Japan 2014 Part The Second: A Journey To The Underground

So, onwards and upwards to part two of my rather bizarre trip to Japan. This time we meet new idols, new people, old people, old friends, new friends, and some other shit. This post is really fucking long, so if you're looking for something in particular I suggest you Ctrl-F the fuck out of it.

Monday 17th March

Another early morning, another trip on the Shinkansen. I had arranged to meet Henkka at his current city of residence: Nagoya, and was running late. The joys of early morning Shinkansen are thousandfold. Trying to get an unreserved seat is a fucking hassle, trying not to molest people as they push past you in Tokyo station is a major fucking hassle, and breathing is basically impossible. Luckily due to my Osaka travels I knew that the Hikari trains left about 3 minutes past the hour, so I eventually got on the 10:03 one to save me catching the Kodama, which bores the fuck out of me.

The train journey was uneventful, except a brief double-take moment in Shizuoka prefecture. Some fucker had shaved the kanji 茶 into the side of a mountain. I know Shizuoka is all about tea, but even so, that's pretty fucking hardcore. As I pulled into the fucking gigantic Nagoya Station, I wondered how the fuck I was going to find Henkka, but with luck he had sent me a handy little guide detailing which exit to take, which clock to meet him under, and a helpful reminder that there's not just a silver clock (銀時計) in Nagoya station, but also a golden clock (金時計), so to watch my pronunciation.

I promptly ignored his advice and walked to the other side of the station because I needed a leak.

Slightly lighter in bladder I headed back in the correct direction and saw a brooding Finnish person wearing a winter hat and fifteen layers of clothes standing under the clock. And I thought northerners were supposed to be used to the "cold" (author's note: it was roughly 18C that day).

The original plan was to head straight to karaoke to get drunk, but I'd yet to eat and had seen a restaurant of kingswota through the window of the train, so I dragged Henkka to Saizeriya to sample the delights of incredibly cheap fake Italian food. Henkka, however, was unimpressed, and ordered his breakfast.

A can of chuu-hai.

One deliriously twisted conversation and sort of meal later, we headed back out on a quest for karaoke free time. One by one the karaoke boxes fell, one by one we left advertisements featuring 48 groups behind until there was only one remaining. Joysound.

Entering we found that it did indeed have freetime, until 7pm no less. We settled in and ordered our first drinks, a rum and coke for me, some weird girly cocktail for Henkka. Order delivered, we got set on setting the box to our liking (I noticed that disturbingly the occupant before us had set the music level to about 20, the vocal level to 60, and the reverb to about 70. I think they liked their own voice too much). After correcting it and starting to figure out the rudiments of the system it used, we noticed an inauspicious sign looming outside the window to our booth.

Well, everyone likes some cock.

We set about destroying our throats, with renditions of everything from Morning Musume's Shabondama to Cryptopsy's Cold Hate, Warm Blood. Sated for a while, we sat back and Henkka ordered a large bottle of shochuu, and we set about demolishing it along with the free soft drinks. I also found a machine that made "milk tea", which tasted decidedly minty but utterly delicious. The crazy song choices continued, Henkka doing some Beatles songs (Strawberry Fields Forever and Maxwell's Silver Hammer), which I instagrammed but the sound decided not to work. Maybe the Beatles' internet blocking power is too great. Henkka does actually have a pretty sweet John Lennon-esque voice.

After that, I decided to have a go at being filmed. Being a vocalist in a metal band I had to think of something fitting, so I chose the song that basically turned me into a fullblown metalhead all those years ago.

And no, I'm not sure why there's dancing on the screen either. I also got filmed doing Iron Maiden's Two Minutes To Midnight but it sucks so I won't upload it. Camwhoring over we finished demolishing the bottle and ended up doing a bit of a Nagai Rui showdown. Nagai Rui, if you don't know, is a composer and arranger who used to do a shitload of Tanpopo songs. He also did Momoclo's Tsuki to Gingami Hikousen. Pretty much all of them sound like the Beatles. I also did a quick blast of Babymetal's Akatsuki, and Henkka did C-ute Ookina Ai de Motenaishite. Also had a Johnnys faceoff, where we hit two Tokio songs (Sorafune and Amagasa, both themesongs to very good dramas, My Boss My Hero and Yasuko to Kenji respectively), Arashi's Happiness (also the themesong to a very good drama, Yamada Taro Monogatari), and KAT-TUN's Lips, just because metal Johnnys.

After all this we were nearing 7pm, and we needed a grand flourish, so I whacked on what I thought would be the perfect ending. After all, it sounds almost exactly like a band famous for grand flourishes. Momusu's Dekiru Onna, of course. Only to find out that Henkka had had almost exactly the same fucking idea and had put on Bohemian Rhapsody. Great minds...

Kickout time reached we decided in our wisdom to find an izakaya. However, following Henkka's phone's directions proved a longwinded and circuitous way, so on our quest to find a place to drink we stopped in a Lawson and grabbed a drink. Henkka got another chuuhai and me two bottles of whisky, a bottle of coke, and a set of papercups. As we walked and talked shit, Henkka drank, and I poured myself a drink whilst walking and talking, we stumbled across a monolith to modern Japan, a statue of a giant schoolgirl.

Henkka, of course, needed a picture.

It wasn't wearing any.

Distraction out of the way, we continued in our quest, Henkka yelling "近くの居酒屋" with increasing desperation into his uncomprehending phone. Eventually, after walking in circles, I stopped him as I'd spotted something he'd missed whilst glued to Google Maps.

Pointing at a red lantern hanging outside a store, I asked him what the kanji said. He couldn't read them (granted, they were done calligraphically), so I informed him that they spelled out the dread name IZAKAYA. Sated, we went in, to find a plethora of drunken train workers who had never seen a foreigner grace their little corner of Nagoya drinking establishments before, let alone two at once.

Slightly drunk, they invited us to join them.

