Day 3 of the spring break in Japan with MJ. Today was the day for our Morning Musume Pika Pika concert in Tokyo. As usual we woke up earlier for breakfast before heading to our first destination. Since commercial areas in Tokyo aren’t open till 10 or 11 am, we were to visit Kichijoji first this morning. Kichijoji is home of the Studio Ghibli Museum.
Kichijoji is a small neighborhood in Musashino near Shinjuku. We took a direct train on the JR Sobu line to Shinjuku and while Kichijoji was probably accessibly by foot from Shinjuku, we switched to a train on the Chuo line for Kichijoji station.
Our destination was to be Inokashira Park. We exited from the south exit of the station and with the park being considerably larger than the station, we headed straight in the direction. After only a 5 minutes walk, we were greeted by the same steel birds that marked the entrance to Koganei Park.
There was a zoo inside the park that wasn’t open yet. Most people in the park seemed to be simply passing through, residents on their way to work. It must be real nice, being able to pass through such a beautiful scene each morning.
We got some drinks from a vending machine by the bridge, not to drink but rather to keep our hands warm. After which, MJ proceeded to take more facebook photos at the bridge.
A small shrine on the lake bearing the Hojo clan emblem caught my attention. The whole shrine had a red theme going on.
Next to the shrine was a small house selling udon and soba. They kept a family of Akita’s. I counted at least 3. We didn’t stop there but continued walking. The park eventually broke out into a suburban street which we continued down.
Our original intention was to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum but MJ didn’t seem too keen. Despite 2 Lawson stores next to our hotel, we didn’t purchase the tickets ahead of time. We planned on getting tickets upon reaching Kichijoji but strangely there were no Lawsons anywhere in sight. We ended up arriving at the park empty handed. A real pity.
We made our way back, this time following the suburban road next to the park. Not long after, we chanced upon a large clearing in the park. There in the distance were blossoming Plum and Cherry trees.
We sat down at an adjacent bench to appreciate the view. A group of kindergartners accompanied by their teachers came by to pick up flower petals. A woman and her dog sat in the next bench eating mochi.
After our nature fix, we walked along the streets back in the direction of the station. We stopped to check out a traditional Kimono store that we had passed by on our way here. It was run by an elderly man.
Continuing on, we passed by another zoo. The one that the kids back in the park were headed to. We spotted a bus stop by the zoo and decided to take the bus instead of walking back to the station.
According to the signage, one of the buses went directly to Shinjuku, our next destination. However, the next two buses I asked didn’t so we decided to take the bus to Kichijoji station.
Other than a few property agents, most of the shops surrounding Kichijoji station were small food outlets, which was great for us since we were pretty starved by this point. Despite hating ramen, I decided to give in to MJ whims by eating at a ramen shop across the main road. Fortunately for him, this shop’s ticketing machine had photographs.
We turned in our tickets to the waiter and he passed us some coupons. This particular shop seemed rather commercialized. A coupon is given for each main. The coupons can be traded for sides or submitted to take part in a competition to win different prizes.
I found myself very fascinated by the transparent insulated jugs which the shop used. Combined with the cold weather, the chunks of ice within could stay frozen for hours. A far cry from the lukewarm water we get in Singapore.
I guess the main selling point of this store was the wide assortment of sauces and spices provided to customers. I didn’t used any though since ramen stock is usually too rich for my tastes as it is. Surprisingly though, the soup wasn’t too salty this time around.
After lunch, we headed to the adjacent Muji building. We did a quick breeze through the store and found nothing of interest apart from an amusing escalator sign so we headed to the basement instead. A thrift store was located here. Yesterday, I had developed an awful sore throat and needed to get some lozenges. Sadly, they had none.
A quick hop on the JR Chuo had us back at Shinjuku station. The Morning Musume concert would take place at a hall here but we still had a few hours to kill till then. MJ wanted to head there early to confirm the location of hall.
We passed by many small shops along the way and found no hall despite walking in the direction for more than 2 kilometers. We were convinced that we were lost too since none of the maps on the street showed any sign of our destination. We weren’t didn’t carry any maps this trip either, our only guide my memory of hall’s website map showing it 2 cm north-east of Shinjuku station.
