Archive for the ‘Japan’ Category

Concerts, Japan, Pop Idols J-Pop Summit San Francisco 2015…Ssshh, Don’t Tell Wasamin I Was Flirting With Another Idol

Comments Off on J-Pop Summit San Francisco 2015…Ssshh, Don’t Tell Wasamin I Was Flirting With Another Idol

This year was the 7th Annual J-Pop Summit in San Francisco, and the 4th time I have attended in the last five years.  It has probably become the biggest Japanese-themed con in the Bay Area.  Well, there is Comic Con in San Jose.  We also had Japan Expo in San Jose/San Mateo which once boasted an idol lineup of Kikkawa Yuu and Dempagumi, Inc.  But it looks like that one may no longer go on.

I almost chose to skip J-pop Summit this year.  Frankly, there weren’t any idols/artists on the bill that I was too excited about seeing.  Over the last few years this event has managed to bring quite a few notable idol acts.  Danceroid in 2011, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and LoVendoЯ in 2013 , Itano Tomomi and Tokyo Girls Style in 2014, plus the US premiere of AKB48’s first documentary in 2011.  I was hopeful this year would bring another fun idol act that could muster up some enthusiasm.

jpsummit14 119

jpsummit14 105
(
My TGS 6-shot from last year)

Then of course last year’s event left a slightly bad taste in my mouth with the neighboring Ramen Festival turning the entire event into a complete clusterfuck.  It was next to impossible to walk through the event because the ramen booth queues overwhelmed the entire street.  This year, instead of the traditional free street fair J-pop Summit always was, they actually held it in a convention hall.  And for the first time they actually charged admission.

It wasn’t until some of my friends who were flying in asked to stay at my house that I decided to go.  I’m glad I did.  Despite the fact that they were charging admission, despite the fact that I didn’t really know any of the musical acts, and despite the fact that the Fort Mason location would make it somewhat inconvenient to get there via public transportation, it was by far the best J-pop Summit ever!

popsummit 159

popsummit 108
(The food trucks, not bad.  At least the lines weren’t huge, and not difficult to find a seat)

To my surprise the event went off with hardly a hitch.  There were plenty of booths, most of which were highy interactive.  Lots of free food, including a free Shochu tasting booth, Miso Soup, Calbee Products, and Onigirasu (a sandwich shaped Onigiri) served to you by idol group Musubizm.  I entered both days for the H.I.S. trip to Japan contest.   Unfortunately I forgot to go the the actual drawing both times.  Anyway, on to the idol acts…

The first concert took place 15 minutes after doors opened.  The performers were…

popsummit 174

FES☆TIVE: A relatively new idol act who just signed with Tokuma Records.  The same label as Wasamin I might add. (More on that later).  They recently released their first major single, Omatsuri Hero.

 

popsummit 169

LittleGlee Monster: A sextet known for their harmonizing and general singing prowess

 

popsummit 106

Faint☆Star:  An idol duo, also known for their quality singing.

 

The crowd was quite small, which meant their wasn’t too much synergy going on.  But it did mean that everyone there got to be extremely close to the stage.   On first listen I was most impressed with Little Glee Monster.  They really aren’t idols as much as they are a true vocal group.  They mixed their original songs with covers of The Jackson Five’s I Want You Back and Pharrell Williams’ Happy.  I was definitely interested in purchasing some of their CD’s, which I did later on for their autograph event on Sunday.

popsummit 195

FES☆TIVE actually led off the event.  And per usual I let my subconscious mind and eyes decide if there is a member who will catch my fancy.  My friends thought I would be drawn to Suzuki Mitsuki, the petite blonde member.  But if you are familiar with my blog (and my taste) you will know that a gorgeous smile will catch my attention every time.  It didn’t take me long to find the girl I liked.  It was the Orange member, Aoba Hinari.  I just couldn’t take my eyes off of her the entire set.  Not to mention she noticed me watching her, and immediately responded.

popsummit 144

Of all the acts to appear the only traditional idols were FES☆TIVE, and Musubizm who performed later that afternoon as part of the MOSHI MOSHI NIPPON ensemble.  This was another smart move by the event producers.  It seemed that all of the performers came sponsored by the various vendors.  So instead of having to pay for all the talent, I am guessing it was done on more of a barter system for sponsorship and booth space.   FES☆TIVE came in support of the CHEERZ Phone App.  Little Glee Monster, Gacharic Spin, and Eir Aoi seemed to be associated with Kinokinuya, as well as another J-pop music app.

popsummit 116

The other nice thing was that pretty much every group had scheduled Meet and Greet and/or Autograph events, only a couple of which were “VIP Only”.  The only group who had no events like that scheduled were FES☆TIVE, which was disappointing to my friends since that was the group they came to see.  Little did we know that they would become the most accessible group of the entire weekend.  Which brings me to the highlight of my weekend, and pretty much why I thought the entire event was so awesome…

MY WEEKEND WITH FES☆TIVE…AND MY NEW “SECRET GIRLFRIEND” AOBA HINARI

popsummit 189(Luckily my friend had a cheki camera.  Note the spelling of “Sanf Rancisco”)

 

One of FES☆TIVE’s Japanese fans had flown in for the event, and he had a dialogue going with their manager.  He let us know that despite there being no “official” fan interaction scheduled, they would be spending a lot of time at the CHEERZ booth throughout the weekend.  On Saturday that meant we were allowed to take group shots.  I was one of the first to go…

popsummit 141

 

Now the cool thing was that for most everyone else’s shots the fan was the only person in the CHEERZ frame.  But I had been “playing” with Hinarin the entire time.  So when it was my turn she decided to lean into the frame with me.  I took plenty of other photos of Hinari that day, and she always seemed to be striking a pose for me.

popsummit 130

Then came Sunday, and it was a FES☆TIVE “free for all”!  2-shots, Group Shots, Autographs, Conversation.  We pretty much hung out with the group the entire day.  Now on the first day I went pretty much “incognito”, but on the second day I decided to represent with my Wasamin sousenkyo T-shirt.  The first person to notice it was Hinarin, who immediately dropped the bombshell “I know Wasamin, she is my friend!”  Really?  Well, they are both from Chiba (I really seem to be attracted to Chiba girls XD), close to the same age, and they are on the same recording label.  Oh no, this could be a total disaster!  Or…it could be a good way to make Wasamin jealous.  So I told her to be sure and tell Wasamin that we met.  A couple of the other members also noticed my shirt, as well as all of Little Glee Monster.  So Wasamin is well known among idols.

popsummit 191

popsummit 192
(Autographs)

Later on Hinarin delivered a message to me via the Japanese fan (who also happened to be a Hinarin oshi)  She wanted to thank me for supporting her, and that she was so happy I became her fan.  Then, as we were leaving her event we again ran into the group in the parking lot.  Hinarin immediately gave me the “heart” hand symbol.  Later that night she was busy favoring a bunch of my tweets, something she has continued to do all the way up until today.  So as far as I was concerned it was mission accomplished.  I managed to find an idol I really liked and made quite the impression on her.

popsummit 158
popsummit 185
(
She wrote on my hand too!)

BTW, here is one of their PVs.  There is a lot of YouTube content on their official site.

 

So that was pretty much my fun at J-Pop Summit.  If you are wondering why I didn’t talk more about the other performing artists.  Well, they really weren’t the type of groups I am in to.  Gacharic Spin are definitly talented and exciting, although I didn’t really care fmost of their songs.  JAM Project was just a trip!  Five Heavy Metalesque singers on stage like they are idols or something.  It was all so campy I couldn’t help but giggle most of the time.  The other highlight for me was running into my old friend “K”, who I hadn’t seen in over 5 years.  K was the author of a blog called Mini Moni Mania, and one of my biggest inspirations to get into blogging in the first place.  In fact I remember asking K for advice when I started my first blog.  So it is always nice to run into old friends like that.  Oh, and then there’s this…

popsummit 155(Finally got to see the award my friend won for producing the Koisuru Fortune Cookie Fan Video)

So all in all a great weekend.  I was happily surprised at how big a success J-Pop Summit turned out to be.  It has instantly turned into an event I am going to look forward to every year…

Now if we can just get Wasamin to come and perform!

CK in California

Tags: , ,

Japan CK in Japan Spring 2015…The Grub

Comments Off on CK in Japan Spring 2015…The Grub

It wouldn’t be a Japan trip without enjoying some awesome cuisine.  The great thing about Japan is that terrific food doesn’t have to be expensive.  In so many cases the dining experience is a lot of fun.  And with the expansive rail systems all over the country I never have to worry about drinking and driving.

