After my trip last summer, I planned on returning in the spring for Silent Siren’s tour. [What if you no longer liked Silent Siren?] I would have still gone, I’d just check out the Tokyo Hobo Orchestra at Ueno Zoo instead.
My spring break was later in the year than most schools and coincided with Golden Week. I’ve read horror stories about traveling during Golden Week (overcrowded trains, ticket sellouts, otaku riots) and I wasn’t sure a trip would be worth the effort. It turned out that the experience felt identical to my previous trips. If anything, the airport and train stations seemed less crowded and the shinkansen (bullet trains) I used were 70% empty. The only tangible difference was an increase in concerts scheduled. That’s so GEM!™
Instead of burying my travel suggestions in my recap, I’ll post them up front. And you’re welcome!
- If you’re visiting during Golden Week, plan your trip like you would any other. I traveled light with smaller luggage anticipating heavier crowds, but this was unnecessary and ultimately I just inconvenienced myself.
- Using the Japan Rail Pass is as simple as showing it to the attendant at the ticket gate. But what about gates that aren’t staffed? After staring at an unmanned exit for 20 minutes like a total idiot, this is what I figured out: simply walk through the handicap lane by pushing through the gate. The gate looks fixed, but it will retract when you push it.
- JR Pass is unnecessary if you are staying in one city during your visit, however it’s helpful if your itinerary includes using shinkansen at least twice. Anything more than twice and you are traveling for free. Last year, I bought my pass online and had it delivered, but I found out that H.I.S. offices (located in most major U.S. cities) sell them for direct pick-up and for about $15 cheaper, since their prices are fixed and didn’t fluctuate when the yen strengthened.
- Shinkansen reservations are unnecessary, just arrive a little early and queue at a non-reserved car. (Although, if you are traveling in a group, it could be worth making reservations to ensure you can sit together.)
- JR Pass ticket holders are allowed to make train reservations up to 30 days in advance, however during Golden Week there may be restrictions allowing only same-day reservations.
- The HyperDia app works great with JR Pass. It’s free for 30 days and more importantly, when calculating train fair it takes into consideration the routes that are no cost with JR Pass (all JR trains and shinkansen). Time your activation so you can use it before your trip (for planning routes and finding potential travel destinations) and during your trip (when your plans change due to weather or schedule changes).
- Free wifi is readily available in Japan and can be very helpful if you don’t have mobile data. I got lost twice and wasted hours trying to find my way, and my biggest mistake was not checking for wifi so I could use my GPS.
|May 1||Yumemiru Adolescence mini-lives in Tokyo|
|May 2||SUPER☆GiRLS SUPER★CASTLE Tour in Nagoya|
|May 3||GEM Live Mixture 2016 ～Best 10ct Forever～ in Osaka|
|May 4||Silent Siren Live Tour 2016 in Matsuyama (Ehime)|
|May 5||Silent Siren Live Tour 2016 in Takamatsu (Kagawa)|
|May 6||Returned to Tokyo ; ate at a Japanese restaurant|
|May 7||Went to Kamakura and Shin-Yokohama|
|May 8||GEM in Tokyo ; drop & Maneki Kecak in Tokyo|
May 1, Sunday My flight from Los Angeles was delayed two hours and I landed at Haneda at 1AM. I collected my JR Pass later that morning at 7, at which point I’d been awake for ~34 hours straight, including a full day of teaching in which my students were acting crAaaAAZy. Yet, I still heroically made my way to LaLaport Toyosu (an ocean-side mall in Tokyo) for the Yumemiru Adolescence mini-live at 1PM. Afterwards, I heroically planned on going to Yokohama for a similar Doll☆Elements event, before heroically returning for the second Yumemiru Adolescence live at 4PM. In order to see Doll☆Elements, I needed to catch every transfer, because I had an hour window and the venue was an hour away. Unfortunately, after the live, I took a wrong turn at the station and missed the first train. It was pointless to continue, so I just heroically returned to Toyosu. I think my brain malfunctioned because I was being so heroic and YumeAdo’s current outfit consists of semi-transparent fabric plus the shortest shorts ever. To kill time before the next live I watched the TERRAFORMARS movie. I didn’t understand a word, but I made sure to act scared and cheer when everyone else did.
