This year, Hello! Project and Up-Front Agency surprised overseas fans with the news that their group, Juice=Juice, would embark on their first world tour. Running from September 8th until October 1st 2017, the tour saw Juice=Juice perform in Mexico, England, France, Germany, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan, making it the longest running overseas tour for a Hello! Project group to date, as well as the first to see one of the agency’s groups enter the UK, Germany, Malaysia and Indonesia.

It was on September 14th that Juice=Juice made their way to London to hold their UK debut. Held at 229 The Venue on Great Portland Street, the seven-member unit would perform to a sold-out crowd of 150 fans. Finally, a Hello! Project group on my own turf – I wasn’t going to miss out on that, especially when I didn’t need to travel to another country to see it.

That said, going to London is like a holiday itself; I rarely go, making it feel like I’m entering another country, regardless.

The journey to London itself was not that long, amounting to around 3 hours, total – the same time it took me to get to Paris, and the ℃-ute concert. I took the train with my younger sister and her partner on the day of the live itself, and met my friends, Ash and Gracie, at Kings Cross station, before we journeyed to our hotel on Gower street, which was a mere 17 minutes’ walk from the venue that would host Juice=Juice that night.

After relaxing some and ordering take-away to our hotel room (needed the energy for the live), my sister, friends and I made our way to venue, arriving by 6pm, just two hours before the doors were set to open. There was already a line by the time we got there, with fans finding shelter beneath small canopies, just as it began to rain. I met Junya-san, an online friend and dedicated Juice=Juice fan, just before we came to the venue itself, and though we were not standing together for long, we talked about Juice=Juice and Hello! Project and favourite members, all before exchanging gifts with one another. Junya tried shortbread, and I gave him a small box of fudge as my sister presented him with a sweet bag she had made up, filled with popular British confectionery, and Junya himself was kind enough to share out singles and pictures of Juice=Juice with my friends, and other British fans.

This act of kindness was not only from Junya himself, but other fans, as well. Whether they came from Japan, Spain or the UK, we all wanted to share with each other, sharing our individual support with one another, and spreading our own unique interests in Hello! Project and Idols.

After speaking with my friends and Junya-san, I made my way down the line to film and interact with the other fans. Through this, I was able to meet a lot of eager Hello! Project fans, not just from England, but from Japan, Spain and other countries, too. It was simply amazing, being able to talk to everyone and ask where they had come from, and even more incredible to realise just how many would cross an ocean to see a group they adore, and watch how they are supported in a country that is not their own.

I could not talk to everyone, sadly, but I tried. Camera in hand – there is always an excuse to vlog – I found a few willing individuals to answer random little questions, and asked them about their expectations for the impending concert. One question, crafted by my friend Hannah, stumped a few; ‘What flavour juice would you be?’ The answers were certainly interesting, with melon and pineapple being two of the more favoured flavours from the fans. Personally speaking, I would either be grape, or watermelon, mpossibly both.

Of course, there were the usual questions as well, such as ‘which song are you wanting to hear most’, and ‘who is your favourite member?’, which brought on great enthusiasm, and allowed me to realise which members were favoured in my home country. Surprisingly, there was a nice, equal divide; the UK Family don’t have a particularly favourite, which makes me very happy, as an Idol fan.

Going down the line, continuing my own little vlog interviews – I was interviewed, at one point, and it’s really weird, being on the other side of someone else’s camera – there was one fan in particular who stood out to me, for all the right reasons.

Tush, a Miyazaki Yuka fan, is quite possibly the most grateful fan I will ever meet in this lifetime. Bright and energetic, all Tush could do was smile as he talked to me about Juice=Juice, the members he supported, and the concert we would be experiencing. Even though Tush had already experienced a Juice=Juice live during their time as a five member unit, this would be a first for him to see the group stand as seven, and a first for them to come to his home country. It was, however, his gratitude that floored me, because the more I talked to him, the more he expressed his thanks and delight at being given this chance to see his favourite Idol group perform, as he had originally missed the opportunity, having only found out about the UK live in July, just as the tickets had sold out.

It was by chance that Tush was given his second chance. When someone online revealed that they could no longer attend, Tush took the opportunity he was given, and purchased the premium ticket, promising to enjoy the concert in their place. Of course, Tush felt bad that the original buyer couldn’t attend, but it was clear as day that he was so grateful towards them for allowing him to go in their steed, continuously thanking them from the bottom his heart as I spoke with him. I quickly learned that the original ticket holder was my friend, and it only made me happier to experience the appreciation and enthusiasm Tush held, because he was so genuine and expressive, and made it known that he could not say thanks enough for being given this second chance to experience Juice=Juice, live in his home country.

It is meeting Tush that makes me realise just how lucky we are, to see a group we adore in our own country. I have never met a more delightful, sweet young man in all my life, and to see him express every ounce of gratitude he could was eye-opening, and only made me anticipate what was about to happen even more.

Our enthusiasm spiked at some point during our wait in line; a van arrived, parting the crowd – we were in the middle of a barrier for a parking lot – and the members of Juice=Juice hopped out. At this point, everyone rushed towards the barrier to catch a glimpse of the girls, screaming and waving penlights as we all crowded around to try and look at them all. All of the girls waved and smiled back – Nanami is so tiny in the distance – before making their way into the venue, leaving us to chant and cry so that they could get ready. It was after this that we all became a bundle of excitement and nerves; the girls were inside the venue, and we would watch them perform soon. It was all beginning to feel so real.

