burden, but "rather, there are things I can do as an idol to make more people more aware of the appeal of art. I should take advantage of my career," she said.

Wada may have a chance to perform abroad some day, just like other senior senpai Hello!Project members who have wowed overseas fans in Paris and Bangkok.

"I never intended to juggle my career and write art columns. However, in both my careers, I find it can be really difficult to put my emotion and excitement into words [to communi-cate to the audience effectively]. I need to practice conveying my feelings effectively. It'll be great if I can introduce Japanese art when I get a chance to perform abroad," Wada said.