Perhaps one of the most unusual jobs I have is that I work in the Japanese idol industry. Westerners don’t really know about idols, but I completely fell down the “idol rabbit hole.” It’s not your… usual form of escapism, but then again, nothing in Tokyo is, is it?
TSC, (Tokyo Survival Channel) challenged me to go to a 12-hour idol festival called a taiban, watch all the performers, and survive with both my sanity and wallet intact!
Idols and Taibans and Lineups, Oh, My!
You probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Idols have been around for several decades here in Japan, male and female. It’s a long, storied tradition that is often misunderstood. All a Japanese idol is, though, is somebody who is trying to make you smile by performing for you onstage. Singing, dancing, smiling…. These three things you’ll be guaranteed to see at any idol show.
A taiban is an idol show that has many idol groups performing on it at once. Idols will perform anywhere from twenty minutes to an hour at a time, depending on the show. The only thing is… taibans can be really, really long, as in all day and all night. I honestly wasn’t sure how I would feel, but I was going to go find out regardless. I decided I would forget everything for a whole day and just have fun!
And maaaan, was it a blast!
The taiban I selected was at Club Asia, which is a multi-level venue and rather large. Sometimes they do idol shows, but mostly it’s a venue for clubbing. You can always hear the bass inside the club out on the streets as you walk by. I work in the clubs, but usually not clubs of this size. Despite being early in the morning, I knew the bass speakers in this club would rattle me awake.
Tickets for idol shows are usually a base price plus a drink ticket. There wasn’t a gigantic line, so I was able to get inside pretty easily. The club wasn’t particularly full, but it wasn’t empty either. I arrived about a half-hour before the start of the show, and as I made my way to the bar to get my screwdriver (I feel like the orange juice is my morning breakfast requirement and the vodka is the “I’m at a show so I should probably drink” requirement!). I found a spot in the back of the venue and waited for the first group to take the stage.
I sipped my screwdriver and started to feel a little more awake, given that the bartender at Club Asia made the drink rather strong, which was perfect. I decided to grab a few more of these over the course of the day. Liquid courage, you know, to do chekis with idols. I haven’t done one in a very long time.
Idols are revered as a step above humans, as in, they are “untouchable.” Well, that’s not entirely true… you can buy tickets to take a two-shot picture and shake hands with one in something called a cheki, and talk to them for a brief time. Over time, if you like a particular idol and attend her concerts, meet and take chekis, you can declare her your oshimen, or most favorite idol. Then you pretty much become her devoted slave and spend all your money going to see her group perform and buying cheki tickets to meet her and buy all her merchandise. It’s… addictive.
You can take a cheki with any member of the idol group, as many times as you want—or rather, as much as your wallet allows you. Most will cost you anywhere from 500 to 2000 yen, If you want the idol to sign your cheki with a special message, take the cheki picture home with her and send it back to you with a huge message written on it, it will cost a bit more. The more chekis you do with an idol, the more you get to know them, and develop a special bond so that when you go to watch them live, it’s like you are personally supporting her dreams. It’s what idol is all about, and the reason I joined the idol community so many years ago. Some people might find this weird, but don’t knock it until you try it…
Anyway, back to the show!
The Taiban Begins!
Before I knew it, the background music playing over the speakers suddenly turned way up, signifying it was time for the first group, Mugen Crescendo, to take the stage.
1st Band: Mugen Crescendo
The members of Mugen Crescendo came out dressed in their white outfits with what looked like color-coded stripes on their upper bodies. Color coding the girls allows you to identify which girl you like if you are seeing them for the first time, which I was.
None of them really jumped out to me right away, but right from the start, it was high tension to the max. The girls got us all jumping with their very first song, so despite the small crowd, we were having fun. I wasn’t prepared to get in on the action just yet, so I sat back and watched as the girls on the stage did their best to kick things off in an energetic and positive way. The six girls never stopped to even catch their breath.
When you only have 20 minutes to do your thing, you take advantage of every second. If you are a fan of Gang Parade, then you’ll appreciate what Mugen Crescendo is trying to do on a dance and musical level. They are adorable and super-spirited. More importantly, they had me and everybody else smiling and prepared for the rest of the groups.
Their songs used a synth and ultra-fast beat approach to their choruses, intros, and outros that so many idol groups utilize in the Akihabara idol scene. I love this sound very much. To be honest, I was actually thinking of going and doing a cheki with one of the girls from Mugen Crescendo.
2nd Group: Flowlight
The next group, Flowlight, took the stage almost immediately. This is pretty typical of taibans, being that there is no setup for bands. Idols often don’t have live musicians onstage with them, and play instead to backtracks over the PA system. Flowlight is more of a… thoughtful group… I guess? Their music has a bit of sadness to it, though that’s not to say it isn’t energetic or fun! They just have more going on, I think, than simple hype songs trying to get you moving and doing the usual idol mixes and furicopy movements. That’s fine by me. It wasn’t emotionally heavy, but it left me feeling there was a little more to the music than meets the eye.
