Weather resistant idols09 February, 2013 by Chad
Ignoring whatever possible overlap in market, avex had decided to schedule SUPER☆GiRLS and Fairies events in different places at the same time today. The original plan was to use up my SG tickets in Osaka and leave Tokyo’s SUPER☆GiRLS handshake up to Yan and Eri so that I’d have time for the Fairies live at Tokyo Dome City, but with our tickets arriving late and Eri’s early departure, I was stuck with six additional SUPER☆GiRLS handshake tickets.
I’d pass Yan three of these tickets, on top of another three that he had ordered. Wasn’t too keen on the SUPER☆GiRLS event this morning. Unlike the Osaka mini-live which actually had performances, today’s was strictly a handshake only session. Definitely wasn’t looking forward to the queues either.
It would also be raining for the entire day, and was feeling quite under the weather. Yesterday’s failed attempt at skating had also somehow left a large bruise on my ankle, which I would only realize after returning back.
Spent the morning between napping and waking up at intervals to finally settle my laundry. Had originally even intended to forfeit the three tickets I still had on hand but eventually mustered the energy to leave the apartment in the afternoon.
Today’s SUPER☆GiRLS event was split into three sessions in the morning, afternoon and late afternoon. Each handshake ticket entitled you to a meet and greet with two members, which were paired up beforehand. You can always find out the pairings ahead of time at their official website to plan who you were going for.
By the afternoon, Yan was already done with all but one of his handshake tickets (for some reason he reserved one ticket for the last session but ended up wasting that later). Turns out there wasn’t nearly as many people at the handshake even as I thought and the lines there moved really quickly.
Realizing that I could be in and out of there in no time, decided to give the second session a shot. Maeshima Ami and Takana Mirei were paired together for this block, so it wouldn’t get more economical than that. The venue really wasn’t too far from the apartment either, slightly less than two stops away, so decided to travel there by foot. The umbrellas that we had purchased in Osaka, lugged to Nagoya, and now to Tokyo, had finally come in handy.
Didn’t have trouble finding the venue. Thanks to the weather, most of the streets were empty. It turned out to be an office building, with the second floor having been converted to a small events space. By the time I had arrived the first session had just finished, so had to wait around until the next one started. There, I had to swap my tickets for time slot specific vouchers.
There were probably less than a hundred other people waiting around for the event. The SUPER☆GiRLS fans were all quite young (with a surprising number of women) but none of them look too friendly, so everyone ended up standing at various corners of the lobby, starring uncomfortably at each other. This was made more awkward by the little amount of space and the office tenants constantly passing through.
About 20 minutes before the intended timing, we were lead upstairs to a proper queue. The room was boarded off into two parts. In this first half, we were organized into one long queue. At the end of the queue, you would have to pass the staff member a handshake coupon to be granted access to the other half of the room, where you’d find individual shorter queues for the different member pairs.
Before the event started, the mass queue stretched to about two hundred people but would be quickly siphoned off into the individual lanes. Most attendees had just one or ticket tickets, so depending on who you were going for, each round didn’t take more than 5 to 10 minutes.
Of the three tickets I was holding on to, the first and last would go toward the Maeshima/Tanaka combo, while the second ticket would be used for the Kanou Kaede and Goto Aya lane instead. I would had easily spent all three tickets on Amita and Mirei had there been more things to say, but I rarely come to such events prepared.
Having just two members per lane compared to the three in Osaka turned out to be a boon. Instead of a continuous stream of fans, one would spend their time in each booth alone (leading to less confused members). There was also ample time to express quite a bit, such that I’d had trouble coming up with things to say.
Mirei was positioned first in the handshake booth. Both Amita and her were as jumpy as you’d expect of their age. Didn’t have anything to say, so took the opportunity to reintroduce myself. They appeared to remember me vaguely after mentioning Singapore such that they nodded in response to bringing up Osaka. Kanou Kaede was pleasant as usual. When compared to the previous experience, Goto Aya was in a surprisingly good mood today so didn’t regret using a ticket for the lane. On hearing that I was from Singapore she started a long rant about the Singapore Merlion while emoting a spewing motion.