I always have a list of restaurants that I want to visit during my trip, and I made it to most of them.  I didn’t get a chance to hit IWA, the AKB-themed Yakiniku restaurant.  There were also a couple of Ramen places I failed to eat at.  One in particular, a restaurant that specializes is French Fry topped ramen, I merely forgot about.  But I did find a few new places to enjoy…

Isomaru Suisan – Asakusabashi (multiple locations)

isomaru

 

isomaru2

This is actually an izakaya chain, but I had never noticed it before.  I tried the one near my hotel in Asakusabashi, but I later found locations in a few other parts of town including Akihabara.  They specialize in Sashimi and Grilled Shellfish which you cook right at your table.  Plenty of small dishes and an extensive bar menu.  Plus they are open 24/7!  So a great place to kick back if you miss your train!  For both of my visits I had a Sashimi Rice Bowl.  It was kinda small.  But considering the price, it was pretty good.

 

 

 

Marudai – Enoshima 

I have talked about this restaurant before.  I decided to head back to Enoshima early in my trip before Golden Week started.  I figured the town would be a madhouse after that.  Plus, the weather was quite nice.

tokyo2015 121

tokyo2015 119

I decided against having the Turban Shell they are known for, instead opting for my favorite Grilled Squid and a side of Negitoro.  After lunch I ventured up the hill to pick up one of this giant Octopus crackers.  I had eaten the lobster version before, but this is their signature item.  The line was extremely long so I took one to go.

Japan15fnl 069

But it is always nice to visit Enoshima island.  Suck a beautiful place, and it is so much fun to ride the Enoshima Electric Railway!

tokyo2015 117

 

 

————————————————-

Honmu Mon – Osaka

osaka15 108

This was the little Sushi restaurant in the Aeon Mall portion of Kishiwada Talktown.  It is also where Wasamin had lunch that day.  So in a way we ate together (hehe).  By the way, the cost for that lunch was approximately $10usd.  Try to find sushi that good for that price in the West.

 

 

Akakara Nabe – Machida (multiple locations)

tokyo2015 116

Geez, I never thought I would be eating Nabe again.  But it was my friend Kwan’s last night in Tokyo and this was what he wanted.  So how could I refuse?  This restaurant also came recommended by Wasamin.  So again, how could I refuse?  They serve much more than just motsunabe.  They are famous for their spicy dishes, including spicy Tebasaki.  I wasn’t in the mood to blow out my taste buds so early in the trip, so we opted for medium spicy.

tokyo2015 114

I have to admit that part of the reason I didn’t like motsunabe the first time probably had a lot to do with the fact that I was coming down with the flu at the time.  Experiencing it with a healthier body makes a big difference.  Not to mention I really like this restaurant’s style of making it spicy.  Quite frankly, part of my issue with the restaurant I ate at in Fukuoka was that it was too bland.  Anyway, I was sure to tell Wasamin that I ate Nabe again since she loves it so much!

 

Gindaco – Kitasuna (multiple locations)

itoyokado 102

Here I go again trying Takoyaki, one of the Japanese foods I can never get into.  The other I have trouble with is curry.  Although I think in both cases the first time I ate them in Japan the restaurants weren’t that good.  Anyway, the reason I chose to give it another try was the Negitaco with vinegar and daikon on the side.  It wasn’t covered in sauce or bonito flakes either.  Ultimately it wasn’t too bad.  Having toppings I really like certainly helps.  But I don’t think I will ever be a huge Takoyaki fan.

 

 

The Rose & Crown Victorian Pub – Akihabara (multiple locations)

Another Izakaya restaurant with multiple locations in Tokyo.  They have great happy hour drink and food specials, and they specialize in Prime Rib!  Kind of an odd specialty for Tokyo.  I was well aware of this location since it is directly across from the AKB48 Cafe and Shop.  I first went there for happy hour and enjoyed an extremely large Kaku Highball for about 450 yen.  But the entire time I was there I could smell that Roast Beef cooking!

Japan15fnl 109

The next day, after having my original dinner plans broken and having some bad luck with restaurant queues, I decided to return here and try their Roast Beef dinner.  At first the bartender told me they were sold out of Prime Rib, which seemed odd since a) it was only 7:45pm and b) it is their signature dish!  Then he paused and told me they were sold out until 8pm.  And he said it like that was a long time.  I was drinking, so I didn’t care.

Japan15fnl 124

It did take a while to come out, over a half hour.  In fact I wondered if they ever put the order in.  And you know what, it was pretty good!  Not the best cut of Prime Rib I have ever eaten, but it was cooked well and the sauce was nice.  Oh, and I loved their crude little attempy at Yorkshire Pudding!  More like a Popover.

 

 

Tsubame Grill – Ueno

Japan15fnl 107

This was recommended by a friend.  Actually, he first wanted to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe, but I vetoed that idea.  This was his alternate choice, and it was quite a good one!  I had their signature item, the Tsubame Grill Hamburger Steak.  And that’s exactly what it tasted like, Steak!  The vegetables underneath were excellent, and the baked potato covered in Miso was surprisingly good.  Rumor has it their sausages are quite tasty as well.  I highly recommend this place.  It’s located in Atre, on the second floor inside Ueno Station.  Thay had quite a line too, but it moved quickly.

 

 

Gontran Cherrier – Shibuya

shibuyanagoya 108

I stumbled upon this place in between Wasamin shows in Shibuya.  Right around the corner from Marui City.  I needed someplace quick, and with Shibuya being so crowded this place was one of the few that didn’t have much of a line.  It is a French boulangerie with multiple locations in Japan.  I eat at places in Japan like Andersen’s Bakery and Vie de France all the time.  But this place blows them away!  I had a sandwich, and a few of their smaller items, which all come in bite-size squares.  I’m sorry I didn;t get any photos of my lunch.  But trust me, it is a must-visit!

gontran

 

 

————————————————————

Shinkansen Ekiben Stall –  Shin-Osaka Station

ekiben

One of my favorite things to do in Japan is travel by Shinkansen.  And if I am traveling during the evening I love grabbing a dinner bento and a couple Suntory Highballs and enjoying the ride (if you know what I mean).  The toughest part is choosing just one as they all look so good!   After Wasamin’s performance in Osaka most of the Wasamin fans boarded trains back to Tokyo.  I boarded a different train for Nagoya, a much shorter ride.  But indeed long enough to enjoy a meal.  I was really in the mood for Unagi, but when I saw this bento I just had to try it!

osaka15 012

It wasn’t Kobe beef, and it wasn’t nearly as rare as it looked on the box, but it was very tasty.  An of course like many bentos it was served over a large portion of rice.  I didn’t pair it with red wine, instead opting for some harder stuff.  But to me a Shikansen ride isn’t complete without a bento and some booze.

Anyhow, that was just some of the places I enjoyed during my trip.  Unfortunately I have never properly trained myself to photograph my food so many lunches and dinners go unphotographed.  Plus, I eat at a lot of Kaitenzushi.  So if you want see pics of a stack of empty plates…  That said, these were probably the most memorable.  And I am happy to say that I did not frequent McDonalds even once.  Although I did visit Burger King one night to try their Onion Teriyaki Whopper.  Not bad, but my stomach felt like it had an anvil in it for the rest of the evening.  You live, you learn.  And with that I say…

Japan15fnl 112

Kamen Rider Fourze Parfait, KITAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

CK in California

Tags: ,

AKB48, Japan CK in Japan Spring 2015 FINAL…The Otaku Shrine, & Other Nerdy Hangouts

Comments Off on CK in Japan Spring 2015 FINAL…The Otaku Shrine, & Other Nerdy Hangouts

A quick elaboration on something I mentioned in the previous post.  I injured my right foot, specifically the two smallest toes tripping over a barrier outside my hotel in Kameido.  It was bad enough that I was limping significantly over the next two days, and for the last week I have not worn shoes. (Sandals are more comfortable)  Luckily nothing seemed to be broken, and my toes are slowly recovering.  By the way it isn’t the first time this has happened as a tore up my knee a couple of years ago tripping over a curb in Yokohama.

It was my first time staying at that particular hotel.  In fact, for the three hotels I stayed in on this trip it was my first time for all of them.  I have a knack for finding hotels with crazy good deals, and then using them until the deal runs out.  After that I search for more good bargain hotels.  Over the years I have stayed at eight different hotels in Tokyo, two different hotels in Osaka and Fukuoka, and I have stayed once each in Nagoya and Hiroshima.  The Smile Inn in Hakata (It isn’t called that anymore, they changed their name for the 2nd time in three years) was definitely the strangest hotel I ever stayed in.  The most luxurious being the Shinagawa Prince.  Anyway…

Let’s Henshin! for dinner!

I had two nights left before I returned to the States, so I met with a friend to have dinner at one of the two restaurants left on my “to visit” list.  We had decided to head over to IWA, Uchida Mayumi’s AKB-themed Yakiniku restaurant in Shin-Okubo.  Along the way we met up with three other AKB fans, all of whom I knew online but only one I had ever met before in person.  Arriving at IWA, we were met at the door by Uchida’s mom (as well as Nonaka Misato, who works there) who profusely apologized and informed us that the restaurant was booked solid for the evening.  She even offered to book us for the following evening, but my friend wasn’t sure he could make it.  So we went to our second choice, and perhaps a better choice since I had never been there before…

I haven’t mentioned this on my blog, but over the last year I have become quite the fan of the Kamen Rider television series.  I have managed to watch every single Heisei Era season, my favorite by far being Kamen Rider Kabuto.  I also loved Kuuga, Agito, Hibiki, and Kiva.  When I found out there was a Kamen Rider themed restaurant in Ikebukuro I just had to check it out.  Luckily Kamen Rider The Diner wasn’t booked.  In fact, we were seated immediately.