Flowlight was fun to watch, but a little on the slow side. Nothing in particular stuck out to me, but they are a solid idol group for sure.
3rd Group: Monster Girlfriend
As Flowlight left the stage, the Monster Girlfriend fans hustled their way up to the front, and I crept into the middle of the crowd, slowly making my way to the front.
This group has a ton of girls in it! When they took the stage, it was pretty overwhelming to see them jumping and going crazy and yet still stay completely coordinated with their dance moves. Their songs are kind of a blend of EDM and idol, and they do it really well. All the girls move like they’ve been doing the whole idol thing since they were born. Just… super confident. They played their best song, in my opinion, called GAM, and it just hits on every level. When that song came on, this show kind of kicked into high gear. Fans started doing the wota mixes pretty loud and the call and responses to each of the girls. It was awesome. I finished my drink, threw my cup away really quick, and then started clapping and dancing a little. One of the Monster Girlfriend idols saw me from the stage and gave me a quick finger point. I couldn’t help but smile back at her. Monster Girlfriend’s music is super infectious and catchy and definitely a good introduction idol unit if you’ve never been to an idol show before.
By now, the venue was starting to fill out. Monster Girlfriend’s set was over as soon as it began, as each of these groups only got about 20 minutes on the stage… just long enough to shell out their best songs and then leave to go to buppan. Typical of these taibans.
4th Group: Astromate
Astromate is one of the groups that I discovered while working in the idol industry. As soon as they took the stage, the vibe changed completely. Astromate’s core fans wasted no time getting crazy too, two-stepping and dancing and getting into the set as best they could. I made my way up front and did the call and responses to their songs. The girls were having a good time on the stage and the crowd was in full swing. So was I.
After their set finished, I made my way to the “A” Table, which is where Astromate was set up for their buppan (merchandise sales). I wanted to explain to their manager that I was acting as a fan today because of the challenge of surviving a taiban. I got a warm laugh from the manager. The girls got a kick out of it. Definitely it will be a topic of conversation with them when the main idol group I work for plays with them next.
5th Group: Sandal Telephone
Sandal Telephone was on next. I didn’t want to miss them, since I decided that I was going to do a cheki with one of their members, Komachi. She’s got a great voice which I really think has carried this group since they re-branded themselves from Shuengo Buppan.
It’s sad because this group had so much potential. They lost a very popular member recently and somehow managed to keep moving forward. Their music hits all the typical idol earmarks—call and response parts, high energy chorus sections, parts where you can easily do the kecha, which is where everything slows down in the song, a girl does a solo singing part, and you, as a fan, extend your arms and hands out to her and try to… give her your energy. It’s a beautiful, intimate thing that can only really be found in the idol world. Sandal Telephone does it all, and today, they didn’t disappoint.
Sandal Telephone was set up at the “B” table in the meeting area outside of the main hall, so I made my way over to their buppan line. It wasn’t long, but there were a lot of fans there to meet the girls. Komachi had a decent line, but I managed to get over to their table before most of her main fans did. I picked up a cheki ticket and explained to them that I was idol staff but today I was doing this whole taiban survival challenge, and asked if it would be okay to do a cheki with Komachi. Their staff had no problem with it. They were happy I was promoting them!
Visiting with Komachi
Meeting Komachi was… nostalgic, to say the least. I almost forgot how to be a fan. I immediately greeted her with “Otsukare sama,” which is what I would say to her if I was working the show. She looked confused, and then I told her why I made that mistake and for a moment, she had this look on her face like she really didn’t understand. I anxiously waited for her response…
She burst out in tears laughing. PHEW!
We decided to pose doing a simple heart together with our hands. I told her I thought she sang really well today, but she politely said she sounded like shit. That’s usually every idol’s response when you compliment their singing abilities.
Komachi has a very strong personality but isn’t the kind of idol who gets super crazy when you meet her and tries to fish you, as we call it in the idol industry. Fishing is what some idols do to get you to be their fans. They’ll really try to lay it on heavy with the compliments and the touching. Komachi and I kept a professional distance in that sense, since that would’ve been too weird to do, even for me. The cheki was over too soon, but that was okay. I felt somewhat strange being on the fan side of the taiban production, but it definitely reminded me of why I fell so hard down the idol rabbit hole in the first place. The whole time I was talking with her, I just forgot about everything and everyone, and it was fun to be that close to an idol and talk to her like it was no big deal.