Though I wasn’t quite what to say, the final handshake coupon was used again for the Mirei and Amita lane. Mirei seemed quite surprised to see me make a return, since few others had come around more than once (you could immediately come around after a handshake back into the individual queues at this point), replied that it was because she was so pretty. She laughed. Told Amita that I had came down last year to see them too, but wasn’t able to shake hands with them then, to which she answered “but you’re here now”. She finished off by asking me to come visit again next year.
With that done I made my way over to Tokyo Dome at Suidobashi for the Fairies event. The girls would be holding two mini-lives, each followed by a handshake session at LaQua this afternoon. Unfortunately, attending the SUPER☆GiRLS handshake session meant that I would miss the first Fairies live.
The event was set up to promote Fairies new single White Angel, which was interestingly their first non-double A-side. There were two ongoing queues at the event, one that lead up to the stage where Fairies were and another toward a booth that had been set up beside the stage to sell copies of the single on the spot. Each copy entitled you to a handshake voucher for all the members and a limited edition photograph. The handshakes for the first session was still underway.
Got a message from Yan asking where I was at, and that he’ll come down too. He arrived soon enough. As before Yan offered to handle the camera while I queued up for the booth, which meant plenty of pictures of Fairies’ fans, and nearly none of Fairies themselves, save the one cropped out below. Fairies is especially interesting in that it is one group where the demographic of its target audience overlaps that of the members themselves.
Unlike other such events, both photography and video were allowed. All the staff requested was that flash was not used, so as not to distract the event. They had one person patrol the area with a no flash photography sign. The rest of the fans had certainly come prepared, with video equipment of all sorts.
Bought one copy of White Angel’s CD+DVD and their special event only edition, thinking that I’d get a couple tickets, one for the current event and another for the second live later. The event edition was especially worthwhile since apart from the CD, it also included a photo album, all for just 1,000 yen. In all honesty, would still had purchased their CDs even if there was no greeting session as payment for their performances. It would be quite sad if they were to perform for free wouldn’t it? I guess they were banking on more people thinking like that.
As mentioned above, any purchase also entitled you to a limited edition photograph of one of the members. You could pick out one of your liking from any of the available designs. There was one set of pictures, for each mini-live event that Fairies would perform. Today was the second last show, so you could pick from any of the past 5 photo sets. Yes, they weren’t random. Blows your mind. It is strange that even with all these benefits thought, that their sales figures aren’t doing too well.
Some of the customers stood there for the longest time deciding which photographs to choose, they weren’t urged to move on at all. In fact, Fairies staff seemed like the nicest I’ve ever met. Not wishing to hold up the queue myself, I simply picked out the two most recent Shimomura Miki photos. For some reason the person managing the booth even urged the staff there to pass me another 2 handshake tickets on top of the two I was already given.
With the tickets in hand, I ran off to find some shelter outside the fast food restaurants surrounding the venue. It was really coming down. Here I bumped into two young women, Fairies fans who were taking cover there too. Asking if I had gone for the handshake yet, they pointed out that I really had ought to join the other queue since it was about to end soon. Heeding their advice, I ran off to do so.
Incidentally, this round of handshakes with the members was pretty rushed. Amusing, rather than the typical men in suits, or the rude burly security guards you get at such events in Japan or Singapore accordingly, Fairies’ security staff consisted entirely out of women. The reason probably being that you didn’t want the women and children fans being manhandled, but the result was that you had again, the friendliest security staff ever. The one in charge even smiled and greeted fans as if she were one of the members herself.
Even if the age of the members were irrelevant, there is something especially surreal about meeting artistes for the first time. Most of the experience was a buzz, though I did make it a point to let Shimomura know I was a fan. Ito Momoka was overly zealous with her handshake and repeated thanks, while Hayashida Mahiro seemed to be pretty out there, I didn’t blame her. Despite the weather, all the members from Fairies were sporting shorts this afternoon.
While I had previous never paid any attention, Inoue Rikako stood out as being especially and genuinely friendly. It was no surprise that she had as many fans as she did among the crowd here today. Probably had the best impression of her today, apart from Miki of course.
