Caution, long informative post and more exclusive photos20 May, 2011 by Chad
Last weekend marked the official opening of the AKB48 Singapore Theater and Shop. Girls from AKB48 (Akihabara48) and their management were down to present a sold out performance to bewildered fans, many of whom traveled all the way down to Singapore just to interact with Japan’s most popular idols. Here are some highlights of the past two days.
This was of course AKB48’s third public appearance in Singapore after appearing at the AFAX (Anime Festival Asia) and STGCC (Singapore Toy, Game & Comic Convention) last year. With the establishment of their first permanent overseas theater in Singapore though, fans will be seeing them far more often.
The media were invited to a short session with the girls on Saturday with many turning up for the concerts on Sunday as well.
Mr Shawn Chin, the Executive Director of SOZO Pte Ltd, the company working together with AKS (AKB48’s management) to bring AKB48 to Singapore took a few moments to explain their plans. AKB48 as an entity, is still a pretty foreign concept though. If you’re one of our new readers, you might want to follow through some of these older posts about AKB48 that help explain the group’s selling points in terms even non-fans will understand.
Those familiar with the group will no doubt understand what a big deal AKB48 is in Japan right now. Having grown from an unpopular indie group in Akihabara after more than 5 years of hard work, AKB48 have finally gained success in recent years. These days they dominate all forms of popular media in Japan, outselling all others to become Japan’s bestselling musicians.
AKB48’s charm have attracted backing by some of the top names in the music industry and it is a combination of their high production standards, skillful management decisions and of course, the hard work of the girls themselves that continue to make AKB48 a success.
The AKB48 Singapore Shop of course first opened its doors on Saturday, 14th May 2011, with the theater beginning the following day. They announced the upcoming AKB48 Singapore Cafe, a place where fans could experience fusion food in a AKB48 themed environment.
The cafe it slated to begin business at the end of June 2011. Some things planned for the cafe are screenings of AKB48 videos and singing competitions. They hinted at possible visits by AKB48 members at the cafe to tie in with the group’s concept of “idols you can meet everyday”.
Mr Chin expressed Singapore’s honor to have been chosen as AKB48’s first regular theater outside of Japan. In many ways, the new three in one theater-shop-cafe here is a throwback to AKB48’s humble beginnings. While the company could pretty much print anything with AKB48 on it and still have it sell like hotcakes back in Japan, they have divided their attention to take a chance with Singapore.
Concerts to take place at SCAPE’s Warehouse have been confirmed for the rest of the year. Two concert dates will be scheduled each month, with 16 members coming down to Singapore each time.
It has been stated that spin-off groups SKE48, SDN48 (and previously unconfirmed) NMB48 will indeed be visiting soon as well. The acronyms are of of course synonymous with Sunshine Sakae 48 in Nagoya, Saturday Night 48 (a mature themed variant) and Namba48 from Osaka, the newest of the three.
Despite their new found fame, AKB48 members are kept modest by the fact that there are more than 48 members fighting for the attention of fans. Many of them refer to AKB48 as a stepping stone to reach their career goals (many of the girls wish to become actresses or solo singers in the future) and their successes is dependent on the continual support of their individual fans.
On Saturday, the three girls from the group whom were invited to open the store, Iwasa Misaki, Komori Mika and Miyazaki Miho were also invited to join a short press session. They introduced themselves and answered some simple questions from attendees.
First to speak was Iwasa Misaki, whom despite being one of the group’s youngest members at 16 years old carried herself in a rather professional manner.
Iwasa Misaki: I’m very happy to be here with you today and to get closer to Singaporeans. And from now on we will have many concerts here in Singapore, so we hope many of you know more about us.
Komori Mika, who was well known for being quite the airhead got many laughs from both the crowd and her peers when she couldn’t figure out how to introduce herself. Finally exclaiming “I am Mika Komori. I’m happy!”.
Komori Mika: This is my second visit to Singapore. I would like to know more about Singapore and study English harder.
Miyazaki Miho: This is my first visit to Singapore. Even though this time it is only three of us here today. From now on it will not be AKB48, you will see SKE, NMB and SDN. So please have fun together.
After the introductions, the media were given a chance to ask a few questions. It was an understandably short session, given that the girls had just flew in the morning and were pressing to open the shop for the fans waiting eagerly outside.
Juice Magazine: Your single Beginner was number one on the Oricon charts last year. Do you feel if you want to repeat this feat this year?
Still, Miyazaki who was also well known for being one of the group’s most talkative members handled most of the questions in a serious manner.
Miyazaki Miho: Yes of course. We have a strong hope that more and more people will know about us. We have released a lot of singles after Beginner and we always try our best.
(At this point, they pass the microphone over to Komori and Miyazaki signals for her to try answering one question.)