Henkka possibly made a slight faux-pas when he tried paying for our drinks at the "bar", probably not realising that you're supposed to sit down and then pay at the end, leaving the okamisan slightly pissed off at us for the duration of our stay. Still, the fun had just begun, as a mildly (read: fucking utterly) inebriated lady, called Nanami, the only female in the train-worker's party, decided to entertain us. After going through the usual litany of "things to ask a foreigner you randomly meet who happens to speak more than just incredibly basic Japanese", she asked us more random things, like "What line do you live on?" to Henkka, and "Why the fuck don't you live in Japan, you should, I can introduce you to a single woman so you can get a marriage visa. She'd be in her 30s though..." to me. After ascertaining that we were wota they dragged one of their coworkers to our table because he was a mononofu, an A-rin wota. After that we discussed random idol shit, and Nanami tried to get us to eat some sashimi.

Being foreign and thus not having been used to eating fish since birth, Henkka and I demurred. Both of us disliked fish, and eating it raw just makes the taste even stronger. After deciding that I was drunk enough to not care, I ate it anyway. I can't really remember the taste. Henkka also tried, but had to forfeit halfway through his mouthful. After Nanami got him a drink and some chicken to wash it down with, Nanami and the A-rin wota started buying us more shit. Eventually, the okamisan got pissed off and closed. It was 9pm.

However, the last train back to Tokyo left at 21:30, as the train workers so helpfully pointed out about 20 times, so I had to rush back to the train station, Henkka trailing minorly wrecked in my wake. I achieved the shinkansen, sat down, and got back out my bottles of whisky and papercups, and enjoyed the journey back to Tokyo.

Henkka meanwhile had started molesting some cooking school graduates and got them to regale him with their life story. That, ladies and gentlemen, is Henkka.

Tuesday 18th March

My dingy apartment loomed over me like a gloomy spectre of depression, my head pounding as I tried in vain to once again remember just exactly how I'd got back to Nippori. I climbed half delirious into the shower, where once again the shower refused to stay at a constant temperature. Either boiling hot or freezing cold. The joys. The bath had no plug so I couldn't pour one and just relax in there. Shower over, I surfed. The wifi connection was limited to a single corner of the room (obviously, the one furthest from the bed) so I sat shivering and cold. The aircon refused to heat the room beyond 20C.

I had no more idol events to look forward to, except a few semi-planned J=J events which I then didn't bother going to either. What, I asked myself, should I do with myself?

Luckily, myself replied. "Climb a fucking mountain," it replied.

So I did.

The weather forecast said it was going to be sunny for the whole Kanto region. I rejoiced, then promptly got on a shinkansen to Odawara, my favourite not massive city in Japan. There's just something about it that makes me enjoy it there. Maybe it's that the girls seem to have the best concept of A-class zettai ryouiki in all of Japan. Maybe it's that the sand on the beach is black. Maybe it's just that it seems calmer there.

Not that I spent long there this time. I almost immediately hopped on the Tokaido line to go back to Kozu, and then switched to the Gotemba line. That's right, I was aiming for Fuji.

The train began to climb, the sun reached its zenith, and the train stopped. Turned out not all Gotemba line trains actually go to Gotemba, this one stopped at Yamakita, so, with nothing better to do, I got off.

At first I decided to head straight up the nearest mountain, but it started raining so I eased off and found something better, a sign for the Shasui Waterfalls. However, the sign was horrifically useless and they eventually stopped unexpectedly. In my quest to refind them I found a bridge and took a picture, because I could.

Also, using a graduated filter on a rainy day is a bad idea.

Slightly aggrieved at the weather report lying to me (Yamakita is still in Kanto, dammit), I carried on walking. And walking. I found an old Shinto shrine that had been wrapped up in white paper, so I moved on. I carried on walking so far I ended up at Uchiyama, which is in a completely different city. After walking through Uchiyama, up to the top of the hill/mountain it was located on, and down the other side a bit, I realised it was nearly 3pm (I'd been walking for quite a while at this point) and so decided to head back to find a train station. The bus timetables looked like something out of the 1930s, with about one bus every 3 hours or so, so I headed back into central Uchiyama and grabbed another picture.

It was still raining, and was windy as all shit. That's the mountains, I suppose. I headed down a different way because I couldn't be bothered to walk back the way I'd come, as I'd nearly been run over about fifty times because there were no pavements. I headed back down the mountain and through some more roads with no pavements, and this time the danger was even worse because there were blind corners and idiots parking in the middle of the road, most notably a guy delivering calor gas and a postman. Fuckers.

I spotted some early blossoming sakura so grabbed a quick pic.

The rain had started to ease and I carried on walking, and walking, and walking. Eventually I found myself at a station: Higashi-Yamakita. It's the station before Yamakita on the Gotemba line, so I'd basically walked over, and then back around, the entire fricking mountain. Hooray sense of direction?

Upon looking at the sparse timetable, I saw that the next train was headed towards Numazu, so I caught that instead of the train back to Odawara, hoping to at least see a bit of Fuji before I left the mountains. As we climbed the foothills, the light began to fade rather quickly. I thought night had arrived, but as the train arrived in Gotemba station the visibility was about five metres thanks to the thick fog. I couldn't see shit in that weather, so I stayed on the train. The train descended, the light returned, and I arrived at Numazu. As it's in the Shizuoka prefecture, and I wanted to catch a Shinkansen back, I decided that instead of heading back in Tokyo's direction I'd get on the Tokaido to Shizuoka.

Probably a bad idea, it took a damn long time. And then when I got to Shizuoka, I had to get back on a shinkansen going the opposite direction anyway. Tokyo I reached. I got on my phone and started looking up more idol events. I came across this post on Pure Idol Heart that piqued my interest somewhat insanely, and immediately followed them all on Twitter. They immediately followed back. However, slightly gutted, I realised they didn't have any events before I left Japan. Devastated, I slept.

Wednesday 19th March

For the Wednesday I had made plans with Dean to do fun things. For some reason, we planned to meet at Shibuya station's Hachiko exit. Once again the gulf between what Dean meant and what I understood was a gulf too far to cross, as I waited at the exit, he was waiting at the Hachiko statue. After resolving our issues, we headed for a multitude of shops as Dean was in a browsing mood. We hit rather a lot of shops looking for some skating gear he wanted, and saw a random structure that could only ever happen in Japan...

We also stopped into a Mos Burger, to get the best burger I'd had in Japan yet, as Dean continued in his quest to take me to all the burger chains in Japan. After getting in touch with Miles, who was in Harajuku to take pictures of schoolgirls the Meiji Shrine, we decided to walk over and meet up with him.

