On March 25, 2012 – one year ago today – something occurred that really changed my life. The event I’m talking about was Maeda Atsuko’s graduation announcement on the 3rd Day of the AKB48 Saitama Super Arena concert series.

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You might be asking with heavy skepticism, “How did THAT change your life?”. For me, that announcement made me get off my lazy ass and caused me to be a doer instead of a dreamer. It made me go from “I would one day like to go to Japan to see an idol concert” to “I’ve got to go to Japan and try to see AKB before Acchan graduates”.

Two days before Acchan’s surprise announcement, on the 1st day of the Saitama Super Arena concerts, it was revealed that AKB48 would hold their first concert at Tokyo Dome. By the end of the SSA concerts, neither the dates of the Tokyo Dome concerts, nor whether Acchan would participate in them were known. Despite that, I set attending  the concerts as my personal goal.

AKB48 SSA 04

My thought was that I would have to at least try for that goal or I may regret it later in life. While Acchan is not my oshimen, and I’m not even sure where she would be ranked among my favorites, I still recognized her as THE face of AKB48. Any of the senbatsu line-ups featuring Maeda Atsuko from singles releasing between 2010-2012 could be considered a Dream Team of AKB48.

Okay, probably not the Chance no Junban senbatsu. To see AKB48 later on without Acchan would be like going to see the great San Francisco 49ers Super Bowl teams without Joe Montana, or seeing the great Chicago Bulls NBA Champion teams without Michael Jordan. It just wouldn’t be the same without Acchan.

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The past few years for AKB48 will go down as a very special era for their fans, as well as any observers of Japanese music. It is comparable to the Golden Age of Morning Musume or the Golden Age of Johnny’s Entertainment, where historians and the Japanese public will look back at it and recognize what a magical time it was. It was that magic I wanted to experience first-hand, and not just through video or television clips from the internet.

At the end of May, the dates for the Tokyo Dome concerts were announced: August 24th, 25th,  and 26th. I let my intentions be known to my friends in the idol community. Three people came forward to join me: bossman Greg from Selective Hearing, Dave (t3hdave) from New School Kaidan, and NSK community member Vu, who I met and sat next to at the AKB48 concerts in Washington D.C., just days after Acchan announced her graduation.

Personally, I had to adjust my lifestyle like I had never done before. I cut spending drastically by not going out for food and preparing my meals at home. While I allowed myself my weekly trip to the izakaya, I kept my ordering to the bare minimum. In addition, I ate healthier so I could lose some weight and not look so pudgy for the trip. All of these changes were things I should have been doing before, but never put forth a good enough effort to get any results.

Our group, later dubbed as The Japan 4, corresponded over numerous Skype calls, e-mails, and Twitter messages, and set a game plan into effect.

First, I booked a room. Shortly thereafter, I booked the flights. We then had to wait until July when the ticket lotteries were announced to try for the actual concert tickets. Our goal was for each of us to get into at least one of the concerts. It was still a long shot, but it was our minimum goal.

I had help with the lotteries from my sister’s elementary school classmate who lived in Japan. The other three had to toil with the difficult Japanese ticket site on their own. It was painful just listening to their troubles with the site over Skype. I was so lucky I didn’t have to go through those headaches due to my contact in Japan.

When all was said and done, we met and exceeded our goals. Greg, Dave, and Vu secured tickets for Day 1 and Day 3. I hit the AKB-fan jackpot and scored tickets to all three concerts. I have never had much luck when it comes to things of chance, so I was overwhelmed with joy to come across this great fortune.

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As Greg had written in his trip summaries, we all experienced the trip of a lifetime. Over a two week period we experienced memorable concerts, great food, new friends, and more. All of this was topped off by an appearance on a Fuji Television morning show.

Yup, because we were foreigners in Japan for the Tokyo Dome concerts and Acchan’s graduation, we were part of a featured segment on Tokudane!, which is the Japanese equivalent to Good Morning America or The Today Show.  Millions….and millions of Japanese viewers learned that “NO ONE CUTER THAN MAEDA ATSUKO”. This was truly something the four of us could say was a once in a lifetime experience.

No One Cuter

Personally, I met all of my financial goals as far as spending money was concerned. I was worried that I would budget poorly due to this being my first international trip and my first long trip anywhere. By the end of my trip, I was still able to buy lots of Adidas X EXILE swag at the Adidas shop in Shibuya AND I came home with a good deal of leftover money.

Sure, I didn’t buy as much idol or concert goods as the others, but the important thing was I never felt worried about being short of cash for the important stuff like meals or beverages…and boy, did we all need plenty of liquids for that sweltering Japan Summer heat.

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The most important thing I learned from this experience was that I was able to set a fairly lofty goal, and with the right mindset and dedication, I was able to turn that goal into a reality.

I had never been able to do that throughout my adult life because I never worked hard enough for it or didn’t put enough importance on a goal to follow through to completion. For whatever reason, seeing AKB48 with Maeda Atsuko at Tokyo Dome inspired me to pursue a dream I never thought would come true until much later on in life.