I’m in the middle of a long-ass chronicling of my Japan trip (note: you can buy the whole travelogue on Amazon). However, I wanted to get up the one about the Morning Musume portion for the people at Hello!Online. So here it is. I’ll post separately with the whole shebang in the near future.
I checked out of my Akasaka hotel and took the train to Kanda, the home of my next hotel. Kanda’s not an area I’ve ever spent time in before, but it’s very close to Akihabara. The walk from the station was a little confusing, but was nothing compared to my first night in Osaka. I dropped off my bags and headed to Shiodome for the event. Luckily, that station was closer than the one I got off on before.
I took the JR train, meaning I was above-ground and could take in the sights. Had I more time on this trip, I may have just rode the rails a bit, as there’s some joy to being an odd duck on Japanese public transit.
The Shiodome is in the southeast of Tokyo, near water. But it’s got skyscrapers everywhere, which makes it a little tough to navigate. I didn’t do myself many favors with my vague directions, though I at least gave myself plenty of time.
The area seemed a little deserted, until I got to the Belle Salle building. I had to go downstairs, and was assaulted with a rainbow of apparel. I couldn’t believe all the different momusu shirts and accessories there – a far cry from me having to print my own custom shirt due to lack of options in the US.
I approached a cool looking guy who had a sign, and asked him how I could buy tickets. My broken Japanese and his broken English weren’t a fit, so I moved on. I was luckier with the next group. They asked who I wanted. I pointed to my shirt, which had Eripon, Maa-chan, Riho and Kudo on it. They asked if I wanted picture or “action.” I noticed two types of tickets. Previously, I thought picture tickets were nontransferable. They led me to believe they were fine.
I asked “Ikura?” (How much?) The guy struggled. He asked me the same question. I said, “Gaijindesu. Wakarimasen.” (I’m a foreigner. I don’t know) He started to get a bunch of Maa-chan tickets. I said no, I wanted one of each, and a picture. We agreed on 15,000 yen (appx. $150) for handshake tickets with each girl, and a Maa-chan two-shot ticket. Could I have gotten a better deal? Maybe. Should I have tried to get him to throw in a Zukki or something? Perhaps. But I walked away happy with my five tickets.
I went to the bathroom to check myself. Lots of guys in there were primping. Some were even brushing their teeth. I washed my hands and left.
I kind of mingled, such as it was. I inspected my tickets. Turns out, they were for a variety of times. I hadn’t planned on this being an all-day affair. The website I used for reference said 12:40 – 1:40, but that turned out to be the 2-shot times. I didn’t have much else planned – save for maybe meeting up with my French friend in Akiba later – so it was no big deal.
I talked to a guy whose blue jacket covered a Kudo Halloween/birthday shirt. We communicated well. There was a younger girl with him, who I thought was his daughter. She didn’t talk much. He had a picture of him with several members; I later find out they did 3-shots and 6-shots(?) earlier. He helped me out, and before too long I went to line up on the stairs for my picture.
At the appointed time, we started filing in. The first thing you see in this large room is a staffed table with a present bin. I had printed out custom shirts for each of the four girls on it, and put them in envelopes along with a signed headshot. I gave them the envelope for Maa-chan, and later deposited the other three.
Each member had a walled cube with staff in front of it. Their signs were color-coded to make things easier. It was in the order you’d expect: Sayu first, then Fuku-chan and the rest of 9th gen, followed by Harunan and the rest of 10th gen then Sakura. The three recent singles were piped in. It seemed like they mostly played the instrumental versions, though that could have just been timing.
I was second in line for Maa-chan. The first was a girl in a Maa-chan shirt and armbands. She told me she was from Thailand. The girl behind me was kind of freaking out. I had her take deep breaths. Looking around, just about everyone seemed pretty nervous.
There were no doors on the cube, so I could see when Maa-chan entered. She was jumping around a bit, loosening up. We put our stuff on a table, then the first girl was about to go in. The staff asked her what pose she wanted, and she said something. I had thought about which pose to do, but decided to just let Maa-chan decide. I told the staff I didn’t have a pose picked out – something that I don’t know how to say in Japanese.
I walk in, and she’s sitting down. She’s wearing the white lacy outfit from the 笑顔の君は太陽さ MV (which is what they all wore).
I say “konnichiwa,” and she looks surprised to see me.
She does the off-hand victory sign pose, which I mimic. I lean into her a bit and smile.
SNAP. I get up.
She says something to me like “arigato.” Since I know I’m seeing her later I say “Jaa, mata.” (a casual exit like “see you later”)
I almost leave without my Poloroid. I take it and exit the same way I came in.