Japan15fnl 111

Japan15fnl 114

It was quite a spacious restaurant for Tokyo, featuring tons of Kamen Rider momentos, scenes from the series playing on the television screens as well as the various theme songs playing on an endless loop.  All of the menu items were based, at least loosely on the various characters from the series.  The fun part happens when they deliver your food, the waiter will quote a line from whichever character your dish is based.  And sometimes it will trigger a scene to be played on the monitors.  I absolutely had to order the Kamen Rider Fourze parfait as it was known to trigger one of the most fun waiter/guest interactions on the menu…

Japan15fnl 112

PARFAIT, KITAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!!!!!!

The food was decent, I would say it is slightly better than the AKB48 Cafe.  It’s a bit pricey for what it is, but I think you are paying for the experience more than anything else.  I would probably go back, although I can’t say it made it to the top of my personal Tokyo restaurants list,  That said, Im glad I got to experience the place.

On my last evening in Tokyo I looked forward to hitting IWA, but those plans were dashed in the mid-afternoon.  What to do?  I first decided to head over to Gyukatsu Ichi Ni San since I did enjoy it last year.  However, the line was down the block.  After standing in the queue for over a half hour I realized it would probably be close to another hour before I was seated.  My second choice was an Izakaya across from the AKB48 Cafe that I had always wanted to try for dinner.  In fact I had gone to Rose and Crown for drinks a few days earlier.  But their signature dinner dish had always intrigued me, especially for Tokyo…

Japan15fnl 124

I must say their prime rib wasn’t bad at all.  Not the best cut of meat I have ever had, but it was prepared very well.  Tobe honest I was kinda sad that I was spending such a lonely final evening of my trip.  But just then I received a text message from my new Wasa-buddy Kenji, wondering what I was doing for the rest of the evening.  I was so happy he had contacted me, and he had an excellent suggestion for something interesting to do…

Kanda Myojin (The Otaku Shrine)

Japan15fnl 148

 

 

After all these years of going to Tokyo and spending so much time in Akihabara, I am somewhat embarassed that I have never visited this place.  Just a short walk from central Akihabara, and a block away from Ochanomizu Station, Kanda Myojin is a beautiful shrine sandwiched between various apartment and office buildings.  It is also the location where many AKB48 members, including Wasamin, have had their coming of age ceremonies.

Japan15fnl 133

 

Japan15fnl 127

Visiting the shrine late at night was a special treat, even though it was tough to photograph many of the shrine’s features becase of the darkness.  There was a certain serenity that isn’t present with a daytime crowd, and it was really neat to see all of the lanterns lit up.

Japan15fnl 138

I enjoyed visiting so much I had resolved to return the next day to take more photos.  I wanted a better shot at some of the architecture as well as some of ema, many of which held prayers for various Anime characters, as well as prayers for AKB members.  I am guessing there will be quite a few AKB fans visiting between now and the upcoming Senbatsu Sousenkyo.

Japan15fnl 131

Japan15fnl 152

 

Japan15fnl 149

They were also preparing for the upcoming Kanda Matsuri, which is a major festival in Tokyo occurring every other year in May.  I was lucky enough to be in Tokyo for Kanda Matsuri 6 years ago.  This was another chance to see some of the Mikoshi they use in the parades.  Quite impressive.

Japan15fnl 154Japan15fnl 155

After one last Tokyo sushi lunch, I grabbed my bags an headed to the airport.  I was able to switch to a direct flight home, which cut my travel time by about five hours.  What a relief!  Anyway, another successful Japan trip in the books.  So happy I got to spend some real quality time with Wasamin.  I am glad our “relationship” seemed to level up this trip, due in part to my commitment to communicate with her more in Japanese.  I’m not sure when I will see Wasamin again in person.  Hopefully it won’t be too long.  I have been home for a few days now and I miss her already.  I will root for her in the Sousenkyo from afar.

wasaposter

CK in California 

Tags: , ,

Japan, Miscellaneous CK in Japan Spring 2015 Part 8…P.A.R.M.S. & Other Indie Idols

1 Comment

Keeping my promises to all Enka proprietors

Wrapping up this series, Wasamin’s final promotional event of the week pretty much wrapped up my idol festivities for this trip.  Or did it?  The following day I had a mission, and it was lucky that I had a railpass to soften the blow on my Suica card.  Remember I ahd gone to all of those Wasamin “preorder” events the first week I was here?  Sunday was the day I decided to return to every single shop to pick up the CDs.  This was no simple task as these shops were literally all over Tokyo, not to mention one shop in Saitama, one close to Chiba, and the furthest one of all was practically in Yokohama.  Seven shops in all.  The other issue, considering this is Golden Week, was that there was no guarantee any of the shops would be open.

After 5 1/2 hours of traipsing all over Tokyo I managed to pick up 5 of the 7 preorders.  The other two were open the following day so I managed to pick those up as well.  I already had a ton of Wasamin CDs in my possession, so I suppose I could have just forgotten about these.  But I didn’t want the Wasamin fans to get a reputation of preordering CDs for handshake tickets and then flaking on the order.  Especially since a couple of the shopkeepers questioned whether or not I would come back.  At the end of the day I had 40 copies of Hatsuzake, 20 of which I managed to give away before I left Tokyo.  Additionally, I was able to give away half my copies of AKB48’s Green Flash.  So I had lightened my travel load considerably.

FullSizeRender (1)

(The five Wasa-packages from Sunday)

Anyway, one of the big thrills I had is trip was to be able to bring friends to some of these Wasamin events.  One friend in particular had been promising to attend one for over a year.  To be honest I had kinda given up on him, but he finally showed up at the Kitasuna events.  And he showed up to see her perform at Ikebukuro as well.  So I am glad she made a good imression on him.  In fact, shortly after the first performance he sent out this tweet…

“When you see Iwasa live in person in a Kimono, it’s pretty easy to see why Cristafari likes her. She’s quite stunning.”

 

Sampling Some New Idols

So after attending not one, but three events I decided a little payback was in order.  I would spend Monday with David (as well as a few other people) attending the type of events he likes to attend.  It didn’t take long, in fact he didn’t even make it to our meeting place as he got sidetracked into an small idol event on the way.  So I met him over at Twin Box Garage in Akihabara for my first taste of Aoyama Saint Hachamecha High School, a small idol group aiming to make their major label debut.

 

mecha high

To be honest they didn’t really do much for me.  The first song I heard was kinda cool.  But I didn’t find the group all that appealing, looks-wise.  Their color-scheme was very Momoclo-esque.  Kind of amateurish.  Then again, most indie ol groups are.  Luckily it was a 25-minute concert (and only 500 yen, which included a bottle of soda) so no big deal if I didn’t love it.  We headed out to Star Kebab, one of my favorite little Akiba haunts for lunch.

 

stark

After that it was time to venture over to visit a place many idol fans had tried to get me to come to.  And that was P.A.R.M.S., the home of Alice Project.  I think part of the reason why I was reluctant was the way the group was sold to me.  All I heard about was “going crazy” and “chekis”.  Not to mention I would meet my friends afterwards and they were covered in sweat.  I’m not a young guy anymore.  And I can take or leave the chekis.  So these descriptions did more to repel me than intrigue me.  Their free weekend afternoon sample show was described as more of an introduction to the group.  That I found much more palatable.

Alice Project

When we arrived I immediately realised that I had been to this venue before as it used to house a music shop called Ishimaru Soft, the top floors of which were used for idol events.  This was the place I saw Momoiro Clover for their “Pinky Jones” release event.  I also went to AKB48/SDN48 member Sato Yukari gravure DVD release here where she modeled for me.

canon 9965

Alice Project’s free afternoon show offered a sampling of a few of the Alice Project Sub-Groups.  They would also offer their full menu of handshake and cheki opportunities after the show.  I must admit I was impressed with what they had done to the venue.  But I wasn’t too impressed with Slime Girls, the first group to perform.  There was nothing really catching my eyes or ears.  That reminds me…

I have always maintained that finding an oshimen, or favorite member should be a purely organic experience.  When I go to an event like this I will look for a member to catch my eye, and I will sub-consciously watch them…exclusively.  If it doesn’t happen, that means none of the members managed to catch me.  So that didn’t happen with Slime Girls, but it was a different story with Pa-Ken Girls.  Pa-Ken came out to a quirky little song that immediately had me hooked.

