Berryz Koubou at Sakura-con: Day Two- In which I learn wotagei and cry some more

July 10, 2011

Oh maaaan this post has been a long time in coming! I’d like to say that it’s because I’ve been out enjoying my summer to its fullest, but in truth I’ve mostly been working or hanging about doing largely uninteresting things. 😛

So with that said, let’s get right into the post. I promise to finish these up before the summer ends!

A note: As with the last post, this one will include few pictures or videos. You can find fan recordings of the concert all over the place now, so if you’re interested, please go check them out! One video that I found amusing was called “Documentary of Sakura Con: An Epic Berryz Kobo Adventure,” if you’re interested in looking something up!

Berryz Koubou at Sakura-con: Day Two- In which I learn wotagei and cry some more

Event: The Concert

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This day was the least packed, event-wise. I woke up early and headed pretty much directly to the Artists’ Alley. The area next to the Alley had become a sort of unofficial congregation point for anyone who was at the con solely for Berryz, and even though the concert wasn’t for another 6 hours or so, many people were already waiting there. I didn’t see the point in staying in one spot, waiting for a concert a half day away (and being held in another room on a different floor, for that matter), so I wandered around the convention for a while. Conventions can be very interesting (in both a bad and good way) if you’re not into anime. I was dressed up in lolita fashion (a Japanse street fashion based on Victorian and Rococo style), so at least I felt like I fit in, looks-wise! I mostly killed time by searching out breakfast and other lolitas to chat with.

As an aside, I should mention that the con staff started to get nervous and edgy about the BK fans during Day 2. I think the staff started to freak out over us the day before, when over 300 people were lined up solely to buy Berryz merchandise an hour before the Dealers’ room opened. Because of that, whenever groups of Berryz fans (easily identified by their t-shirts and uchiwa) were spotted congregating, they were split up and sent elsewhere by the staff. Some were threatened with being kicked out of the con, or even with having to deal with the police should there be any misbehavior… All of which was entirely unfounded, since the fans were generally orderly and well-behaved (at least until later).

More time passed, and the fans began trying to congregate around the concert hall about an hour or so before the concert was due to start. I was there and starting to feel very excited/nervous. I was going to see Berryz Koubou! In person! I spent the time drifting from group to group, trying to keep the door to the hall in sight.  The staff threatened all of us with banishment, but eventually relented and let us begin lining up early, much to my relief.

Certain hotels were affiliated with the convention, and people who stayed in those hotels were eligible to receive wrist-bands. People with wrist-bands were given a spot in a priority line, and would be the first to get into the concert hall. I didn’t have a wristband (because the hotels affiliated with the con were expensive!), but I did end up at the very front of the regular line… where I proceeded to freak out quietly. Every time another group joined the priority line, I freaked out more. I told myself that they didn’t deserve to be in that line, that most of them were just going to the free concert, didn’t even know who Berryz were, and other fun things like that. None of which mattered, but I needed something to focus on while I sat in line and clutched my Saki-yellow glo-sticks.

Then, after an extremely nerve-wracking hour, a voice came on over the loudspeaker (or maybe it was a man with a megaphone. I was in a nervous haze and don’t remember). The voice explained to us in no uncertain terms that they were going to start letting people into the concert hall. They also explained that we would Walk Nicely. They explained that if we did not Walk Nicely, we would Talk with some Police Officers who would Arrest Us. Very melodramatic.

After all of the priority seating people were led in, it was finally my turn! The concert hall was set up with a section of chairs somewhat far from the stage, and then an open, standing area essentially leading right up to the stage. Non-priority people were pretty much supposed to sit in the sits, but I (and many others) slipped out of the line and into the standing area in the front. There were tons of people there already, but somehow I managed to meet up with my friends. We were on the left side of the hall, about five people in length away form the stage. To my left and right were some of the Japanese fans, including a very quiet Saki fan who, with the air of a master showing a novice an ancient trade secret, pulled two glo-sticks out of his bag. I say glo-sticks, but they were practically light-sabers. They made mine look like pencils! After I admired them, he nodded serenely and put them away just as quietly as he’d pulled them out.