Juice=Juice London 2017

Two hours of walking up and down the line, swapping photographs, singles and badges, talking to other fans and receiving a cute, self-drawn picture from the adorable Lou, quickly came to an end. Soon, the premium ticket holds were beginning to line up towards the doors to 229 The Venue, pink wristbands on as we prepared ourselves for the impending handshake event. Because I had been so engrossed in filming and talking to others, I stood at the very back with a few others, but before long, we were all ushered into the venue – an underground setting – where we made our way downstairs, into a room where a long table stood, the members of Juice=Juice standing behind it, shaking the hands of the fans in front of me.

I hadn’t rehearsed any Japanese. My nerves were all a jumble at this, and upon seeing the first member in the line, just past the few fans in front of me, my mind went blank; it was surreal to see Juice=Juice, standing there behind the table, shaking people’s hands and smiling.

I really had no clue what to say, at this point, and just stared, noticing that their shorts were in their respective member colours, and that each member wore a tour shirt that the fans would be able to purchase.

With my sister behind me, I started going down the line, and found myself in front of Danbara Ruru. First impression: She’s tall, more-so than expected, and a lot more beautiful up-front. My had brain short-circuited at that point, and when I shook her hands, I said the first thing that came to mind; ‘Congratulations on your debut. Welcome to England,’ before being pulled away to meet Yanagawa Nanami, the next member down the line. Nanami is a tiny little human full of smiles and wonder, and gosh, she’s so cute in person! I thought her new fringe really suited her, and because I am filled with creativity that is boundless, I said the exact same thing to Nanami as I did Ruru, though I was met with a lot more enthusiasm, and a brilliant smile that was so pure and delightful.

My allegiance to Uemura Akari was  beginning to wane, I recall.

Next, Miyamoto Karin. Adorable, sweet, and smiling so brilliantly I felt dazzled by her presence. ‘You’re cute,’ I said as I shook her hands, before stating ‘I like you,’ which confused me, given she’s not a favourite member of mine. Still, it was worth it, because she smiled so sweetly at the comment, and expressed her thanks before I was moved along once again, towards Takagi Sayuki, who has completely stolen my heart after this moment. After announcing with great gusto ‘Sayuki, you’re so beautiful! I love your voice!’, Sayuki delivered the most fabulous reaction, the only one that sticks in my mind completely after this event. Hand on her heart, mouth open wide and fluttering eyelashes, Sayuki had to have the most dramatic, entertaining response to my words of the lot, and it has honestly left me adoring her more than I anticipated. I think my mind was blown at that point, because the others now pale in comparison to Takagi Sayuki.

Uemura Akari, my original Oshimen, was next in line. Honestly, this girl is just as gorgeous in person as one would expect, and all I could manage to say to this divine creature was ‘you’re so beautiful, Akari. I love you so much,’ as she shook my hand, her smiling gracefully at the words and thanking me, before I was once again passed along to the next member. And there was Miyazaki Yuka, as sweet and delightful as I could have expected her to be. ‘I love you. You’re so cute,’ I told her as she thanked me and smiled, looking both grateful and pleased by the words as she shook my hands, before moving onto the next person as I moved down the line, to the last member.

Kanazawa Tomoko stood at the very end of the line, a bright, wide smile on her face, looking both beautiful and radiant as she shook everyone’s hands. Because my creativity was flowing endlessly, I told her ‘I love you, thank you so much for coming,’ which she responded to quite happily, shaking my hands and waving to me as I was finally moved away from the table, handed a copy of a booklet, before finding myself in the compact space of 229 The Venue where we would be watching the concert that night.

It was a blue, the handshake event. It was a fun experience, of course, and all of the members are so gorgeous and radiant in-person, but it honestly felt more like a dream, watching them as they shook the fans’ hands with grateful smiles and high energy. It was a rush, and it was over all-too-quickly, but I could see that it made everyone happy, making the moment worthwhile.

Juice=Juice London 2017

Handshake event complete, the members soon rushed off, waving to the fans as they went, ready to prepare for the concert that would soon take place. Leaving the fans behind, some stayed with their friends, finding places to stand, whilst others went towards the small goods table to make their purchases. Deciding that where I stood was no issue for myself, I went ahead to join the goods line, and honestly, I am so thankful for that decision. I managed to bag myself a tour shirt and a 7-piece photo set – I was not too fussed by the other goods, a large pouch, passport case and a muffler towel – before it was announced that all of the tour shirts had sold out.

As the rest of the fans filtered in, I spoke with a few as the sounds of various Hello! Project groups’ instrumentals filtered through the speakers. I gave one fan the Tomoko photo from my set, as she was her Oshimen but could not justify purchasing the photos, after learning that she had missed out on snagging a shirt for herself, before finding myself in the back of the room with my friend, waiting for the concert to begin.

Once we were all inside and the doors had shut the outside world away, the venue began to glow with the various colours of the fans’ penlights. One fan held aloft a little panda plush, whilst others held up various colours high over their heads, illuminating green, orange, pink, purple… the variety was endless, and despite Nanami and Ruru both having fewer penlights than others, I knew it was because they were new, and fans were still waiting to see their performance before making a decision about them. It was refreshing, however, to see such diversity in Oshimen in 229 The Venue.

Cries of ‘Juice! Juice! Juice!’ rang out, filling the venue as penlights were held aloft, some waved around, as we came closer to the opening of the concert. The excitement and atmosphere was building, and then, ‘WHOOOOOO!’, Juice=Juice were on the stage, their glittering, sequined costumes line with red faux fur sparkling in the stage light. The dance track behind them played, bold and loud, as they introduced themselves in a flurry of moving arms.

The concert had begun.