Tokyo Idol

Tokyo Idol

It’s easy to feel like you’re about to do something illegal when your adventure to watch teen girls in costume takes you two floors underground. A group of us ventured to the Shinjuku Loft—a rock music venue in the heart of Tokyo—with a vague notion that we were attending “Idol Night”. We didn’t know what to expect; we just wanted a uniquely Japanese musical experience.

The first group came out: a set of four who couldn’t have been older than 15, one complete with pigtails and a school backpack. I get that looks can be deceiving, but there’s no way they were even allowed to drive a car with L-plates. The venue would have been better suited to a metalcore show, but the girls performed bubblegum pop, exuding the essence of kawaii. The audience was made up of men who’d clearly come straight from a long day in the office. Some even had briefcases. These men proceeded to fist pump and shout at the top of their lungs. One fan even held up a sign with lyrics for the crowd to sing along with, which was great for everyone in the room who knew Japanese, i.e. not us.

Over the course of seven artists, the crowd fluctuated as passionate fans left the main room to meet their favourites near the merch area. Save for one solo artist, the front of the stage all but cleared out, and several in our group decided to use this opportunity to party. As we went up the front and danced along, the singer expressed his surprise, but was obviously appreciative of the sudden influx of foreigners joining in on the show.

The show was unlike any we had been to before, and it continued as the headliner took to the stage. The front was now filled with fans and us, the only gaijin (foreigners) in the building. Our group seemed to draw a bit of attention – just as the whole experience was new to us, it seemed we were a new experience for everyone else, and we both started to get rowdy.

During one song, one of the younger guys signalled to me and started to say something. I still don’t know if he tried to speak to me in Japanese or English. It’s not that he was hard to understand, it’s just I find it physically impossible to hear anyone speak in the middle of a live show. I tried to hear him a second time, but when it was clear that I was deaf, I responded as I always do in this situation – a smile, a nod of the head and a simple “hai!” (yes) – one of the Japanese words I knew at the time. I realise I could have been saying yes to something as innocuous as “Isn’t this fun?” or as dangerous as “Do you want to literally set the place on fire?” but I didn’t want to keep trying to defy the booming speakers that were three feet from us to hear what he had to say.

Turns out I said yes to crowd surfing, Japanese Idol style. Seconds after he nodded back, I felt four different pairs of hands crawl onto me, two on either leg near my knees, another two near my buttocks. Before I could question the gang groping, I was lifted cleanly above the crowd and into clear view of the two performers.

I’m a big guy, so nobody’s ever offered to crowd surf me at a gig – it’s normally the opposite. I’m a target for random drunk girls asking to sit on my shoulders. So it never occurred to be that I would get to be the random drunk girl. But it was definitely better than committing arson.

My assailants timed my rhythm in beat with the music. I hit the top of the crowd as a song kicked into high gear, and was carried like a king to the front of the stage so that the green-haired idol girl could sing to me (as opposed to the pink-haired idol girl, who was busy amping up other members of the crowd). Now I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but green hair and I had a moment. As she sung to me and I reached out to her for an ET-style finger touch, our souls connected in a way that extends beyond language, race and logic. You can say that she’s a performer and that’s what they do, but I’ll ignore you. We are forever one, intertwined by a wild and wacky night of cultural exploration and fun.

Afterwards, our group posed for photos with some of the others in the crowd, no doubt for them to show their friends and laugh at the weird white people who danced the night away with them. All we had wanted was a uniquely Japanese musical experience. And one thing is for certain, we won’t get a night like that back in Hobart.

Cover by Gemma Krambousanos

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