I wrote an article a while back talking asking the question “Can AKB48 Get Any Faker?” In that article I mentioned that I’m not the biggest AKB48 fan in the world, because the songs I have heard sound a bit too formulaic, too bubble gum for me. It’s funny how things work out, though, because today I was at the Nippon Budokan (日本武道館) for the AKB48’s latest concert promotion, じゃんけん大会 or Janken Taikai (Janken Tournament) promotion.
I think today’s concert is just one part in a series of events that couples the music of AKB with some inter-group Janken competition. Some of the most popular members go head to head in games of Janken. Looking at the web promos, I had trouble understanding why there were tears and emotions tied to games of rock, scissors, paper. I guess it must be to get the fans into it or something. But what I saw of it was pretty entertaining.
*Janken is the Japanese version of rock scissors paper
I know, I know. Before you call me a hypocrite, let me explain. The reason I was at the AKB48 じゃんけん大会 was to be one of these gladiator-ish, strong dudes who was had to carry Antonio Inoki to the main stage. If you haven’t heard of Antonio Inoki, アントニオ猪木, he is one of Japan’s most famous wrestling icons. I would say Inoki is to Japan what Hulk Hogan was to America (except he’s still popular). He’s not wrestling much anymore, but some Americans may know him for the exhibition match he did with Muhammad Ali back in the 70s:
Anyway, when I got the details about the gig, we were just told that it was a concert, and I thought “Cool!” I get to meet a guy who fought with one of my heroes (Muhammad Ali). That was good enough for me.
As soon as I got to the venue, I was told that we would be doing this job at an AKB concert! I really wasn’t expecting that. Another unexpected surprise was that once we were backstage, we also saw members SKE48 and NMB48 (the lesser known, but still kinda popular, girl, J-Pop super groups) who made guest appearances during the show. You know what else was intersting/semi-creepy though? So many of the fans that were waiting way in advance, standing in line for six hours or more to get a glimpse of these tender, young girls…were men! I’m not talking teenage boys either, I men grown-ass twenty somethings and thirty somethings! We were literally scanning the long line for kids and girls, and literally couldn’t find a single one. Once the concert actually started the crowd balanced out quite a bit more, but I just found that so interestingly strange.
Despite me not being the biggest fan of these groups, I have to admit…they were all pretty friendly (especially AKB48), they didn’t know any of us, but several of them tried speaking to us in English during their rehearsal down time. We watched them do dancing warmups, and watched the chosen members go through their Janken practice games. It was cool to see the work that went into the show behind the scenes: from pyrotechnics, to costumes, to camera work. It was a show complete with all the trimmings.
When the show actually started, and the girls hit the stage, the crowd lit up! Literally. I have never seen a crowd with so many lights: glow sticks, blue lights, red lights, yellow lights, flashing lights…I was just happy I didn’t have seizure before the show. I was at the very front of the eight-man group hoisting the wooden structure that Inoki was sitting on. Truthfully I wasn’t really all that nervous about the crowd. But I didn’t want to drop this guy (he’s known for having some pretty serious slapping power). Being in the front was an important role. If I screwed up…gulp…it was going to ruin everything…but no pressure. In the end it all went really smoothly. After the Inoki stepped off of the wooden platform, I breathed a sigh of relief. Whew!!
But why were we carrying Inoki in the first place? Well, from what I understand, he was one of AKB’s Janken judges. Don’t quote me on that, though, after we did this gig and exited stage right, we were done.
I must be honest, I’m still not a huge fan of the AKB48’s music, but after seeing them practice, meeting some of them (they’re really little by the way), and just seeing how the crowd responded to them, I definitely respect them more.
See you tomorrow!