This interview with TRF’s leader, DJ KOO, marks the first in a special series of talks to celebrate Avex’s 35 th anniversary with a variety of different artists and entertainers who have defined a generation. Our guest for this third interview in the series is Meru Nukumi, an entertainer who works across a variety of mediums including modeling and acting, and is known to her fans as Meruru. The theme of this talk will be how Meru Nukumi came to be the entertainer she is and where she is going from here, a talk that will span her whole career, reflecting on her past and her present. DJ KOO delves into her current progress as a model, her work as an actress, and just what makes Ms. Nukumi so beloved by a range of different fans.
"The only entertainment I was into was girls' manga"
a shy girl who wanted to be a nursery school teacher
Meruru, aka Meru Nukumi gained popularity as an exclusive model for Popteen and CanCam, and has since appeared on numerous TV programs including Hirunandesu as a regular, as well as a variety of other programs. In recent years, she has also been active as an actress, making her first appearance in a TV drama in Oshare No Kotae Ga Wakaranai and her first film as the heroine in My Boyfriend In Orange (2022), for which she received the 46th Japan Academy Prize for Best Newcomer Actor.
Nukumi is actually a graduate of the Avex Artist Academy Nagoya School, where she has been studying dance and singing since she was in the fourth grade. However, for Nukumi, the world of entertainment was something totally foreign to her until that point in her childhood.
DJ KOO (hereafter KOO) "If you ask a lot of people what their impression of Meruru is, they will probably say that she has been very active in the entertainment world since you first debuted."
Meru Nukumi (hereafter Nukumi) "Really? But I entered the Academy when I was in the fourth grade and started working as a model, so I wasn't really aware people thought that way. Besides, I'm pretty shy by nature, so when I was in elementary school, I was the type of person who always stayed out of the spotlight; a wallflower if you will."
KOO "That's surprising. Was there something you wanted to be when you were little? ."
Nukumi "I had no interest in the entertainment industry at all. I always wanted to be a nursery school teacher because I love children. So it is really strange that I am working in the entertainment industry now. I lived in the countryside, and the only entertainment I was into was girls' manga (laughs)."
For Nukumi, what she learned in her childhood at the Avex Artist Academy—where she learned how to express herself—became the foundation for her later career as a model, TV personality, and actress.
Nukumi's parents and their influence
on her to become an entertainer
What encouraged Nukumi to enter the entertainment industry were her parents. Her mother was a big fan of Namie Amuro, one of Avex's most popular artists, who had a string of hits during Nukumi's childhood. She wanted her daughter to learn to sing and dance, and encouraged her to enroll in the Avex Artist Academy Nagoya.
Nukumi "To be honest, I didn't like it at first, but I went to the school because I wanted to get rewarded and buy things I wanted (laughs). After a while, I happened to be scouted by someone from the Tokyo school. I've had a deep connection to music since I was little; my grandmother taught me to play the piano, and my father always liked bands, so I was introduced to rock music from an early age. He even thought of the name "Meru", and said if I had been a boy if it were a boy, he would've wanted to name me "Metaru" (translator's note: a name that would be close to the Japanese pronunciation of "metal")."
KOO "That's a great anecdote. In terms of my parents' influence, when I was about 3 years old, before I entered kindergarten, I was listening to records on the jukebox we had at home, though I don't actually remember doing so. I was surprised to hear that I was something I treated like a toy when I was a youngster. I guess the influence of one's parents may reverberate later on in life, even if you don't realize it yourself."
For Nukumi, who began attending the academy and taking her first steps into the entertainment industry, the desire to be fashionable was stronger than the desire to be cute.
Nukumi "Compared to where I lived at the time, Nagoya was very urban. I was the kind of girl who would go out in sweats, but when I got to Nagoya, everyone was very fashionable. That made me feel embarrassed, so I began to learn about fashion."
Taking the opposite approach from other models
branding your own unique character
Nukumi then worked for JS Girl and Nico☆Puchi before winning both the Popteen Award and Ray Award at the TOKYO GIRLS AUDITION competition in 2015. In December of the same year, she began her career as an exclusive model for Popteen. She mentioned earlier that she was shy as a child, but on the other hand, she also describes herself as quite stubborn and competitive, and one can really see this influence in her work as a model.
Nukumi "I am also very particular about makeup and fashion. When I was at Popteen, everyone was my rival in a sense, and all the girls wanted to be the best. It was a magazine where you had to be particular about what you wanted to be in order to stand out, and you had to have a distinctive character in order to be ranked number one. I would give you a very competitive personality, and looking back now, that was a very important experience I think."
Nukumi "There were many "gal" type characters there, and I admired Michyopa (aka Miyu Ikeda) and Nicole (Fujita) because they were active on TV. I thought I couldn't stand out if I did the same thing, so I made a conscious effort to do the opposite of what my seniors were doing. Michiyopa and Nicole use flashy words, gestures, and visuals, and are the kind of characters that girls admire, but I aimed to be a life-like character who was more like the kinds of girls reading the magazine. In order to interact with the readers, I started to focus on social media during my time in Popteen."
KOO "I guess that's when you first started branding yourself, and you first started to realize just how vast the entertainment industry really is, hmm?"