 

Ⅰ(あい) ♥(あい) 愛(あい)

 

Not only that, there was one particular member.  I wouldn’t call her gorgeous.  In fact it was her awkwardness that had me hooked.  In many ways she reminded me of NMB48’s Ichikawa Miori.  But I just thought she was adorable onstage.  She was the only member I watched during Pa-Ken’s entire set.

parms1

Up next was Oz Girls, who had some really cute songs.  Although none of the members appealed to me individually.  Steam Girls were the last act, and you could tell they were the most polished of the four units.  I thought one member in particular was cute, kind of a cross between Kizaki Yuria and Hirajima Natsumi.  She had good energy.  But their songs weren’t very memorable either.  My favorite units by far were Pa-Ken Girls and Oz Girls.

parms2

After the show there were a series of meeting opportunities, the first of which was a handshake event with the Sub-Unit of your choice.  The cost was purchasing an Alice Project CD for 1000 yen.  Of course I chose Pa-Ken, and the first member was the girl I liked, Araki Himeri.  I told her it was my first time ever coming to see Alice Project, and not only was Pa-Ken my favorite unit, but she was my favorite member.  Told her how much I loved the first song.  Jeez, this handshake was going for a long time!  I finally made it to the second girl who immediately asked me to oshi her.  Oh no, I have already made my choice!  Finally one of their managers came over and began moving the line a bit faster.  It wasn’t my fault, as the guy in front of me was talking to each girl for a long time.  Next up was the 2-shot opportunity.  When you get to the front of the queue you tell the manager who you want to see.  Unfortunately I didn’t know Himeri by name yet, so I was pointing in the general direction of Pa-Ken.  Apparently Himeri saw what was going on and immediately stepped forward to get the attention of the manager.  “He wants me!”   And she was right!  With that I had my first 2-shot…

Japan15fnl 019

(Believe it or not, this girl is 20!)

But that’s not all.  Later they offer 4-shots, where you can take a photo with three of your favorite members.  Not to mention group shots where you take a pic with entire group or even all the groups.  I opted for the 4-shot, but there was one issue.  Only two girls really caught my fancy at all.  So I asked management if only two was okay.  They said yes…

So I headed up again.  Naturally I had picked Himeri one more time.  As I crossed the stage the other girl I chose, Maeda Natsumi had just finished taking a photo.  She turned to say hello to me, the hulking foreigner who had crossed her path.  Just then the Slime Girl photographer informed Natsumi that I had chosen her too.  She was excitedly surprised, loudly exclaiming “Oh Thank You!”  Before the photo I quickly told her where I was from, and that I really enjoyed watching her perform.  Oh, if you choose a larger photo (for more yen) one of the girls will autograph the pic…

Japan15fnl 023

 

(Leaning to my left because I had thought I had broken two toes earlier in the day.  Could barely put any weight on my right foot)

And that was P.A.R.M.S.  They kicked the fans out shortly after to prepare for the evening show.  I would definitely consider making another visit.  Especially to see Himeri.  Don’t worry Wasamin, I’m not going to oshihen.  In fact, since Wasamin earlier admitted to reading my twitter, I refrained from tweeting any of my 2-shots.  You know, just to be sure.

CK in Tokyo

Tags: ,

AKB48, Concerts, Japan CK in Japan Summer 2014 Final…A Farewell to Yuko

1 Comment

I had one more event to attend before I headed back to Osaka to finish up this trip.  To be honest, I kinda had my fill of Ajinomoto Stadium the previous day getting soaked in the rain.  At least for this show it would only be a few hours instead of the all-day extravaganza that is the Senbatsu Sousenkyo.  I also wasn’t worried about the weather since my seat was shielded from the elements.  When I woke up it wasn’t raining at all.  The forecast was for light scattered showers.  Quite the contrast from Saturday….It figured.

My friend and I headed out around mid-afternoon and found a street vendor nearby selling Kara-age and Chu-Hi.  We got our fill and a slight buzz before we headed into the stadium.  This time just a little bit before showtime…

 

japansummr14fnl 235

 

Oshima Yuko Graduation Concert at Ajinomoto Stadium  June 8, 2014

I was surprised how short and quick the line was on the opposite side of the stadium from where I entered on Saturday.  Plus, there more areas shielded from the weather.  Damn, had I known I probably wouldn’t have had nearly as miserable time the previous evening.  Oh well.  We headed to our seats and were given a small “graduation kit” from the Yuko supporters with a glowstick, and instructions how to use it.  The glowstick even had an inscription on it…with the original cancelled concert date.  That meant these had been lying around for a while.  But I had brought my green glowsticks, along with the green flags given to us at the gate I was ready to party!

 

japansummr14fnl 250

japansummr14fnl 249

 

Our seats were exactly as expected.  Upper deck, around 7 rows from the rail around 2/3 of the way back.  No blind spots, but pretty far from the stage.  Binoculars would have definitely come in handy.  The good news was we were two rows from the aisle where the girls performed in the upper deck on Saturday.  So if they did that again we would have an awesome view for it.

 

japansummr14fnl 251

 

The Show

Once the show began I was immediately reminded how much more I love AKB48 in smaller AND indoor venues.  There are so many issues when a group who’s motto is “Idols You Can Meet” performs in a stadium.  Most of the seats in the venue, including those on the field are much too far away to enjoy the show with the naked eye.  You are going to either need to use binoculars or resign yourself to watching the monitors.  That is unless they move the performance to a spot in the stadium closer to you.  The second issue is the sound.  There are echoes, delays.  The sound you are hearing doesn’t completely match up with what you are watching.

 

yuko1

 

It also becomes glaringly obvious how much of the performance utilizes lip-synch.  Especially in the group songs.  Not necessarily during solos and duets.  There were also moments in the show where the singing was obviously live.  But when the girls are running all over the stadium mid-song, it doesn’t even look like they are even trying to mimic singing.  They are just running!  Not that any of this really ruins the experience.  It just emphasizes how much more special the theater shows and performances in places like Budokan or TDC Hall really are.  At least that is how I feel about it.

This particular show would be best remembered for it’s special and celebratory moments, beginning with Yuko’s opening performance of Nakinagara Hohoende with live piano accompaniment.  From how she was positioned on stage it looked as if she was wearing a HUGE flowing wedding dress, draping all the way from the top risers to the stage.

The next two segments after the opening MCs featured the AKB48 teams performing their B-sides from the Labrador Retriever single, as well as the sister groups’ performances.  Of all the B-sides my favorite by far is B Garden.  However the song loses a bit of it’s humor when watching from so far away.  It was also during this segment that Not Yet performed their debut single Shuumatsu Not Yet….in the middle of the arena.  In fact I would have been inches away had they done this performance formation on Saturday. I am sure they had something planned like that.  It must have been washed away by the rain.  Rats!

 

yuko3

 

NMB48 performed their new single…I mean feature track from their upcoming album, Ibiza Girl.  It sounds fairly generic to me.  It’s too bad since I thought NMB had a great run of singles from Nagiichi to Kamonegix.  But their last two I haven’t liked nearly as much.  I still am looking forward to their album release as it sounds like it will come with some great DVD content!  All three sister groups finished their sets with fan favorites, NMB’s Nagiichi, HKT’s Melon Juice and SKE’s Oki Doki.  The set finished with the old concert favorite Hikoukigumo.  Dammit, I have so many flags at home specifically for use in that song!

Note to self:  Always bring a Hikoukigumo flag to any AKB48 event…just in case

It was around is time that Yuko and Kojiharu did an MC across the stadium.  The one where Yuko tried to goad Haruna into announcing her graduation, and Haruna’s trolling the audience with her responses.  To be honest I am all for the older members moving on and the younger girls taking over AKB.  But there was a bit of happiness to hear Kojiharu fight it and say “Hell no, I’m not going anywhere…yet!”

The next memorable moment for me was the performance of After Rain in the upper deck.  Four members came right by me, including Yuko, Yukirin and Matsui Rena.  To be honest I forget who the fourth person was but they were all close enough to High-Five.  In fact the girls did do that occasionally.  Unfortunately I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.  Seishun no Inazuma featured Yuko tap-dancing alongside her Ori-K partner Miyazawa Sae.  It was a nice touch, as was Yuko’s duet with Takamina on Kinjirareta Futari.

 

yuko2

 

The rest of the main set was filled with Yuko-centric songs and a short cloudburst leading into the encore.  The rain didn’t last too long, maybe 2-3 songs.  The encore began with a VTR, and Yuko’s new graduation song.  Everyone lit their commemorative lightsticks.  But it was immediately apparent that they did not create nearly enough light for an impressive visual in the stadium.  So the fans quickly abandoned them for their green glowsticks, which created a much more powerful effect.

They saved most of the sentimental Team K songs for the very end, performing Sougen no Kiseki and Sasae with many of Yuko’s original teammates on stage.  Among them were some of the graduates, but not all.  Aside from Sayaka, Nontii and the remaining Team K members who haven’t graduated, I really couldn’t tell who was there.  But I was sure Meetan wasn’t there as she was scheduled to deliver her baby any minute!  The next moment, originally designed to be emotional, turned out to be extremely humorous.  The handshake line….

