Dan in Japan: Day 3

So it’s Tuesday and I’m finally getting into the swing of things! Want proof? I was up at 8:30am! I don’t care if you’re proud of me BECAUSE I’M PROUD OF MYSELF! The leap year’s all dealt with, NO excuses now. Plus, today I was going somewhere I’d been DYING to go to for years. The Otaku haven- Akihabara!

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Nicknamed Electric Town for what you’d think would be the neon lights and the abundance of gizmos and gadgets on display, Akihabara sprung up as an electronics haven after the war. Japan saw it’s future in becoming the best in the the world at electronics and so numerous shops selling electronic components sprung up around the railway station. This grew and grew and eventually transformed into the hub of Otaku culture that it is today. The focus may have changed but the name has stuck and still works pretty well.

I could tell I was looking forward to today simply because, on my initial subway ride from the airport, I passed through Akihabara station and I got physically excited at just seeing the station name. So I stepped out from the station and delved into Akiba.

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Now to the J-Pop fans, there’s one thing Akiba is famous for – AKB48, the 100 and something member idol group that’s occupied the top of the music charts for 10 years. The whole popularity of the group is their concept of ‘idols you can meet’, with the girls holding regular fan meets (hand shake events) and daily concerts in the AKB theatre on the 8th floor of the Don Quixote building. Now while I’d have LOVED to have seen one of the shows, it is nigh on impossible to get tickets, with fans having to apply online for one of the 150ish seats at each show. From my research it was pretty unlikely I’d be able to get tickets (some forums talk of people trying 20-30 times without luck) so I figured I’d be content with seeing Momoclo (and Ayumikurikamaki & Sakura Gakuin who I bought tickets for earlier that day!). For everyone who can’t get to a show, though, they also have a cafe and shop not far from the theatre where you can dine with wannabe AKB girls. Now you might think this is what I did for my dinner but you’d be wrong!

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For some reason, maybe it’s just the speed at which a place like Akihabara moves, I felt like grabbing something pretty quick for lunch. I came across a little Tempura restaurant as you can see in the photo. They had a touch screen menu in the doorway where you pick your food, pay, print out a ticket then hand it to the server when you sit down. The only thing I really needed to say was “水ください” (water, please). Simples. I had the tempura special with hot udon. It was pretty good apart from the stealth mushrooms they’d deep-fried and hidden under a shrimp. Thankfully I’m too on the ball with it comes to mushrooms to not notice!

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After I’d re-energised, I hit some more of the Akiba sights. This time going into nearly every shop and arcade I passed (and trust me, there are a LOT). On the main strip of Akiba, pretty much every shop you pass is a multi-level (usually around 7 or 8 floors) manga/game/figure emporium with literally every title or figure you could want. It’s amazing considering that even in London you have to walk down about 12 back streets to reach a single comic book shop, where-as here there are dozens! Now I don’t know whether I didn’t need anything (definitely not that I didn’t WANT anything) or maybe I was just a little overwhelmed, but I bought… ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! Seriously. Oh, wait, actually, I did buy a Disney Tsum Tsum gachapon to play with on the arcade game (you place it on a pad infront of the game and he acts as your power up in the game!) but that’s it. Also, before I move on to my HIGHLIGHT of the day I had a play of the new Final Fantasy Dissidia game in one of the arcades. Y’know, just to make Reg well jel.

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So anyway, onto my highlight. So I’m a fan of a little group called Dempagumi.inc. An absolutely mental 6-piece J-Pop group who formed in Akihabara. More specifically, a little club called ‘Dear Stage’. I’d been planning to visit here ever since I heard of it and it easily lived up to my expectations. There’s a 1000¥ cover charge to get in (including a 500¥ drink voucher) but then you can stay for as long as you like. The club is hosted by idols (some wannabe, some actual. All the members of Dempagumi.inc worked here at one point) and every hour or so they’ll put on a show on the stage on the first floor (see the bottom right picture). You can stay on this floor as long as you like, order drinks or don’t, it’s only if you head upstairs that you have to start paying. The second floor is a bar/restaurant which is 500¥ per hour for a seat, then on the third floor is a bit of a swankier bar which is 1000¥ per hour. I settled on the middle floor to spend my drinks voucher as I’m too cheap for the top floor and there was nowhere to sit on the bottom floor!

Now straight away, the hostesses could tell I spoke English and (those who could at least) made every effort to speak to me in far better English than my Japanese would have been. I spent the next half hour or so being asked why I was visiting, how long I was here, where else I was going and being told what food I absolutely had to try before I left! When we both got stuck with our broken versions of each other’s language, out came an iPad to save the day! One of the asked where I was from…

Girl- “You are from London?”

Me- “いいえ, Liverpool”

*Girl stares blankly*

Me- “Beatles?”

Girl- “Oh, Be-a-tulls! Yes!”

While I was quite content to sit there for a while, everyone was then shouted at to let them know a show was beginning downstairs. So I left my seat (and drink) and headed down. When I got there I was surrounded by about 20-30 Japanese J-Pop fans eagerly awaiting the show to start. And while the music was great, that wasn’t actually the highlight… I got to experience, up close and personal, real life WOTAs performing WOTAGEI right in front of me!

Ok, stop looking confused and I’ll explain. Japanese idol fans (Wotas) have a developed an intricately choreographed set of moves for supporting their idols. It’s amazing how it fits with pretty much any song, simply because at heart there’s a very simple verse-bridge-chorus pattern to every J-Pop song. So this means that after learning a few dance moves and an accompanying chant (”Tiger, Fire, Cyber, Fiber, Diver, Viber, Jya Jya!!!” and variations on that) ANYONE can dance along. And it’s because anyone can learn this that everyone has to outdo each other! So there I am, standing in the middle of 20 Japanese people all doing there best Over Active Dolphin! Now there’s no way I could possibly do this justice and the following video STILL doesn’t quite do it, but here’s Nemu-chan of the aforementioned Dempagumi.inc showing you how some of the moves work (watch until at LEAST 1:32 to see how AMZINGLY AWESOME ‘Thunder Snake/Romance’ looks!)…

So that was basically my next 2 hours! The whole thing cost me about 12 pounds and it was worth every penny. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna go back. No I’m definitely going back. Who needs AKB when you’ve got Dear Stage round the corner! I can neither confirm nor deny whether I’m learning the moves for my return.

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So how could I possibly follow that? I couldn’t is your answer, so with that I called it a (very long) day. Oh and you may have noticed I didn’t visit a maid cafe (shocking I know!), but don’t worry, I have another 2 and a half weeks yet! Tomorrow, the new Scandal album (a band I went to see in London and you may have noticed me wearing one of their wristbands ever since) is out so I’m off to Shibuya to go to Tower Records and a Scandal pop up store that opened yesterday!

See you!

Dan

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