Along the way Dean spotted a condom shop he was intrigued by, as apparently Japanese ones are a) too small, and b) break too easily. Unfortunately he was too pussy to go in. We met up with Miles at a McCafé, and couldn't find a seat, so we ended up going to a Chinese restaurant in the same style as Saizeriya: cheap as fuck and with a drink bar.

Miles was carting around a fucking massive Canon 5D Mk2, which annoyed me somewhat, as despite me being a photography graduate I could never afford something that sexy. I then discovered we were basically polar opposites. He'd graduated with a degree in music and now never uses it, instead preferring photography. I graduated in photography, and spend most of the time I'm not working talking about and making music. I took a low-light long-exposure no-flash no-tripod picture of my melon soda with a shitty Nikon D70s with a broken lens just because I could.

After walking around for some time waiting for Dean to find some skater clothing, and after discussing the best kind of zettai ryouiki with Miles (I prefer minimal gap between skirt and sock, for reference), we spent the next hour in the Gundam shop, waiting for Miles to pick a wallet or a notepad or something, and then we stopped by Gorakudoh briefly as Dean pointed it out.

Imagine my terror when I saw a ticket for Okada Robin Shouko's birthday live, on the Friday. It had been sold out long before I reached Japan, and yet the upsell on the ticket price was only 300 yen or so. How bizarre. I bought it.

After this Miles dragged me and Dean into an analogue synth shop, featuring lots of sexy sounds and waveforms. After playing around for a damn long time, and struggling not to play Strawberry Fields Forever on the Mellotron they had, we left before we wore out our welcome.

After this Miles abandoned us, so Dean and I went across to Akiba. For some reason we always end up there. He showed me an idol goods shop, which had a bunch of Momoclo shirts, happis, jackets and shit, for quite reasonable prices. After thinking long and hard on it, I decided I'd save my money for the sexy Mamiya, which I promptly forgot about.

After wondering what to do with the rest of our day, I remembered the Slime Girl from the week before, a cute girl called Sakamoto Mana, and endeavoured to drag Dean to an Alice Project event. They perform every day of the year, after all. As we tried to remember the name of the place where it happened, I came upon the remarkable conclusion that Dean did actually have roaming internets and could just google it.

Sated, we headed off to Pasela (one of two in Akiba, it's the one away from the station at the major intersection) and tried to figure out what to do next. Pasela is some kind of inner-city tourist resort, the toilets and the like are super high class. I wondered why the fuck notable underground idols would be playing there, and couldn't think of why. After talking to the young woman manning the Alice Project ticket thing at the front desk, I couldn't help but notice she looked incredibly familiar.

She looked exactly like fucking AKINA...

Wondering why a noted former idol, actress, model and such like would be working in a weird resort, I decided to just buy our tickets and go get another burger. Maybe it's because her band doesn't rake in very much money. Maybe it's just an incredibly good plastic surgery job. Or maybe dopplegangers really do exist.

The burger chain Dean dragged me to this time was a Canadian-themed one, called Becker's. It was quite insane, the buns being made in front of you before they even got used. The main attraction on the menu for me was the Poutine, which I had Italian style, topped with a ragu instead of gravy. The burger was damn nice too. All in all, it tied with Mos Burger as the best in Japan at that point, and was only slightly behind Max in my world rankings.

Slightly less hungry, we headed back to Pasela and headed for the Alice Theatre. We were a bit early, but that didn't matter to us. We got off and realised that they were in the middle of rehearsal or something, and one of Steam Girls got in the lift with us and went to the next floor up. Dean and I didn't have a fucking clue what to make of this, so we headed back down to the ground floor where the wota were now starting to line up and such. We followed them in and entered PARMS, the weirdest looking theatre ever. There's a bar one side, restaurant tables the other, and a stage in the middle.

Not knowing what to expect, we made our way forward a bit and didn't really have a clue why so many people were hanging around at the back. As the first group, Game Girls, came out, we were slightly bewildered by their brand of hyper weird not-quite EDM.

For those not in the know about Alice Project, now might be a good time to provide a little history lesson. A while back there were a bunch of groups like Pureful and Prism. Eventually, following the sort-of success of Natsu Da Ne, they all sort of merged into a hyper-group called Alice Juban. Girls who pass the auditions start in the lowest group at the time (at the moment it's Slime Girls. In the past it's been Pa-ken as well) and then move their way up the heirarchy. Oz is sort of the stepping stone above Slime Girls, then Armour Girls formed fully fledged out of the remnants of Pa-ken. Steam Girls are Alice Juban's official "little sister unit", and Alice Juban is at the top. As if that wasn't complex enough, Alice Juban, Steam Girls and Armour Girls also merge together as Kamen Joshi (Masked Girls) just to fuck your brain over just that little bit extra. There are also a load of mixture units like Game Girls, Idol Youkai Kawayushi and a bunch of others. Sakura Yuki is the latest girl to get promoted, she went from Steam Girls to Alice Juban like, last weekend or something. She's pretty impressive, she's an idol who performs 6 days a week and still finds time to study at Tokyo Uni, the hardest to get into Uni in Asia.

Anyway, explanations aside, we enjoyed Game Girls a bit, then wondered even more what the fuck was happening as everyone at the back of the crowd moved forwards, and everyone at the front moved back. In the middle, Dean and I stayed put.

Next out were Oz, and they do some Wizard of-type cosplay at the same time whilst performing. Their songs are okay. I started to get into it, joining in some of the chanting and doing glowstickless furicopy. Dean stood transfixed, up until the MC where everyone sat down. Bewildered, we followed suit, only for everyone to stand up during their oshi's introductions. Then when the next song started everyone stood up again. So weird. Next up were Armour Girls, who came out toting fucking massive (plastic) swords and armour, and then suddenly came out with some fucking Flogging Molly-esque Celtic Punk. Needless to say I was pretty hooked at this point and went all weird with my furicopy and chants. Dean seemed a bit less enthused by Armour Girls than I was. After a few more crazy folkpop songs they buggered off again, and it was Steam Girls time.