Yes, every member from every group queued up to say goodbye to Yuko.  The line stretched completely around the stadium.  But even that wasn’t enough room as girls continued to queue after the line started moving.  All the while the musical portion of Sasae played on a loop over and over.  Some of the girls did become tearful, but a cry-fest really isn’t Yuko’s style.  There were probably more humorous interactions than anything.  But what was really funny was the amount of time this was taking.  I wasn’t keeping track, but I am sure it took at least 30 minutes.  Eventually someone told the girls to hurry up, so by the time AKB got their turn (they were last) it turned into more of a high-touch.  Too bad.

The show ended with one last performance of Mae Shika Mukanee and Heavy Rotation, with Yuko floating above the stadium on a wire all the way to the top deck.  It was actually quite nerve-wracking to watch, especially in that weather.  She floated into a small structure above the crowd, and with an audible “door slam” she was gone…

 

yuko4

 

Their was a final performance of Labrador Retriever as fans were already filing out of the stadium.  You see the fans’ were in a hurry to conquer next challenge…getting to the train station, and on to a train back to Shinjuku.  My friend and I decided to hang back and go to the goods tables.  Luckily nothing was sold out so we pretty much got everything we wanted.  It was then that I felt completely foolish for arriving so early on Saturday.  Live and learn, I guess.

Yuko would finish her official AKB duties with one more theater performance.  I didn’t win for it, so I went back to Osaka to finish out my trip.  I decided to treat myself to some crab and a nice massage.  The following day I made a brief visit to South Korea before heading back to the states.  Picked up some authentic Korean Kimchee as well to enjoy when  got home.

 

japansummr14fnl 088

 

Overall it was a very nice trip.  Not the least bit disappointing.  Did disappointing things happen?  Sure, but not everything goes your way in life.  The disappointing events ultimately opened up new opportunities which I am so happy to have experienced.  I was mainly sad because I didn’t get a chance to connect with Wasamin.  But that was easily remedied.  I wrote her a nice long letter, telling her about my adventures and making sure she knew that I did come to Japan to support her, even if we couldn’t see one another.  After all, that is what having an Oshimen is really all about.  It isn’t about me.  It is about Wasamin.  It’s something I don’t think a lot of people in the Western fandom really understand.  What it really means to have an Oshimen.

 

wasadream

 

At any rate, Japan trip #14 is in the books.  I arrived safely at home, and am now scheming for my next trip over.  Whenever that will be.

 

Until next time,

CK in California

P.S.  Occasionally I get asked personal questions on this blog.  I know there is no email link.  But you can find me on twitter or Ask.fm @Cristafari, and on Stage48 with the same handle, Cristafari 

 

Japan, Miscellaneous CK in Japan Summer 2014 Part Four…The Galloping Gourmet

2 Comments

Before I get to my final trip experience, the concerts….

I recently did something on my Facebook page and got some really positive feedback.  Considering the circumstances of this trip ithis is a great opportunity to do it on this blog.  I often get asked questions about my travels.  In fact I was slightly amused, although perplexed at a question (or should I say demand?) I received not too long ago on my Ask.fm account.  (By the way, feel free to send me questions if you like)

“Enthuse me about how great Japan is! 🙂 “

I really didn’t know quite how to answer this question.  How do I enthuse someone?  Do I talk about the idols?  That might do it for some, but not everyone.  There are many different things that could possibly “enthuse” someone about going there.  Personally I have a bit of “train otaku” blood running through me.  The idea of traveling around Japan by train absolutely thrills me.  But aside from entertainment, there is one thing that universally stimulates everyone’s enthusiasm when it comes to overseas travel.  The food!  And Japan is one of, if not the best place in the world for cuisine.  In that spirit, I thought I would post pictures of some of the dishes I enjoyed on this and previous trips over.

Just one warning.  I have this habit of digging into my lunch/dinner before I remember to take a picture.  So some of the pictures will have a few bites taken out of them XD

Let’s begin with everyone’s favorite…ramen!

fukuoka 955

 

Pork Bone Ramen  King Ramen, Canal City Hakata

 

wasatour2014 919

 

Hokkaido style crab based ramen.  Ramen Stadium, Hakata

tokyo142 901

Ginger-soy sauce ramen.  Aoshima Shokudo, Asakusabashi

wasavent2 905

Spicy beansprout ramen.  Hiroshima Chuka Soba Usagi, Saitama

I am not a huge ramen fan.  But I must admit all four of those dishes were really good.  The Hokkaido ramen had a wonderfully rich crab-based broth.  And don’t you love that bowl?  I also loved the pork at the Asakusabashi joint, which has a line out the door every day!  But I think my favorite might have been the spicy ramen with beansprouts.  I love spicy food!

How about some meat?

sousenkyo14 910

Regular Gyudon.  Gyu no Chikara, Ueno

wasaventsait 911

Tonkatsu dinner set (Pork cutlet). Tonkatsu no Miseto Chinkan, Shinjuku

sousenkyo14 165\

Gyukatsu Dinner Set.  Gyukatsu Ichi Ni San, Akihabara

wasatour2014 907

Motsunabe. Rakutenchi, Hakata

Of the four dishes, the best to me was the Tonkatsu in Shinjuku.  It was recommended by my fellow Wasa-fanatic, Andy.  I have eaten a lot of Tonkatsu, and this has been my favorite so far.  It was so juicy and tender.  The Gyukatsu was a unique experience.  It was very good, but it lacked the juiciness you get from Tonkatsu.  It did come with an amazing garlic sauce.  As for the Motsunabe.  Not really my favorite food.  I wanted to try it since it is one of Wasamin’s favorite dishes.  It was after this meal that I told her I didn’t love Motsunabe.  She was so disappointed 🙁

My favorite food in Japan has to be sushi!

japan14last 902

Toro plate.  Sushizanmai, Tokyo

Odawara 127

Chirashi Bowl.  Gyoson, Odawara

japan13fnl 407

Shirasu-don w/ Toro. Tobiccho, Enoshima

I probably eat sushi more than any other dish in Japan.  I just love raw fish.  Once you have sushi in Japan, the stuff you get in America just pales in comparison.  That bowl was really nice, but the different grades of tuna on one plate was a lot of fun.  Not cheap, but not overly expensive either.  Sushizanmai is a chain, but a pretty good one if you ask me.  Tobiccho is one of my favorite restaurants on the island of Enoshima.  It was actually featured on a recent episode of Ariyoshi AKB.  They are the restaurant that serves fish-infused beer.

Yes I love sushi.  But I probably love shellfish even more!!!

japansummr14fnl 169

Grilled crab to-go.  Kani Doraku, Osaka

japan13finl 911

Gilled squid and turban shell.  Marudai, Enoshima

hiroshima 104

Hiroshima Oysters. (and a glass of champagne) Kakimeian, Hiroshima

fukuoka 980

Crab Miso and Crab Tempura. Kanitsuu Hakataten, Fukuoka

Crab is one of those foods that I love the idea of eating more than actually eating.  I hate the work that goes into crab.  I just want to eat!  The grilled crab is from that famous restaurant in Dotonbori with the moving crab sign.  I love oysters!  I went to that restaurant on a local recommendation since it is one of the foods Hiroshima is famous for.  They were very good, and I loved that a glass of sparkling wine came with your lunch!

More meat.  This time chicken!

japansummr14fnl 929

Assorted Yakitori.  Aburidori Baricho, Akihabara

Odawara 912

Kara-age lunch set, Ko-Edo Funachu, Akihabara

Yakitori is another of my favorite things to eat in Japan.  This particular restaurant in Akihabara UDX is really good.  Although my favorite Yakitori restaurant of all-time is a little hole in the wall in Shin-Koenji.  Kara-age is easy to find in Japan.  Much better than any battered chicken that I have ever had in the US.  This place served a “Wet Karaage, which was different, but very tasty.

Miscellaneous grub…

sousenkyo14 901

Tomato/Avocado Curry.  Akiba Kaigan Curry, Akihabara

hiroshima 935

Okonomiyaki.  Okonomi Monogatari Eki Mae Hiroba, Hiroshima

Odawara 910

Appetizer set.  Museum of Yebisu Beer, Ebisu

hanamijpy 165

Okonomiyaki.  Ueno Park, Sakura Matsuri

japansummr14fnl 901

Oshima Yuko’s Raspberry Cheesecake.  AKB48 Cafe, Akihabara

So you can see there is plenty of delicious food to eat in Japan.  And this barely scrapes the surface of all the different places I have enjoyed over the years.  I didn’t even post all the terrific bentos I have eaten on the shinkansen either.  Even some of the fast food is great.  You don’t like McDonalds?  You should check out some of the special items on their menus in Japan.  Some pretty good stuff!  Oh, and Akihabara has an awesome chain of takeaway restaurants called Star Kebab that I highly recommend!  Most everything on this post is reasonably priced too.  So don’t go buying into that “everything in Japan is so expensive” stuff.  Not true at all.

star kebab

Star Kebab, Akihabara

And what do I wash it all down with?  It is always fun to find new things around Japan.  One of the local coffee house chains was offering a new drink that I fell in love with…

Odawara 916

Perrier-Espresso.  Excelsior Caffe

Odawara 917

Tory’s Black Highball

My new favorite drink in Japan is that coffee drink, which for me is amazingly non-alcoholic.  Yes, I do like to imbibe while in Japan.  Especially Hi-balls, which are pretty much Whiskey & Soda.  The Black Highball (pictured above) is the cola version.  Some restaurants serve a Ginger version.  I love them all!  I have also mentioned that I like Chu-Hi.  But yeah, that Espresso and Perrier is good stuff.  I want to start making these at home!