I became a Yume Ado fan last year, after randomly watching one of their promotional videos for their first concert dvd. After seeing them live, I can only ask “Where has this group been my entire life??” They are GEMazing. Their fandom for the past 1.5 years reminds me of SUPER☆GiRLS from 2011 to 2013, when the fanbase was extremely active, without being idiotic. Which is why I feel I’m two years late, because this phase never lasts long. Regardless, they are my number one group now. Or at least tied with Magical Punchline.
May 2, Monday I checked out of my hotel and took an early morning train to Nagoya for SUPER☆GiRLS’s tour. This wasn’t in my initial schedule, but in March, Reira and Rino, announced their graduations. After a few days of serious idol deliberation, I bought a ticket for their Zepp Nagoya tour date.
I’m no longer a rabid fan and since I hadn’t listened to their new album, I didn’t know the songs they would perform on the tour. It turned out that their new album is actually decent and the concert setlist was better-than-expected, because they included a few classic songs and excluded all of their summer singles. Unlike previous tours, production values were non-existent though, with the only stage decoration being color-coded flags and a video screen. They performed for 2.5 hours, including the new unit songs and one of the most rare (and best) S☆G songs of all time, Zettai Jibun Zenshin Sengen.
At the end of the concert, Reira and Rino discussed why they were graduating. Reira oft-repeated that she never thought of herself as an “idol,” with that perception being so strong that she released an image book on that topic. Idol or not, I’m glad I was able to see Reira (and the rest of the group) one last time.
0. Welcome to SUPER★CASTLE
1. Hanamichi!! Ambitious
2. Zettai Jibun Zenshin Sengen
3. Gomen ne. No tonari de
4. Karei Naru V!CTORY
5. Clam Chowder ga Same Chau Getsuyoubi
6. Don’t Stop The Party (unit w/ Reira, Mirei, and…three other members)
8. Happy ×2 Birthday
11. Hikokigumo Itsuka (the superior b-side to GiraGira Revolution)
12. Girl’s Party -my friend Jenny-
13. Renai Rule
14. 1,000,000☆ Smile
15. ah ha ha!〜 Chozetsu bakusho ondo 〜
17. Icchatte♪ Yacchatte♪
18. EveryBody JUMP!!
20. GiraGira Revolution
21. Miracle ga Tomannai!
23. Renai Rule (shuffle version with Rino getting Amita’s solo)
May 3, Tuesday This day was kind of a bust. In the morning, I went to Osaka for a GEM concert. Nagoya to Osaka is a busy route and was the only time I wasn’t able to make a seat reservation, which meant I had to queue for a non-reserved car. It was easy though, and I arrived in Osaka at 11:30, two hours before the concert’s start. GEM and Cheeky Parade had concerts that day, which is why GEM was performing so early. I knew the exit to use to get to the venue, and conveniently there were coin lockers, as I had my luggage. Because the concert was so early, it wasn’t possible to check into my hotel beforehand.
Up to this point, the day had gone according to keikaku (plan), but as I approached the station exit, I realized the gate was unmanned. Without an attendant I couldn’t show my JR Pass and exit. Despite only knowing how to get to IMP Hall from the west gate, I backtracked to the next closest exit and figured I could leave from there and use common-sense to get back to the general vicinity of the west exit. Unfortunately, there wasn’t an attendant at this exit either. Nor at the third exit I tried. I wasn’t sure what to do at this point. I had a Suica card, but I couldn’t use it because I hadn’t scanned it at the originating station, and it would be idiotic to pay a fare when I have a JR Pass. Reluctantly, I backtracked all the way to the main gate, where there were several attendants. I had wasted 30 minutes and after leaving the station, I would waste another 30 minutes trying to reverse-locate the west exit.