It’s not the best picture of me, but Maa-chan of course looks great and that’s what matters. Her skin is so flawless. I’m honestly surprised how grown-up she looks. Before leaving the hall for the lobby, I see the girl who was behind me. I ask to see her picture. The pose they did was “sharing a secret” which I really liked. I show her mine and she says, “Kawaii” (cute).
Now I had some time before the first handshake. I needed a snack, having not brought anything due to assuming I’d only be here an hour or two. Tokyo is usually chock full of options, but this area not so much. I asked a staff member on the ground floor, “Conbiniwa doko deska?” (Where is a convenience store?) He said he was new and didn’t know.
I went back the way I came. One skyscraper had some restaurants so I went in. On B2 I found a Famima – a convenience store I loved when it was in our neighborhood in LA. I grabbed some pre-packaged peanut butter sandwiches, an egg-salad sandwich, a water, a green tea, and a Calorie Mate. That should hold me. I went back to the venue, munching my egg sandwich along the way.
I sat on the floor in the waiting room, surrounded by others. I’ll mention I was literally the only white person I saw during the entire event, which is fine with me. I drank my tea and took a pic of the Poloroid. Others snacked, mostly just having rice balls or other small things.
The schoolgirl next to me starting to choke a bit. I asked her “Daijobu deska?” (are you okay?) She said “Daijobu des yo.” I started to talk to her and her friend. They were very cute and nice. She liked Kudo best; her friend was for Eripon. I showed them my shirt, which had both on it, then showed them my Maa-chan pic. We talked about our favorite song and stuff. I try to get them to get up and do the What Is Love? Dance with me. We speak some Japanese, some English. It was nice to communicate. The Eripon girl was getting nervous, despite having been to 5 events. When it was getting to be time, I left them with a wave to line up.
It’s funny how many of the people were so hardcore into one member. Between Kudo, Riho and Maa-chan, I just can’t decide. Maa-chan is who I look at most in YouTube videos because she’s so damn unpredictable. However, I love how professional Kudo is, and her switching between tomboy and beautiful model is amazing. Then there’s Riho, who is impossible to look away from during performances.
Another observation is how girls in skirts sit on the floor. They essentially sit on their shins/calves, with their feet behind their butts. Not sure how they do it. But I was glad to see so many girls at the event; I feared it would just be slightly creepy older men (even older and creepier than me!).
I’m fifth in line to shake Maa-chan’s hand. There’s a staff member in there with her who has a stopwatch. I count. The first guy basically rushes himself out. Others stay longer. At about 8 seconds the staff touches their shoulder. At 10, they’ve gotta go.
I go in. Maa-chan is behind a table, looking inquisitive and attentive.
I say, “I came from America to see you.” She thanks me.
I say, “You are my favorite member.” She thanks me again.
I honestly don’t remember the handshake, except that it took place.
It’s time for me to go. As I leave, I say, “Bye-bi!” She gives me a nice, “Bye-bi!” too, which was awesome for me. I left out the exit (not the same way I came in like I did for pictures) with a dopey grin on my face. I looked at other people filing out, and they had similar expressions.
Now another hour before my Riho handshake. I walk the 10 minutes to the Starbucks near the Famima, hoping to use their wifi to email my friend Arno and tell him I’ll be here basically all day. I order a hot cocoa and ask “Wifi desuka?” They give me a pamphlet, which I read while I wait for my drink. I have to register for a Starbucks wifi account. The kicker: You need to reply to the email confirmation first. And of course, if you don’t have wifi access, you can’t check your email. So much for that…
I’m third in line for the Riho handshake. While we wait, I hear a shriek of “AYUMI!!!” There’s no doubt in my mind it’s Maa-chan. I laugh. Soon after, we begin.
When I go in, Riho is stunning. Her expression looks pleased to see me. I go, “Rihoriho-san!” and shake her hand. I tell her, “I come from America to see you.” She doesn’t understand. That throws me a bit. I repeat. Maybe she gets it now. She’s still holding onto my hand. Her skin is so soft.
I tell her “Dancingu. Singingu. Sugio!” I’m getting pushed out. Riho is not letting go of my hand. Finally she does. As I walk away, we hold eye contact for longer than one would expect.
I think to myself, “Is Riho sweet on me?!”
I have over 2 hours until group 4, which is my time to shake hands with Eripon and Duu. That gives me ample time to go check into my hotel room. Finding the train station again proves very difficult, though. All these skyscrapers obscure my view. I overshoot it, then when I finally find it I’m not sure where my train is and have to go into the ticket office to ask.
I got in my room, and discovered my friend had gone to Akiba to look for me. D’oh. I felt crappy. I called my wife over wifi to talk a bit, then soon headed back out.