Nukumi "Until then, my mother had been helping me in many ways, but I began to think that I had to work hard and kind of make my own luck if you will, open doors for myself, and it was during that period that I really started to become aware of what my job actually entailed."
From charismatic model to variety star
"I'm happy" reaching an entire generation
As a result of her search for one-of-a-kind value through trial and error, Nukumi established the archetype of the "true-to-life model" with her elegant and cute ambiance. Her happy aura resonated with readers, and in 2019, she came out first in the "Favorite Model Ranking" at Popteen, and was featured on the cover of the first issue for 2020 (translator's note: especially auspicious as this was the debut issue for the first full year of the new Japanese emperor Naruhito's reign). Finally, she has joined the ranks of other charismatic models.
While she had achieved a major goal as a model, Nukumi was interested in becoming an actress at the time. While aiming for that career path, she was advised by Avex employees and her manager that she would be suited to appearing in variety programs on TV.
Nukumi "My first variety show was Odoru! Sanma Goten!! for which I auditioned and passed! I was able to enjoy myself very much on the recording, and I challenged myself to be as natural as possible. From there, I began to receive offers to appear as Meruru, whom they wanted to just speak off the cuff during appearances."
Nukumi, then in high school, captured the hearts of viewers with her unique delivery, reactions, and unaffected personality, and her talent as a TV personality blossomed. It did not take long for her to become a mainstay on variety shows.
KOO "When you first started appearing on TV as Meruru, we started to see each other at different jobs. From that time on, you really had an aura of happiness in full bloom, and you started doing your trademark "I'm happy!" pose."
Nukumi "I was doing that pose! And you were one of the ones who started spreading that pose around, weren’t you?"
KOO "Yes! But I didn't know it was your pose at the time, and I did it because I thought it was a popular pose among young people. That was about three years ago, and the fact that it is still popular today is proof that your popularity has really taken hold all over."
From model to talent to actress
the most important thing is to enjoy yourself
Nukumi has been very active in TV programs and has come to be seen by many people, and has since taken on the challenge of becoming an actress, a career that she had long envisioned. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, she has been steadily appearing in high-profile dramas and film productions in recent years, attracting much attention. She is also scheduled to appear in the new Sunday drama Sexy Tanaka-san on Nippon TV, which will air from October 22, showing a new side to her that is different from her modeling and variety work.
Nukumi "Of course I'm happy because [acting] is something I have always wanted to do, but I also love variety, so I really want to keep doing both. I try to make sure that I tell my manager I'd like to do a spot about once every six months."
The fact that we at Avex were able to manage a talent like Nukumi in a direction that she wanted to take, while at the same time utilizing her individuality and characteristics, may be the result of the management expertise that we have accumulated over the years.
KOO "I think it's definitely a kind of response to what you've been doing in your career that you've managed to make that a reality. But the amount of work will be tremendous, so there must be some kind of conflict there."
Nukumi "If I were to simply focus on acting full time, it would totally consume me I think, so variety shows help me maintain a good balance. Right now I feel like I've got a really good balance going in terms of my career."
KOO "When it comes to me and my work, I really value the concept of "making everyone smile," but is there anything that you prioritize in your own work?"
Nukumi "I place a lot of importance on enjoying myself. I have been able to appear on variety shows for about three years now, and I still enjoy myself while doing so. As a result, I'm happy if the audience enjoys the show as well, but I think the most important thing is to enjoy myself."
Such enjoyment for her own life comes through in all of Nukumi's activities, from TV to magazines and even in her social media posts. In fact, while in the past her fans were almost exclusively female, recently she has been receiving messages from a wide range of fans, spanning all genders and age groups.
Take your own stance and live your life to the fullest now
wanting to be a bright, bubbly teenager for as long as you can
Not thinking about what will come next, but putting all your energy into what’s right in front of you and moving on to the next step… While DJ KOO and Nukumi may come from different generations, genders, and career paths, it is that manner of thinking that links the two of them together.
KOO "I think it’s because you have your own personal stance that you are able to tackle what is in front of you and still keep building on that foundation.
Nukumi "Yes, you're right. In my case, I enjoying acting right now, and this year I had my first role in a movie called My Boyfriend in Orange, which won me the Japan Academy Award for Best New Actor, so if I had to name a goal right now, I would like to become an actress who can win the award for Best Actress."
KOO "As an actress who came from Avex, I really hope you're able to win that award some day."
Nukumi "Thank you! I'll do my best. While I do admire the work of other women in terms of fashion and makeup and all that, I also admire women who have a bright teenage mindset, so I want to keep that teenage spirit alive in me as I move forward."
Whether you are a model or an actress, "empathy" is a prerequisite for popularity these days. Nowadays, fans demand real information conveyed through personal means such as YouTube and social media as much as or more than mass media outlets such as TV and magazines. In this respect, Meruru, who lives in the glamorous world, and Meru Nukumi, who enjoys her own life in a very natural way, exist on the same plane, and their no-frills style is probably the reason they are so beloved in this day and age. We cannot take our eyes off Ms. Nukumi, who will continue to expand the scope of her activities while never forgetting to "enjoy herself."