But even though I was completely lost I still had to photograph stuff like this:
I was never able to find the west entrance, so I returned to the main gate and asked the station attendant for help. He was familiar with IMP Hall, showed me a map, and gave step-by-step directions. It was 20 minutes away and his instructions were something like, “Go left, then right, straight, left, straight, right… then cross the bridge.” I was writing down the instructions, but when he said “bridge” I just thought, “I’m screwed.” After spending 30 minutes going left, right, straight, left, straight, and right, I wasn’t able to find the bridge and since there was just 30 minutes until the concert, I gave up and took a taxi like a loser. Because it took 90 minutes to do something that should have taken 20, I lost my chance to buy GEM goods and then go to Osaka Castle.
The concert was hyped as GEM’s last in Osaka as 10 members, and was also significant because Maho had just returned from a month-long hiatus due to illness and they would perform all five of their new songs. In other words, this concert was going to be #leGEMdary. It was also Chisami’s birthday, and while queueing, I was given a yellow glowstick. By the time the concert began, I had forgotten the designated song and ultimately it didn’t matter, because the song was never performed and the glowsticks were never activated.
“The song was never performed” was the unofficial theme of the concert. After 40 minutes they already announced the last block of songs and at 70 minutes they had left the stage. Including the encore, the concert was 90 minutes. #leGEMday indeed. For a concert that was 5000Y and had minimalistic production values (a solitary banner on stage and one new outfit), that was so not GEM. Last summer I went to GEM’s Non-stop Zenryoku Live, which was an experimental, completely non-hyped concert, featuring an uninterrupted 60 minute setlist, and they performed the same number of songs, for just 3000Y. Although all of the new songs, Maya’s solo, and Just! Call Me were awesome, for a concert that was supposed to be important to the GEMbers, it was a huge disappointment.
You know which group would never disappoint? [YumeAdo.] Exactly. YumeAdo would have a 500 hour concert, with bikinis.
0. Girls Entertainment Overture1. Do It Do It2. BFF3. Tears In The Sky
MC4. Dance number -> EMERGE!! (Maya solo)5. Clarity6. Departure
MC7. Single Medley (short versions): We’Re GEM!; Do You Believe?; Star Shine Story; Baby, Love Me!8. Fine ! ～ Fly For The Future ～9. FLY NOW!!10. Just! Call MeEncore
11. Party Up12. We’re GEM!
After the concert, I returned to the station for my luggage. To get there, I crossed a bridge and it turned out that the West Exit I was unable to access was also a bridge that would have taken me straight to the concert hall. Somehow this was Maya’s fault, but just like before, there was the issue of getting through the unattended gate. As I was contemplating what to do, a delivery guy pushed a cart of boxes through the handicap lane. He didn’t have a key or special pass, he just forced his way through like an animal. Wellll, if he could do it, then I could do it. Technically, I think the official policy for JR Pass holders is to only use manned gates, and avoid ones that aren’t staffed, but I think that is unreasonable. For instance, this station–which was a relatively large station in Osaka, had four exits, and only one of them was manned. Tourists shouldn’t be expected to search for the singular manned gate, and in the process get themselves completely lost. Eff that, I’m barging through every gate from now on! (while cosplaying as a delivery guy of course.)
It began raining as I checked into my hotel, cutting short the time I could spend in Namba. I went to an okonomiyaki place, but the queue was long, and since it was raining, I hilariously ended up eating at McDonalds. Reminded me of when my brother, sister, and I ate at McDonalds in Paris after visiting the Louvre. Total waste of a foodie town like Osaka, not like I care that much about food.
