48groups pilgrimage January 19, 2014Posted by ayasawada in Japan, Music, Travel.
Tags: AKB48, Japan, Nagoya, NMB48, Osaka, SKE48, Tokyo
On my most recent Japan trip I visited Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. Seeing as that’s three out of the four 48 Groups locations, I couldn’t very well do that and not stop by hallowed ground, right? Here follows impressions and directions to sating your AKB/SKE/NMB thirst while on the move in Japan.
I should say up front that I didn’t actually get to go to a live theatre show (even though SKE48 and NMB48 had shows on the nights I was in town T_T). While getting hold of tickets isn’t impossible, it’s sadly not that easy either. I looked into it but my nihongo isn’t exactly high enough to make sense of the conditions and I wasn’t sure how to get around the Japanese address problem. It does seem like you can get tickets when they become available a few weeks in advance of the gig if you’re quick (Stage48 and Supermerlion have some useful guides (AKB48, SKE48, NMB48, though bear in mind these are a few years old and procedures change). In hindsight I could’ve tried harder. Next time I think I’ll try to engage an understanding Japanese friend preferably a fellow wota) to see if they can help.
Even without a performance though, I still enjoyed seeking out the venues and browsing the attached shops and cafes.
I like SKE48 (especially their songs Kataomoi Finally and Pareo ha Emerald) but am not heavily into them, though I do hold a soft spot for Oba Mina from her AKB days. Still, they were the first AKB sister group and an established group in their own right.
Nagoya was also one of the first places I ever visited in Japan. And though I’d never set foot in the Sunshine Sakae building where SKE48 are based, even years ago you couldn’t really miss it due to the massive ferris wheel attached prominently to its side. As such, finding the SKE48 theatre, shop and cafe is not difficult.
Sunshine Sakae is right in the heart of Nagoya in the popular shopping and entertainment district of Sakae and easily accessible right from the subway station (as it happened, my hotel turned out to be 5 mins away – chalk that down to subconscious desire?). Follow the subway exits for ‘Sunshine Sakae’ and you’ll soon see various posters for SKE48, eventually leading you to the base of the building.
There’s an escalator up to ground level, which comes up right next to the SKE48 staircase.
It’s normally closed when the theatre’s not in use. But there’s an escalator up to the rest of the building on the side and you can peer into the area from the 2nd floor.
There wasn’t really much I could see while the theatre was closed, so I headed immediately up to the 5th floor where the SKE48 Cafe and Shop are located.
Small, but perfectly formed, the area is divided into three, with an SKE48 dedicated store on the left, an AKB48 store on the right and a fast-food style cafe in the middle, in which they have literally parked the bus. The bus acts as the serving station – once seated, you just go up and order and cute waitresses then bring you your food.
I didn’t actually stop to eat (to be honest, the food and drink probably wouldn’t have been great), but I could have happily whiled away an hour enjoying the videos and video messages and admiring the various autographs adorned on every single bit of furniture space. It seemed quite quiet, but I gather there are games and quizzes at various points.
The shops are small but pretty good, particularly the SKE48 side, which was stocked with a variety of goods that you can browse in your leisure on the shelves. There were also a couple of display boxes for those fragile items (e.g. cups) that you had to ask one of the cute shop assistants for. All the usual stuff is here, keychains, clear files, phone straps and a really good line of T-shirts, from recent members’ birthday celebration shirts to some really attractive ‘stealth’ designs featuring an abstract SKE logo (the shirts available in different colours for each team).
The AKB side was reasonably well stocked too, though not exhaustive and understandably cleared of most of the senbatsu members stuff. Still, at least you could browse at your leisure rather than having to look through a catalogue and order at the counter like the original AKB shop in Don Quixote Akiba. Most of the standard 48G merchandise I find to be a bit tacky too, but I like the abstract T-shirt designs, so in the end I came out with a green Team E ‘stealth’ shirt to fill a colour gap in my wardrobe and show my support for Matsui Rena :P
Also in the building is a branch of anime clothing specialist Geepress and a well-stocked branch of Tsutaya full of 48G goodies.
Nice to see that SKE dominate the local curry shops too.
Second stop: Osaka, Japan’s second biggest city and home to the up-and-coming NMB48, now subject of a major push from Akimoto-sensei and really establishing themselves in the Japanese charts (as marked by a first appearance on Kohaku this year). Again, I’m not heavily into NMB per se, but I am a massive fan of Lemon-chan Ichikawa Miori, so her co-current position with NMB has successfully transferred my interest (and my money).
The real bonus here though, was reading this Supermerlion post about the Osaka AKB48 Cafe and Shop. This sounded amazing, so I made sure to visit while also taking up the challenge of finding the seemingly hard-to-spot NMB48 theatre. Thankfully, one can always walk where other bloggers have previously tread and this kind blogger gave a step-by-step (photo-by-photo) guide to getting there (the revelation of mobile internet access and Google Maps in Japan also helped :P). As it turns out, the theatre, the AKB48 Cafe and Shop and the NMB48 shop are all metres away from each other and actually quite easy to get to from the subway station once you know how to negotiate the side alleys of Namba. Basically, if you can find your way to the Tower Records, the location is 5 mins away.
The NMB48 theatre you’d probably miss if you weren’t looking for it, but once you spot its sign protruding from the ground, it’s actually quite prominent.
But the highlight is undoubtedly the AKB48 Cafe and Shop round the corner, which is HUGE. Sure, the Akihabara cafe by the station is bigger, but if it’s goods you’re after, the shops in Akiba are dwarfed by what’s on offer in Namba.
The Cafe is just like the SKE one – a fast-food affair, but pretty lively with plenty of games and quizzes going on, at least at the times I visited in the evening. Better still, the merch is laid out on shelves so you can browse freely – and see the actual goods – again, without having to look at catalogue photos and order from a counter.
The best thing, besides the stock, was the displays. Two separate autograph walls, another wall of the latest A4 photos for you to choose from (purchased from the counter) and a central display of costumes (rotated regularly) and four screens showing trailers and clips from the latest DVDs.
My eyes lit up when I entered here and I came away with probably more than I intended to spend. Sure, a lot of the merch is, as I said, is a bit tacky. But I came out with a couple of Xmas photos, photobooks and a ‘stealth’ T-shirt and cap.
Onto the NMB shop. This is a smaller affair and more of the traditional order-at-the-counter affair. But if it’s NMB-specific goods you want, there’s nowhere better. Good that they have their own shop too and not just a few shelves in the AKB store. I didn’t succeed in finding much Miorin goods, but I did buy their Xmas postcard set just for her’s, along with a nice T-shirt from the 48G summer dome tour to complete my 48G T-shirt set (HKT48 excepting).
I didn’t spend loads of time here, having spent quite a lot of time and money there already 6 months before. And, to be honest, even the Cafe & Shop felt a bit small after Namba. But I did stop by to see what ‘festive stock’ they had going and got a couple of winter photos of my oshimen.
And I can’t say I didn’t pick up a lot of 48G stuff this trip….