My AKB48 Handshake Experience

If you’re not familiar with AKB48 let me take quick second to briefly break it down for you. They are a girl idol group from Akihabara, Tokyo that has a massive and cult following and is also one hell of a marketing machine. There are also “sister” groups from other parts of Japan such as SKE48. It’s a group of roughly 48 girls broken into “teams” and perform many catchy songs that you see in the Top 10 around Japan.

AKB48 Top 10
Still in the top 10 even though the song has been out for awhile.

Many people do not care for them due to how it portrays women, but I am not going to get into that. That’s a whole other topic within itself. I’m here to talk about my experience with what is called a Handshake Event, where you literally get to shake hands with your favourite members from AKB48.

Tickets to the Event

AKB48 Handshake Event December 2013
The ticket clearly states that this is a handshake event.

To obtain a ticket to the event you must buy their CD, which will come with only one ticket. This is where marketing comes into play. There is no limit on how many tickets you can get, so there are people who will buy quite a few CDs just to shake hands with their favourite idol numerous times. This is part of the reason why their songs seem to jump to the top of the charts more often than not.

Tent Map and Ticket Number
They provide a map to tell you which tent the girls will be in so you can line up. Also our ticket number was 14514. Yikes.

A good friend of mine wanted to go to the Handshaking Event in Yokohama, and asked if I wanted to come. This is not something I would normally do, even though I do enjoy their music. It’s typical throw away pop music, sometimes you need that. I figured, since I’m here I might as well experience as much as I can.

Event Venue

AKB48 Event at Yokohama Stadium
AKB48 Event at Yokohama Stadium

The event was at the hugely impressive Yokohama Stadium. Before the event started, members from the group put on a very short show performing one of their popular songs. After they would do some more marketing by promoting their newest album.

Afterwards the tickets we got from the CDs would be turned in for another ticket that gave us a number. This is when we could come back and get in line to shake hands with our favourite idols. We had three tickets each. There were some people who had well over 1000 tickets, and I wish I was joking. That’s how far some people will go to meet their favourite idol. In fact if you have 10 or more tickets you can spend more time with the idol of your choosing at the end of the event.

Waiting in Line

AKB48 Event at Yokohama Stadium Lines
The lines were increidbly long especially for Yuko oshima

Our ticket numbers were about 14000 and the idol we wanted to shake hands which had an incredibly long line up. Her name is Yuko Oshima and is currently one of the fan favourites from the group, she also recently announced her “graduation” from the group. Meaning, she is leaving. There were already rumours of her departure so that was another reason for her long line.

Yuko Oshima
Yuko Oshima, one of the more popular members of AKB48.

Shaking their Hands

Where you shake hands was in tents that were setup on the baseball field in Yokohama Stadium. The names of the idols were above the tents where you knew where to line up. The line we were in was an hour and a half long. Once you got up to the front of the line there were security guards who checked your hands. I asked why this was and it was to ensure the safety of the idols, since they actually do shake your hand. Making sure you have nothing that can hurt them such as weapons or open cuts.

You enter the tent and there were more security guards who would grab you by the waist as you rounded the corner. They would guide you through the line up so you did not spend too much time with the idol as she shook your hand. You got to see them for maybe 2-3 seconds at the most. It was like a human conveyer belt as the security guided you along.

Mayu Watanabe
One of my favourite members that I shook hands with, Mayu Watanabe. She’s adorable.

It shocked me at first to have some huge Japanese security guard grab my, not so tiny, waist and guide me along as I tried to conjure up what to say to the girls. When I saw the girls, they all gave me the same reaction, which was something along the lines of “Wow, a foreigner!”. A couple of them even asked me where I was from. While, I’m sure I was not the only foreigner there, I did not see any other ones.

The entire experience was pretty unique in itself and somewhat overwhelming. The whole AKB48 phenomenon is rather interesting and I am happy to have been able to see what it was all about. Here I leave you with one of their biggest hits of 2013, 恋するフォーチュンクッキー (Koisuru Fortune Cookie).

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Morning Commute in Tokyo

Everyone has heard the stories about how crowded trains can get here in Tokyo, especially during rush hour. People cramming onto trains and employees pushing people into the trains. I wish I could say that this is an over exaggeration, but it simply is not. Here’s a photo of how crammed it can get on my train on my commute to work.

