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TIF & Idol Yokocho Deathmatch

21 Jul

Idol Yokocho Hello, TIF. We meet again.
TIF Indeed we do. *puts on trousers* Prepare to die.
IY No, you prepare to die.
TIF I said it first.

Because I’m a huge nerd when it comes to J-Pop, I am going to spend a beautiful California summer day comparing Idol Yokocho Natsu Matsuri and Tokyo Idol Festival. And you’re welcome.

Idol Yokocho refers to itself as one of the big three idol festivals, which is a reference to TIF, the preeminent pop music festival and @JAM EXPO, considered the second biggest (and #1 jankiest). I went to Idol Yokocho two weeks ago and TIF for years and they are very different experiences. I’ve never been to @JAM EXPO, but based on the streams I’ve watched, the years it has been held at Yokohama Arena, it has clearly been the worst of the three. The main stage is ridiculous–a massive stage that is way too big for the performers and way too far away from the audience and minor stages that are set up in absurd locations like the lobby (really?) or random storage rooms where fans are crammed in like cattle and if you jump too high your head will literally crash through the ceiling. I don’t get why the organizers keep returning to Yokohama Arena, it’s not built for a multi-stage event. Well, I do get why it’s Yokohama Arena–it’s glamorous and high profile. And clearly that is higher priority to the producers than the fan experience. @JAM also started the mindless VIP trend that TIF has since adopted, forcing fans to pay obscene amounts of money for front-row access and privileges like exclusive performances. This is all unrelated though, onward to the comparison.

TIF Idol Yokocho
Duration 3 Days 2 Days
Location Odaiba Yokohama
Tickets 17,000Y (3-days)
7,200Y (1-day)

18,700Y (3-days T-Shirt)
9,200Y (1-day T-Shirt)

100,000Y (3-days VIP)
40,000Y (1-day VIP)

12,000Y (2-days)
6,800Y (1-day)
Number of groups 198 (as of July 22) 158
Number of stages 7 5
Travel time between stages Two pairs of stages are 1 minute apart:
(Smile Garden/Doll Factory & Hot Stage/Festival Stage)  
Other combinations of stages are ~10-20 minutes apart
Less than 1 minute between any stage
Attendance ~80,000 (over the 3 days) / 27,000 average ~10,000 total / 5,000 average
Queues for stages 1. Special lives at Doll Factory (or whenever it’s beyond capacity)
2. Sky Stage (can be as little as 15 seconds to an hour or more) 
3. Marketplace (depending upon the time, can be 30+ minutes)
None
Hotels within walking distance
(data from hotels.com and agoda.com)
Six hotels (all 3.5-5 star) & one capsule hotel that is a ~20 minute walk 25-30 hotels in every category
Gimmicks Exclusive performances if you purchase the T-Shirt tickets
VIP perks (front row)
Gravure 2-shots

TIF Sparkling Night (18 and over)
Main stage competition
Regional idol group competition
Other gimmicks like having a nerdy chairperson
Gravure 2-shots
Playing a fishing game with idols
Main stage competition
Fuwa Fuwa Yes No *cries into a pillow*
Rules No jumping, lifting, moshing, etc. is enforced at certain stages No lifting, enforced at all stages

TIF is like Disneyland. There’s a lot to like, but also a lot to hate. TIF has the highest number of groups and a few mainstream acts from 48 groups, 46 groups, and Hello! Project. The massive numbers and the specific acts are a double-edged sword though. Most fans couldn’t care less about there being 200+, that’s mainly for the ego of the producers. The real consequences for fans are the increased likelihood for schedule conflicts and the increased attendance that accompanies the popular groups. This is annoying because every year they book more acts and attendance increases, yet the number of stages remains the same. In fact, this year they removed last year’s main stage. Last year’s main stage was the best main stage they ever had. It appears that stage no longer exists because Fuji TV’s annual summer festival really down-sized this year. In the past, TIF used Fuji TV’s “Mezamashi Live” stage as their main stage. This year, Fuji TV got rid of the entire festival area which included the stage and the mini amusement park and are instead using the super-small My Navi stage for “Mezamashi Live,” which is called “Dream Stage” for TIF. That’s a massive downgrade and I don’t know how TIF can compensate for the loss, considering thousands of fans camped at this stage last year.

