I. Tsunku: The Enigma

If one follows the development and output of Hello! Project, one is likely well acquainted with Tsunku, the Producer:

Of course, Tsunku does not produce everything in Hello! Project, nor is his work limited only to production. A prolific lyricist and composer, he is also responsible for writing most of Hello! Project’s songs. One need only scan any recent (Tsunku-produced) Hello! Project release to see Tsunku’s name emblazoned across the front cover, acknowledging his role in producing the record. In addition, on the interior of the liner notes, one may often see both the lyrics and composition of the tracks attributed to Tsunku, his name rising elegantly above the very words he has penned.

Indeed, let us journey together, dear reader, through the experience of gazing upon Tsunku’s name as it appears on the Berryz Koubou single “VERY BEAUTY”, selected arbitrarily as a typical example of a Tsunku production.

Observe in particular how the three simple hiragana strokes (つんく) are embellished with a Mars symbol (♂), prominently displayed yet not intended to be pronounced. An interesting touch, otherwise attributable to Tsunku’s idiosyncratic whims but for the fact that this name appears differently on the interior:

Here the Mars symbol is noticeably absent. One might dismiss this as a mere typographical error, but closer examination of other recent Tsunku productions reveals that the Mars symbol is consistently missing from the lyrics and composition credits while present on the cover production credits.

One might fancy the notion that behind the “Tsunku” nom de plume lies a team of two individuals, one a producer and the other a lyricist and composer, differentiated only by the presence or absence of the Mars symbol. While there is some merit to this possibility, one must consider the history of this peculiar symbol as it is displayed on the covers of Tsunku-produced releases over the ages. In particular, one must note that early Hello! Project releases credit Tsunku as producer without the Mars symbol.

Immediately some pertinent questions arise: At which point did Tsunku the producer begin adopting the Mars symbol as an essential feature of his pseudonym? Did he consistently omit the symbol prior to this point, and has he consistently included it since then? And perhaps most importantly, why are there two Tsunkus now when once there was but one?

Speculation about Tsunku’s gender identity and/or sexual orientation aside (to be addressed in due time), let us examine in detail, dear reader, the evolution of this name, in hopes that such an endeavour may uncover heretofore unacknowledged clues to illuminate this enigmatic figure and to guide us in dissecting this mystery.

II. The Evolution of a Mystery

Let us proceed by scrutinising the covers of Hello! Project recordings that bear Tsunku’s name, beginning with Morning Musume.’s second single, “Summer Night Town” (the group’s debut single does not have a production credit on the cover), and examining each release in turn:

Title Artist Release Date Production Credit
Summer Night Town Morning Musume. 1998.05.27 Produced by つんく
Daite HOLD ON ME! Morning Musume. 1998.07.08 Produced by つんく
Last Kiss Tanpopo 1998.11.18 Produced by つんく
Odaiba Moonlight Serenade Nakazawa Yuuko & Takayama Gen

1998.12.02 Produced by つんく
Dai Isshou Nakazawa Yuuko 1998.12.12 Produced by つんく
Memory Seishun no Hikari Morning Musume. 1999.02.10 Produced by つんく
Motto Tanpopo 1999.03.10 Produced by つんく
Tsuki to Yaiyou Taiyou to Ciscomoon 1999.04.21 PRODUCED BY つんく
Manatsu no Kousen Morning Musume. 1999.05.12 Produced by つんく
Tanpopo Tanpopo 1999.06.16

Produced by つんく
Gatamekira Taiyou to Ciscomoon 1999.06.23 Produced by つんく
Furusato Morning Musume. 1999.07.14 Produced by つんく
Futari no Hokkaido Country Musume. 1999.07.23 サウンドプロデュース つんく
Halation Summer / Summer Night Town (English Version) Coconuts Musume. 1999.07.23 Produced by つんく
Uchuu de La Ta Ta

Taiyou to Ciscomoon 1999.07.28 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
Everyday Everywhere Taiyou to Ciscomoon 1999.08.25 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
DANCE & CHANCE Coconuts Musume. 1999.08.25 Produced by TSUNKU つんく
LOVE Machine Morning Musume. 1999.09.09 Produced by つんく
Magic of Love Taiyou to Ciscomoon 1999.09.29 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Seinaru Kane ga Hibiku Yoru Tanpopo 1999.10.20 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’

Chokotto LOVE Pucchi Moni 1999.11.25 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’

Country Musume. 1999.11.30 サウンドプロデュース つんく
Marui Taiyou ~winter ver~ Taiyou to Ciscomoon 1999.12.08 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
Koi no Dance Site Morning Musume. 2000.01.26 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
Amai Anata no Aji Melon Kinenbi 2000.02.19 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Akai Nikkichou Akagumi 4 2000.03.08 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Kiiroi Osora de BOOM BOOM BOOM Kiiro 5 2000.03.08 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’

