Uchida Mayumi strikes twice14 March, 2011 by Chad
This evening, we had the AKB48 Team K theater performance to attend but the rest of the day was free. Last night, we learned from Wilson that he had not been to the Meiji Shrine before despite his numerous trips to Tokyo. So we went down to Harajuku first thing in the morning to fix that.
Harajuku Station is at the opposite end of Tokyo and about half an hour away from our hotel. Since we would be hitting up quite a few places I suggested getting Tokunai passes for the day. 730 yen for unlimited bus and train rides within central Tokyo.
Personally been to Meiji quite a few times already so not too many photos here on my part. Instead, you can click here for a more detailed writeup on the Meiji Jingu.
Since we were already here and our schedules were far more relaxed in Tokyo, thought we’d might as well drop by Takeshita and Harajuku streets for a look.
Takeshita hardly ever changes, it’s always the same few outlets there selling teenage clothing. But the shops selling bootleg Johnny’s merchandise have now expanded their portfolio to include AKB48 too.
Over at Harajuku street, we chanced upon this curious building that I don’t remember coming across before. The entire exterior was painted in brightly colored motifs.
It turned out to be a contemporary art gallery cum cafe. Budding art students could rent spaces ranging from a tiny part of a wall, all the way to entire rooms for display their works. Prices started from 525 yen ($8) a day for a small square on the wall, so I’m not even going to guess how much an entire room cost.
Artists offset the cost by selling some prints or handmade items. Still, considering the high traffic by artsy types here $8 a day seemed like a real steal when compared to the couple hundred I had to pay in Singapore for a single board space in the middle of nowhere for my own portfolio show more than half a decade ago.
Honestly, if you want value for money. I recommend renting one of those capsule type boxes (more about them below) for your own installation. Though you wouldn’t have the satisfaction of rubbing your artworks in the face of your fellow peers. Note: If you decide to use that idea for your own art show, do give me a shout out.
The top floor of the art gallery was converted into an affordable cafe and bar which even the poorest of art students could find solace in. What was stranger was the hidden okonomiyaki restaurant in the backyard between the gallery’s two buildings.
Past the okonomiyaki place was a second gallery building that was still under construction. That didn’t stop people from displaying stuff inside already.
Lost our bearing exiting from the back of the place and made a wrong turn back towards Takeshita Dori. Along the way we chanced upon this shop selling just pancakes. There was a long queue of women developing outside for their maple drenched lunch.
It was lunch break at the nearby art college too and the students all sat outside the opposite convenience store eating cup noodles. Looks like regardless of country, artists have to accept a life of poverty.
I wanted to get some decent pasta back here in Tokyo so we looked around for a suitable place. There are tons of pasta shops in the Harajuku area. But then we came across this Freshness Burger and decided to go for it instead, since Yan hadn’t had the opportunity to try the real deal before.
Usually at Freshness Burger, there’s a jug of water and paper cups where all the paper napkins are for you to help yourself. But for some reason this really shy staff who was working behind the kitchen actually came out to bring us some water before disappearing back behind the corner. Cute. She looked like a younger, dorkier Kojima Haruna, if that was even possible.
Yan and I had the classic burger of course. Wilson tried the teriyaki but later mentioned that classic was the way to go. Yan described it as being simply different from its Singapore counterpart. The patty was tastier and you just couldn’t get greens as fresh in Singapore.
During lunch, the topic of what Wilson was to do while we went idoling came up. He was going to hang around Shinjuku for the evening so I suggested dropping by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building for its free panoramic view of the city. He decided he’d give that a try later.
Next we headed for Nakano Broadway, another well known otaku haven. While we were alighting from the train at Shinjuku, Yan spotted what was undeniably AKB48’s Uchida Mayumi boarding. She was wearing those large nerd specs but her face and hair gave her away. That and the fact that Uchida’s way tiny, even by Japanese standards. It was turning out to be a pretty interesting day.
Anyways at some point of my quest to try out all the different flavors I ended up spilling Calpis all over myself like an idiot so Yan had to take over the photo taking here.
Just past the Nakano Sun Mall stretch of street is the entrance to Nakano Broadway, which is well known heaven for purchasing second hand otaku goods. Not just the anime and figurine otaku stuff you see all over Akihabara either. Here at Nakano Broadway you’ll find shops selling any conceivable thing you could obsess over, original animation cells, antique trinkets, enka records, yo-yos and magazines from the 1960s were just some of the niche items here that had entire stores just dedicated to them.
In recent years, the entire broadway has been taken over by just a few names. Though I have my suspicions that they’re all owned by the same company. There’s Mandarake, which owns all of the anime and game related shops, while Trio has branches here for each musical obsession like Visual Kei, Johnny’s, Hello Project and now, AKB48.
Failing that, there’s a whole bunch of capsule type shops where people can rent a display from 2100 yen ($32) a month to stuff whatever they had for sale inside.
The reason why we were here though was to visit the Trio2 store here. Trio2 houses all the AKB48 related merchandise together with all their normal second hand books and magazines. If you don’t mind purchasing photo books without their bonus items items you can get them at about 1/2 to 2/3rds their original price here. They also sell original posters from just about any movie, advertisement or promotion, some of them autographed.
AKB48 has a large corner at the back of the shop, with its own staffing. Shops like Trio profit from AKB48’s recent popularity, as the combination of the random factor involved in their goods and the intentionally limited supply has lead to people willing to pay obscene prices for relics of their favorite idols.
Basically what Mandarake and Trio does is repossesses items from people and sell them off at higher prices. So you can sell off all your accumulated treasures and switch to your next obsession. You’ll see the cash exchange center just a couple shops down from Trio2.