May 4, Wednesday Fourth day, fourth city. This was my first time in Ehime, which I previously only knew as HimeKyun’s prefecture and for Kitty Hall, a super-ghetto and possibly haunted live-house that Doll☆Elements once used to stream a concert. The reason I was in Ehime was for Silent Siren, who I would be seeing again the following day in Takamatsu. The train from Osaka was 90% empty and the scenery alternated between ocean and hillsides. I saw mermen frolicking in the water and mountain people wrestling bears. This was my favorite train route of the trip and Ehime was my favorite locale.
The part of Ehime I visited was the capital, Matsuyama. I was going to mention that the men in Matsuyama are renowned for war mongering and the women for their ample cup size, but that would make me sound stupid. When I arrived, I bought a 1-Day tram pass, because the best way to get around the city is by tram–everyone knows that! My hotel was a minute walk from Dogo Onsen, an iconic hot-spring that is the oldest in Japan–but everyone knows that too! According to the Matsuyama guidebook, the water in the onsen is particularly soothing for women, who often spend hours in the hot-springs, allowing the water to caress their arms and legs and special places. The sounds of women enjoying the onsen can be heard all day and all night. Unrelated, there are 1.2 million holes crudely drilled into the walls of the women-only bath and hot-spring. The purpose of these holes are currently unknown.
After checking into my hotel, I went sight-seeing before the concert. Although I was only there one day, Matsuyama is the most enjoyable city I’ve been to in Japan. It’s serene, but there are plenty of things to do in the area, they have a great public transportation system, and it’s surprisingly English-friendly.
Too much sight-seeing resulted in me arriving to the venue later than planned.
More precisely, I arrived 30 minutes before it opened. The concert was at Salon Kitty, a 400 person club located on the outskirts of the city and built alongside a shallow river. As a result, there were a lot of bugs flying around and upstream kids were splashing around in the water like ducks. On the fourth floor of the building is a sister venue that’s even smaller called Kitty Hall. Most of the people waiting around were wearing pink Silent Siren shirts and I went to the merchandise booth to also partake in the exchange of currency for crap. Their tour goods are consistently cool though, and Ainyan–the bassist, is typically in charge of their design. For the 2016 tour all of the members contributed at least one item though: Hinanchu designed a tote bag and an iPhone case, Suu an alternate shirt and silicon bands, and Yukarun an alternate towel. I wanted the towel designed by Ainyan–which looks inspired by the video game Splatoon, the tour silicon bands, and key chain. Unfortunately, they sold out of the towel and key chain. When I was told that the towel had sold out I actually said “Aaaaww,” which may have contributed to an announcement 15 minutes later that they had ten more towels available. I hope a staff member didn’t have to rummage through their van on my account, considering I was too lazy to return to the booth and buy one.
My ticket for the concert wasn’t great, since I purchased it late. There were four Silent Siren tour dates available during my trip and it took a while to figure out which ones to attend, since I had to keep availability open for other concerts. Not to sound like a nerd, but finalizing my concert schedule was a very time-consuming process. The concert was a sell-out, expected considering it was a live-house, and at this point of the tour, 10 of 12 concerts had sold out. Despite my ticket being 317 out of 400, something weird happened as I entered the club. The floor area (which was three-tiered) was packed tighter than Chubbiness in their tour bus, but the staff led about twenty people, including myself, into a space that had been closed off. I found myself in the direct middle of the front row of the second tier, which had an unimpaired view of the stage, inferior only to the very front row. I’m still unsure what happened and I felt guilty for my good fortune, particularly as there were five girls directly in front of me on the tier below, who for the entire concert had their visibility blocked by the guys standing in front of them. I wanted to make room for one girl to step up, but if there is one thing I’ve learned while in Japan, it’s never do anything unnecessary. In America we help our fellow man. Of course, in America we also kill our fellow man.