Returning to shelter, I found the two Fairies fans still there. After a bit of idle conversation, they introduced themselves as Miyuki and Kozue. Learning that I was a foreigner, they asked if I had any plans after the event and suggested that we met for dinner. We exchanged numbers and agreed to meet back at the spot after the event. Unbeknownst at this time, the two would lead to one of the most novel experiences in Japan.
Found Yan not far away and I took the time between shows to get something to eat from the adjacent bakery. Had yet to have lunch or breakfast. Yan was still in the process of saving money, so he got something to drink from a nearby supermarket instead.
Thanks to the weather, we didn’t feel any urgency to leave the spot and find a place to watch the live, such that by the time we actually did, there wouldn’t be any good spots left. The sea of umbrellas, meant that it would be impossible to catch a glimpse from the first floor, so we settled for a place on the second floor of LaQua instead.
It was immediately apparent why few people stood there, since the trees blocked nearly the entire view. This was further worsened by a man in front of us and his large umbrella. About midway through, he realized that he was blocking everyone else though, and folded it. He could had really just lifted it higher.
Given the poor conditions, a lot of the people gave up and left. It wasn’t any better on the ground, where you could see young fans who had arrived late scurrying about trying to find a possible vantage point, without much success. One strange man had the wise idea of boarding the adjacent merry-go-round to try to catch a better view. He looked disappointed after.
With the trees obscuring our entire view, couldn’t really make out much of what was happening. Their new single, White Angel was quite catchy indeed though, kind of like a Japanese version of Roly Poly.
At his request, passed Yan one of the remaining 3 handshake tickets for the next round. Didn’t know what I’d do with as many tickets anyway. Rather than hurry up the fans, we were actually given more time for the later session.
After, we found Miyuki and Kozue at the shelter. Both Miyuki and myself still had one more ticket to go each, so we went for yet another round. Chatting while in line, learned that she was a Miria fan among other things.
The second and third rounds with the members were pleasant. On hindsight, it would had been amusing to know what Miyuki had said to the members, you’d learn why later. When I came around with Yan, Miki saw me and remarked “second time”, she repeated and went “third time” for when I went with Miyuki. I guess that there were so few Fairies fans, much less non-loli fans that it would be easy to remember faces easily. Hope that the repetition wasn’t creepy though. In my defense, I had really only intended for 2 tickets.
Some time after it got dark, the festive lighting was turned on, causing a unanimous exclamation from the audience. It was quite beautiful indeed. I’ve always hoped to catch the Christmas illumination in Japan, but had always visited either too early or late.
Met back up with Yan and Kozue at the shelter when we were done. The two suggested that we have dinner at the Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet just there, it should had been an omen of things to come. Having never step foot in a Japanese KFC before, the two recommended that we try the chicken wrap.
Upon inquiring, would learn that they frequented KFC pretty often. The two seemed pretty strapped for cash, though we rationalized it as symptomatic of students. Still, there were many awkward signs that should had pointed to something amiss, which I again presumed to be just typical of them being wota.
The first half hour of dinner seemed normal enough as we got to know each other better through small talk. The two were especially interested in where we were from, why we were in Japan and what we did. At the same time we learned that Miyuki worked for a railway company, while Kozue was still studying in university.
Things started to take a turn for the weird though when the topic of religion was brought up. Asking about our religious affiliations, I made the poor decision of replying that I was a free-thinker, since I didn’t know how to explain the concept of agnosticism in Japanese. That probably wouldn’t had been any better though.
The two explained that they were Buddhists. Now, as a disclaimer, I’ve got nothing against Buddhism in the original sense of the word. The Dalai Lama for example, makes some of the most sense. Miyuki went about on a long rant about how she used to lead a pretty depressing life due to her low grades in school, poor sociability and general negativity. She explained how turning to Buddhism had turned her life around and made her “happy”, a word she repeated many times.
Personally, I’ve been into some dire situations in the past that would make even your average Korean and Chinese soaps look like a walk in the park, these were of course overcome with nothing short of resilience and lots of hard work. Still, without judging too much, one could empathize with how passionately she was describing them.