Aoi Sportscar no Otoko Aoiro 7 2000.03.08 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
3rd-LOVE Paradise

Morning Musume. 2000.03.29 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
DON’T STOP Renaichuu T&C Bomber 2000.04.19

Produced by つんく “TSUNKU”
Hokkaido Shalala Country Musume. 2000.04.27 サウンドプロデュース つんく
Happy Summer Wedding Morning Musume. 2000.05.17 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
One Room Natsu no Koi Monogatari Heike Michiyo 2000.05.17 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Tokonatsu Musume Coconuts Musume. 2000.05.17 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
Kokuhaku Kinenbi Melon Kinenbi 2000.06.28 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Otome Pasta ni Kandou Tanpopo 2000.07.05 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Shanghai no Kaze Nakazawa Yuuko

2000.07.12 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
HEY! Mahiru no Shinkirou T&C Bomber 2000.07.19 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Seishun Jidai 1.2.3! / Baisekou Daiseikou! Pucchi Moni 2000.07.26 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’

Watashi mo “I LOVE YOU” Coconuts Musume. 2000.07.26 Produced by つんく TSUNKU
Koi ga Suteki na Kisetsu

Country Musume. 2000.07.31 サウンドプロデュース つんく
Ai no Chikara Heike Michiyo 2000.08.09 produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
I WISH Morning Musume. 2000.09.06 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
2nd STAGE T&C Bomber 2000.09.27 produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Kokoro no Pheromone

Sheki-Dol 2000.11.01 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Renai Revolution 21 Morning Musume. 2000.12.13

Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Mini Moni. Jankenpyon! / Haru Natsu Aki Fuyu Daisukki! Mini Moni. 2001.01.17 つんく プロデュース TSUNKU PRODUCE
Kekkyoku Bye Bye Bye Heike Michiyo 2001.02.07 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Kuyashi Namida Porori Nakazawa Yuuko 2001.02.15 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Koi wo Shichaimashita! Tanpopo 2001.02.21 Produced By Tsunku
BABY! Koi ni KNOCK OUT! Pucchi Moni 2001.02.28 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Denwa Matteimasu Melon Kinenbi 2001.03.07 Produced by つんく ‘TSUNKU’
Ai no Bakayarou Goto Maki

2001.03.28 Produced by つんく
Tetteiteki Unmei Sheki-Dol 2001.04.13 Produced by つんく♂
Hajimete no Happy Birthday! Country Musume. ni Ishikawa Rika 2001.04.18 サウンドプロデュス:つんく♂
Tropica~l Koishite~ru Matsuura Aya 2001.06.13 Produced by つんく♂
Zentaiteki ni Daisuki Desu. Sheki-Dol 2001.06.27 Produced by つんく♂
Chu! Natsu Party 3nin Matsuri 2001.07.04 Produced by つんく♂
Summer Reggae! Rainbow 7nin Matsuri 2001.07.04

Produced by つんく♂
Dancing! Natsu Matsuri 10nin Matsuri 2001.07.04 Produced by つんく♂
The☆Peace! Morning Musume. 2001.07.25 PRODUCED BY つんく♂
Jounetsu Yuki Miraisen Coconuts Musume. 2001.08.22 Produced by つんく♂
LOVE Namida Iro Matsuura Aya 2001.09.05 Produced by つんく♂
Mini Moni. Telephone! Rin Rin Rin / Mini Moni. Bus Guide

Mini Moni. 2001.09.12 つんく♂プロデュース
Afurechau… BE IN LOVE Goto Maki 2001.09.19

This is Unmei Melon Kinenbi 2001.10.11 produced by つんく♂
Koibito wa Kokoro no Ouendan Country Musume. ni Ishikawa Rika 2001.10.17 sound produced by つんく♂
Mr. Moonlight ~Ai no Big Band~ Morning Musume. 2001.10.31 PRODUCED BY つんく♂
Propose Heike Michiyo 2001.11.07 Produced by つんく♂
Pittari Shitai X’mas!

