Tokyo Damage Report

Akihabara idol-singer show!!!

DEC 7TH 2008@ some dumb place in Shibuya:

KONTON‐Chaos Club vol.2

This was an Akihabara-culture techno rave party. At noon on a Sunday. Stuff got weird in a hurry.


There were 2 floors of entertainment. The first floor was nothing but DJs playing super-fast trance music to a half-empty room of nerds. Here is what the crowd did: clustered by the velvet ropes in neat rows, as close to the DJ as they could get, facing him. Then they nodded their heads to the beat. From 1 until 5 pm. It was uncomfortably familiar to anyone who’s been to a rock show: it was like waiting 4 hours for the band to come on. . .. that never came on.

If they were just shy guys, and didn’t dance. . . that would make sense. But shy guys play the wall. These guys were lined up facing the DJ. Why? The DJ is just pushing buttons on a laptop – it’s like paying $30 to watch a guy check his email for 4 hours, while a rhino farts in your ear.

What possible motivation could these guys have? Clearly they knew what they wanted and this was it. I’ve seldom been more freaked out by a bunch of people just standing around.

4 guys were dancing, though, and they were all friends, it seems:

the chubby salariman guy, and the tiny rave dude, and their kind of buff, military-fetish friend, had the most rad stylezzz – all doing some spazz version of the Running Man and enjoying each others’ company immensely. Can’t forget "cell phone emailing while dancing by self" guy, who gets top marks – if not for enthusiasm, for high-concept.

the second floor was for singers – idols of the Akihabara variety. Like. . .


How to even begin to explain Toromi? She does a band. She sings. OK so far. She sings while wearing an anime costume. The costume is of HATSUNE MIKU. Hatsune Miku is the mascot of a software company, who appears in short promotional animations, raising awareness of Vocaloid. Vocaloid is a software that has perfectly-sung samples of all the Japanese syllables, in all pitches. So you can program any melody and specify the syllables, and It’ll sing the words to the song! My guide described Hatsune Miku as a sort of "Data Fairy."

But Toromi is not an employee of Vocaloid. She sings with her own voice. Unlike most "Akihabara idol singers," she doesn’t just karaoke theme songs of famous anime. She does her own songs. But since she is a part-time songwriter, some of her own songs HAVE been used as theme songs to animations. Well, not animations. Animated sexual video games. OK. So, here is a middle-aged Japanese woman dressed as a mascot for a software she isn’t using, singing theme songs to adult-oriented animations, in a child’s voice. And that isn’t even the best part.

The band is all wearing masks of penguins, sheep, and cats. That is not the best part either, nor is it even explained.

The best part is, the audience – all middle-aged men in various states of rumpledness – sits on the floor and claps along like it was Barney.

IT was about that time that I lost the ability to tell what was weird anymore.

( Ms Toromi is also an illustrator – you can buy her stuff here. )


video was not allowed at the concert, but I took some anyway. And some more video as well.

Youtube clips of the "real" Hatsune Miku are here, here , and here.


Miya is most famous for being an ex-pornstar, but she also does DJing, writes her own music, and is a faith healer in her spare time. Her DJ act consists of this: Sing one of her songs, karaoke style, then, towards the last half of the song, wander back to the DJ booth, flip through a crate of CDs, while still kind of singing, then, put on headphones and cue up the next song, which requires so much concentration she drops all pretense of lip-synching for a while. Then, as the next song starts, she starts to sashay out to the stage again, but forgets to take the headphones off and they’re jerked off of her head. Unruffled, she proceeds to the front, to lip-synch and dance some more. Although a former porn-person, her dancing and costume is much MUCH more conservative than any underage American pop star. It’s like she’s trying to be an innocent moe-girl, a club diva, a DJ and someone who knows what is going on all at the same time.

My guide conceded that her act is eccentric even by Akihabara standards.

I didn’t take any pictures because I had no idea how weird it was until I got home and thought about it. Anyway, her "spiritual healing" site here, and baffling Myspace with Youtube clips there.