7th Group: Payrin
I had missed the group that was on after Sandal Telephone because I was doing buppan, and I managed to get into the main stage area just as Payrin’s was in the middle of their second or third song? Payrin’s was, by far, the biggest name here at the taiban. Their fans were swarming like bees and going nuts. I stood in the back and thought about grabbing another drink but was enjoying watching everybody lose their minds to Payrin’s heavier, metal and idol fused sound. They had so many people yelling mixes and calling for the girls’ attention. It was rather impressive.
8th Group: Woltanative
Payrin’s is a hard act to follow, but if anyone can do it, Woltanative can. Their sound is so radically different from Payrin’s approach to music. Woltanative does have some very guitar-driven songs, but not in a heavy metal sort of way. It’s very emotional with lots of finger-tapping guitar parts, and they blend this seamlessly with heavy EDM beats and dubstep, which is what the majority of their songs rely on for their core musical structure.
It works well for them, as their vocals add a slightly minor key vibe to everything, and the girls are super professional in the way they dance and act together as a unit. It’s the first time I’ve seen them live, but I have listened to a few of their songs before, including “Almighty Glider,” a nearly six-minute song opus that takes the best of both their approaches to music (guitar and EDM) and combines them to go back and forth with a really, really catchy chorus. The song doesn’t want to end, and I kind of didn’t want their set to end either. Their fans aren’t the most energetic though, surprisingly, or maybe it was the fatigue setting in at a taiban this long (there were still four more groups after Woltanative!), but that worked for me just fine. I was up front soaking it all in, enjoying their sound, and earmarking them for a group I might actually go check out when I have a free day off. They were that good.
Surprisingly, I was not too tired. I really was being reminded so much of what I love about idols, all these different groups, and their different sounds, the different fan bases all mingling together… I was having fun and had a huge smile on my face.
9th Group: SOL
SOL was on next. I like them as a group but their music is just… there. I dunno. It’s not bad but they didn’t really do anything for me, I guess? I was starting to feel pretty hungry, so I thought maybe this would be a good time to get some food? I had about 25 minutes for their set. I dipped out and made my way to Mos Burger for a quick burger and fries. I downed it as fast as I could, which thankfully, I got my order pretty quick (a rarity anytime you try to eat at the Mos Burger in Shibuya that is right outside of Dougenzaka). It did the job. I felt renewed and ready to go!
10th Group: Play Balls!
I made it back in time to catch some of the next group’s set, Play Balls!, which is an idol unit that kind of plays off the idea of being a baseball team. It’s hard to explain. I have never seen the group, but they reminded me of AKB48 but with baseball props. It’s definitely a cute gimmick that works for them.
The girls are super energetic, and the one song I walked in on them playing has a great verse and chorus that is heavy on the EDM and then breaks into parts where you can fist pump your hands in the air and really enjoy yourself. They had their own little group of fans enjoying them too, which is always nice to see with these groups. The bass was hitting super hard in the club for their songs, and they had the crowd right in front of the stage moving and dancing and jumping to the beats.
11th Group: Queens
After the fun that the Play Balls! girls brought, it was time to get a little more serious-faced. Queens took the stage, and their sound blends a lot of rock with a little metal and a lot of idol. They are a six-member idol group that has built a nice following in the underground for themselves. They don’t do much for me though. I started to feel really tired while watching them. I slunk to the back of the venue and chilled out.
I thought the idol taiban fatigue might be setting in. That, plus my drinks I had and the food I ate, and I was ready for the taiban to wind down and finish up.
Final Group: Asobi Dungeon
I seriously was not ready for this. They really saved the best for last. Though I have to say that I liked Woltanative’s music the most out of all the groups that played, Asobi Dungeon are batshit crazy, both in terms of their sound and their stage presence.
They are hyper-fast, super nutty, have strange musical breaks in their songs, and their vocals from the girls, all who look super young, really sound like they are just messing with their listeners the whole time. If you have ever been to a maid café, you know what I’m talking about. It’s this kind of fantasy play speak that is one step away from being kind of snarky and sarcastic.
Asobi Dungeon was a great choice to end the taiban, as they really brought it hard. They always do. I’ve seen them a few times before and they are always the highlight. For newcomers… well, they are the equivalent of taking a defibrillator to your heart and nearly frying yourself alive.
Basking in the Taiban Afterglow
When the show was done, the last three groups set up their buppan in the main area, and the fans of these groups started to line up and prepare for cheki insanity. I hadn’t realized it, but by this time, there were a lot of people here.
I made my way out of the Club and stood outside for a moment to relax. I had survived a very long idol taiban, but it was so much fun that it didn’t feel like I spent any time there at all, really. It felt like I was discovering the idol world all over again. I enjoyed my cheki time with Komachi, and I even got into some of the groups and danced and clapped and did some light mixing as well. The TSC challenge allowed me to be a fan again. I really was grateful for the opportunity to go back to my roots.
It was so much fun that by the time I was sitting on the Yamanote Train, heading home, I wanted to do it all over again the next day.