Day 1

My journey began with an overnight flight from Boston to Paris, during which I couldn’t get a bit of sleep despite using earplugs, an eyeshade, and a wraparound neck pillow. I’ve never been able to sleep on a plane, unless you count the moments where I doze off and my head falls forward causing me to immediately wake up with a start and snap my head back, to the amusement of my fellow passengers.

Upon my arrival on Thursday midday, I took the train directly from the airport to Japan Expo (4 Euros to go one stop, hmmph.)  I emerged from the station and, since I didn’t really know where I was going, I decided to follow a group of cosplayers.  They led me on a long trek to Hall 6, but I actually needed to be at the “Bishi Bishi” booth in Hall 5, where the coveted tickets for ℃-ute’s handshake event were being sold.  (Bishi Bishi were the local promoters for ℃-ute’s appearance in Paris.) After another 15-20 minutes of wandering, I finally found the place, right next to an honest-to-goodness wrestling ring where some very loud conflicts were taking place, as might be expected in such a venue. *Sigh*.  I met up with some pals of mine who were already there, and then took my place at the end of the long, slowly-moving queue.

There were two separate handshake sessions scheduled for Saturday: the first at 1:45, and the second at 3:45.  On Thursday, only tickets for the first session were available, and there was a limit of one per transaction.  I ended up going through the line twice, for two tickets.

The handshake tickets were included inside a special-edition compilation CD of ℃-ute songs made for the event, entitled “℃-ute Cutie Sélection à Nos Amis de France.”  These were being sold for 20 Euros apiece.  This is actually a very nice album, that includes 15 of their most popular hits, plus their latest single, “Adam to Eve no Dilemma.”

cute album pic

There was a great selection of other H!P goods available at the booth, too, although the prices were a bit high.  My second time through the line, I spotted Airi’s Suu-san towel for sale and added it to my order, without realizing it was going to cost me 24 Euros! (I misread the price listed on the sheet.  Bloody French handwriting…) Oh well, I do love the towel, and it sparked a nice exchange between Airi and me at the handshake event, so it was worth it.

suu-san towel

By this time, most of my friends had gone over to the Japan Expo Stage to grab seats for ℃-ute’s Q&A panel, and since I was pretty much out of cash at this point, I decided to join them.  We all found spots in the first two rows to the right of the stage (thanks for saving me a seat, guys) and settled in for the 2+ hour wait, which was filled with the screening of Naruto that was taking place there.  Unbeknownst to us at the time, we were missing ℃-ute’s surprise visit to the booth we had just come from, but such is life on the convention circuit.

At last, the time came for ℃-ute’s panel, and they walked out onto the stage in front of hundreds of eager fans, introducing themselves in French.  The questions for the girls had been submitted ahead of time on Facebook, and also in writing just prior to the start of the event.  Of course, the whole thing was in Japanese and French, so I didn’t understand too much of what was going on, but there’s an excellent translated transcript available at airisuzukifrance.com.

It was a nice event, and the girls looked great in their kimono, but the stage was so far away, and the hall was so big and echo-y, that it felt a little bit impersonal.  It wasn’t until the end, when they came out to take a big group photo with us and we were able to get closer and make eye contact, that I felt like I was really there “with” ℃-ute, as opposed to just watching them from afar as an anonymous part of a large crowd.

After that, it was just a matter of navigating through the immense crowd to get on the train to Gare du Nord.  (Pro tip:  do NOT wait until the end of the day to buy your train ticket.)  Then it was off to dinner and then to the hotel for some much-needed sleep, in preparation for the next day’s concert.

Day 2

After the long, exhausting prior day, I had no intention of doing the all-day-lineup thing for the concert.  So, when I found myself awake at 5 AM… I went back to sleep.  I eventually made it to La Cigale at 1 PM.  There weren’t too many people in line yet… maybe 150 or so.  I was happy with my decision to sleep in.  Of course, some folks felt the need to be in the front row, so they had lined up the night before.

The line was sunny and hot.  Those who hadn’t brought umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun would periodically seek refuge in the shade across the street, taking turns with their companions to hold their place in line.

Eventually the doors opened and I found a spot about 15 rows back in the middle, right behind a group of girls who were all considerate enough to be shorter than me. It also helped that the floor sloped down toward the stage.

Just like at last year’s Buono! concert in Paris, the crowd was large, loud, and excited to see their J-Pop idols.  ℃-ute delivered a very high-energy performance that featured the great dancing they are famous for, along with powerful vocals.  They performed 22 songs, including most of the ones I was hoping for, along with a few delightful MC segments that were conducted in French and Japanese.  There were also a few costume changes during the show.