Chuo Line Rush Hour Commute

Where I am located I have the luxury of choosing between two different train lines. One line I can take into central Tokyo, while the other helps me get to work that is north of my location. I take two lines to get to work in the morning, which only takes about 30 minutes total, which is a bonus. The first line is relatively older and during rush hour there are still seats left for people to sit on. Once I transfer over to the Chuo Line, that’s where the cramming begins.

Once the train gets to me, it’s also full to capacity but there are still a couple hundred people at this stop that need to get one. While a few people get off the train, most stay on board. But some how, every morning, we all manage to squeeze onto the train. So much, that I do not have to hold onto any hand rails and I can easily read the article the person in front of me is reading on their smart phone (usually it’s Puzzle and Dragons).

There are a few times where people that have less than ideal hygiene beside me, which can make the train ride rather long, but for the most part everyone just wants to get to work without any fuss. Thankfully I only have to endure the sardine can of a train ride for two stops. Which is nice because I wouldn’t have much choice but to get off the train anyway, since the wave of people getting off there’s not much you can do but go with the flow.

I will admit, I have fallen asleep a couple times while standing up because it was so warm and oddly comfy.

Making Mochi

Mochi is the Japanese food that is traditionally eaten during New Years. It’s very sticky rice that is beaten into a paste in a wooden bowl with a mallet.

On my New Years trip with my friend Hiro to Nagoya, I got the chance to participate in making Mochi A family near the apartment we were staying at was having a family BBQ. They are friends of Hiro’s parents and they invited us over for some Mochi. Two guys were pounding the rice in a  wooden bowl while the bother would move the Mochi around each time the mallets were lifted out of the bowl. It was quite the rhythm they had going.

Once they were done, the mother turned to me and asked, in Japanese of course, if I would like to try and help make Mochi. I decided to give the family some comic relief by being the foreigner (that had no idea what he was doing) that would attempt at pounding the Mochi.

While it looked rather simple, it was a lot of hard work. By the end of it all I was sweating and my arms were incredibly sore. But the pay off was worth it, we shared the entire bowl of delicious Mochi. It was put into a soup and also used as a sweet dessert with cinnamon. It was an incredible experience that I soon won’t forget.

Making Mochi

Keeping Warm in Japan

As a Canadian from the arctic prairies of Saskatchewan, you would think I would be able to handle the mild cold weather here in Tokyo. I thought that my winter clothing would be sufficient. How wrong I was. I quickly learned how to keep myself warm as the humidity and wind, chill you right to the bone if you are not dressed properly. While it only gets down to maybe -2C at it’s coldest, it can still feel miserable. Japan does not have central heating, so I have to use my heater to keep my living area warm. This only affects the small room where I spend the most time in. It does not heat the kitchen, toilet, or shower room. Waiting for the water to warm up while standing in the show is the longest 30 seconds of my day. Also, you spend a lot of time outdoors walking places such as to the store, train, or work. It’s not like being back in Saskatchewan, where we can run from the house to a warm vehicle then into the office. Therefore spending a minimal amount of time outdoors. Here are some of the things I’ve learned about keeping warm here in Japan …

Tea, Soup, or Anything Spicy

Spicy Ramen
You simply cannot go wrong with a nice hot bowl of Ramen.

Drinking hot green tea or having miso soup keeps your insides nice and warm. It is almost like having a blanket on your insides! Also, having anything spicy. I recently had Taiwan Ramen, it was so spicy that I completely forgot how cold I was because I was too busy sweating, coughing, wiping my nose, and wiping the tears out of my eyes.

Fleece

Fleece
While it does keep you warm, it does not however, make your hair white.

I am not a fan of fleece, only because everything sticks to it. Dust, hair, small pieces of fluff, pet hair, etc. But, I put that all aside and bought myself a lounging set made of fleece. The best 3000 yen that I have spent. I even bought fleece socks. I wear this around my box sized apartment and also sleep in it. While everything does stick to it, the fact that it keeps me completely warm outweighs my dislike of the fabric.