The concert was dominated by heavy rotation songs and their newest album S. The music was great, but every three or four songs, Suu or Hinanchu would kill the energy and get on their soapbox and just ramble for five to ten minutes about boring topics. Hinanchu mainly talked about idols. One of her rants was how she understands that fans have favorite members, but she thinks we should like everyone equally. And she has a quirky way of talking that’s like: “Hey you guys… so I was thinking… I’m not sure how to say this,” before beginning her story. She is the type who tells a story in a roundabout way, instead of straight to the point, which is annoying when you’re there to rock out. Although she did tell a funny story about how everyone makes fun of the tote bag she designed, and when another member or staff does use it, they make sure the art side is facing in, so only the denim side is showing. Suu was worse, because she talked nonstop, which is surprising considering she does 99% of the singing, and since her vocals are so clean, I would think she would want to rest during the breaks. She talked about high school and having no friends, wanting to play guitar but only receiving encouragement from one of her teachers, and preaching about the importance of family. And when she noticed one of the guys in the audience had brought their 3 year old daughter, she started crying because it reminded her of her dad taking her to a concert.
They didn’t perform my favorite songs, but I enjoyed the setlist, which included a cover of Hi-STANDARD’s “My First Kiss.” Later that night, as I reflected on the number of times Yukarun made eye contact with me, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to redeem my drink ticket and take photos of the venue. That’s going to haunt me for the rest of my life.
1. Milk boy
2. Hachigastu no Yoru
3. BANG! BANG! BANG!
6. Love install
8. Lucky Girl
9. Soukai Rock
10. Hapi Mari
13. Slow Morning
18. My First Kiss (Hi-Standard cover)
19. GuruGuru Wonderland
May 5, Thursday From Matsuyama, I took a 2.5 hour express train to Takamatsu.
The Silent Siren concert was at a club called Takamatsu MONSTER. It was larger than Kitty Hall and had a scary name, but it was basically just a boring room with a boring stage. As I walked to the club, I intermittently saw fans wearing pink Silent Siren shirts and their numbers increased as I got closer and closer. I still had to ask a fan for help though, and he looked a little confused as he pointed to the entrance, which was literally ten meters away.
The club and my hotel were located in a part of Takamatsu comprised of street after street of shopping arcades and malls. Since the stores and restaurants looked similar, it created a labyrinth of access-ways and side-streets and I got hopelessly lost trying to locate my hotel. I’ll skip the story, just remember to check for wifi when you don’t have mobile data. The entire city offered free wifi and that would have helped tremendously, had I taken the time to check.
Silent Siren had four concerts scheduled during my trip, and I considered going to three. After it was revealed that they would make their U.S. debut at J-POP Summit, three would have been overkill and I decided on two. My preference wasn’t the show at MONSTER though, because that was a concert on a consecutive day, and based on their 2015 tour, the setlists in these situations would be practically identical. The weekend concerts weren’t possible though, due to the timing of GEM‘s concert on Sunday, so it was Takamatsu by default.
And the setlist was practically identical to the night before, deviating by only two songs. And Hinanchu and Suu continued to talk relentlessly. In pro sports there’s a thing called “back to backs,” a reference to teams playing a match two days in a row. It’s rare because athletes usually play worse on the back to back due to fatigue. I think the same phenomena was in play here, because they didn’t perform with the energy they had in Ehime. It was still fun, it just wasn’t the type of concert that would induce spontaneous combustion.
1. Milk boy
2. Hachigastu no Yoru
3. BANG! BANG! BANG!
6. Love install
8. Sweet Pop!
9. Soukai Rock
10. Hapi Mari
13. Slow Morning
18. My First Kiss (Hi-Standard cover)
19. GuruGuru Wonderland
May 6, Friday I didn’t go to concerts on Friday or Saturday. I wanted to see MAPLEZ at least once, but their concert that night in Nagoya was too underground. So I spent most of the day organizing my Doll☆Elements trading cards, counting my millions of yen, and returning to Tokyo. The trip is 5.5 hours from Matsuyama and I also intended to spend a few hours in Kyoto, since it was on the route. It had been raining all day though and was getting worse as I got closer to Kyoto, so I reluctantly scrapped that plan.