After more walking, it turned out that we weren’t lost, the hall was just insanely far away. It pretty much bordered between Shinjuku and Shibuya. We stopped after the hall finally appeared on one of the street signs. With the location confirmed, we turned back to visit other stores around Shinjuku.
After an hour or so of browsing through stores with nothing bought, we decided to head back in the direction of the concert hall once again. This time with a better understanding of where it was located, we could cut through the side streets to reduce the distance.
We cut through Kabukicho. The district long touted as Japan’s largest red light district. Less probably goes on in Kabukicho than one would expect though, with the street mostly occupied by cabaret and host clubs. In these clubs, patrons can enjoy the company and conversation of host and hostesses at the cost of insanely priced liquor. A really competitive business. Upper class establishments make their home at Ginza and Roppongi.
But of course, not all shops in Kabukicho are innocent. Most of the shadier operatives these days rely on illegal Chinese and Koreans on tourist visas though with most of the real shops operating from Asakusa.
Took a quick stop at the next convenience store we passed by to finally get some lozenges. At close to $4, this pack of 10 Vicks was certainly costly but it saved me much suffering.
Eventually, we reached the location of the concert, Tokyo Kosei Nenkin Kaikan aka Wel City Tokyo. It’s a small obscure hotel that is closing down at the end of this month.
While I was responsible for introducing Morning Musume to MJ years ago. This was my first time seeing Morning Musume. And while my interest had wavered, he was still burning with otaku power. This was to be his second concert.
Outside the hotel, rabid fans gathered hours earlier. They threw sheets on the ground and had set up camps to trade photographs and other merchandise of the Morning Musume members. The lot primarily consisted of local men aged between 20 and 30, though I spotted two young woman inside the lobby.
We joined the queue to purchase exclusive merchandise for the concert. While we didn’t need to get anything, MJ had a whole list of requests from the Singaporean forum members of Hello Online (a fansite). He selflessly took the next 20 minutes of his and my time queuing up for their purchases.
It turned out, he missed a whole bunch of purchases from the list. It also turned out the list stretched as long as a Christmas list from an orphanage. With no conceivable way to carry all that stuff, we headed to the adjacent Freshness Burger to sort things out. This particular outlet was playing what sounded like prayer chants on their speakers.
I decided to try the hot dogs there. MJ decided to just get what I did. Since the burgers we tried yesterday were awesome, we were hopeful. I made the mistake of ordering another grossly overpriced drink, this time the Cherry Soda. It tasted like Panadol.
With expectations set way high, we were disappointed to find the hot dogs no different from the ones available at Mos Burger. They were however, cheaper than the burgers at only 350 yen each.
Most of the Morning Musume requests consisted of A4 sized pictures of the members printed on terribly poor quality paper. The pictures came sealed in envelopes so which member photo you received was completely random. There were 2 different versions of each member, a full body shot and a closeup shot. To my surprise, MJ proceeded to start opening the envelopes.
His logic was that the different forum members all wanted photographs of the particular Musume they idolized. This stumped my own logic since we could have pretty much ended up with photographs the members didn’t want but MJ insisted that we could trade the pictures with the other fans up front. It still spoils the suspense and mystery for the forum members. I’m sure they would have fun trading the photos between themselves too. Thankfully, out of the dozen pictures he unearthed, we got only 3 pictures of unpopular girls.
MJ returned to the queue for concert merchandise once again, I visited a vending machine to stock up on drinks for the concert. The queue was slightly shorter this time round so he soon returned with more stuff. He also had the good sense to purchase a concert tote bag to carry all the merchandise. The obscenely priced paper bag cost $10. I was hesitant to stand next to him and the glaring yellow bag. But since he actually helped subsidize part of my ticket to accompany him to the concert, I felt obliged to.
We tried trading the pictures of the 3 unpopular members, but no body wanted them. So MJ was stuck with them. We asked if the fans sold their pictures but they didn’t.