Heat Tech from Uniqlo

Heat Tech Uniqlo Uniqlo is a cheap clothing store in Japan (it now has stores in the US) that sells decent quality clothes are reasonable prices. For winter they have thin shirts called “Heat Tech” which will keep your body heat. A long sleeved shirt will run about 950 yen and a t-shirt version about 750 yen. They are worth they weight in gold. Not only do they keep you incredibly warm, they are so thin you can wear it under pretty much anything. I have three pairs and there’s no way I could go without them now. Ultra Light Down Another famous item from Uniqlo is the “Ultra Light Down”. This is an incredibly light jacket or vest that will cut the wind from chilling you to the bone. They come with a small bag so you can take it anywhere and pull it out when needed. A vest/jacket will run you about 4000 yen. Not only do the keep you warm and are incredibly light, they look pretty stylish too. They come in a variety of basic colours so you can easily work it into your wardrobe.

Kotatsu (炬燵)

This is a small table that has a removable top so you can put a blanket in between the top of the table and the legs. The heater inside keeps you nice and toasty. While I do not have one in my place, as it’s too small, I have used them at other people’s houses and they are fantastic.

Onsen (温泉) or Hot Bath

Onsen in Sakura-shi, Tochigi, Japan
Onsen in Sakura-shi, Tochigi, Japan

The onsen is the traditional Japanese Public Bath. Where you bathe yourself in an open room with a small shower and stool then relax in the natural hot springs. All while being completely naked in front of everyone. While that is intimidating at first, you quickly realize that most people are not paying any attention to you. John Himpe gives a really good and in-depth explanation of our onsen experience. After the onsen you are left nice and toasty for the rest of the evening. Now, I cannot get to the onsen every night so most nights I opt for a steaming hot bath, which leaves me just as warm for the evening. I quickly shower (because you never go into the bath without washing yourself first), turn on Saskatchewan’s Largest Morning Show on TuneIn Radio, and relax in the bath for about 20 minutes each night. While it was pretty miserable the first month, since I had to figure out how to stay warm, I now am able to keep warm in the mild but humid Tokyo winter.

Farewell 2013 and Bring It 2014

My obligatory New Years post talking about the past year. However, I do find it quite enjoyable to reflect on the previous year in a few paragraphs. Looking back at your accomplishments, failures, ups, and downs.

Gifu Castle, the oldest Castle in Japan
Gifu Castle, the oldest Castle in Japan

2013 was the year I decided to make some huge changes in my life. I realized that I was beginning to become complacent, which is something I didn’t want to become just yet. My move to Tokyo, Japan started in January 2013 when I began the application process for my Working Holiday Visa. April was the month I applied for the visa in Calgary. The visa was granted to me the following week. September I gave my notice at my previous job. Then finally in November I moved to Tokyo, Japan. It was quite the process but all that hard work really did pay off.

Tokyo from Tokyo Tower
View of Tokyo from Tokyo Tower

Completely uprooting myself from my comfortable lifestyle in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was the biggest risk I have taken thus far. Did I have my doubts? Of course I did. Did I question myself day in and day out? You bet I did. Were there days that I wanted to give up? I can’t count how many days I felt like that. Thankfully, I have the most supportive family (Hi Mom!) and friends in the world. I couldn’t have done it without you guys, it’s that simple. You’re all a big reason why I made it this far, I don’t think I could have done it without you. So, if I haven’t told you already, thank you.

John and Yuki
John and Yuki playing with various items in Village Vanguard.

I never want to be that person who asks themselves “what if?”. After being in Japan for close to three months now, I know I made the right choice. Was this an incredibly risk move? Of course it was. I left my job, family, friends, and comfort back in Canada to set off on an adventure. Now I’m visiting Disneyland every week (damned rights I’m making use of my annual passport), making new friends and reuniting with old, improving my Japanese, and working. Who would of thought that a small prairie boy from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan would be working for an IT company in Tokyo? I certainly didn’t think so.

Hiro, Hiro's Mom, and Me enjoying Sushi in Tokyo
Hiro, Hiro’s Mom, and Me enjoying Sushi in Tokyo

2013 was the most challenging but also the most rewarding year of my life, so far. You never get anywhere unless you are willing to take risks and work your ass off. Opportunities are almost never handed to you, they present themselves after you have put in the work, if you’re willing to do so.

Utsunomiya, Tochigi, Japan
First time back in Utsunomiya after over 10 years.

In closing, 2013 was an incredible experience. Whatever 2014 has in store for me, bring it.