Yan and I came down to check out their supply of AKB48 photographs here. At any point of time, the place is packed with lots of other people snatching up the stuff too. As expected, the photos here weren’t cheap (since they had overhead costs to take care off), unless you were supporting the least popular of girls. Which is why people turn to auctions to get their stuff. Regardless, all of the better photos were raided daily by the locals so there wasn’t much to find here today.
After Nakano, Yan and I headed back to Akihabara while Wilson dropped off at Shinjuku for the Government Building. First matter was to get our tickets for the evening’s performance, which we did. Then a stop at a cobbler to get a “slip cut”, Japanese English for those padded inner backings for shoes as my feet were still hurting like hell.
We still had time before the show for a quick bite at a kebab store near the JR Akihabara Station. There were two kebab carts beside the station, one selling beef and the other selling chicken kebabs. Apart from the two different sizes and the different combination of sauces you could select, there weren’t too many other options.
The beef one saw really good business while everyone avoided the other. Though it probably wasn’t because the chicken was bad per say but the Japanese just preferred beef. The truth is, both stores were owned by the same person anyways.
During one of our discussions, I realized that the only girl I was actively supporting in today’s Team K show was Kikuchi Ayaka. But Yan was a big fan of Oshima Yuko and especially Nito Moeno, so it was his lucky day. Still, any opportunity to see AKB48 at all was deeply cherished.
Even before AKB48 started getting really popular, I had failed to get stage tickets during past two visits to Tokyo. But these days it was nearly impossible. With AKB48’s widespread success, all sorts of people were coming down just to see what the fuss was all about. In fact recent reports from the theater manager estimate that there were 25,000 ballots each day for the show’s 250 tickets.
I’m not even going to try to explain that evening’s experience in plain text. Instead, I’ll leave you with this warning.
The following paragraphs will make little sense to normal human beings.
When they announced our turn to enter the theater the rest of the fans waiting outside actually clapped. Super Enpou were given seats on the far left of the first row. Putting us just 3 feet from the stage!
Other than us, there were another 3 Korean guys watching the performance today. They were completely silent and looked disappointed throughout the whole concert, not sure what they were doing there. Complete waste of space.
But the thing is, even for the normal seats less than half of those attending seemed like actual fans. The rest were random families and middle aged folk who just came to learn what AKB48 was. This was really sad since there were hardly anyone cheering at all. Just sitting/standing there and staring eerily. Yan and I were also the only ones brandishing glowsticks among the audience except one guy at the other end of the hall.
Despite being seated on the gaijin row, I cheered wildly during the overture and at every opportunity, this surprised one of the cameramen beside us so much that he actually turned around to record me for a while. Not sure why but probably as a mental note not to let me near any of the members in the future.
Over the music of the first song, Yan shouted “Fresh Lemon!” while urging me to look at the back of the stage. You don’t think I wouldn’t notice my favorite research student would you? Haruna’s pet kenkyuusei was subbing in for Minegishi’s spot in group songs today, giving me another fave to cheer wildly for. You can be sure I followed along to Lemon-san’s silly intro pitch too and the Korean guy turned around and gave me a dirty look.
Fujie had her hair dyed golden orange which kind of surprised everyone. She explained during her introduction that it was for her role in the upcoming new season of Hancho. Yuko looked incredibly tired throughout the concert, Itano too but that’s how she always looks. Umeda was dancing as energetically as ever while Yonezawa maintained the same grin throughout the show like she was high on oxygen.
Unfortunately for Yan, Moeno was positioned on the other side of the stage for the entirety of the concert and thus out of sight. Truth is, when you’re that close to the stage, you don’t get a very large field of view (not that that’s a bad thing).
Instead, you choose your favorite out of the 2 or 3 members standing right in front of you at any point of time and grin broadly. Then, from time to time, they smile back. It’s probably the most polite thing to do when you consider the alternative of ignoring whoever is right there trying her best, to catch a glimpse of someone far off.
Uchida, Kikuchi and Fujie hung around our side of the stage for most of the show, which was fine by me. The later two interacted the most with us that night. One of the benefits of being among the few people in the audience to show some interest I guess.
During the last stage song, the girls threw a bunch of streamers to the audience and by coincidence Kikuchi threw hers to me. They sung the remainder of the song while connected to the fans by the thread. Touching…in a creepy wota way. Oh no!
Like other AKB48 stage performance, we got to meet the girls personally during the “hi-touch” session on the way out. The girls stood arranged alphabetically outside to greet the fans leaving the theater, Akimoto, Itano, Uchida, Umeda, Oshima, Kikuchi and so forth. Most of the uncles and aunties probably didn’t know who most of these strange people standing beside Itano and Yuko were so the line moved quickly.
When it came to Uchida’s turn, before I could say anything she was slightly startled (as was I subsequently) and then she actually said “ohisashiburi” (long time no see) happily. Not everyday an idol remembers you. Max brownie points to Uchida Mayumi.
We didn’t have the smarts to stay around inside the theater longer, so we got out at a bad time and I was pushed past some of the later members with just a high five and thank you, making sure to stand steadfast for Kikuchi and Miorin. The only person that I ended up missing completely was Mori Anna, who was spacing out into the distance when I was pushed past the line.
The rest of the evening was of course spent reminiscing excitedly about the day’s happenings and wondering when we’d get to experience such awesomeness again. We also headed downstairs for a look at the traders and to say hi to some of the guys we met there yesterday.
But alas, regardless of their own faves most of them here just wanted to trade for the valuable stuff so that they could in turn profit for it. Taking us for fools perhaps. I swear I’d seen some of them hanging around Trio this afternoon.
That night we were in for a big shock…
Tickets for Miorin’s birthday celebration tomorrow!Click here to search CDJapan for official AKB48 goods.
Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.