The biggest problem with TIF is how spread out everything is. Sky Stage, Dream Stage, Main Stage, Marketplace, the gimmicky stage inside the Fuji TV building that no one cares about — these areas are 10-20 minutes apart and it can be extremely hot during this time of year. And I’m in great shape, so I’m not one to complain about physical activity. I have 4% body fat! 4%! [No one cares about that!! And that just means you need to eat more.] So often over the years at TIF my brain has been like, “Eff this. No more walking!” and my body shuts down like a robot whose battery died *bleep blop kerplunk*

This is why I feel that for a lot of fans, Idol Yokocho is superior. Every single stage is within a minute walk of any other stage. There were times when one of my favorite groups was performing at one stage and immediately afterwards another group I like was at another. At TIF, I would have been screwed. But at Idol Yokocho, I could gallantly trot to the other stage in 15 seconds. At stage 2 and 3, I just had to turn around and I was at the other stage. There was sound bleeding between stages, but this isn’t a classical music symphony festival, so I feel this issue is relatively insignificant. After all, I just want to jump around like an idiot for Kome. [Perfectly understandable. You are human.] 

Would I have liked to see NMB48 and FuwaFuwa? Of course I would have liked to see NMB48 and FuwaFuwa. I am human after all. But I was completely fine with Idol Yokocho’s lineup. For my particular fandoms, the lineups were actually equal, because Idol Yokocho had Moriwaki Yui and LADYBABY, which TIF doesn’t (at least not yet). Of course I wasn’t even able to see LADYBABY because of schedule conflicts, which I will be eternally grumpy about. Rie Kaneko! *howls at the moon and sobs into a pillow*

TIF also cracked down on fun last year. There are definitely problems with some fans (anything that impacts another person’s space is wrong imo, which includes moshing, lifting, clearing space for a ginormous circle of stupidity, and rushing the stage for your oshimen), but TIF’s response last year was annoying. Some stages outlawed jumping, moshing, lifting, etc, but at other stages it was okay. The rules were silly though because non-stop jumping (renzoku jump) is not the same as lifting or moshing. One is only mildly annoying while the other directly impacts others. I felt that TIF’s response last year was disingenuous and mainly for appearance, like when they had metal detectors two years ago on day one and then they disappeared the next two days–because we all know that one single psychotic idol fan in all of Japan is showing up on day one and then sitting out the rest of the festival.

The bottom line is TIF is produced by huge nerds whose main objective is self-promotion. The decisions they make are typically in their best interest and not the fans. If they cared about fans, they would have tents set up in the areas they know queues will form and the stages would be centrally located, instead of utilizing pre-existing stages that scattered all over Odaiba. Idol Yokocho’s producers are also huge nerds, but they are pervy nerds (they proudly invented the gravure 2-shot event) and everything is situated in one spot. The only annoying thing they did was rope off the benches. Seriously, what the f-junk are benches for if not to be sat on? And these are old benches, not brand new benches made of gold, but evidently idol fans are not to use them. Of course, if fenced-off benches are the only complaint I can think of, then the producers are clearly doing a good job.

[Don’t forget the schedule guy denied you Rie Kaneko.] Tis true. But I put a curse on him. 

Incomprehensible Analogies
Southern California has a lot of amusement parks (Disneyland, Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, Sea World, Universal Studios, Legoland, and others), so this may only make sense locally, but this completely captures the essence of each festival:

  • TIF is Disneyland Lots of excitement, but expensive, overrated, and overcrowded
  • Idol Yokocho is Knott’s Berry Farm Minimal excitement, but you are going to have a good time
  • @JAM EXPO is Santa’s Village Haunted and super-janky

Final Thoughts
I would love for Idol Yokocho to add a third day, or more realistically, add Friday night to the weekend, so it’s 2.5 days. TIF’s third day is perhaps it’s only tangible advantage.

I’m going to Idol Yokocho again next year. Let’s all go!

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Japan Summer Trip 2018

8 Jul

Summer Trip: July 6-16

It’s summer. Which can only mean one thing. [Marshmallow pizza?] Yes.

Aaaand summer vacation in Japan. Which can only mean one thing. [Women-only onsens?] Yes and yes. 

Schedule

July 6 Arrived at Haneda, checked into my hotel in Yokohama
July 7 Idol Yokocho Summer Festival Day 1
July 8 Idol Yokocho Summer Festival Day 2
July 9 Women-only onsen (all day pass)
July 10 Women-only onsen (all day pass)
July 11 Tokyo Hobo Orchestra @Ueno Zoo (morning), Women-only onsen (night) 
July 12 Women-only onsen (VIP pass with limited edition tote bag)
July 13 Silent Siren “Girls Will Be Bears” Tour
July 14 Silent Siren “Girls Will Be Bears” Tour
July 15 Women-only onsen (half-day pass… jk, all day)
July 16 1. SUPER GiRLS release event
2. NEO Fes!!! (Monogatari and other groups)
3. Flight back to America

I chose these dates because Silent Siren announced their tour in January and the Tokyo shows were on July 13 and 14.  Although I bought tickets during their first lottery, at that point I wasn’t sure if I would go. Shows in mid-July meant I wouldn’t be able to go to TIF 2018, since TIF would be three weeks away and two week vacations are my limit. Planning a trip six months in advance also isn’t usually how I go about things, since a lot can change during that time. I prefer planning a trip three months out or even a few weeks. Sometimes, just a few days