I will finish up with the concert posts tomorrow.  Until then….

CK in California

AKB48, Japan CK in Japan Summer 2014 Part Three…The Sousenkyo Museum Redux

1 Comment

Something else that kept me occupied while in Tokyo was the AKB48 Sousenkyo Museum at Belle Salle Akihabara, right across the street from the Don Quijote.  Last year I thoroughly enjoyed the museum which I described in this post.  I bought two tickets during presale.  One to use immediately and the other to keep in my back pocket in case I got wind that Wasamin was making an appearance.  Just like last year, each ticket came with a Sousenkyo poster as well as the opportunity to purchase additional posters for 550 yen apiece.  Since the entryway to my home is lined with last year’s posters, I was excited to have the chance to freshen them up with the current versions.

 

japansummr14fnl 150 japansummr14fnl 151

 

 

So how did this year’s Museum stack up against the 2013 version?  Let’s head on in and check it out!

The AKB48 Sousenkyo Museum at Belle Salle Akihabara 2014

The first big difference was the bag check and metal detectors at the entrance.  Since this was less than a week after the Iwate Incident this was all new to the fans.  But it really wasn’t that bad.  In fact I had prepared by only carrying essential items in my bag, so the inspection was very quick.  I might add that the guards were all very nice too.  Upon entering you were given a whole bunch of paperwork.  Last year they had one contest you could enter for prizes.  But this year they had three different contests.

The first contest wasn’t for prizes, it was merely to decide which member had the most artistic poster.  Matsui Rena’s was in the lead for pretty much the entire two weeks of the museum.  The battle for second was between Sayanee and Mayuyu.  Mayuyu?  Really???  Can her fans not take off their oshi glasses for one second?  I must admit that really bothered me.  Mayuyu’s poster was nothing special.  There were so many that were a thousand times more creative and artistic.  Anyway from what I understand Rena’s ultimately won, so there is justice in the world.  And if you are wondering who I voted for?

japansummr14fnl 212

At first I thought I would find the poster of an underdog that I really liked.  Maybe Kaotan?  That was a funny poster.  Mita Mao drew herself as an anime character.  I always love Aamin’s poster.  This year was no exception.  I didn’t vote for Wasamin’s poster either.  Not that I don’t love it, but there wasn’t anything especially unique about it.  Ultimately I voted for Rena each time I visited.  I wanted to make sure Mayu didn’t win.  After all, Rena’s really was the best poster!

 

The second contest was virtual slot machine.  If you got three matching images you won one of the autograph boards the members signed for the museum.  Needless to say, I didn’t win.

sousenkyo14 137

 

sousenkyo14 138

 

 

Finally the best, and hardest contest.  A chance to win a personalized DVD message from this year’s senbatsu.  All you had to do was predict ALL FIVE centers of the Sousenkyo teams.  Yeah, pretty much impossible.  And considering Mayuyu won you could probably toss out 75% of the entries.  I doubt anyone won this.  I know I didn’t!

sousenkyo14 115

sousenkyo14 123

 

Like last year they had all of the posters on display for the members to sign.  During the first week most of the visitors were from the sister groups, so there were quite a few signatures from SKE and HKT.  Same with the autograph wall inside near the stage.

japansummr14fnl 224

 

 

This year there were far more costumes on display.  Not only from the PVs, but from the Sousenkyo photo shoots AND the group’s performance on NHK’s Kouhaku Uta Gassen

sousenkyo14 129

sousenkyo14 131

sousenkyo14 128

 

 

More of my favorite costumes…

japansummr14fnl 215

 

Sasshi’s Koisuru Fortune Cookie

 

sousenkyo14 153

 

From Takamina’s Sousenkyo Poster

 

japansummr14fnl 217

 

As well as Sayanee’s.  We had an interesting discussion on twitter about the placement of that tiger.  And my favorite costume on display in the museum?

sousenkyo14 150

 

Kaotan’s Matsumurabu.  WIN!!!

 

In addition, some of the props the girls used for their photoshoots were also on display…

sousenkyo14 145

sousenkyo14 146

 

Of course it wouldn’t be a Sousenkyo museum without the “gorgeous” artist renderings of Senbatsu winners past.

sousenkyo14 140

 

Sasshi’s would be alright if they didn’t mess up her nose.  That Yuko painting in the foreground?  Sheesh!

 

The awards of winners past.  Where is Sasshi’s award?  I have no idea!  I can tell you it wasn’t on display for the entire first week.  What I did like was that they put them in much nicer display cases.

sousenkyo14 132

sousenkyo14 133

 

There was even an area where you could create your own Teru Teru Bozu for the upcoming concert.  (They gave away a pre-made version as a gift)  With the weekend weather forecast becoming more dire by the minute, this seemed like a desperate exercise.  But I wanted to have good karma, especially since I had a very good arena level seat for the show.  So I went ahead and created one with a secret Wasa-message hidden on the inside!

japansummr14fnl 226

 

Of course the girls’ appeal videos were constantly playing on the monitors.  I just had to get this shot.  I hope everyone is paying attention.  Wasamin presiding over the festivities.

japansummr14fnl 218

 

The other fun feature of the Museum was the chance that a few members might drop by while you were inside.  This year they tried a new tactic by posting who would be visiting in advance, although they did not advertise the time the girls would be appearing.  I was lucky enough to be in the venue for two such visits.  The first was Team A’s Iwata Karen.  The second was a visit by a few members of SNH48.  The girls would appear on stage, say a few words, sign the wall.  Not a big deal.  But it was fun nonetheless.

japansummr14fnl 225

japansummr14fnl 223

 

If I had to compare it to last year, I would say this year’s version of the museum was MUCH nicer.  There were more activities.  There were more costumes.  The displays seemed alot more professionally put together.  They had a live NicoNicoDouga stream.  Not to say I didn’t enjoy the museum last year.  But this year’s version to me took it to another level.  There was a lot more thought and preparation involved.

Odawara 113

 

And of course I got to sit on the throne….Wasamin represent!

 

More to come!!!

CK in California

AKB48, Japan CK in Japan Summer 2014 Part 2…Creating the Wasamin Experience

2 Comments

So I was in Japan, an suddenly I had a lot of time on my hands.  What to do?  I had a JR Pass in my pocket, so the possibilities were endless.  As it was my first extended stay in Osaka, I spent the first couple of days checking out Namba and Dotonbori.  By the way, Dotonbori is awesome!  I love this place.

osaka2014 122

osaka2014 127

It has just as much, if not more energy than Shibuya.  It is as lit up as Shinjuku.  Simply stated, it is a nightly party!  Not to mention a foodie paradise.  So many amazing restaurants to try.  It was hard to pick!

osaka2014 133

Even if the place does have a little bit of “seediness”, I still enjoyed it.  This is where the action is!  And when I say action, I am including all the hawt idol-looking young girls on the street who looked like they were open for business.  Jeez, next time I am going to dress a bit nicer.  One of these girls looked exactly like Team KII’s Ishida Anna.

The next day I took off for my first ever visit to Kyoto.  I didn’t have a full day, so I only had time for one activity.  I wanted to check out the Geisha neighborhood, but my friend wasn’t into that.  Instead we visited Fushimi Inari-taisha, which was a short train ride from Kyoto station.  However before we went in we decided to try some local Inarizushi!

osaka2014 103

 

I have never really been a fan of this kind of sushi, but these were amazing.  Fresh, with the perfect taste of sesame.  Great with an ice cold brew on such a warm day!

osaka2014 121

osaka2014 119

 

After that we were off the the shrine.  Or should I say shrines?  There are a bunch of them on the mountain.  As we climbed Inari Mountain through the Torii tunnels we started to realize how long this trail really was.  In fact I think we made it about one-third of the way up before we decided to turn back.  But it was a beautiful place, albeit with a ton of tourists and local visitors.  If you are coming to this shrine for solitude, you may not find what you are looking for.  But to visit one of Japan’s beautiful treasures?  I’m glad I went!