J Plus: There are many Japanese here, including expats. Could you give a message to them.
Komori Mika: There might be some Japanese that might not know us. From now on we would like all Japanese here to also know us.
(Komori passes the microphone to Iwasa but she shyly refuses it. Miyazaki steps in to elaborate.)
Miyazaki Miho: We would like the Japanese and Singaporean people to have fun with us.
Straits Times Razor TV: I’d like to ask Miyazaki Miho-san, this is your first time in Singapore, two of your other group members have been here before so what did they tell you about Singapore and what do you look forward to in Singapore.
Miyazaki Miho: Actually I did some research about Singapore and the main thing was Merlion but I heard that it is difficult to see Merlion so the next thing I’m looking forward to is trying Singapore local food with staff and friends here.
My Paper: I heard AKB48 will be hosting the MTV Video Music Aid Japan on June 25th. I just want to know what your thoughts are on the Japan earthquake and the tragedy and did it affect you and your family and friends personally.
Komori Mika: They are completely fine. My family has always been healthy (genki) and they are still healthy now. I’m happy.
(The AKB48 staff signal to ask the girls to handle the question sensitively.)
Miyazaki Miho: We as AKB48 started the project called “Dareka no tame ni project” (What can I do for someone project). We started this project to help support the people who have been affected by this tragedy. Even though it is a small thing, we hope everyone will be well.
After the session, the girls unveiled the AKB48 Singapore Shop and held a handshake sessions with their fans as we had previously described. Over the past few months, AKB48 have slowly captured the hearts of fans from around the region. Contrary to reports in the mass media, not all who turned up over the weekend were the stereotypical male otaku as they would have you belief.
People of all walks of life came down to support their favorite idols during Saturday’s handshake event and the theater’s first two concerts in Singapore on Sunday. Local Japanese expats such as teenage ikemen and pre-teen girls who looked up to AKB48 as role models, made up a sizable portion of the fans.
In fact, more than 30% of the audience present were oddly female. A strange contrast to the nearly all female audience seen at Korean pop events in Singapore. One such fan whom we got to meet over the weekend, Li Ping learned of AKB48 from Japanese dramas. She cited AKB48’s wide variety of songs as the reason why she felt that they were accessible to all sorts of people.
Also in comparison to the frenzy we had witnessed when other foreign talents visit, the people turning up to greet the Japanese idols were mild mannered and queued patiently for hours in an orderly manner outside of the SCAPE, mingling among themselves and chatting excitedly about getting to meet the artists that they were more used to seeing on screen.
The girls returned on Sunday with their peers to perform two sell out concerts with 500 attendees each. Many came out of curiosity or the encouragement of their friends. A couple of women from the media were at first confused by the strange sight. Having never quite seen anything like it. But they were slowly impressed by the girl’s sincerity and the fan’s response, eventually going so far as to exclaim “This is better than K-Pop!”.
While that is an arguable claim, it is nice to see that at least those that came with an open mind that walked away with a positive experience, instead of passing judgement base solely on shallow first impressions and hearsay.
Claire Chai, another avid local supporter, admits “I was initially baffled by the group” and “shocked at the sheer number of members”. Her reason for supporting the group was ultimately based on their catchy music. She also credits AKB48 with expanding her horizons and helping her make many new friends both locally and overseas, the former collectively referring to themselves as “SGP48”. They appear to be like any other group of youths bound together by a common interest and not quite the socially awkward pack that the media would have you believe.
Many will of course be put off by size of the blatantly named 48 group. Despite their numbers, AKB48’s members are given more opportunities to shine than conventional boy/girlbands. Producer Akimoto Yasushi has mentioned many times in the past that AKB48 operates much like a classroom (or rather an entire convent) now that the combined member count of all 48 groups has exceeded a hundred.
Instead of pigeon holing it’s members to group activities only. The management actually encourages AKB48 members to find their own niches. The girls are given the opportunity to grow as individuals, while leveraging on the group’s combined success. Many of them now have their own successful solo careers. And those who have dreams outside of showbiz take it like a part time job and continue to pursue studies in other fields of interest.
When they do gather together though (usually in groups of 16), they each bring a unique dynamic to the group, allowing them play on their individual strengths and fill each others weaknesses. Perhaps it is this combined strength that has managed to charm the fans and keep them coming back for more?
Sure enough, most of the other visitors at Sunday’s concert voiced their overall satisfaction for the event, with many expressing their intention to turn up for the group’s subsequent show at the end of the month. Dates for their next shows were announced during Sunday’s performance. With sales for next Sunday’s performance starting at 6 PM this evening.
AKB48 Singapore 2nd Stage: Sunday, 29 May 2011
SDN48 Singapore 1st Stage: Friday, 10 June 2011
AKB48 Singapore 3rd Stage: Sunday, 26 June 2011