Chris in Utsunomiya

Random Happenings in Tokyo – Week 2

Another week of random happenings here in Tokyo. If you haven’t read my previous entry then I highly suggest that you do.

Santa?

First up is a piece of graffiti found near Hachiko in Shibuya. I’m unsure of the significance of this sticker. Wonder what the commentary is supposed to be. Santa Brings Guns Clearly Santa isn’t the typical white bearded old man. He’s also not bringing the typical toys to all the boys and girls. This year he’s opted for AK47s and who knows what else  I’m really curious to find out what this all means. If I find out, I will for sure let you all know. But, if you happen to know what the commentary is behind this I would love to hear it.

Fresh Sushi

I’m always willing to try new food. Being here in Japan I’m getting many chances to do so. This past week I went to a small traditional Japanese sushi restaurant in Yokohama. The one plate of sushi that was ordered was easily one of the most beautiful plates I’ve ever seen. Fresh Sashimi The sashimi was incredibly fresh and delicious. It was clear that the sashimi came from the fish was that on the plate. The dipping sauce was made from the contents of the fish’s stomach. Normally, this would gross me out but it was fantastic! Little did I realize though, the fish that we were enjoying was still alive. It’s lips were still moving. So, the poor little guy was watching us eat his insides. Now, that’s was something else. Afterwards, the fish’s head was cooked and put into our miso soup. I did not realize this and the head was stuck to the bottom of my bowl, so I didn’t not see it. When I went go sip the soup the head floated to the top and I was greeted with this black eye. It was safe to say it scared the me pretty good. Fish Head in Miso Soup That was quite the experience and the food was great. But having the fish still alive while we ate it was certainly something else. Wonder what next week will bring? You should subscribe to find out.

Retro Gamers Paradise in Tokyo

Today’s photo of the day comes from one of the best places to purchase retro video games and their related merchandise in Tokyo. The place I’m talking about is Super Potato located in Akihabara, Tokyo’s largest electronics district.

Super Potato
Nothing screams “retro” gaming more than the iconic Super Mario.

Looking for Final Fantasy III or perhaps a Super Mario Pocket Watch? Or perhaps that incredibly-rare-snes-game-only-you-played. You will find it at Super Potato, on one of their several floors. Each floor contains different types of games from Atari to the original Nintendo. Walls are covered in advertisements for old games and other random related material.

First you will have to find the place, it’s a tad difficult if it’s your first time in Japan, so much so that a video was made how to find it.

It is difficult to explain this one of a kind store , you have to experience it yourself. If you grew up gaming, then make sure to add this to your list of places to visit when you are exploring the urban jungle that is Tokyo.

More photos can be found on Flickr and make sure to subscribe to my journey in Japan. Now, if you don’t mind, I have to go take out a loan so I can go buy a sealed copy of the original Bubble Bobble on the NES.

Why It Sometimes Sucks Being a Movie Buff in Japan

I’m a movie buff plain and simple. Going to see the latest North American blockbuster on opening night is a past time of mine. My favourite movie food is the classic popcorn and coke. I prefer layered butter with salt and vinegar shakers and a coke zero. The layered butter preference is thanks to John Himpe, who introduced me the buttery goodness that is layered butter. Being able to see movies opening day I’ve taken for granted, I’ll admit. After moving to Japan there is a noticeable lag in when certain North American movies are released here, if at all. For huge blockbusters the release dates vary wildly it seems. Ranging from same day worldwide release, a few weeks, or even months. This is comparing to North American releases. I’ve done some quick research and nothing really comes up to find a reason behind the delays in some releases. My educated guess would be it has to do with translation, in either subtitles or dubbing of audio. This obviously could be completely wrong or just a small piece of a bigger puzzle. If you have any insight, I’d love to hear it.

Watching North American Movies in Japan

The Family 2013 Movie Poster
The Family also known as “Maltiva” here in Japan.

I’ve seen a few movies since I’ve been here, which were just released. These included Red 2 and The Family. If you’re from North America you’ll notice that these have been released earlier this year during the summer. I had the choice of seeing it with Japanese dubbed audio or English with Japanese subtitled. I opted for the English just so I could hear something I could fully understand.

