Last Saturday, August 29, 2015, marked the tenth anniversary of my becoming a fan of Morning Musume and Hello! Project. I celebrated by doing a four-hour karaoke session with other fans at Duet 35 in Manhattan. I opened the session by breaking out a portable DVD player and running the first few numbers of the concert that marked my first exposure to these groups, the “Hello! Project 2004 Winter~C'MON! Dance World~,” at which Natsumi Abe graduated from Morning Musume. The others present hadn’t seen this concert before. It was an attempt to recreate that thrill of discovery that I first experienced ten years ago. The first three numbers in the concert were “Ai no Sono ~Touch My Heart~” (Morning Musume Otomegumi), “Hare Ame Nochi Suki” (Morning Musume Sakuragume), and “Go Girl (Koi no Victory)” (Morning Musume). We did two of the three (“Ai no Sono” and “Go Girl”) during the session. (For some reason, all my attempts to call up “Hare Ame Nochi Suki” on Duet 35’s machine failed.)
To celebrate the ten years of fandom on this blog, I decided to piece together an album of highlights from this period, from meetups with fans to meeting with Hello! Project performers themselves, along with a few surprises. Compiling these photos took me more time than I thought it would, hence the delay of a week. First I’d like to start with some of the key moments from the 2004 concert that emblazoned themselves on my consciousness after that first viewing and made me an instant fan.
The seven girls of Otomegumi rush out onto stage for “Ai no Sono (Touch My Heart)”:
The seven girls of Sakuragumi make a quieter entrance for “Hare Ame Nochi Suki”:
Ai-chan cries during a line:
All come together for “Go Girl (Koi no Victory)”:
Nono’s burst of exhilaration crystallized the sheer joy I felt watching them, something I hadn’t experienced in American pop music in decades:
Later in the concert:
“Ai Araba It’s All Right”:
MM’s individual shoutouts to the audience:
“Souda! We’re Alive”:
Nono breaking down during Nacchi’s graduation ceremony:
Cut to July 2009 and Anime Expo in L.A., where I finally got to meet the girls, at least the ones who were still in the group at the time (only five of whom were had been in the 2004 concert), and interview them for Otaku USA—and present a signed copy of my book, Anime Classics Zettai, to them:
And I also got to meet former member Hitomi “Yossi” Yoshizawa that trip and interview her as well:
And I got to meet a large number of other fans, mostly from MM-BBS, many of whom I’ve formed friendships with and have seen at subsequent gatherings. Where possible, I'll include their real names if I remember them, and their MM-BBS names if I don't.
(L-R: Andrew, Jocelyn, Kathleen, Santiago, Steve, me, Sherrily, Lee, Maximilian)
Later that year, I got to meet a second member of 4th Gen, Ai Kago, when she came to the New York area as part of a promotion for a Japanese phone service.
And I got to meet more fans that day:
(Charles, Henry, Josh, and Holly are in there, but I don't remember the names of the others.)
In June 2010, we got to see Ai Kago again when she came to Japan Day in Central Park to participate in a recreation of a parade of a visiting Japanese delegation to New York in 1860 (150 years earlier) and to sell T-shirts for some cause.
(Josh, Holly and I each bought a T-shirt.)
The very next night Kago did a number at Birdland as part of Jim Caruso’s Cast Party. She performed “How High the Moon” and we got to see it. I talked to her afterwards outside the club. A brief conversation in English, but what a wonderful experience.
Later in 2010, we got to see Ai Kago perform a full concert, mostly American jazz standards, at Webster Hall in Manhattan.
A group of us went and I managed to “ninja” some photos during the final numbers:
(Josh, Kiki, Holly and me)
Later in 2010, we got to see Rika Ishikawa at New York Comic Con, where she came in her “Angry” guise, from the duo “Hangry & Angry,” an act she did with Yossi. I got to interview her there as well, making her the third member of 4th Gen I’ve been privileged to meet. (Oh, when oh when can I meet Nono?!”)
And I got to hang with other fans some more and meet some new ones.
(That's Kristi with Josh, Holly and me in the top picture; Alice on the left and Ivonne on the right in the middle picture and I don't remember the name of the girl in the middle; Christina and Imani in the bottom pic.)
Berryz Kobo came to Seattle in April 2011 and I missed that one. On MM-BBS, in the build-up to that event, Shinukyo (Justin) declared that “If Madara doesn’t go to Seattle, surely the world will come to an end.” Japan was hit with a tsunami and earthquake just a couple of weeks later, on March 11, 2011. If only I’d listened to Shinukyo.
Luckily for me, Berryz came to New Jersey in June 2012. I got to interview them and take a picture, as well as see their concert.
I also got to renew friendships with other fans, seeing some for the first time since 2009, and make friends with new ones.
(L-R: Steve, Al, Kathleen, Carly, Justin and me)
Eric displays his "Miyabi" tattoo and the signed picture he got from the girls. Miyabi called his tattoo "impressive," when I asked her about it.
During all this time, the fans were getting together for Wota Parties and Karaoke sessions:
(New people in this last photo: Aiko, Michael and Vince.)
Doing “Bokura ga Ikiru My Asia” at Duet 35:
In July 2014, I went to Paris to see Berryz Kobo and C-ute perform together at Japan Expo. I got to interview them and take pictures with them.
Here are pix I took at their signing sessions:
And pix I took at the concert:
I made new friends in Paris and even did one song with them in karaoke at Japan Expo, “Love Machine.”
Melina (Meikochi from MM-BBS):
The last big event was in October 2014 when Morning Musume ‘14 came to New York to give a concert. No interview this time, but I attended the concert and a huge Hello! Party for fans.
I renewed old friendships and started some new ones:
(Clockwise from top left: Jocelyn, John, Kat, Mimi, Elaine, Jacob)
An MM-BBS member spotted me before the concert and recognized me from pix I posted on the board and stopped to ask, “Are you Madara?” I love when that happens. Anne from Ottawa, aka Saicoink:
And, finally, here are pix from last Saturday’s karaoke session:
(L-R: Tom, Phil, Henry, Steven, Kenny, Andrew)
Steven and Kenny rockin’ out to “Boogie Train”:
One great moment occurred when Steven and Kenny did that song I like so much from last October’s concert, “Toki wo koe Sora wo koe.”
I wish I’d recorded them on video.
And this past Thursday, my co-workers treated me to karaoke at Japas 38 as something of an informal retirement party for me. They opted to do it in the open bar area so I had to do Japanese songs in front of strangers, something I’m hesitant to do. But I plunged into it with full aplomb, competing with another aging baby boomer who kept singing songs from his youth (and mine), which I wasn’t keen on hearing again. So I jumped into the more frenetic MM numbers, all of which were accompanied by the actual videos for the songs: “Go Girl (Koi no Victory),” “Renai Revolution 21,” and “Souda! We’re Alive.” One co-worker, Joe, even joined me on a song, “Hikoukigumo,” a 1970s song by Yumi Arai which had a new life when Hayao Miyazaki used it for the ending of his last movie, THE WIND RISES. This same co-worker did two Japanese songs on his own, “Koi no Vacance” and “Sukiyaki.” If I’d had the lyric sheet for “Koi no Vacance,” I would have joined him on that one.
One more note: by this date ten years ago, in the first week of being a fan, I'd already picked up five more MM concerts, one collection of Minimoni video clips, and the MM musical, "Morning Town."
So here’s to the next ten years, starting off with a trip to Japan this fall.