Unfortunately, just about the only Alice Project girl I knew before coming to these shows was Koyanagi Tomoe, and she wasn't participating that day, so I made do with the depleted version. I was first introduced to Tomoe by chance about two years ago when Steam Girls first debuted. I saw them described as Steampunk Idols and loved the idea, only their outfits were blatantly cyberpunk rather than Steampunk. Tomoe followed me on twitter, so I followed her back, and then in cleaning up my follow list one day I deleted her, and she returned the favour. Ah, idols. The crowd once again rearranged itself, we got treated to some of their energetic somewhat bizarre cyberdancerock stuff. During Steam Girls the most intense wota I've ever seen stood right next to us, and basically ignored everyone, including the idols, to do the most self-aggrandising wotagei I've ever fucking seen. Was in his own little world, hyperspeed MIXing in every instrumental break and doing some weird type of hardcore dance at all other times.

Steam Girls done I prepared for the main event, the coming of Alice Juban. I took out my hair tie, shook out my ponytail, and prepared to headbang.

Throughout the Alice Juban portion my eyes were drawn to one girl in particular, and I've no idea why. Maybe it was her unsmiling intensity, maybe it was her fucking insane yaeba, maybe it was that her eyes just sparkled in that slightly unbalanced way that only Henkka and I really appreciate (they were also completely wonky, which helped). Her name was Kawamura Nanaka. After headbanging the fuck out of my neck, enjoying the fuck out of Natsu Da Ne and their other songs, and joining in some of the crazy wotagei that happens at Alice theatre shows, their performance ended, and we reached the "afterparty". Neither me nor Dean had a clue what it was, but the Akina-lookalike at the reception desk had said that the afterparty was the "good bit" so we hung around to see why.

After getting a drink from the bar using the "free drink" ticket we'd got from reception, we waited until all the members came back out on stage. Before long, people were queuing and going up to get polaroids and shit. Unfortunately for me and Dean, we didn't know anyone's names at this juncture, so we turned to someone else for help. Luckily, a kindly Japanese wota answered all our queries as to the oshimen we'd picked out during the show. Obviously, Nanaka for me, as well as Armour Girls' Amaki Jun; and for Dean, Oz's Asakura Ayaka. Now, Dean's as DD as I am, possibly moreso (he was crowned most DD gaijin at some wota meeting once, I think), but he was utterly besotted with this girl. The helpful guy explained to us the polaroid system, 1000円 gets you a simple polaroid, a 2000円 "wide" polaroid is bigger, the girl will sign it, and you get to stand up there and talk to them for a minute or so, depending on how much the Slime Girls are paying attention. Having the understudies police the events themselves is somewhat of an interesting touch, it saves costs on security and obviously gives them the chance to observe idol/fan reactions up close. When people want polaroids taken with Slime Girls, it's quite amusing as they seem quite earnestly ecstatic about it.

Info in hand, Dean immediately went up to get his Ayaka polaroid. Half a minute later he came back, smitten. She had even spoken to him in English, and basically captured his DD heart and turned it to her own ends. The fading memories of Hiroro, the lingering fondness for Dorothy Little Happy's Mimori... buried beneath a sea of Ayaka.

Determined to see if my favourite would wreak similar havoc on me, I went up and tried. Nanaka was cold, distant, and downright fucking awesome for it. She did the usual, "where are you from, why are you here?" shtick, and was like "meh" when I told her I came for idols. She signed the picture and I fucked off, both impressed and wanting to poke her cheeks.

Why is it cold women are so awesome to me?

Anyway, Dean went around and did Ayaka again, and we hung around until they wrapped it all up, and then we went and hung around in Saizeriya until it closed. All in all, a day well spent.

Thursday 20th March

The day had arrived, the day of Umika's photobook release. Once again the rain had settled in to make my life a misery, and so I decided to stay in bed until the rain pissed off. I stayed in bed until 4pm, then decided I'd better go and look otherwise I'd regret not looking. I searched high and low for any sign of it, I hit Ikebukuro, I hit Akiba, I hit Nippori. I got wet. I got annoyed. I went back home empty handed, all the Sofmaps, Tower Records, Yodobashi, Yurindo, Libra informed me that they didn't have it. Gutted, I took to the internet in despair, only to learn that Next Shoujo Jiken had announced two concerts for the very next day. Well well well, I thought, and promptly set about finding the general location of Shinjuku Birth so I could get lost whilst looking for it, and then the same for Marz later the next day when trying to find the Robin concert.

Afterwards I tuned into Music Japan on NHK because 9nine were on it, only to bitch endlessly about their live sound engineers. I know they don't get much practice at mixing live vocals, what with the huge amount of miming that goes on, but still, don't fuck it up that badly. HKT and SKE (I think) were on it too, but the live engineers didn't have to do anything apart from spin the CD so I guess that was okay for them.

Incredibly annoyed, I went back to sleep.

Friday 21st March

Quite early in the morning, I found myself in Shinjuku, tearing around Kabukicho, 6-chome, 2-chome and 1-chome before eventually finding Birth Shinjuku in amidst all the host clubs. It looked slightly more like a Visual Kei club than an idol event space, but I went down, and upon seeing that no one was there, I left again. There was a Lawson across the street, so I went in and bought something to drink. I went back to Birth after doing a lap of the area to find a bin for my drink bottle, and found there was still no one there. I waited until one person queued up behind me. Then the doors opened, I bought a ticket and went in.

Ticket #1 attained, I hung around at the front waiting. And waiting. At 11:50 it was me, the guy behind me in the queue, and some other bloke in there. The guy who had been behind me struck up a conversation with me, he was there for Lolisyn (who were playing first, and I didn't even realise they were there. Damn their all-kanji name) and that it would suck if this was all the people that came. Pretty hard to get pumped up when there's only three of you. After talking to him for a bit longer Hiro from the second-incarnation of Lolisyn then decided that enough was enough and handed out free-polaroid tickets to the three of us already there. She's so idolish and not idolish at the same time, it confuses the fuck out of me. She sort of skipped over to people, then sort of aggressively forced these tickets on us, then flounced off again. Half her hair is blonde and half is brown. It's a weird sight.

Mentally unstable idols... yes.