But I had come to see Wasamin.  Even if that wasn’t going to happen, I could still add some Wasamin-esque experiences to this trip.  Since I was already in Osaka, and I had a railpass, the first was a no-brainer…

wasabus3

 

A visit to Tomonoura, via the Wasamin bus!!!

This was a planned excusion.  The previous day, when I visited Kyoto I was supposed to be Wasamin’s event and mini-live.  Today was one I had been looking forward to for a long time.  I was going to the town that was the inspiration for Wasamin’s third single, Tomonoura Bojou.  I couldn’t wait, but would I have to?

osaka2014 143

Wasamin’s Event Poster…Postponed!  =(

I headed to Fukuyama first thing in the morning.  It’s a one-hour ride from Shin-Osaka via the Shinkansen.  You see there was one little hitch in the plan.  On the weekend the Wasamin bus runs all day on a set schedule.  But this was a Thursday.  During the week her bus runs on an irregular schedule, usually once per day.  It could be in the morning, the afternoon…who knew?  I did not want to miss it, even if I had to sit at Fukuyama terminal all day!

osaka2014 139

Upon arriving at Fukuyama Station, the first thing I did was look down from the train platform to see if I could spot the bus.  It wasn’t there.  Okay, I hoofed it down to the Bus Information counter and inquired about the Wasamin Bus.  The woman brightly responded “The Wasamin Bus, Yes!  Would you like one ticket?  I paid the round trip fare and was given one of the special Wasamin bus tickets.  I didn’t realize they still gave those out, SCORE!  In fact I should have purchased an extra as a keepsake.  But I still have the stub.  As suggested by my Wasa-friends in Japan, I then inquired about the Wasamin-bus schedule for the day.  I couldn’t understand her response.  Did she say 12pm?  11:20am?  She was pointing to a time on the schedule that had already passed.  I was confused, so I decided to simply wait.  It would be along eventually, right?

osaka2014 140

After an hour of waiting around the terminal and watching many busses pass me by, the supervisor of the ticket office came over and asked why I wasn’t boarding.  I told her, I came all this way for the Wasamin bus!  They had thought I simply wanted to go to Tomonoura.  She went back to her office and found out the bus was scheduled to come at 2pm.  I had already been there for over an hour, two more hours couldn’t hurt.  I had lunch and took a look around Fukuyama.  Nothing too exciting, although I did see quite a few Wasamin posters around town.  They really do love her here!  Eventually I took a little catnap in the air-conditioned terminal building.  But just before 2pm, here it came.  It was the Wasabus…in the flesh!

osaka2014 148

osaka2014 149

 

It isn’t a special shuttle, it is merely a regular route bus that goes to Tomonoura.  So I barely had time to take some quick snapshots of one side of the bus.  But the inside was filled with Wasa-pictures.  Even more than when it first started running.  They also play Wasamin’s single over the PA!  It was the most enjoyable bus ride I had ever taken.  If only I could tell her all about it.

osaka2014 159

osaka2014 160

 

Eventually we arrived in Tomonoura.  It is a quiet little town.  The fact that it was a weekday caused it to be even quieter.  Many of the shops weren’t open.  But that was okay, I was merely there to see the sites featured in the PV and take a few photos.  By the way, there were Wasamin posters all over town, and I heard Wasamin’s voice singing from more than one business.  Awesome! Quite a few locals were curious as to why a foreigner like myself would come to such an out of the way place.  When I told them Wasamin sent me, they were all amazed.  Really, you love Wasamin???  Yes, I wanted them to know that Wasamin brings in tourism!!

osaka2014 175

osaka2014 179

osaka2014 171

Aside from the few places to visit, many of which charge a small admission, there wasn’t much to do in Tomonoura.  So after about 2 hours I decided to head back to Osaka.  I had seen what I wanted to see, ridden the bus I had longed to ride.  I even had a souvenir.  Wasamin Mission #1 accomplished!!!  I would celebrate with a tasty feast in Dotonbori!

osaka2014 163

 

Following Wasamin’s footsteps to Odawara

Skipping forward, My next little Wasa-excursion had to do with a television show she appeared on in February with Enka artists Mizumori Kaori and Yamakawa Yukata.  Most of the program had to do with hiking around Odawara, but at the end they enjoyed lunch at a restaurant in the Odawara Fishing Port.  That was the part that intrigued me most.  The restaurant looked amazing!  So off I went to Odawara…

 Odawara 122

Odawara, and the port is pretty easy to get to.  You can take the Shinkansen to Odawara, which is the stop after Shin-Yokohama.  The port is one local train stop away.  Or if you are on the cheap, you can take the Tokaido line from Tokyo all the way to Hayakawa Station for about 1/3 the price, but it takes three times as long.  Anyway, I arrived at the station, and every review said the restaurant was close by.  So how hard would it be to find?  I walked completely around the port until I found a cluster of restaurants.  Although none of them looked like the one from TV.  All the way at the end was a fancy looking place.  Could this be it?  It was right next to the fishing dock.

Odawara 128

Odawara 127

 

Unfortunately that wasn’t the place either.  But the fish looked really nice, so I decided to have a Chirashi Bowl.  Fresh tuna and other assorted fish, it was very nice.  So I am now walking back, and I had almost decided to give up on finding this restaurant.  I was lost in thought, and missed my turn back toward the station.  About a block down away from the water I heard what sounded like a carnival barker.  I looked over, I had finally found it.  This is the restaurant… The Odawara Sakana Center!!!

 Odawara 132

This is not a typical restaurant.  It is more of a fish and produce market.  Then outside they have picnic tables with small gas grills.  You pick your food, rent a table (1000 yen) and cook it yourself.  The shellfish looked amazing, and surprisingly inexpensive.  I grabbed a giant clam, a huge oyster, and four large prawns (total cost, around 1300 yen), ordered a large beer and headed to the tables.  (Yeah I know, two lunches.  Sue me, I’m on vacation!)

Odawara 130

 

OMG, so wonderful.  I have often mentioned how much I love going to Enoshima and tasting their fish.  But the seafood here was just amazing.  The staff was extremely nice too.  Very helpful when I picked out the fish.  Mama-san made sure I had everything I needed, and the young girl there practiced her English with me.  A great time!  I now have a new must-visit location for my future trips.  If you like seafood, especially shellfish, I cannot recommend this place any more highly!

 

Close Encounters of the Idol Kind

Backtracking to my first evening in Tokyo, I had a planned dinner engagement with a few friends.  We would be hitting the new Yakiniku restaurant that is all the rage for AKB fans.  We were going to IWA, produced by Mayumi Uchida.  Little did I know it would result in a close encounter with Wasamin that I would find out about a day later.

sousenkyo14 108

I will spare you too many restaurant details.  It’s a nice place.  Good food and drinks.  In fact the Kimchee was especially good.  Of course the music of choice in the restaurant is AKB.  We were seated right next to the VIP room, and from what we could tell it was being used.  Hopefully Uchida would come by and say hello.  She did appear, but unfortunately she did not visit the tables.  Shortly after we saw Matsui Sakiko in a striped purple top come out of the VIP room.  So we knew there were AKB members inside.  It wasn’t until the next day that we saw the photo tweeted by Uchida…

wasaiwa

So while I was busy gorging on Yakiniku and getting drunk on Hi-balls, Wasamin was about 6 feet away partying with her idol-friends.  I wonder if she saw me when I wasn’t looking?  It was nice that not only did I enjoy a great meal, but Wasamin was so close by.  Almost fate, except that real fate would have had us encounter one another.

Odawara 134

 My new IWA mug.  Should get plenty of use at home!

So those were my Wasa-experiences.  Would I have anymore?  The AKB48 Sousenkyo Museum was open, and members were making appearances.  There was also the Sousenkyo concert coming up.  Perhaps I would have a good enough seat where she could see me.  We will see…

 

osaka2014 083

My Tomonoura “selfie”

 

CK in Tomonoura 🙂 

AKB48, Japan CK in Japan Summer 2014 Part One…Prologue

1 Comment

Once again due to a bunch of last-minute decisions I found myself in Japan…

It began as nothing more than a voting strategy.  I simply wanted to vote for Wasamin in the AKB48 Senbatsu Sousenkyo.  I knew the most economical LEGITIMATE way to do that was by ordering the theater edition of AKB48’s upcoming single.  So I did.  And as long as I was ordering theater editions, might as well reserve some handshake event tickets as well, right?  You never know, I might be able to use them after all.  Anyway, I would have my voting tickets.  That was the main point…

Then AKB48 management announced the Senbatsu Sousenkyo would be taking place in early June.  The day before Yuko’s graduation concert and six days after my handshake ticket date.  So I thought I would apply for the hell of it.  If I won then I might consider going.  If I didn’t win well…it just wasn’t meant to be.  I put in my application, and whaddya know, I won!  Not only that, a friend of mine had an extra ticket to Yuko’s graduation concert.  This was working out perfectly except…

The price of airline tickets was higher than I had ever seen it.   This could be a deal breaker!  I checked multiple sites, multiple airlines.  Everything was really pricey.  Perhaps this trip idea wouldn’t work out after all.  A short time later Wasamin announced an enka event in Fukuyama on the day I was planning to arrive.  Hmm, what if I flew in earlier?  And what if I flew into Osaka instead?  And there it was.  Just above my goal price.  Direct to Kansai, back home via Incheon.  I had to be creative, but I got what I wanted.  Everything was perfect.  That is, until the Iwate incident…..

