Day 1 officially started with a trip to Akihabara to pick up AKB48 Tokyo Dome photo cards. These were being sold in the same building where their theater is located. The morning was not so bad and the weather was much less muggy than that of the 21st.
The journey from the hotel to JR Suidobashi took less than 5 minutes and in no time we were using our Suica cards to pay for the train fare instead of having to go to the ticket machines.
It was so much more convenient to just swipe your pass as you go by instead of waiting for the paper ticket to appear from the other side of the ticket gate. A short two stops later and we were in the mecca of geekdom, Akihabara. The station itself was how I remembered it five years ago.
Everything else had changed. After leaving the Electric Town exit where there used to be nothing was replaced by the AKB48 Café. It was closed when we got there but there were already people camped out outside waiting for it to open.
Instead of camping out we made our way to Donki to buy the photo sets. When we got there I instantly remembered the building because of the giant penguin above the Pachinko parlor. I didn’t realize the building next to it was where AKB48’s theater was.
Outside of that building there were many people lined up. We inquired about what was going on and picd up tickets from some dude in front of the building. As we looked at the line they were all carrying receipts for something and we didn’t have anything. Thinking that there may have been some sort of mix up we went back & inquired about what was going on.
It turned out we had received tickets to enter the still closed Pachinko parlor. After clearing up that mix up we got the right tickets to get into the building and the right line up following a long set of stairs.
Looking around the crowd of people waiting I noticed that there were many different types of people waiting to buy photo cards. It was kind of unnerving to be honest. After all, I’m used to being around older and male idol fans who sport a certain look and aura. Instead I saw many young and female fans waiting along with the typical wota stereotype.
Being the ass that I am I decided to make a snarky remark about this while waiting in line. I connected to Twitter (thank God for my Japanese rental phone.) and made a short swipe at Hello! Project in the process. Of course it was just an observation, but I still got the expected response a short few minutes later.
Anyway, after waiting for about 5 or 10 minutes the line started to quickly move and we were allowed into the AKB48 shop set up on what appeared to be the 3rd or 4th floor. Really, I had no idea what floor we were on I wasn’t exactly counting as we moved further up into the building. But once I saw all the AKB swag on the walls I knew we were in the right place. I handed my ticket to some dude at the front and proceeded to buy 10 photo sets. Yup, I went big. The motto for this day was “Go big or go home.”
The process of buying photo sets was a lot less painful than anticipated and we decided to go up to the 8th floor to see the AKB48 Theater. It’s a hell of a lot smaller than I had seen on TV. Like really really small. The lobby is immediately accessible via the escalator. You can see a set of lockers on one side of the room and a lot of AKB memorabilia hanging on the walls.
There are also TV screens hanging from the ceiling and a small roped off area that guards the entrance to the theater. Unfortunately there was a no picture policy in effect so I couldn’t get anything to help describe what I have seen. But it was quite a revelation that a place so revered in the current idol fandom is more like a hole in the wall.
I don’t mean that in a bad way of course. I’m glad to have seen it with my own eyes and at least I can say I was outside of the AKB48 theatre. Speaking of outside the theater there were many fans gathered to trade the freshly bought photo cards. People even started coming up to us asking to trade.
We were not prepared for this and while the spectacle was amazing we decided to leave and trade with each other first at the hotel first before trying to take on the Japanese fans. I was thinking of continuing to be an obnoxious ass and screaming out, “Kenkyuusei wo sagashite i masu!” to see what the response would be.
It was better that I didn’t.
Since we were in the Donki building we explored a little bit. AKB48 was plastered all over the place and I took every opportunity to take pictures of whatever whoring they did with my smartphone. This did not sit well with one lady who coldly shook her head as I snapped a pic of some sort of feminine product Kojima Haruna was a sponsor model for.
When the exploring was done we went back outside to a cool yet somewhat hotter set of weather than we had when we arrived in Akihabara. We walked all the way back to the AKB48 café and camped out until it opened.
The inside kind of looks like a 50’s diner with lots of AKB stuff all over the place. In the middle of the room is a circular table where you can sit and have a drink. By the cash register was a drink bar and booths were on the sided of the building.
Walking between the center seating area you can see member scribbles on the support pillars and if you go further back towards the washrooms there are framed pictures of the current AKB groups on the walls along with a short written history of the group on the walls. The funny thing about those pictures is on Team A’s section which has a giant gap where Sashihara Rino’s picture used to be.