After this about ten more people arrived and Lolisyn started their performance. It didn't take me long to get into it, within about a minute I was headbanging and slightly rocking out. Lolisyn's songs are pretty much on the heavier edge of the idol spectrum, firmly approaching "heavy as a really heavy thing." I think I find the new incarnation of Hiro and Halu (that's how she spells it, who am I to argue?) slightly better vocally than the previous incarnation. After ripping through several songs, getting the minimal crowd to headbang and even start the rudiments of the smallest fucking moshpit I've ever seen, and just generally owning, they unleashed a random song of cuteness which was really fucking weird, but had some of the craziest crossrhythm wotagei I've ever seen. A formative version of the wotagei can be seen here. After such an insane song and wotagei routine, they couldn't really top it so they buggered off.

So did basically all the Lolisyn wota.

When Ride, the next group, came out, I didn't know what to expect. They were dressed quite stylishly, in a way it reminded me of the Queen and Elizabeth AKB side-group in that there were two of them. Then they announced that as Lolisyn had powered through their setlist so quickly we were ahead of schedule and so they had to talk for ten minutes. Embarassed, shy and a bit rubbish at MCs, they lasted about four minutes with an ill-fated attempt at doing some dance cover of an EXILE dance, then just went into the first song, an ill-inspired choice that was a ballad. After being on a high from Lolisyn, I felt sorry for them after the MC and then such a downer start to a show. Luckily they rallied and performed some slightly more rocking tunes after that, so once they'd disappeared it wasn't to no applause whatsoever.

Next up was my main event of the day, Next Shoujo Jiken. Before the performance I'd singled out Shuri as probably my favourite, but within a few minutes of them appearing on stage Mai had hit most of my oshi buttons. Next Shoujo Jiken are a weird concept in that they're supposedly "incident" idols. They get stabbed in the middle of concerts and shit, randomly die, stop performing and stop moving, shout "fuck" a lot, give the middle finger to everyone, and their "poster" song at the moment is called "adolescence", in which they just scream "fuck you" at the audience a lot. They perform barefoot all the time, which is an interesting choice considering how many idol groups do that as an occasional thing (Momoclo, LinQ and AeLL especially), and the audience interaction is unlike any other idol group I've ever seen. Shuri jumps into the crowd at any given opportunity, Mai just stands and looks cute and then randomly dives at people to touch them, and Nono is the cool one who just stabs people.

Halfway through the concert Shuri ran out of energy or something, so Nono started kicking her and then stood on her. Nono then stabbed the shit out of Mai. It was all a bit clusterfuck and I don't really know what, but it was 100% fucking awesome. Throughout the show, due to them falling over so often, another wota close by kept making finger-glasses and trying to get upskirts. Far from being subtle about it, he went over and above and made everyone laugh by it. Another wota, who looked like he was a member of Maximum the Hormone, was doing some hardcore style dancing as well, and was a complete Shuri wota. In a way I'm glad I oshi'd Mai. Less competition. The third wota of note basically vaulted right to the top of the 4'5" high railing to kecha the girls. Some damn athletic leap, and insane levels of balance. He did it twice, even.

Because the first three groups had all finished so fucking early, the venue announced a break before the show continued. I'd wondered what the fuck was going on outside the actual live hall for a while, so I went to look. Turns out Lolisyn had dragged a table out in front of the stairs and were doing polaroids and shit there. Intrigued, I got out the free ticket Hiro had given me and waited behind some other guy. He waited his turn, then chose Halu. I figured the usual poses would be in contention, the peace sign, the heart sign, etc. Instead, he laid face down on the floor and Halu stood on him. Mildly bewildered, I looked on, amused by this completely weird fan/idol interaction. The guy in question having gotten up and moved on, I went up and got one taken with Hiro.

My kimosa level isn't quite yet at being trodden on. Yet. Afterwards we spoke a bit about indie idols, metal and what would sell in the west. I mentioned the Idol Matsuri going on in America that proves that it's not always the major idols that get attention. The fact that Aither were playing minorly amazed them. I also bought one of their shirts because they win.

Having headed back inside, the next idol had started. Her name was Saki, and her group name was 2& (pronounced Double And), even though there was only one of her. Apparently there used to be two of them, then the other left and now the 2& means "Saki and You". Or something. Either way, she had some pretty rad performance skills, with a damn good voice and pretty sharp dance moves. For a soloist, she filled up the stage pretty damn well. There's just something incredibly captivating about her, as she seems to shun conventional choreography and stand still during danceable parts, and then dances to the really hard to dance to parts. The songs are also pretty good, funky and melodic with a damn sweet bass underpinning. This PV's from when 2& was a duet, but it gets the point across. There were only two actual 2& wota there, that I could tell, judging by their Tshirts, but they basically taught everyone what to do. Like, in the PV above, when Saki screams, everyone fucking screams. Much as the video and sound quality sucks on this, this and this, it's worth watching because 2& could do with some more support. She is awesome.

After Saki had left, we had a group that came out with actual idol-looking costumes. Actually they looked like a cross between Momusu's One Two Three and Wagamama costumes, but I digress. They'd only debuted like 5 days previously, so as you can imagine their freshness level was insane. Their name: Tsuki to Taiyou. No, not the Taiyou to Ciscomoon song. I picked out my oshi because I could, though I struggled a bit. Three of them were insanely cute, but I chose the pink one because I could. Her name is Natsumi. The leader is called Sayanee, which made the weird guy with the hand goggles from earlier ask why NMB were playing here. Their sound is also pretty rock, though as they'd just debuted I don't know what direction they'll take in the long run. At the moment metal and rock idols are on a major upswing, but who knows how long it'll last. They played through a few songs, got some applause, and left.

After the idols had finished I thought about going, but the Lolisyn wota I'd been speaking to at the start told me there would actually be tables brought out (along with idols) and you could do some polaroids with them, chat with them, and buy some merch. So we hung around the Next Shoujo Jiken table until they came out, as Lolisyn had already buggered off. I started talking to Mai and Nono about random shit, with Shuri coming and going as she pleased (she really doesn't have any kind of normality at all. She was just going hither and thither without a care in the world). The Maximum the Hormone lookalike came and did a polaroid with Shuri, she stood still for about 5 seconds to do the picture, then ran away with it. She came back about 5 minutes later having turned it into a work of art deco, then buggered off again.