I fortunately found the Belle Salle building easily, despite the darkness. Inside, the vibe had changed a lot. Gone were most of the girls, replaced with older men. This led to a shift in popularity as well. Earlier on, I was surprised how many people lined up for Harunan. Her line was shorter later in the day, meaning she’s more popular with girls than men. To a lesser extent, the same was true with Zukki. The opposite seemed true for Ayumi, however; she had much longer lines later on.
I decided to go to Eripon first. I see a guy in line for Zukki with a crazy green monster costume, not unlike the goofy costumes Team Green has been known to wear.
I shake Eripon’s hand. I say “Eripon wa strongu style des!” (Eripon is strong style) I flex my bicep. “Strong style!” She says “Sugoi!” I motion for her to flex. She gives me a baby flex; her sleeves aren’t fully see-through anyway.
That’s my time. On the out, I say, “Gambatte Erina!” I correct myself. “Gambatte Ikuta!” (Work hard/good luck Ikuta!). She smiles and raises a fist.
I don’t feel particularly good about that interaction, but am not too broken up over it either. Besides, I have Duu to look forward to! I show my ticket to get back into the lines instead of exiting the room.
Kudo’s line is super long at this point. Several of them are. I guess people kind of take their time going in, composing themselves or whatever. I would say I had a dozen people in front of me at that point. Of course, that means I was only waiting about two minutes.
I see Kudo, and she is beautiful. It’s been a long day, but she acts like I’m the first person she’s seen.
I tell her I’m an American, in Japanese this time (“Amerikajin desu.”). She thanks me for coming.
I grab her hand with both of mine for some reason.
She sees her face on my shirt and points to it – the only of the four to acknowledge it.
I nod, and explain in Japanglish how I made it, and gave her one as a present to the staff.
It’s time for me to go. I give her an “Otsukaresamadeshita” on my way out – basically thanking her for her hard work – and I get a slightly confused, slightly amused look in return. Either she wasn’t expecting that from me, or I misused it. Either way, I had a great impression of her, and it was a great way to cap off the event.
Though I was a little put off by my visit to the tiny Osaka Hello! Project Store, I rushed out to hit up the Akihabara H!P Store to check it out and maybe get a few commemorating photos. It closed at 8, though, and I was leaving Belle Salle about 7:20.
I found the station fast this time – retracing my steps – and Akiba wasn’t many stops away. Despite it being 4 years since I’d been there and having never actually gone to the H!P store, my beeline was flawless.
Getting off the elevator at the 6th floor, this is what I’m talking about! This was a roomy, cheerful space. The costume pieces all seemed to be from Berryz, who was celebrating its 10th anniversary, but they were still neat. There weren’t any English order sheets, but it was pretty self-explanatory. I’m glad I had learned how to write my name in Katakana (ジャステン リィパー) to sign on the sheet.
It’s kind of a drag that there isn’t more merch. The stock is 90% pictures. The one t-shirt they had was sold out in every size. It seemed to have less pictures than at Osaka, even, but I still found some things to get. I grabbed the group photo in the outfits they were today, and solo pics of the four girls I saw (it wasn’t until later that I realized I got both the headshot and body versions). I also grabbed Maa-chan and Duu in the boy-shirt and tie, because they’re adorable.
I watched the big screen showing concert footage while I waited – this was where the fan dance and singing performances were going to be tomorrow, but I’d be on a plane. When the guy brought my order, I received a free pic. I wanted Tamura Meimi after her great appearance on Hello Station, but she was sold out. I chose Momoko Tsugunaga, just because she’s so strange to me and I recognized her. I chatted with the clerk about going to the event and showed him my 2-shot (which fit nicely in the Momo photo bag). It’s nice to be able to converse with people in Japan, something I couldn’t really do the last 9 visits.
Things were already starting to shut down in Akiba – 8pm on a Saturday. I walked around a bit, though, despite the windy cold. It’s kind of a drag there are stores and even an official café dedicated to AKB 48, but my idol group gets no love. I was tempted to get a blu-Ray of Reina’s graduation since I watch it so much off a web-video version, but $45 was a bit steep. I could have maybe found some places selling it and other things used, but I was pretty exhausted. After walking around a bit more and watching some street musicians, I took the train one stop back to my hotel and called it a night.
Some final thoughts on the Morning Musume leg of my trip. I had an awesome time. These girls and the people behind them really know what they’re doing. Meeting each one of them was super cool. I’m actually glad I had time in between to really process each meeting. And getting ample breaks probably helps them keep their spirits and energy levels up.
Next time I’d try to meet them all, and of course try to coincide my trip with catching a concert, rather than lucking into an event that piggybacked my time over there. And I’d probably barter a bit more for price. But really, it was well worth it to me. The girls made me feel special. And yeah, maybe part of it was that they don’t get a lot of decent-looking, in-shape white dudes rolling through the line, so I was something of a novelty. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that is their goal with every person whom they meet. It makes you care for them even more.