For the past three years, my main J-Pop interest has been Silent Siren. My interests in idol groups fluctuate more since there are so many of them and they often go through changes, usually negative ones like member graduations, reboots, and completely obvious budget cuts. For the past year, my interests have been Harajuku Monogatari, Magical Punchline, and Moriwaki Yui, center of Yamaguchi Kassei Gakuen, now known as Yamakatsu. Since last year, there were unfortunate changes to all three. Harajuku Monogatari became Monogatari and some of the accompanying changes really killed the group’s appeal to me. I’ll explain this in detail later. For Magical Punchline, Rena Sato graduated. She was by far my favorite member, but I like the entire lineup so my fandom has somewhat survived. Lastly, Moriwaki Yui’s solo project has been on hiatus for a while, although she did perform at Idol Yokocho (and it was the best thing since women-only onsens).

Idol Yokocho Natsu Matsuri

Idol Yokocho’s summer festival has been going on since 2012, but this is the first year I’ve considered going since I’ve previously gone to TIF. The festival is relatively small scale compared to TIF and @JAM EXPO, but overall I thought it was fun and there were a few advantages compared to TIF, which I’ll explain later.

When I arrived in Yokohama on Friday, it was raining, so I was a little concerned, but Idol Yokocho’s twitter downplayed the weather, so I figured everything was okay. Just in case I made one of those tissue things that you see in anime to wish for good weather. (I didn’t actually do that). Fortunately, the weather turned out to be fine. It never rained and it was cloudy for most of both days, so it was relatively cool and I didn’t get sun burned like I would have considering it was an all-outdoors event with literally three trees in the entire area that provided shade.

Day 1 Day 2
Monogatari MEY (idol collaboration)
Okuzawamura Yamakatsu
Magical Punchline SUPER GiRLS
Akishibu Project Niji no Conquistador
Task have Fun Monogatari
Tokyo Performance Doll Qumali Depart
Party Rockets GT Rock A Japonica 
Aka no Ryusei (TPD spinoff) Maybe Me
Wenra Akishibu Project
Magical Punchline Monogatari
AIS Tenko Shoujo
Monogatari Ange Reve
Tokyo Performance Doll CY8ER
Moriwaki Yui SUPER GiRLS
Yumemiru Adolescence 
SUPER GiRLS
2o Love to Sweet Bullet

The festival took place at Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse, which is a mall inside old-fashioned red brick warehouse buildings and directly adjacent to Yokohama Bay. My hotel was down the street and took about five minutes to walk to the venue. There were five stages, all outdoors, and the three main stages were practically identical, the sizes of the audience areas were just slightly different for each. Stage 4 was a free stage outside the gated area (a lot of tourists congregated here with confused expressions as groups performed) and stage 5 was extremely tiny (and janky) and located almost directly under a giant tree (so whenever I had nothing to do, I went to this stage to pass the time). Stage 2 and 3 were close enough that you could stand between them and just turn around to watch either, which I did a few times because I wanted to see groups that were performing at the same time. The sound bleeding between stages never bothered me.mapMini recaps of the groups I saw
Monogatari
were the first performers at Stage 1 and even though I arrived an hour before the start time, it was already three rows deep. They performed wearing their new outfits, which I’m sorry to say I really hate. The outfits scream “generic pop group.” They sang “We Are One,” “Party Animals,” “Monogatari,” and their new single “Moikkai Kimi ni Suki to Ienai” (something like “I can’t tell you I like you again”). I like the song, it’s well produced and catchy *however* it is a typical pop song and not like their early unique style, which although was often love it or hate it, their early music really set them apart. The new single simply won’t elevate them to where they want to go. The performances were good, the outfits really kill a lot of their appeal though. I wonder how the members feel about them.

Okuzawamura followed and while I never heard of them before, I thought they were good. Their music was interesting and two of the members caught my eye (aka they were super long kawaaiiiiii). It turned out they are a subunit of 3BJr, which are the trainee members of Stardust. I never write about Stardust because I don’t like their groups, but they will be the exception.

Magical Punchline was next and this was the first time seeing them without Rena. I liked all of the songs they performed, but there wasn’t a lot of crowd reaction for them.

Akishibu Project has a new member who is pretty hot and one of the previous new members from their audition last year really leveled up. I remember not liking any of the four new members last year, but Mizuki definitely got a lot hotter since then. Checking their profile page though, I clearly lost track of this group because I thought they had seven members plus the new girl, but they performed with ten. My main complaint is this group always performs the same songs at each festival they attend. It’s annoying because they have such a good catalog of music. I think their new single is their major debut, but  I’m too lazy to confirm that.