Major Releases in North America & Japan

The Hunger Games Catching Fire Movie Poster

The holiday season in North America is one of the best times of the year for movie releases (summer is the other). Here is a non-comprehensive list of some of the biggest movies that have been released or are being released this 2013 holiday season:

  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire
  • The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug
  • Saving Mr. Banks
  • Frozen
  • Thor: The Dark World
  • Gravity
  • Last Vegas
  • American Hustle

Disneys Frozen

Just to put it into perspective for you, the only movie that has been released so far has been Gravity. It was released on December 13th, 2013. The next will be The Hunger Games: Catching Fire on December 27th, 2013.  A movie such as Last Vegas will likely not see a Japanese release as I do not think it would have an appeal to the Japanese audience. Just due to the premise of the movie and type of humour that would be involved.The rest of the films are coming out in 2014.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit Desolation of Smaug Poster The one that really has me is The Hobbit. I’m a Tolkien fanatic and originally the movie was supposed to be released on the same date as North America. Somewhere that changed to February 28th, 2014. Which is incredibly disappointing, while all my friends are enjoying the next installation of The Hobbit trilogy I have to sit back and wait. It’s not the end of the world by any stretch but I’m sure some of you can relate.

The Upside

On the upside, there are quite a few of Japanese movies here that I would never have known existed. As they would be DVD only releases back in North America or would never be released at all. From Lupid the 3rd vs. Detective Conan: The Movie (an anime crossover movie) to Roommate (thriller). I will have to check out a few of these titles at my local Toho Cinema. Roommate Japanese Poster

What do you think?

Having to wait longer for  movie releases as a movie buff, while it is a downer sometimes, it is just one of those things you have to accept when moving to another country and culture. That just means when I do finally get to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire and The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug it will be that much more satisfying. To all you movie buffs out there, how would you deal with the delay in releases here in Japan? I want to hear your thoughts. Also, if you haven’t already make sure to subscribe so you can have new posts sent right to your inbox.

Christmas to the MAX in Japan

Christmas means many different things to everybody from family to commercialism, and everything in between. For myself, Christmas is about spending the holidays with my family and friends. Which is funny since I’m spending this Christmas in Japan, away from home.

Back home in Canada during the holiday season you see the standard fare for decorations on people’s homes and in all the stores. Here in Japan the stores are decorated to the MAX (you’ll see why I keep using that word in a minute here) for Christmas. There are Christmas trees, stockings, elves, Santa, and everything else you can think of to associate with the holiday. Even though Christmas is not holiday here the decorations are really something to see.

This brings me to the photo of the day. Taken outside of a PARCO department store in Shibuya, Tokyo. It really has nothing to do with Christmas, yet it does, all at the same time.

LOVE MAX XMAS

 

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Enjoying Starbucks in Tokyo

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter you know I share quite a few pictures. Especially since moving to Tokyo. While those are great for sharing photos in the moment, it’s difficult to put any deep explanation of the photo being shown. So, with that I’m going to give one and explain every last thing about it and why it’s significant to my daily life here in Tokyo (or wherever I may end up).

Enjoying Starbucks

 

I’m a huge Starbucks fan, and I will admit it’s a bit of a comfort when I’m feeling homesick. We all enjoy something that is familiar and take comfort in it. While I’m all for getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing new things, somedays having something (somewhat) familiar is welcomed.

Not that walking into Starbucks was easy at first, I had to learn how to properly order in Japanese. Although the names of most drinks are the same in English it’s more answering the questions the lovely baristas ask you:

  • Are you having it in or taking it out?
  • Do you already have a table? (Most Starbucks in Japan you need to have a table already if you want to stay in otherwise you wait for a table before ordering)
  • Did you want your [pastry name] heat?
  • Do you want a mug?

The first time I went into Starbucks on my own, I completely messed up and was unaware that I needed a table before I could order if I wanted to stay. The girl first told me in Japanese, but I was a bit flustered and didn’t quite understand her. She then switched to English and explained the entire process to me. I won’t lie, I did feel a bit stupid for not understanding her when she first told me in Japanese.

Now that I’m completely aware of how the system works I go into Starbucks now fully confident in my ability to order in Japanese and know to get a table if I want to stay in. So, now it’s a place of comfort just like it was back home in Canada.

Now, if only they would get the Eggnog Latte here, but I don’t see that happening. For now, the Crush Marron Pie Latte will have to do.

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