Mai was sweet as hell, we ended up talking about the popularity of idols abroad, the state of politics in several countries, deep-vein thrombosis... it was getting sillier and sillier. Eventually I asked them why the hell they were barefoot all the time, to which they replied they didn't have a fucking clue and dragged the producer over to ask him. He basically said "because they are" then ran off to hide again. Nono took off her slipper and was like "look how bloody dirty this gets because people never clean the stage properly." Made me laugh. They told me to follow them on twitter. I told them I already did. They said to let them know my username so they could follow me back. I told them they already had. They seemed confused until I took out my phone and showed them my profile picture. They remembered that.

I decided to get a decorated polaroid with Mai because she was just being so sweet, so she asked my name. I told her Krv, because I could, and then she couldn't pronounce it. I guess Kanchan was special. Then she couldn't spell it either.

I quite like abusive idols.

After this she started saying she wanted to come to the UK for a live. I said it wouldn't be impossible, as UK is metal's birthplace and they're pretty metal, and pretty fucking weird, and Babymetal are getting a lot of attention nowadays. Surprised by the fact that Babymetal had got on the charts abroad, they once again summoned their producer guy and I chatted to him for a while. He's a pretty chill guy. He asked where I'd found out about them and I told him that it was from Pure Idol Heart. They seemed amazed that that one article reached anyone at all. I think he was a Lolisyn wota who turned into a producer by way of mutation, but who knows. This picture supports that though. I asked Mai where she wanted to play in the UK. She replied with (and I'm not even fucking kidding), "Fuckingham Palace".

a) That's fucking metal.
b) Does Buckingham Palace ever even hold gigs?
c) She's another DMC fan!

I spoke to her about DMC for a while as well. The Lolisyn wota got a polaroid taken with Nono, and the guy who'd been perving on them came over and started talking to them as well. He's called FATTKC and is hilarious to watch, even though the kimosa level is over 9000. After that the idol groups all started to leave, and I was sort of gutted that I couldn't go to the evening event as well. Damn Robin. Having said goodbye to Next Shoujo Jiken, I left.

With a few hours to kill I decided to once again attempt to obtain Umika's photobook. I searched all over Shinjuku for a bookshop, finding Shinjuku Marz in the process, but couldn't find one, so went back down to Shibuya. I went in Tower Records, they told me it wasn't even on their system. There was an X21 event going on outside a shop, which I promotly ignored. I went to Tsutaya, and they said it wouldn't be in stock until the following Monday, after I'd have left. They said there was another bookstore in Shibuya, under the Parco, so I went there as well. After dragging the poor clerk to the section, he looked exactly where I'd already looked, told me he didn't have it, and refused to tell me if they would ever have it. Dick.

On the verge of giving up, I remembered a hint from Oroboras to try Jinboucho. With nothing to lose, I got on the underground up there and headed for Shosen. I found a treasure trove of photobooks, but no Umika. I asked another clerk if she knew when it was out, she said she'd look, and once again told me the next week. Unless the internet had lied to me, I didn't believe her. Either way, I bought a load of photobooks, then headed back to Shinjuku to catch the Robin live, though at the time I assumed it'd be a full The Possible live with just a birthday celebration for Robin in the middle.

After lining up behind some incredibly overexcited girls, I got in and found myself in the most crowded venue I've ever seen. I went downstairs because the overhanging "second floor" bit was full to brimming. Downstairs there was said second floor overhang looming incredibly low, so that when you were as far back as I, you couldn't see the stage. It was ridiculous. Worst venue layout I've ever seen. It was even worse because the barriers were about 3m away from the stage. Could have fit all of us in and had exactly the same security if the barriers were 1m away, but I guess logic plays no part in anything Tsunku-related.

Robin came out to applause. Then, she did one song live. Then she introduced her "backing members", to which I figured The Possible would all come out and we'd have a gig.

Nope, an actual live band came out. And Robin continued on her own. After blasting through some hits from new and old Possible (apparently because she did a load of covers last year and no one liked it), I noticed two other foreigners standing next to me looking thoroughly bemused. I later figured out they were her family when they went backstage after the show. Robin sang Avril Lavigne's Complicated, I think simply so that her family would understand one of the songs, and also did an acoustic cover of a song by some young singer/songwriter on Victor whose name I've completely forgot. She put on a slideshow made by GLORIOUS FLATCHEST legend Niwa Mikiho whilst she got changed, and then she then did one last spurt to the end.

It would have been amazing... if I could have seen any of it.

After she left, she got a long assed encore chant which, for some reason, they hadn't been expecting. So she came back on and did one impromptu last song (luckily the bandmembers knew like, one Possible song they hadn't played that evening), and that was it.

I tried to fight my way out of the damn gig but it was a huge block near the exit. Figuring something was going to happen I hung around, grabbing a drink in the process, and waited. Before long Robin came out from backstage and basically stood in the doorway, barring our exit, and said thanks for coming. Then she stood behind the entrance desk and shook everyone's hands as they were leaving. Seems really weird but oh well.

When she saw me she instantly switched to perfectly good English, which shocked the hell out of me (she always says she can't speak it, and in the concert she even called herself an 似非外人 (a pretend-foreigner). Either way, I was so confused by this I just sort of muttered that her English pronunciation was better than I expected, both talking and in the Avril Lavigne song, and that I was from the UK. Only I did it in Japanese. Tiredness, it's a killer. She sort of accepted this with a smile, shook my hand, and let me on my way.

But the night was young yet. Only 8:30, I texted Dean to see what he was up to. As it turned out, he'd dragged Ricardo along to see Alice Project. "Well, I may as well join you for Saizeriya," I thought, and headed over there. Dean had estimated he'd be out by about 9. I snuck up the back staircase and just sat on the stairs waiting for him, and started perusing my photobooks in the meantime. About 10:20, he finally came out, after having more funtimes with Ayaka. 

We headed out to Saizeriya, where we just chatted shit again for a while. Ricardo hadn't enjoyed Alice Project so much, pointing out that the fans were slightly more focused on themselves than the idols. True, but if you're having fun it shouldn't matter. He'd been to the X21 event I'd seen earlier, and had a bunch of goods from it. After deciding we would get some tickets for Saturday's Alice live in advance, we headed over to Lawson and spent a while trying to spell Dean's name right in Japanese. It had no back button so you had to delete the lot every time you screwed up. Either way, tickets sorted, we headed our separate ways again, back to bed.