Let me backtrack for a moment.  Any reader of this blog knows that I have described the details of every idol event I have ever attended while on my many trips to Japan.  And it’s true.  I have given a rundown of every event I have gone to.  Except for one.  It was back in November, just after I had a wonderful week of supporting Wasamin’s album release and then visiting Fukuoka/Hakata for the first time.  My final event of that trip would be the AKB48 National Handshake event at APIO Iwate.

 

japan13finl 126

japan13finl 127

The reason I didn’t post about it was because it was just a weird experience overall.  The venue is a hassle to get to.  Nowhere near a train station.  It’s like someone dropped a convention center in the middle of the woods.  I tried to get there early.  But I couldn’t find the shuttle bus.  That’s okay, I would take the train instead and walk.  From the station I followed what I thought were AKB48 fans.  But they ultimately ended up being students walking to University.  I was hopelessly lost, not even sure if I knew how to get back to the train station.  That is until a kindly bus driver pulled up alongside me on a rural road and gave me a lift until we found a taxi.  By the time I finally got to APIO I had missed much of the performance.  But I was immediately appeased as they were performing one of my favorite AKB songs that I had never heard live before, Hajimete no Jellybeans.  It was also my first time seeing Koisuru Fortune Cookie performed live.  What I was really looking forward to the handshake event.  So many good lines, and I knew my first ticket would be used on 15th gen. member Tsuchiasu Mizuki. (Wasamin wasn’t at the event)  I had such a great experience with Mizuki at her debut.  Surely she would have the same fond memories, right?

 

Mizuki

 

It took forever to even do my first handshake.  A total fail I might add.  I went to see Mizuki so we could reminisce about our fateful first encounter.   But she didn’t remember me at all.  Instead she merely looked confused and said “Nani?” a couple of times.  What a letdown!  For some reason Sato Kiara DID remember me.  Not sure why.  Wait, I think she might have been the one that kept staring at me during the 15th gen debut.  Aahhh.  Next I got tongue-tied with Takamina.  The handshake was just an overall fail.  We then had to requeue to exchange the rest of our tickets, but the line was insanely long, and it was already almost 4pm.  I just bailed, luckily finding the Morioka Station shuttle.  It was a weird event, in a weird location, with weird fans.  I just didn’t get a good vibe from APIO Iwate.  So when the saw-incident involving Kawaei and Iriyama occurred, it kinda hit home for me.  But for different reasons than most.  The fact that it happened at THAT venue put a pit in my stomach.  Not to mention I had a plane to catch.  Yes, the world of AKB was in turmoil, and I was on my way to Kansai!

I arrived to the news that not only was my handshake event cancelled, but the National event I planned to go to in Nagoya was cancelled as well.  A short time later Nagara Pro announced the cancellation of Wasamin’s event.  Now every opportunity I was going to have to talk to Wasamin had been postponed.  Why was I even here?  Then I remembered, I LOVE JAPAN!  Everything about it.  The culture, the history, the people, the cuisine, the idols.  I just love everything about it.  So maybe I wasn’t going to be able to do all the great idol stuff I looked forward to.  Did that mean i couldn’t have a wonderful 2 1/2 weeks in Japan?  Of course not.  I became determined to make this trip another awesome experience.  Starting with the fact that I was in a town I had yet to really explore…Osaka.

 

osaka2014 136

 

I will begin Part 2 with the experiences.  And if you are wondering if these posts will be idol related?  Don’t worry =)

CK in California

AKB48, Japan CK in Japan Fall 2012, Final Chapter…Visiting Sacred Sites

2 Comments

So one of the problems with visiting the same city over and over is finding enough new stuff to do.  Not that Japan lacks in cultural and leisure activity.  But I am always happiest when I am doing something idol related. So how does one keep it fresh when they have done the traditional idol stuff over and over?  That’s where it’s advantageous to have a solid network of friends…

One of my friends, an old AKB48 fan and I planned a meetup.  Although we had spoken online before, this was the first time we were going to hang out together.  He is a somewhat well known fan, so I was excited.  What I didn’t know was that he had a little tour planned for me that I would never forget!

CK’s Sacred AKB48 Sites and Meetan Hometown Tour 2012!!

I took the train out to Chiba where my friend picked me up.  To start this day he would be treating me to a nice Yakiniku lunch, my favorite!  I had never hung out in Chiba before, but it wasn’t lost on me that this was not only the hometown of Ohori Megumi, but also the hometown of Wasamin.  I was getting a chance to see firsthand the neighborhoods they experienced growing up.  This idea helped me feel even more connected to them than before.  My friend explained to me that he shared the same Alma Mater with Meetan, so our first stop was going to be Meetan’s High School!

My first thought when we arrived was “So here is where she learned to be so pervy!”  Next we drove around the neighborhood looking at houses.  We had no idea where Meetan lived as a teen, but it was fun knowing that we probably passed through her neighborhood.  We also passed through an area known as “Chiberly Hills” which is known for it’s large and lavish houses.    Later we came to another school where Meetan’s first Image DVD was filmed.  However, we couldn’t go in since they seemed to be holding an event that day.

Along the way my friend decided to tweet at Meetan telling her that he was showing me her old neighborhood.  She actual tweeted back something nonsensical, but we took this as a “10-4”.  So Ohori knew I was on her turf!  Eventually we ended up at this bakery…

According to my friend Meetan has often recommended this place, especially for the Curry Pan.  Of course we had to try it out.  I sauntered right up to the counter and ordered “Ohori Megumi no Curry Pan o kudasai!”.  The girl behind the counter laughed, as she knew exactly what I was talking about.  As we continued to browse the shop we asked the owner if she had seen Meetan in there lately.  She said she had seen her before, but not lately.  We took our breads to go as we were both still full from lunch.  In fact I didn’t even try my curry pan until that evening…

The review???  Ohori Megumi no Curry Pan is excellent!!!  Later that week I tried curry pan at a couple of other places, and it wasn’t nearly as good.  So thanks for the awesome tip, Meetan!

We wound our way further East and headed for the coast.  I was a beautiful drive, passing beach resorts and surf shops.  It was definitely a part of Japan I had never seen before.  Eventually we found the beach we were looking for.  You see we weren’t looking for any beach.  We are idol fans.  So what better beach to go to than the one at which they filmed the Bingo! PV.

This was November, so there weren’t too many people around.  My friend said it was called “Desert Rose Beach”, named after the song that played on a loop outside the building in front of the sand.  The building?  You know, the one the girls are in at the end of the PV!

Anyway, it was neat to feel the energy of the ghosts of AKB PV’s past.  But it was getting late, and we had one more destination.  Frankly, all of the driving was wearing me out.  We also kept stopping so I could re-stock on Vitamin C.

I couldn’t believe how long this drive was.  It was getting dark.  All of the sudden I asked myself “How well do I know this guy?  He is driving me into the middle of nowhere!”  He kept saying we were getting close but an hour later we were still driving!  As panic began to set in he assured me that we were just about there…

And there it was.  I could see it over the hill.  For AKB48 fans this might be their version of Mecca…

“The Aitakatta Lighthouse”!

We parked our car at the bottom and began walking up.  In a way it reminded me a bit of San Francisco’s Coit Tower.  We finally got to the staircase where two Obasan’s were chatting by a conbini.  My friend explained I was a foreign AKB48 fan, to which they responded amusingly.  Yah, I get that a lot in Japan.  Anyway, we traversed the long staircase until we final reached the top…

First of all, the entire space was tiny, and a bit torn up.  It is amazing that they filmed so many scenes of the PV in this little space!  But the view was spectacular!  You could see all the way across to Yokohama.

By this time I was exhausted and just wanted to get back to my hotel room.  So we made the long drive back to Chiba where I would catch a train back to Tokyo.  Along the way my fever made a huge jump, causing me major dizziness and horrible chills.  I am sure I looked absolutely awful as I got a few curious stares from the other passengers.  But I made it.  I survived the day, as well as the next one with Momoclo.  And even the following day when I won a Team K Waiting Stage Show.  Sure, it is my least favorite of the three teams.  But these days fans should be happy to win anything!  Hopefully on my next visit I will get to see Wasamin and Team B.  Or maybe even an SKE win.  Now that would be awesome!

So I think that wraps up everything I have to share from last Fall’s trip.  I will try to be more timely and descriptive when I head back late Spring/Early Summer.  I will leave you with photos I took of the birthday flowers for the two Kenkyuusei Okada girls.  Their fans did an excellent job!

Just lovely.  The one with the lights is great!

CK in California

Tags: , , ,