After returning to Tokyo and checking into my hotel, I went to Ramen Street, which is a ramen park at Tokyo Station. Although I previously mentioned I don’t care about food, ramen isn’t food, it’s life. [That is easily the stupidest thing you’ve ever written]. Obviously you haven’t read my Chubbiness fanfic.
May 7, Saturday Silent Siren and E-girls both had concerts, but it wasn’t possible to go to either. Silent Siren’s was too far from Tokyo to make it back for GEM’s Sunday concert and E-girls’s had sold out, and I wouldn’t buy resale tickets for an arena concert, since there are better ways to waste money–like Doll☆Elements trading cards and Chubbiness body mattresses. [Don’t you mean Chubbiness body pillows?] No, I meant mattresses. Hey, they’re big!
The weather was perfect, so I went to Kamakura, a beach city an hour by train from Tokyo. I went here last year for a Silent Siren concert and the area reminded me of California (minus the temples). It’s also the locale from one of my favorite J-dramas ever, Biblia Koshodou no Jiken Techou (Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files). I didn’t have time to look around last year though, which is why I returned. I randomly took the following photos almost a year apart and was surprised how they lined up when viewed successively.
Kamakura city and Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine:
After praying at every shrine that Magical Punchline doesn’t turn out as tragically horrible as World Standard, I realized that it was almost my daily feeding time. I was like, “Oh my gosh! It’s almost my daily feeding time!” As I contemplated how I don’t really care about food, I made my way to the Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama.
May 8, Sunday It was a crisp, plucky, frisky, snappy, zippy, and zesty day. [Please stop using weird words to describe the weather.] It was also hella peppy. That night, I would see my current fixation drop, after an early G-ls Entaa teiment micstia concert at the bland & non-stellar Shinagawa Stellar Ball. After GEM’s 90 minute concert in Osaka earlier in the week, I truly thought they were saving themselves for an epic concert in Tokyo, since it’s common for a tour finale to be more extravagant. The concert had also been described by the group as their final as 10 members–which is confusing considering their 3rd anniversary concert is in June–unless Maya isn’t going to be at that concert, which would be weird even by GEM’s standards.
I don’t know if it’s common practice at Steller Ball, but before the concert when calling ticket numbers, after they got to ticket #290, they switched from counting by tens, to counting by hundreds. I thought that was hilariously lazy. Outside of that, there isn’t much to write. The concert was good, but not unlike any other GEM live I’ve attended. The setlist was 90% identical to Osaka, the differences being Do It Do It and Just! Call Me were exchanged for Speed Up and Can’t Stop Loving. The concert was still 90 minutes and a fan next to me commented to his friend that World Standards recent one-man was two hours. At both concerts, Chisami took Rana’s intro for Baby, Love Me! Last year, Maya also sang the intro at least once. Maybe they are challenging themselves, but the harmonizing in that intro is way better suited for Rana’s voice. The diamond cutouts on stage were also new, although I think they would have had a better effect if there were ten, to match each member. Unless that was a cryptic hint that GEM will only have seven members after the reshuffle in June.
After GEM’s concert I went to Shimokitazawa for a drop four-man at Shimokitazawa Garden. The concert was organized by drop’s agency and was one of their sporadically-scheduled themed concerts called “Compotes,” where they are joined by their little sister group Maneki Kecak, and invite one or two other groups. During Golden Week they had five of these, with Akishibu Project, FES☆TIVE, Kamiyado, and Yurumerumo joining them for different shows. I went to the final, which included Kamiyado and Yurumerumo. I almost always avoid underground concerts, but I decided to go after learning that drop uses Peatix for ticketing. Peatix allows anyone to purchase a ticket online using a credit card or paypal, and doesn’t charge any fees beyond the ticket price. The ability to purchase tickets directly is a gamechanger for overseas fans, who would otherwise have to rely on acquaintances in Japan or ticket buying services. The business model seems like a win for musicians and fans, so hopefully more groups use their service.