Rino Sashihara Performs in Final HKT48 Concert Before Graduation

Rino Sashihara credit: (C) AKS

Rino Sashihara

Rino Sashihara said thank you and goodbye to her fans in Fukuoka, Japan, during her final HKT48 concert at the Papillon 24 Gas Hall, the current home of the Kyushu-based AKB48 sister group.

Sashihara, also called "Sashiko," became a fifth-generation member of AKB48 in 2007 and made her Akihabara theater debut in March 2008. She transferred to HKT48 in June 2012, and also supported the group as its theater manager.

Greeted by a sea of yellow lightsticks -- her member color -- and fans calling out her name when she appeared onstage, Sashihara told the crowd with a big smile, "I intend to make a lot of good memories today!"

Team H members presented their RESET show for Sashiko's "graduation" concert. After performing 13 songs during the main set, with members sharing their fondest memories of working with the departing theater manager in-between numbers, the group returned to the stage to perform four tracks for the encore, including its latest single, "Ishi," (which translates to "will," as in "willpower") as a surprise.

Team H captain Natsumi Matsuoka read a touching letter of appreciation to Sashihara, which moved her to tears. After good-naturedly chiding the members for making her cry, she gave them a word of "senpai"-like advice: "Our fans take time out of their lives to come see us, so always stand onstage with that in mind," she reminded them.

During "Hikkoshimashita," the fourth song of the encore, fans in the audience surprised the group by raising bouquets of yellow flowers along with the yellow lightsticks, making not only Sashiko but the other members cry as well. "I didn't get to perform here as much as I'd have liked, but I always had so much fun thanks to you," she told the crowd. "I loved performing here."

The concert didn't end there, and Sashihara returned for two more songs wearing a pure white dress. After performing her solo song "Watashidatte Idol!" she spoke to the members once again, wishing them luck in their future endeavors. "Things might be hard sometimes," she said, "but enjoy yourselves without feeling too pressured."

The show closed with members performing "Jiwaru Days," Sashihara's final song with AKB48. "Right now, I feel so refreshed," she told the audience at the end of the concert. "I'll still be performing on my graduation day and in my Great Appreciation Festival, but right now, I feel so refreshed and am looking forward to what's coming next. I said everything I wanted to say so I feel satisfied and so grateful. Thank you very much for today!"

Hana Matsuoka handed Sashiko a big bouquet of flowers as the crowd showered them with warm applause and cheers, and the longtime member's last show as a member of HKT48 came to an end.

Sashihara will leave the AKB48 franchise April 28. She will be performing in her graduation concert at the Yokohama Stadium that day, as well as returning one last time to Fukuoka in May for her "Dai Kansha Sai" (Great Appreciation Festival) show at the Fukuoka Convention Center, with details to be announced later.