Pucchi Moni 2001.11.14 Produced by つんく♂
Oujisama to Yuki no Yoru Tanpopo 2001.11.21 Produced by つんく♂
100kai no KISS Matsuura Aya 2001.11.28 Produced by つんく♂
Minihamuzu no Ai no Uta Minihamuzu 2001.12.05 つんく♂プロデュース
Ai wa Muteki ~Hatachi no Yoru no Chikai~ Sheki-Dol 2001.12.05 produced by つんく♂

Country Musume. Daizenshuu 1 Country Musume. 2001.12.12 Sound Produced by つんく♂
First Kiss Matsuura Aya

2002.01.01 Produced by つんく♂
Mini Moni. Hinamatsuri! / Mini. Strawberry Pie Mini Moni. 2002.01.30 つんく♂プロデュース
♡Momoiro Kataomoi♡ Matsuura Aya 2002.02.06 Produced by つんく♂
Saa! Koibito ni Narou Melon Kinenbi 2002.02.14 PRODUCED BY つんく♂
Souda! We’re ALIVE Morning Musume. 2002.02.20 PRODUCED BY つんく♂
Aenai Nagai Nichiyoubi Fujimoto Miki 2002.03.13 produced by つんく♂
4th “Ikimasshoi!” Morning Musume. 2002.03.27 PRODUCED BY つんく♂

From the above evidence, we can trace the evolution of the Tsunku name as it transforms from a simple “つんく” in 1998 to a composite appending the hiragana spelling to the romaji spelling “TSUNKU” circa July 1999, which usually positions the Latin letters below the kana, sometimes to the right of the kana, and once above the kana, often enclosing the letters within a pair of single quotes and once in double quotes.

A few notable exceptions are also introduced: the Country Musume. releases credit Tsunku with “Sound Produced by” after a general production credit given to another individual; Mini Moni. eschews the “Produced by” format and opts for the unorthodox “Tsunku Produce” (which brings to mind images of Farmer Tsunku at the market selling fruits and vegetables packaged as audio recordings); and Tanpopo’s “Koi wo Shichaimashita!” drops the hiragana altogether in favour of a design resembling a shoddily constructed bootleg edition.

These anomalies aside, however, we find that the general “Produced by つんく” line returns to its original version with Goto Maki’s “Ai no Bakayarou” in late March 2001, after which the Latin rendering of “TSUNKU” never again emerges. Shortly thereafter, the Mars symbol makes its first appearance on Sheki-Dol’s “Tetteiteki Unmei” and remains on every subsequent release, including the alternatively styled Country Musume. and Mini Moni. releases. This pattern has continued until the present date, so it is not particularly fruitful to examine the covers of later recordings.

III. Curiouser and Curiouser

Having determined the point at which Tsunku the producer first adopted the Mars symbol and demonstrated the consistency both of its absence prior to April 2001 and of its presence after April 2001, we may now attempt to answer the question of what prompted Tsunku’s momentous name change.

Our first step in this direction is the realisation that one Hello! Project single, Matsuura Aya’s “Dokki Doki! LOVE Mail”, was released on 2001.04.11—after “Ai no Bakayarou” but before “Tetteiteki Unmei”—precisely during the period in which Tsunku undergoes his transformation. Indeed, both tracks are credited to Tsunku the lyricist-composer, and from this we may suppose that Tsunku the producer is responsible for the production … were it not for the fact that no such production credit appears on the cover:

Clearly we have a Conspiracy at hand! This is no coincidence, dear reader. One does not innocently append a Mars symbol to one’s name at the exact same time one produces the debut single of a solo artist while atypically choosing not to give oneself credit for doing so. Tsunku is obviously trying to cover up a most devious scheme of truly epic proportions, and having ascertained its existence, we must now strike deeper to uncover the heart of this infernal plot—quickly and silently, lest Tsunku and his minions catch wind of our enterprise and initiate a counterattack against us.

At this point, much remains unclear, but we may construct one or more hypotheses regarding the nature of this Conspiracy. Given the association of the Mars symbol with the male sex and masculinity, we may suppose that つんく♂ is actually the masculine component of the original つんく, whose gender was a superposition of feminine and masculine eigengenders, and that a decisive Decoherence Event occurred at the beginning of April 2001, one that forcibly tore Tsunku apart, giving rise to two independent entities, the masculine つんく♂ and the feminine Matsuura, whose true origin has been concealed behind a façade presented to the public. For Matsuura was no innocent singer launching her solo career with a debut single; she is in fact half of the original Tsunku, separated from his masculine half through a quantum bifurcation of incomprehensible magnitude. In support of this hypothesis is the preponderance of rockets in the “Dokki Doki! LOVE Mail” music video; such overt Freudian imagery does not escape our observant lens.

This nefarious scheme has been laid before our eyes, and lest any disbelievers dismiss it as pure confabulation on the part of a hyperactive imagination, allow me to remind you of the compelling evidence brought forth in the preceding sections. That such unlikely coincidences could arise naturally is inconceivable. This masterful diversion has been orchestrated by forces beyond our immediate comprehension, forces that will stop at nothing to thwart our steady and determined advances. For we have seized upon the crux of this mystery, and it is a foul beast that has remained hidden for far too long. Now is the time to unearth this elusive leviathan for once and for all. We must embark upon a voyage fraught with dangers lurking behind every corner, in order to shatter the endless walls of mirrors that shield the darkest secrets of this Conspiracy from view. The Truth shall be revealed!