Task have Fun was very Task have Funny. If you like them, then you would have enjoyed it. If you don’t, then you wouldn’t. I kind of feel like if you’ve seen them once, you’ve seen them a hundred times, because every performance seems identical.

Tokyo Performance Doll performed in their tacky “Trick U” outfits and this was the first time I saw them as a six-member group. I think they are a stronger group now because they are the best members, so it was addition by subtraction. Similarly to Magical Punchline, there was really minimal crowd reaction to them. Their new single “Shapeless” is really nice though, including the b-sides (which of course they didn’t perform). I would link to their music video, but their label Sony Music region blocks them. I really don’t get TPD. They have great music, but they perform only their most generic songs ad nauseum.

To this point, I had just stayed at Stage 1. After TPD I went to Stage 3 (took 30 seconds) and Party Rockets GT were performing. YKG was performing afterwards, but if I had checked their twitter I would have learned that they were stuck in traffic and had to cancel. When they announced this at the stage, my fear was Moriwaki Yui’s performance would also be cancelled. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case, since she was scheduled in the evening and by then, the group had arrived. And YKG ended up being added to another stage later that night.

After a break I went to Stage 2. From this point, it was getting later in the day so it was a lot cooler and the performances were more enjoyable. 

Aka no Ryusei is a TPD spinoff with Seira and Akari, and although I like both members, they are a pretty bland unit. It didn’t help that they had technical difficulties and had to cancel their third song.

Wenra is a relatively new group featuring former drop members Misato and Hikari (and Hikari’s sister). I’m a fan of Misa, so even though I don’t like the concept of the group, I was interested in seeing them. Having seen them, I’m definitely not a fan of their music, choreography, or outfits.

Magical Punchline changed into super short outfits and I liked the setlist better because they performed a song from their most recent single Dues Ex Machina (which is actually pretty old now). That single has four awesome songs and is really underappreciated. All four members are gorgeous, but they don’t seem to be going anywhere. Their performance was great though.

A festival doesn’t go by without me having to watch AIS (the group that does cover songs). I’m not exaggerating. I see this group every year and I basically just endure it.

Monogatari was the prize for watching AIS. I was hoping they would change outfits, since they commonly do that and any change would have been an improvement, but they still wore their shiny blue outfits. They performed “KISS MY GIRLS,” “#Noisy Girl,” “Maho o Takanaide,” and “Party Animals.” I really appreciate how they performed different songs at all four of their stages. One of the great things about them is they don’t just perform the same songs over and over, which is so typical of most groups.  

TPD followed and they had changed to the much cuter outfits from their new single. This stage was was much funner than when I saw them in the morning, although I still didn’t like the setlist.

Yui Moriwaki was scheduled for Stage 4 (the free stage) so I endured a few indie groups until she came on stage. I deserve a LOT of credit for not murdering anyone to get to the front row. There were quite a few YKG/Yui fans in the area because she rarely performs her solo persona. I first became a fan of Yui and YKG last year after watching Idol Yokocho 2017 and I noticed one of the YKG members literally never stopped smiling during the entire set. When Yui announced her solo venture, I was already hooked. This was one of the highlights of my trip, definitely the high point of Idol Yokocho for me. She performed “Time Machine Music,” “Jet Go Land,” and “5%” and it was just pure perfection–even though she didn’t perform my two favorite songs of hers.

Yumemiru Adolescence was partway through their performance when I arrived. After their shaky period last year I am back on board as a fan. The new members have grown on me and their singles the past two years have been really good. Hopefully I can go to a proper concert of theirs on my next trip.

SUPER GiRLS followed and it was basically 30 minutes of me jumping around like an idiot for Kome. They are back as my number one group since I am a little down on Monotagari, buuuut there is an ongoing SG audition, so things are going to change in the winter. Hopefully the changes are positive, but the history of the group has been so up and down. I love their summer single this year.

The only merchandise I bought were both of Monogatari’s towels. I wanted to buy Moriwaki Yui’s towel, but they aren’t selling them anymore. I should have made a better attempt last year at TIF. I tried to buy one last year, but they were still setting up their booth and I never returned because it was a hassle to enter the marketplace. I also meant to buy Kome’s uchiwa, but the queue was too long.

Expired tickets for sale. Two for 1 million yen or best offer.

Day 2 was more of the same. Fortunately, Monogatari changed into their cuter outfits… but then changed back for their second performance. I finally saw the group Qumali Depart after two years of them being an inside joke of mine. Saw a new group called Maybe Me that has former-palet member Rito in it.

Overall, Idol Yokocho was fun and I think I’ll come back next year since TIF is no longer possible for me. I’ll compare the two festivals in a separate entry.