A Weekend at Saitama Super Arena (HKT48 & AKB48 Spring Concerts) 2018/03/31-04/01

When they announced that not only HKT48, not only SKE48, but also AKB48 would be performing Spring concerts at Saitama Super Arena, I figured my chance to win tickets were pretty good.  After all, SSA is a pretty big place.  SKE and HKT have been playing at much smaller venues, even when they were arguably more popular.  But I wasn’t sure how easy the tickets would ultimately be to win, so I decided to put in applications for all four shows.  Now I don’t often do this, but it’s time for my rant…

For many of you who have been to Japan, and have tried to win either theater shows or concerts for AKB48, you know how difficult, even impossible it seems to be.  I’ve never come out and said it before on my blog, but there is something seriously “rotten in  the state of Denmark” when it comes to that ticket center.  The reason I say this is not only because I lost for all four shows, in all three rounds of applications, but most everyone I know who won, won all four shows.  It was pretty much feast or famine.  People who won, won them all, people who didn’t win, got shut out entirely.  That, in and of itself is strange.  But it got even stranger…

When they announced the third round of applications, it was because the concerts didn’t sell out.  Wait a second?  Didn’t sell out?  But I lost all four applications?  How can this be???  Moreover, after the third round was over, they announced that it still didn’t sell out, and tickets would be available at the box office on the day of the concert.  This begs the question; Why are people losing, and the show didn’t sell out?  I’m not saying this is exclusive to foreign fans either, since I know a lot of Japanese fans who also got shut out of the lottery.  Not to mention, I also know foreigners who won all the shows.  But this kind of stuff just makes it even more obvious that there is nothing really random about the ticket center at all.  And to be honest, it really pisses me off.  I remember a time before the ticket center existed when the AKB48 lottery process seemed completely random and fair.  I have no idea why the company has turned it into what it is, but it is obvious that they are screening all applications, and deciding who gets to win, and who doesn’t.  Anyway, rant over.

I already knew I was going to the HKT show since I had friends with extra tickets.  As far as the rest of the shows, I really wanted to see SKE, but I wasn’t sure about AKB.  Also, at my age sitting through two concerts in one day is a bit of a hassle.  So I had to decide, which additional shows, if any, would I try to see?  I had pretty much decided to skip the SKE show since ultimately I didn’t know how many extra tickets were available, and I didn’t want to head out to Saitama first thing in the morning to find out that it had already sold out.  However, when I DID arrive at Saitama later in the day, I learned two things…

First, the HKT48 concert ultimately didn’t sell out.  They were still trying to sell tickets just before the show started.  Second, reliable sources told me that there were “lots of tickets” left for both AKB shows.  So I decided that I would head back over on Sunday, and get a ticket for one of the AKB shows too.  So that was my plan, one show for each day.

So after having lunch and meeting my friend in Akabane, we headed over to the arena.  The first thing we wanted to do was check out the goods tables, which were set up outside the arena.  Since the SKE concert was still going on, there was no line for their tent.  However, their selection was kind of picked over.  But I did get this…

Kaotan the JK, I love it!  The girl selling it started laughing at my friend’s and my reaction to seeing the button.  After that we headed to the HKT side.  The HKT booths had been open for a while, so the queue was short.  That is, unless you wanted to buy the manually decorated Uchiwa.  There was a big queue to use the tables for that.  Ultimately I decided to grab a new Akiyoshi ticket holder, and a concert towel.  They had some shirts in XXL, but I didn’t love them.

So after hanging around the arena for a couple hours, we finally got our tickets and headed into the venue.  But not before I had a chance to snap a couple of pics of the HKT flags.  I first found Bibian, but she was in the middle of the photo trading area, so I could only get a long shot.  I couldn’t find Maichan’s flag, but I found Yukachan right at the arena level entrance.  I had my friend hold it steady since it was kinda windy.

We headed up to our 400 level seats, pretty much the top deck.  There is a small Level 500, where you are practically hanging from the ceiling.  But we were low, 4th row, in the back left corner.  It was a direct view, but we were high up.  Anyway, here is my brief review of the HKT48 concert…

They started with a VTR on the proper use of uchiwas.  This is one of the things I love about HKT concerts, their little vignettes in the VTRs are so funny.  The star was Imamura Maria, but Akiyoshi also had a nice little part in it.  At one point Imamura is cheering for Yukachan with a giant onigiri uchiwa, and smashing it into the other fans.  Later on, she has one of the homemade uchiwas, and is cheering for two different members by flipping it around.  Meanwhile, Akiyoshi is peeking from behind the curtain and pissed off, LOL.  Dirty DD!