The two went on to say that they prayed for hours each day, for their happiness, and the happiness of Japan. Seems they were part of some sort of Buddhist community. At this point Miyuki took out a newspaper cutting from her bag (from among many others) to talk about her Buddhist “leader”. She was really enthusiastic about describing her religion and her leader. Kozue was probably the more socially conscious of the two, she noticed our disinterest, though was encouraged by Miyuki to help support her claims.
At some point they let loose the word “Kenshokai” slip. I took this opportunity to Google it on the spot. This of course lead immediately to descriptions of Nichiren Kenshokai as nothing short of an ultra-right wing charismatic Buddhist cult. Most worryingly of course were the links to violence and parallels to Aum Shinrikyo. It dawned on me as to what a situation we had actually gotten ourselves into. Definitely didn’t want to offend them in any way.
They explained that the reason why the world was in such a messed up state was because not enough people were praying. Part of me found amusement in the scenario in front of us but for the most part it was quite a unreal daze. I had expected the two to be perhaps a bit strange (in a wota way) but never would I fathom them to be cultist. Yan seemed to be the more aware one in this situation, since by his own accounts, he is already part of an equivalent cult in Singapore.
This meant that the two would spend most of their efforts trying to focus on converting me to their cause. Still, the two women explained that the religions in our country were “ineffective” and that only by praying with them, the rest of the world could be saved. The Kenshokai of course believed that was some sort of impending disaster in the world and their leader would eventually rise to lead the remnants of society.
Miyuki urged that we go pray with them. I laughed it off at first, but they were dead serious. They repeated “let’s go”, except this time with “now”. Turned out that their cultist center was nearby. Thinking of the best way to turn down this offer, without offending them, I eventually settled on telling Miyuki that while I felt happy for her that she found happiness this way, I had my own beliefs.
She took it surprisingly well and Kozue had grown quite tired of backing her up at this point too, so eventually she gave up. She ended by saying that today she “planted the seeds of happiness” in us. We left awkwardly soon after.
Waving the two girls off as they indeed went to pray, or perhaps search for more victims, I breathed a sigh of relief. But this was minimal to the amount of confusion and amusement as to what had just happened. Looking back, I had regretted not asking for a photo at least. It would had been gold. In all my trips, this was the first time being invited to a Japanese cult.
It was storming more heavily now so more than ever such that we were getting quite drenched. I joked that perhaps the heavens was upset at our lack of faith. Thankfully, having stayed at Suidobashi for that two weeks back in 2010 meant that I’d be pretty familiar with the place, so we stuck to as much shelter as we could until the train station. Threw the camera into Yan’s bag, since as much as the camera claimed to be weather sealed, pretty sure the 50mm wasn’t.
There, we took a couple stops down to Akihabara where Yan was staying. He had somehow managed to leave his without an umbrella this day so had to borrow mine to get back to his hostel to pick up one. In the meantime, I looked around the Yodobashi Camera outlet beside the station.
Yan was interested in checking out the cameras there, so went to scout out some in advance. Apart from being a little too small for most hands, the Pentax Q10 was a particularly promising camera. As with just about any modern camera these days, the images were decent. But more importantly, the kit lens it came with had a pretty diverse range, managed to focus surprisingly quickly and the small size meant that it’d be great for travel.
Went he finally made his return, Yan seemed more keen on picking up an Olympus OM-D though, which was basically a E-P1 (with all its shortcomings) packed into a heavier body, thus negating its only plus. He explained that Takeuchi Miyu had recently purchased a Pen.
We parted ways soon after. Albeit tiring, today had been an interesting day, with unexpected occurrences. Was glad to return to (what little) comforts of the apartment though, since had been drenched since earlier and despite hunger, wouldn’t be leaving again this evening. Thankfully, still had some supplies left over from Don Quijote.
Spent the rest of the evening all the way until the wee hours of the morning fiddling around with the camera. Somehow it had gotten unlocked while in Yan’s bag and beyond the master dial, none of the buttons were functioning now. There was also the possibility of the rain being the cause, though I feared the thought of that. Sadly, any efforts to overcome this were in vain. Definitely wrecking up on the damages this trip.