The sun was setting and it was nearing 5 pm, the time to start entering the concert hall. The fans began queuing at their own accord outside the hotel. There were multiple queues and we weren’t quite sure which to join so we picked one at random. Thankfully, it was the right queue. We got in quickly.
Inside the concert hall, there was another hour of wait till the concert was to start. It was a really small hall that could house at most 2000 people. As more people filled up the halls the people already inside began their preparations for the concert.
We were seated at the left side of the second row about 10 feet away from the stage. Two tall local middle aged men introduced themselves to us. I helped MJ translate. One of them was a Michishige Sayumi fan, the other a Tanaka Reina supporter. They asked us who we supported so I replied Michishige. Despite her total lack of vocal talent, she remains the only Morning Musume I’m still fond of on account of her wit.
We told them we came from Singapore and they were friendly about it. They asked if Morning Musume ever came to Singapore, they haven’t. The two middle aged men also asked if we were coming back tomorrow (because they were). They went on to adorn t-shirts of the idols they supported pink for Michishige and blue for Tanaka. To our amazement, the Tanaka fan also took out two giant traffic conducting wands, in pink. The budget pink glowsticks MJ and I purchased ahead in Singapore, paled in comparison.
More crazy people started to show up of course. Some had lanterns displaying the names of their favorite member, others an assortment of LEDs. One of the few female fans had a kamikaze jacket with another member’s name on it. The female fans weren’t any less scary than the guys. A salaryman in a suit sat down next to me and I half expected him to go crazy as well, but he turned out to be normal so I felt safer. As the seats filled up, we realized than surrounding us completely were Michishige fans. We created a large pink spot at the front of the hall.
Only when the concert started, did I realize how near to the stage we really were. Being able to see Morning Musume in person was certainly a different experience. But for the most part I didn’t know any of the songs much less the crazy chants, I did wave my glowsticks frantically to the rhythm though.
During the interlude, the girls broke out into toilet humor leaving many speechless. Then came time for Michishige’s solo performance, she appeared on stage and explained that as we all knew, she couldn’t sing. So instead she played her favorite music video on screen. Not exactly what you’d expect. Midway through the concert though, in what turned out to be a fortunate event, they performed a medley of their old songs which I could appreciate.
A creepy man on the first row spent the entire concert motioning toward Jun Jun, one of the two Morning Musume members from China. He constantly wrote messages for her on a small white board and held it up to her. Time passed quickly inside the hall though the really two tall fans in front of us served as a distraction.
Outside, the fans changed back into their regular clothing. They were still recognizable though from their otaku dress sense and the pink paper bags they carried. The streets were also filled with chatter about Morning Musume members. During that time, I left feeling I could sort of understand the charm of such concerts.
I guess one of the draws was being able to make eye contact with the idols that you have grown to love. Something I managed to do that day on quite a few occasions. For half the concert, Michishige was positioned on our side of the stage (the fans we were surrounded by probably knew this in advance). During those moments though, I could feel the general sense of disgust of the girls and having blended ourselves in a sea of pervy old men, I don’t blame them one bit.
As we walked back to Shinjuku station, most of the shops had already started to close. The experience still fresh in our minds, MJ and I discussed the I discussed the concert enthusiastically. I came to the realization, that had my ancestors stayed in Japan, I could very well had grown up to be an otaku.
We returned to Suidobashi, where everything else had closed by now. We settled for McDonalds, the only available source of food then. A visual kei concert had just ended at Tokyo Dome so we had the company of lots of women fans in funky outfits. We opted for the Texas Burger, which posters emblazoned the outlet but it turned out that it was no longer served so we tried the new promotional item instead, the California Burger. Despite the temperature being a single digit, a salaryman ordered a snowcone and had it in front of the store.
As with my past experience with McDonalds in Japan, the burger was awful. I would even go so far as to say that it was worst than the Singaporean counterpart to which unwillingly patronized often. We vowed never to have McDonalds in Japan again.
As I retire to my hotel room, I considered if any of our actions at the concert could had possibly come off as creepy. I have finally convinced myself that the concert was simply too far beyond my spectrum of understanding. Looking forward to the AKB48 concert next though.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.