BTW, some sample video I took during the “camera ok!” time…


After the opening set, they showed a second VTR with certain members “in disguise” complaining about wanting a chance to be center.  The funny part was when it was Imamura’s turn, she was too short and could be seen behind the smoked glass.  Conversely, Natsumikan was too tall.  Finally, Ueki Nao’s chin was exposed, which is kind of her charm point.  This led into a huge series of solo songs by each and every member.  Despite the songs being shortened, it was still a really long set, with 23 consecutive songs.  Among my favorites, Motomura Aoi’s Akai Pinheel to Professor was really good, with really neat video effects.  Nako, Maichan, and Tomiyoshi also had really strong performances too.  Yukachan also centered a song, but it wasn’t really a solo.  Speaking of Yukachan…

I didn’t see it, but at beginning of the concert she fell off one of the stage runways and broke her foot.  Amazingly, she performed the rest of the concert, and only afterwards did they realize that there was a serious issue.  I saw her dancing and running around.  Heck, she even had a big part in the live skit in the middle of the concert.  BTW, I talk more about Yukachan’s broken foot in my previous post.


This is about as close as Tomiyoshi and Piichan came to me

My two biggest complaints were 1) The sound was really bad in the arena.  I don’t know if it was just where I was sitting, but it seemed like all of the sound was in the front of the concert, and we were just getting the echoes in the back.  I noticed that all the speakers seemed to be facing one direction too.  My second issue is that Sakura should not be singing the lead in Otona Ressha in place of Haruppi.  Otona Ressha might be my all-time favorite 48-group song, and I felt Sakura did a weak job of singing the lead.  The concert finally came to an end, but not before they flashed an ominous sign on the screens telling fans to check Twitter in 15 minutes.  Ultimately it was the new single senbatsu announcement.  Not sure why they couldn’t do that in the arena, but whatever.  All I know is that the new single Senbatsu is severely lacking in the Akiyoshi department.  Anyway, on to AKB…

I arrived at the arena on Sunday around 30 minutes before doors were scheduled to open for the matinee.  I went to the box office expecting to see a queue.  Uhhh, like five people in queue.  You had to fill out a form when you bought the ticket, and they asked me which show I wanted to buy for (or if I wanted both)  It was at that moment I decided to go for the matinee since I was already there.  The other option was to go all the way back home and come back six hours later.  In the meantime a friend of mine who is an SKE and Team 8 fan came to get a ticket, so we decided to renban the show.  Nice to have some company.  Our tickets were again 400 level, but on the other side of the venue in row 15.  So pretty much the same view, but out of the opposite eye, LOL.  I went to check the goods.  The line was huge.  Not to mention, there was really nothing I wanted that badly, so I decided to skip AKB goods all together.  We headed in and found our seats.  There were lots of empty spots all around us.  As for the show…

The first thing I was interested in was the sound, and for some reason the sound was much better than the previous day.  Now on one hand, I was in a different part of the venue.  But I also noticed that the speaker stacks were now facing multiple directions, so I think they made some overnight adjustments.  The show started with all the kennin members performing Enjou Rosen, followed by a stupid VTR and another overture.  BTW, I heard some fans were pissed about that, and felt it was somehow disrespectful to the kennin members. (Somebody tried to explain why, but I didn’t get it)

The main theme of the show were the Teams.  First, the current Teams (A, K, B, 4, Kenkyuusei, and Team 8) all performed songs.  Then the new teams came out and performed.  Since it was so high up, I didn’t get a real good feel for any differences in style or dynamic.  But the point was that the shuffle is moving forward.  After all that, we got a few units…

Surprisingly, Sakura’s performance of Maeda Atsuko’s solo debut Flower was surprisingly good.  I never think of Sakura as an exceptional performer, bu she pulled Maeda’s song off quite well.  On the other hand, Nako, Ryoha, and Nagisa’s rendition of Maria was the worst performance of that song I had ever seen.  It had no power, poor singing, just a mess.  She’s Gone, centered by Iriyama and Miru, was just slightly less bad.  They sounded so shrill on the chorus.  BTW, they allowed us to film in this show too.  Here is a sample video I took…



The best part of the show was when they allowed us to record and take pics.  They did this in the HKT show too, but the members came nowhere near us.  This time we got a bunch of 16th Gen get pretty close to us, so that was a lot of fun.

Overall, I liked the AKB show a bit more than the HKT show, but that was mainly because of the sound.  These days I’m a much bigger fan of HKT than AKB.  But since the sound was louder and more full, it seemed more exciting, which makes a big difference.

After the show ended, I briefly contemplated buying a ticket for the evening show.  But ultimately decided I would be happier not shelling out the extra 8000 yen, and instead wemt home to enjoy the rest of Sunday.  After seeing that the evening show was pretty much more of the same thing, I was happy with my decision.  I’m more of a theater guy anyway.  But it was nice to at least experience some of the 48-groups’ Spring Tour.

CK in Tokyo