Himeko is also an Akihabara idol-singer. She had maybe 14 fans, who all wore matching red t-shirts ( Wonder if she’ll end up on Tha Row records?) and you can bet that those fans knew all the words to the songs. In fact, the call-and-response rituals were so elaborate, and the synchronized fan-dancing was so sweaty, it seemed as if SHE should be paying money to watch THEM – they were doing all the work!

The audience-participation stuff, my guide says, is called オタク芸 (OTAKU GEI), meaning Otaku’s artform. It’s been developing since the ’70s, apparently. There are a series of simple dance moves, pointing like Travolta, and "hey! hey! hey!"s and "woooooot"s that are the core of Otaku-gei. But every song requires learning a different sequence of them. Every song had a acapella breakdown part, where the fellas would rush the stage and huddle at her feet, literally climbing on each others’ backs to get closer. And this was just 14 guys. I can’t even imagine what a concert with 200 dudes would be like.

Like a lot of Otaku culture, there was a certain amount of self-awareness or self-mockery in the proceedings, but I doubt I’ll ever have a clue how much of an amount.

Another ritualized part of the show, I learned, was the idol bending over to get a drink of tea, and showing a brief glimpse of her Victorian-lady-in-the-1800s-style puffy, bloomer underpants. Dudes responded by going, WOO , WOO – wait, that’s wrong. . . not Woo-with-a-"W" , which would mean"Woo baby!" . . .. but more like HOO-with-an-"H". . .Hoooo! like Michael Jackson. Later in the show, she explained that the disco ball had made her so dizzy that she tripped in the stairwell and cut herself, showing a small blood stain on her nylons. For some reason, this also produced a chorus of Jackson-woos. I mean Jackson-hoos.

At first this seemed typically "weird" or "wacky Japan" but . . . it’s really conservative if you think about it. There must be 100 of these wanna-be idols floating around Tokyo, trying to get paid for being averagely cute and singing kind of on key. Sakuragawa’s gimmick – her thing that sets her apart from the rest of the pack? A little pink tail and ears. That’s it. She’s some kind of cat-maid. That one variation alone is basically her career. That’s even more limited and unflexible than the rules of Death Metal, if you axe me. I mean, coming up with the idea that a maid – who doesn’t even clean anything, and preferably is also from outer space a little – is the ultimate sex symbol? Ok, coming up with that format is pretty creative/nuts. But everyone follows that format so slavishly, it’s hard to say that it’s a creative or weird subculture.

video one.

video two.

Probably the single most bizzarre thing (in the end) was how shitty the customers were treated. The bartenders looked at us with undisguised contempt. Bags were searched for contraband – not guns, drugs, or even hidden cameras, but contraband like a bottle of Evian. The singers had strict rules – no photos or interviews. All this rock-star stuff for entertainers with 14 fans? It’s unreal. I guess they signed up with a "manager" or a "production company" that applies big-star-style rules and regulations to even the littlest of indie performers. But the thing is, Billy Joel or Puffy or whoever – they need that stuff because they really DO have a million people trying to touch them or rip their clothes or shoot them.

In the real world, metal and punk bands can sell 3,000 copies of a CD and they don’t even have a manager, let alone a "production company". So WTF?? Why does a small-time idol need to put on airs like that? I guess maybe if people actually got to talk to her they’d find out she was just some chick who dropped out of community college and works at 7-11 and then it would be hard to keep the fantasy of "world-famous superstar space-maid-domestic animal hybrid entertainer" going.

I guess Visual Kei record labels are notorious for making a big wall between bands and audience members, under the theory that "If you treat the audience like worthless peons awaiting Mick Jagger, then the band will get big like Mick Jagger." But visual kei fans are 15 year olds who don’t know any better, so I was suprised that grown men would put up with it. I mean, isn’t the Internet supposed to be putting even big record companies out of business? Weird.


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