Going back to the main eating area. On the tables are more random scribbles written by the members protected by a thick piece of plexi glass. Each one is different so there’s plenty of scribbling to look at if the place is not busy. On the walls are framed drawings made by the more artistically declined members.
Okay that was mean, but some drawings were really good while others looked like they were made by a grade schooler. That brings me to my next point and this is something that was brought up by Hiro. The demographic in the Café is not what one would expect.
You figure an idol café would be full of unwashed, pimply guys that you associate with otaku or older, creepy looking men hugging their photo cards like they were their precious. But that wasn’t the case. Instead there were many young families and lots of little girls and their moms.
There were also young couples and girls frequenting the restaurant area. Now for the part that perhaps you who think like me are wondering. What about the staff? Well I am glad to say that the staff are hella cute. And they all wear the various AKB uniforms or concert T-shirts. If you like eye candy then the AKB café will satisfy your needs.
Of course there was also the eating part of the café experience and a lot of the food was organized into sets inspired by various members of the group. The whole purpose for me was to get one of the legendary coasters that I had heard about from people. But hey, I also got food. I ended up buying the Takamina set with a side of cheese fries.
Dave ordered the Acchan set and Hiro got the Shinoda set. We went with the drink bar for free refills. You get one coaster unfortunately. If you want more you gotta pony up the yen for the fancy drinks.
We spent a lot of time hanging around the café and we got booted by one of the cute girls for exceeding our stay time limit. After paying we went to the other side of the building to the AKB store.
There were a couple of items that I wanted to get but did not pick up quite yet. I think we’ll be going back to the café a few more times so there’s no need to rush. Having nothing else to do in Akihabara until later it was a return back to the hotel for some much needed rest and to wait for our last traveling companion, NSK community member Vu to arrive.
Later that evening after meeting up with Vu we returned to Akihabara with Anthony from NSK as our guide to a concert held by a local indie idol group called Station. I only knew of them because of particular person in the JPH!P community who happens to follow the indie idol scene quite closely. I figured why not give the indies a look and see what the difference is from the bigger players in the industry.
Anyway, Anthony led us down a path that was just around Club Sega. We walked into a rather nondescript building next to what looked like a maid café and an AV shop. There entrance to the concert was a narrow staircase. With the weather being all hot and muggy the bunch of us gaijin were sweating like mad waiting for the previous show to end.
After a little while we were allowed to go up the staircase into a small room with folding chairs and a stage up front. I didn’t expect to be so up close and personal but hey, it’s a hell of a lot closer than I’ve ever been at any idol related concert I’ve been to.
I’ll be damned if I can name any of the girls of Station but a couple of them were really cute. Whoever was in the middle and the chick with the glasses drew my attention the most. The set the put on was very short (4 songs only) but what they sang was some quality stuff. In a way their sound is close to the insanity of Momoiro Clover’s music. Sort of. It has that similar kind of vibe to me at least.
During the show I was confused as to how to react to their songs since all the regulars there were all doing the chants & clapping & stuff. I was kind of just taking it all in trying to participate without being all out of place as a first timer. To the rest of my traveling companions it may have looked like I was not impressed. Far from the truth really, I enjoyed the short concert a lot.
After the mini-concert ended there was a bit of fan service where depending on how many CD pre-orders you made you get a hand shake, a photo op or an autographed item. I ordered 3 CD’s so I got a photo op.
I watched as the handshake people went first. Unlike a lot of bigger name idol handshake events Station fans get to spend a lot of time with the group & shoot the shit with them. Something that perhaps some idol groups should probably allow instead of the touch them & get the fuck out type of deal. A few extra moments aren’t so bad right?
Anyway, once those guys were done the photo op time came and all of us were wondering what exactly we should do. It’s very rare to have idols accommodate to whatever reasonable pose you want them to do. Some of the things the Station wotas had them do were funny.
The first pose out of the box was a gangsta one. That set the tone for a lot of the poses after. We foreign fans were still confused so Anthony volunteered to go first. When he was done he introduced us to the group & said we came from far away to see them. By the way, Hiro is no longer American, he is Russian. Because Orange County is in Russia right? =P
Once it came to my turn I thought of my boys from basugasubakuhatsu and our AM2 experience. So I asked the group if they knew EXILE’s Choo Choo Train choreography. Which got them excited and one of the girls asked me where I was from. I said I was from Canada that got her all happy and she tried to tell me that she went to Canada.
We both failed at communication after that.
Anyway, with the picture taken we waited for the group to thank us for coming. They left & we went on our way to the hot muggy mess that is Japanese summer and back to our respective hotels or homes to end the day.