A chant began, which everyone quickly took up. My heart was beating faster and faster- I was afraid that I was going to hyperventilate unless the girls came out soon! Then a video screen came on and everyone grew quiet as the girls spoke about the earthquake and their efforts to raise relief funds. After letting the message sink in, the girls came out and lead everyone in singing Ai wa Katsu. That just so happens to be one of my favorite car-singing songs, so I sang along with all my might. And, of course, midway through the first verse, I was crying again. The girls were just as beautiful as I remembered them, and hearing their voices so loud and clear over the singing of the crowd was like a dream.

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The concert began in earnest with Special Generation. I had previously been exasperated with how often that song is performed, but I get it now. The energy in the room was insane. The quiet Saki wota next to me was suddenly shouting and laughing and jumping, and everyone else around me was lit up from all of the lights and power coming from the stage. As the concert was moved forward, the feeling of connection between the fans and the girls onstage never stopped. I tried to spend time focusing on each member, but gave up halfway through Special Generation. Everyone looked simply radiant. Miyabi, Saki and Chinami looked like they were having the time of their lives, Maasa and Risako looked confident and powerful, Yurina looked sweet, and Momoko looked professional.

The setlist was a great mix of old classics like Happiness ~Koufuku Kangei~ and newer songs like Icchoume Rock (which Miyabi performed with so much power!). I had so much fun chanting, although toward the beginning the Saki fan had to explain some of the more intricate chants to me. 😛 The highlight, which has become infamous now, was during the second MC when Chinami disappeared backstage, then reappeared in the fish dress from one of their recent tours, then proceeded to speak English at us! At one point she faltered and the crowd immediately began shouting “kawaii!” and whatnot at her, at which point she smiled and said “thank you” in the most adorably self-assured way. The concert finished with All for One and One for All, the perfect surprise, and finally a long chant of “Berryz Ikube!” (which would’ve been longer if the con staff hadn’t kicked us out to prepare for the next event)

After the concert, things turned a little crazy. I ran out of the concert hall pretty quickly. I was feeling overwhelmed and just wanted a chance to be alone to savor the immense energy and excitement I felt. I made my way out of the concert hall and toward the big open foyer in front of registration. There I sat by a pillar and, inevitably, cried some more. After just a little while of that, I started to hear a thunderous chanting coming toward me. It got louder and louder, and then suddenly the foyer was filled with a veritable parade of screaming, chanting, laughing and crying Berryz fans. Everyone was clearly wound up after the concert and still on a Berryz high, but I found the actions of the crowd to be somewhat mortifying. They were only confirming the opinions that the con staff had of us as dangerous and mob-like. I sat and watched the craziness for a little while, then as it began to disperse, went and met up with another group to go out for dinner. We ended up going to the same restaurant that Berryz reportedly ate at when they first arrived, and through no plan of our own, at the same table!

After dinner I met up with some other friends who had for their part made friends with some of the Japanese fans. The two groups were drinking together (and driving their waitress to distraction, I might add. By the time I showed up she wasn’t even trying to hide how frustrated and horrified she was, which was pretty funny since the group wasn’t being that rowdy). I hung around with that group for a few hours, just soaking up the feeling of being with other fans and chatting with friendly people in English and what little Japanese I speak. Watching the Japanese fans get tipsy was also pretty funny! Then we parted ways and I headed back to the hotel, where the energy that had propelled me through the day suddenly gave out, and I all but dragged myself into bed.

My major take-away from the second day of the convention was finally feeling the true connection between the girls and the fans. There is simply no way to feel it when you’re just watching a concert on your computer. You might recognize it to some degree, but the only way you can feel it yourself in its full power is to go see the girls onstage. Watching Berryz onstage made me understand why a fan would fly halfway across the world to see a bunch of teenagers perform pop songs. The girls exude a kind of magnetism and energy that is practically intoxicating (or maybe it is, if the behavior of the rioting fans is any indication).

Having seen Berryz live, I know for sure now that I simply must see them again. Seeing them on the computer is okay, but it’s a hollow substitute. More than anything now I want to go to Japan and see everyone again in concert.

Up Next: Day 3- in which I meet the girls face to face, and Saki cries with me.


Berryz Koubou at Sakura-con: The First Day- In which I develop selective blindness for everyone that isn’t Risako, and cry

May 11, 2011

So you may have been wondering where my nightly coverage of Sakura-con was. Well, on the first night of the convention, I sat down and began recounting the day, putting down every. Single. Minute. Detail. After writing 2,000 words on just the first half of the first day, I balked. I’m sure very few of you actually want to read about what I ate for breakfast before going to BK’s Q&A session (nothing, for the curious). So I left the post to sit, and have only today felt able to come back to it.