Saturday 22nd March

After waking up early to start cleaning, I realised that as my checkout time wasn't going to be until 4pm there was absolutely no point, so I went back to bed. Then got up again to wash my bedding, then went back to bed without any bedding. Upon waking up properly I set about tidying and cleaning it, and packing. Oh, the joys of packing. After yet another shower that altered between freezing and boiling, I evacuated the bathroom for the last time. The place was ready and waiting to be inspected. It was 1pm. I went back to sleep. I woke up again at 2pm, and went to 7/11 to get some food. I cooked it, made a mess of the kitchen again, and then had to clean it again. Gave me something to do. At 3:30pm I finally got inspected and left. My suitcase weighed 20kg, my rucksack about 15kg. I had a shitload of 9nine CDs I had to leave at Watanabe's because I couldn't get them all on the plane, and so I just suffered. I met Dean at Akiba, eventually. He said to meet him at the AKB Café, but then changed his mind and told me to meet him inside the station so he didn't have to pay. So I went back inside, hacked my bag into a massive locker, and then we headed out to find Umika's PB again.

We hit every idol shop in Akiba, and then after almost giving up we hit Akiba's Shosen on a whim. They had it. Fucking started raining sparkles and shit or something. Was like dreamworld. After browsing through Akiba Shosen's amusing fetish section, we were ready to depart again. We headed to Mos Burger for food, and this time they disappointed the fuck out of me. Was the worst chicken burger I've ever had. I guess that makes Becker's my undisputed #1 in Japan.

Time arrived, we headed back out to the Alice theatre, though not before stopping at a Lawson to grab some cans of chuuhai, where the whole place was decked out in really pale blue/green, for Hoshi Aina's birthday. Dean's favourite Ayaka had designed a shitload of banners and things for it, and there were glowsticks handed out at the entrance. We went in, not sure what to expect from an Alice birthday crowd. It was, quite obviously, highly partisan. The number of Aina tshirts in attendance was rather large, quite possibly 75% of the audience. The lights went down and the music began, and out came Kamen Joshi. Weird to start with the merger of the three biggest groups, but oh well. The crowd were well into it and they ripped through a few crazy songs to start, before blowing everyone up with Natsu Da Ne, and then singing Happy Birthday (the Alice version) to Aina, who was standing on the balcony above the crowd. The crowd kecha'd the fuck out of Aina and basically ignored Kamen Joshi.

The concert continued in the same vein, with the crowd focusing their wotagei entirely at Aina instead of whichever group was on stage. We had Armour, Game and Steam Girls and Alice Juban put in their best efforts, and all of them gave amazing performances which hardly anyone watched. They were busy looking at Aina, wotageiing each other or running around in circles. Obviously, for the MCs everyone still had to sit down so no one could see Aina, so people still did the "stand up for your group oshi" thing. Once again my gaze was stolen by Jun in Armour Girls, and Nanaka in Alice Juban. Also once again, Tomoe didn't perform with Steam Girls, so I've still not seen my oshi in that group perform. Game Girls still didn't get me excited (I got a drink during them, then couldn't sit down during their MC because there was no room in front and no room behind due to a table, so all the fans were glaring at me. Eventually I had to squat). Alice Juban also finally bust out the stagediving. Was lucky fans were paying attention at that juncture, otherwise they'd have gone thud rather loudly...

When at last it was Oz's turn to perform, the crowd went all crazy and it was weird wotagei time again. The live went off without a hitch, and Ayaka read out a long-assed letter in the middle of a song to Aina. Her cake was also fucking huge. She kept eating bits of it whilst everyone was wishing her happy birthday. She also got to ride in the crowdsurf boat and had everyone kecha her there as well. Either way, it was an amusing live.

Afterwards, of course, came the ultimate polaroid thingy again. Dean went up to get his Ayaka one, luckily there weren't many people in the "everyone else line", but there were bloody loads in the Hoshi Aina-only line. I debated for a while what to do, as I wasn't sure if I could take another dose of Nanaka's coldness, and Jun had impressed me quite a lot. Ayaka had also followed me on twitter for some reason so I figured I could troll Dean and do that as well. As I was queuing, eventually I decided on all of them, the guy who takes money in front of the stage yelled over to Dean in crappy English, "You, two, three girl, 二千円!" I think the guy had a fondness for trolling Dean, apparently he still does it now.

Dean ignored him, he's only ever focused on Ayaka. I went for Nanaka, Jun and Ayaka together, and then apparently completely ignored Ayaka. Wasn't on purpose. I told her it was Dean's recommendation, but maybe she didn't hear. Nanaka told Jun I was from the UK, to which Jun tried speaking in English. I let her struggle for a bit, then just said "Japanese is fine though" in Japanese. She tsukkomi'd the fuck out of me, "日本語で良いのかい!?" I have a feeling if she'd had a harisen to hand I'd have got a smack around the back of the head with it. Made me laugh anyway.

They took the picture and I spoke some more to Nanaka and Jun, whilst Nanaka signed it (she regained enough to continue as my oshi, though Jun's nipping at her heels).

I also love that Alice Juban's centre, Tachibana Anna, sort of photobombed it in the background there, randomly holding her tits. Jun also seems to be doing some sort of Chai Maxx thing.

Either way, fun times over, Dean moped that he had no money left for another twoshot with Ayaka. Feeling sorry for him, as well as slightly rich after my returned deposit, I lent him some money for another one. After this it all went weird as a photographer climbed up a precarious ladder and took photos of all of Alice Project, and then with a bunch of fans as well. It ended brightly.

After the show I had to head back to Akiba station so I could grab my nightmarishly heavy fucking bag and drag it back out into Akiba so we could take the tube out to Watanabe's place, where I was going to crash for the night before getting up for the plane in the morning.

As we arrived, we had to walk quite far and carry my bag up quite a lot of stairs. Then we had to walk about 3 times further than we should have because for some reason steps had been replaced elsewhere with the easiest gradient disabled ramp I've ever seen. After then going up and down another pointless staircase which seems to have been created merely to piss people off, we arrived at Watanabe's.