Set List:

01 The☆Treasure Box
02 SHOCK!
MC
03 Watashi wa Tensai / Nakajima・Hagiwara
04 Chikyuu kara no sanjuusou / Yajima・Suzuki・Okai
05 Adam to Eve no Dilemma
06 Kanashiki Amefuri
07 Massara Blue Jeans
08 Ookina Ai de Motenashite
09 Disco Queen
10 Sekaichii HAPPY na Onnanoko
MC
11 EVERYDAY Zekkouchou!!
12 Hitorijime shitakatta dake na no ni
13 Aitai Aitai Aitai na
14 Darenimo naisho no koishite iru no
15 Bokura no Kagayaki
16 Midnight Temptation
17 Kiss me Aishiteru
18 Chou WONDERFUL!
19 Tokkaiko Junjou
ENCORE
20 Dance de Bakoon!
MC (℃-ute’s letter to fans in French)
21 Seishun Song
22 JUMP

This concert had none of the flaws that marred last year’s Buono! show.  The sound was good, the staging and lighting were visually pleasing, and the group provided an excellent encore segment to end the evening.  Also, the venue was larger and nicer than the one used for Buono.  It was a really great, fun show from beginning to end!

Day 3

Handshake day!

I’d heard about handshake events before, and I’d seen video of them, but this was the first time I would ever experience one for myself.

Thankfully, there was no need to line up hours ahead of time for this event, because if you had a ticket, you were guaranteed to get your turn.  So once again, I slept in and had a leisurely breakfast before heading out to catch the train for the Expo.  I took the Métro to Gare du Nord, and then waited on the platform for the RER B train.  There were several cosplayers in the vicinity (shout-out to Captain Hammer!) so I knew I was in the right place.  I even ran into a French fan wearing a Hagiwara Mai shirt, and between my minimal French and his moderate English, we were able to carry on a conversation during the ride out.

I met up with my crew at the Bishi Bishi booth, where I bought two more tickets for the 2nd handshake session to go along with the two I already had for the 1st session.  Then we headed over to where the event would be taking place, with plenty of time to spare.  ℃-ute fans began gathering in earnest about an hour or so before the start time, sitting in circles on the floor, swapping wota stories, and planning what they were going to say to the girls.

Eventually, the staff arrived, and took their time setting up a long table, a large backdrop, lights, and cameras.  A couple hundred fans gathered around with their own cameras in hand.  Finally, ℃-ute filed out from backstage, introduced themselves in French, smiled and waved to everyone, and the first handshake session began.

Their plan was to do 550 handshakes in 45 minutes.  If you do the math, that works out to less than 5 seconds per handshake.  Now, it’s easy for people to lose track of time when they’re standing in front of their favorite idols, so there are helpful staff members positioned behind the fans to make sure everyone keeps moving through at a good clip.  The “pushers,” you might call them.  When a pusher determines that you’ve had enough time, you get a few urgent taps on the shoulder.  If that doesn’t make you move along, it turns into a gentle but steady push.  And if that doesn’t get you going, you’re liable to be grabbed by your shirt, backpack, or some other part of your clothing or body, and pulled over to the next girl, or maybe even two girls down if you’ve used way too much time on the previous one.  This system can seem comical the first time you see it, but of course it’s necessary, and actually quite brilliant in that it completely absolves the idols themselves from any responsibility or blame for rushing you along!

When I went through the line, everything was happening so fast, and I was so focused on making sure to smile and look them in the eyes and say what I wanted to say, that I was barely aware of shaking their hands.  I couldn’t tell you who had the softest hands, or who had the firmest grip.  Those taps on the shoulder come awfully quickly, and there are only so many things you can accomplish or appreciate in those few seconds.  I do remember most of what I said to them (simple things like “good luck at Budokan” and “please come to America”) and I remember that their reactions were much brighter and happier when I managed to speak to them in Japanese.

However, there was one girl I was much more focused on than any of the others: my overall #1 idol, Airi.  Honestly, I don’t really know much about the other members of ℃-ute, but with Airi, I had many more specific things I wanted to say to her.  And fortunately, she knows enough English that we were able to communicate easily.  So of course, I remember my encounters with her in much more detail, and they were some of the high points of my weekend (especially when she told me “I remember you” and “I love you!” and when she laughed at a joke I made.)

The handshake event, although a bit hectic, was a wonderful opportunity for the fans to experience a little bit of time “up close and personal” with the idols.  It went by quickly, but for the few moments we had with them, they gave us their full attention.  And even after we’d taken our turns, we were able to stay close by and watch them, and even take pictures and videos.  It really was a great way for them to say “thank you” to the fans.

After both handshake sessions were completed, ℃-ute made one last surprise public appearance, at a nearby booth where they gave a karaoke performance of Momoiro Sparkling.  It was a nice end to a really great weekend!