I’ve decided to change my tactics a bit and spare you all from reading through (or skipping over) my detailed fangirl gushing. I’ve scrapped the original version of my post and re-typed it. This version will be slimmed down and broken into more parts- Days 1-3 will focus ONLY on my interactions with Berryz Kouboou, with final wrap-up post to catch the important non-Berryz moments, including reflections on meeting other fans and Japanese wota. As an aside, I did not take many pictures during the conventions, so I won’t be including many in my posts. Hello! Sayunii has some of the best photos and videos collected conveniently, so if you haven’t already, please go there.

For now, here’s Day 1.

The First Day- In which I develop selective blindness for everyone that isn’t Risako, and cry 

Events: Opening ceremonies, Q&A, signing, guest reception

I went into my first day of Sakura-con without expectations. I wanted to see the girls, and that was all. All of my energy, my focus, was on that one thought: To see them at long last. I chose not to go to the opening ceremonies, so the first time I laid eyes on Berryz was at the Q&A. When they came out, the feeling was surreal. Risako was the first one out, and for a long moment she was all that I could see. Even as the other girls came out, I could only see Rii. She was simply stunning, in the most literal sense of the word. Everything about her seemed so solid, and yet my overall impression was that she was somehow doll-like, somehow delicate. The sight of her was overwhelming, and I immediately started to cry.*

Now if you’ve read my blog before, you’ll know that Risako has almost always been my least favorite member of the group, though in recent months my opinion of her has improved. I think that it might have been good that I could only focus on Risako at first; because my feelings for her (at that point) weren’t particularly strong, seeing her was probably not as mind-obliterating as seeing the girls that I really adored might have been. Seeing Risako let me ease into the shock. Imagine if Saki had come out first- I probably would’ve hyperventilated in my chair!

The rest of the girls must have come out when Risako did, but I could only focus on them once they were all seated. For the remainder of the session I spent my time staring from one girl to the next. Momoko seemed reserved, possibly a little bit sick (she constantly sniffled and coughed). Miyabi and Chinami both had oodles of energy, and Maasa and Risako seemed spaced out. Saki, my dear favorite member, seemed nervous.

For me personally, the two best moments of the Q&A were being able to speak to the girls (the interpreter chose me as the first person to explain how I’d discovered BK!), and watching Saki misinterpret a fan’s question and do an impromptu bit of hip-hop dancing. So cool, and so adorable!

I was planning on attending the signing on the last day of the convention, so my next Berryz encounter occurred that evening at the guest reception. I was lucky enough to be standing not three feet from where Berryz were gathered, waiting to go onstage and introduce themselves. They all looked somewhat nervous (but SO beautiful, of course!), and Maasa still looked spaced out, so I called out to her, “Maasa, genki desu ka?” The look of confusion that crossed over her face was too funny, but she rallied quickly and gave a forceful “genki!” in response. The girls then went onstage, and I moved until I was once again near them. I was across from Risako and Miyabi, and both of them were so sweet and friendly, waving and smiling at everyone. I caught their eyes more then once, especially Risako,  who again looked gorgeous. The first time I met eyes with Miyabi, I was so touched: She was already smiling fit to break, but on catching the eyes of a fan, she managed to smile even harder, making sure I knew that she was smiling at me. That one little moment improved my impression of Miya a thousand times.

The BK bit of the guest reception was brief, but it was the closest I had come to the girls so far, and it brought me to tears once again.

The main take-away from the first day was the simple fact of the Berryz girls’ physical presence. Seeing the girls, whom I’d only ever seen before on tiny video screens, brought home the adoration-from-afar that I’d been cultivating for years up until that point. Seeing Risako walk out in real life during the Q&A session felt like the beginning of a personal paradigm shift. As the second and third days of the convention commenced, that shift became more and more evident.

*Let it be known that I cry easily, especially when I’m happy or overwhelmed. I just can’t stop the tears, and I have no desire to, either… which is lucky, because I ended up crying a lot of happy tears at Sakura-con!

Up Next: Day Two- In which I learn wotagei and cry some more