We sat down, I met Watanabe's roommate, some really weird but cool guy called Suzake or something, and we started drinking all the beers I'd bought the previous monday. Some were quite strong, some quite good, and all of them got finished. I handed over all my remaining 9nine CDs to Watanabe to keep safe (and give out to other foreign wota he takes an interest in), and then we sat and chatted until about 12:30 when we realised we'd better eat something soon, and the last pizza place closed at 1am. Suzake ordered some pizza from Dominos, but they didn't deliver. So, slightly tipsy, Dean and I took possession of some bikes and headed out on a quest to find it. Riding a bike through Tokyo at 1am is a weird thing to do, especially as Japanese bikes are fucking awful to ride.

I've long had a theory that even though everyone in Japan has and uses bikes, barely any of them know how to use them. Having now ridden one, I can say it's because who the fuck would fit racing bike tyres on general work bikes? You need at least 4 or 5cm of tyre, not 2cm.

Anyway, we eventually got to the pizza place and I don't think we were what he was expecting when he saw "Suzake" on the order. We got our pizzas, paid and then fucked off back to Watanabe's, stopping only for some coke.

Having eaten the pizza and watched some random assed shit on TV (BiS' Tentenko being dryhumped) and some Momoclo lulz, I went to sleep on half a futon that I couldn't be bothered to unroll.

Sunday 23rd May

I awoke at 6am to no sounds whatsoever. I knew I had to get up, I had a plane to catch. I went back to sleep. At 7am I was like, "Oh shit," ran to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, obviously woke Watanabe up in the process, and then kicked Dean a few times to tell him I was going. He woke up, but only when Watanabe invited him to a Lyrical School event that afternoon. Realising I was gonna get no joy from him, I whacked on my bag and left, thanking Watanabe for the evening's free kip.

Heading back out under the warm, sunny sky on very little sleep, I struggled my way back to the underground station with my bags and then caught a train to a place I'd only briefly heard the name of to get to Tokyo. Unfortunately I missed it, and ended up getting off and Jinboucho and going back in the other direction. Once I'd switched to the Marunouchi line and hit Tokyo, I was running late, and I had to run through the station to just about reach the Narita Express in time.

I hadn't reserved a seat, which annoyed all the Chinese passengers, so I just sat anywhere and dozed a bit, buying practically everything off the train cart when it wheeled past. I got to Narita and just about crashed, but managed to avoid it in time to just about get to where the Virgin Check In Desk was.

After waiting in the baggage drop queue (waiting to Check-in is such a 20th Century thing), they realised the check in idiots would be forever, so they directed me to first class to drop my baggage at. The woman who attended me was rather cute, and when she mispronounced my last name (which everyone does, but I can't abide it when it's a cute woman) I corrected her in Japanese. From then on she decided to do the whole baggage drop process in Japanese, and was genuinely nice. Probably because some random gaijin learned Japanese, I guess, but I don't think I've ever met a nice attendant before.

Having left my bag at the bag drop desk, I hurried through security and emigration so I could get to the gate, as it had already been announced (unlike Heathrow, where they announce it about 30 mins before you're supposed to be on the plane). As soon as I sat down, my nose erupted. Probably no one remembers, but 4 years ago in my London post I had the most epic nosebleed ever. This topped it, and by the time I'd stemmed it (having got through a whole box of tissues, bought some more, and got through half of those too), I looked like I'd been through a few boxing matches. Rushing to the bathroom to get rid of the blood, it then started again. Bloody blood pressure.

Unfortunately not barred from catching the plane, I boarded and sat down, and then watched six films during the 12 hour flight. Luckily this time Virgin let you start the film at the beginning when you tried to watch it. Sort of content, I arrived back in the UK knackered, and dead, and raring to go back to Japan at the soonest opportunity.

Having experienced both major and (really) underground idols, I think at the moment I'm going to be focusing on the underground. Obviously, it's far harder to consume from abroad, but it's more satisfying to talk to idols for minutes rather than seconds, and to watch something in its formative stages than when it's already become a victim of the corporate machine.

So, yes. Another fucking huge post completed. 10000+ words. Disturbing. Hopefully I'll get to write another one sooner or later. Hopefully this time it won't be another 6 years before I go back. But either way, it was an epic journey. Here's to all of those who contributed.

Pozdrav fuckers.


  1. Epic post...great read..very entertaining.

  2. Hey man. Thanks for your report about our 17th March drinking adventure. I'll be honest: I didn't remember half the things you mentioned until your report reminded me about them. It could be fair to say that I drank too much. But only a little bit.

    - Don't mock my aversion to cold you bastard. Being a Finn, it embarrasses even myself. I wasn't always like this. I don't know what the hell happened to my body after moving to Japan. It's ridiculous. I'm ashamed of myself.
    - That breakfast chu-hi was a stupid decision. But a delicious one.
    - I love that cock sign.
    - Still can't believe they had stuff like Cryptopsy and Cradle of Filth on there. Japanese karaoke never fails to amaze me.
    - I don't even know why I attempted to sing Amagasa. Fucking amazing song, but my rendition of it would've made Nagase Tomoya cry.
    - I couldn't read 居酒屋? That's silly. I'll take your word for it though. At this point my memory has gotten hazy -- I could hardly read Google Maps anymore.
    - I do remember Nanami and the A-rin wota though. Fun times.
    - I also remember that sashimi, even though I really don't want to.
    - I also remember one bonus thing you didn't mention in your story: the boss-looking guy getting really, really angry at one of his employees at some point, screaming and shouting his head off, and that awkward silence afterwards that filled the room as you, me, A-rin wota and Nanami exchanged glances, shrugged, and quietly sipped on our drinks.
    - Oh, and sorry about being silly and trying to pay at the counter. That was my first visit to an izakaya actually. I should've remembered you're supposed to pay at the table. Well, I'm not surprised about my memory not serving me well at that point anymore. Some short hours after that (after parting ways with the cooking school graduates), I'd fallen asleep on the street with a half-eaten sandwich in hand. I wish I was only kidding.

    In any case: that was a very fun night. Thanks for keeping me company you magnificent bastard, and you make sure to come back here sooner rather than later so we can go out again, get drunk and make more mistakes.

    PS. That polaroid you took with Mai is so awesome, I'm lost for words.