Japan Autumn 2012 – Day 3: Flowers and NMB48
I woke up this morning to an email with extremely good news. I had won a ticket to NMB48’s 3rd generation kenkyuusei performance which would be happening tonight! Noting the time I would have to be at the theatre to purchase my ticket, I then set off for Sakuya Konohana Kan, Osaka’s famed nature conservatory.
Sakuya Konohana Kan is located in Tsurumi, roughly 20 minutes or so from the hotel, and the train there was fairly straightforward. Today was extremely sunny, but fortunately, not overwhelmingly warm. On the way to the conservatory, I spotted some ojisans walking the same way but carrying large amounts of camera gear. Perhaps they were here for the same reason I was; to take photos of the plants. A little while later, a huge group of similar-aged ojisans and obasans came into view and they all knew each other. They were probably an ojisan/obasan photography club who had arranged to come to the conservatory together so I asked them about the place. Apparently the nearby tower wasn’t worthwhile so I went straight into the conservatory, paying the 500yen entry fee.
Even before entering, I could tell that the place was much, much smaller than Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay, though the two places shared many similarities. Somehow, the plants in Sakuya Konohana Kan seemed much more alive and vibrant, though, and they were alot better presented too.
The layout of the conservatory felt slightly cramped at the beginning but it quickly became more spacious later. Plants were grouped according to habitat and climate, much like Gardens by the Bay. Almost everything was in flower, even the cacti.
Once past the habitats, there was actually more to the conservatory. Along a hallway, many pictures were framed and put up on the wall but on closer inspection, the ‘pictures’ were actually made up of dried and pressed leaves and flowers.
Further along was a rather drab ‘aroma corner’ which looked like it hadn’t been touched for years. The bottles were lined up in such an orderly fashion that I didn’t want to touch them either.
Past that was an unexpectedly huge clearing lined with meticulously trimmed flowers and vegetation, and also a small stage. It’s quite amazing how much they can fit into what looked like a modest-sized building.
Sakuya Konohana Kan turned out to be quite an enjoyable experience, even after the exaggerated tourism-oriented Gardens by the Bay. I really appreciated the understated mood of the place and its close relation to the community. Apparently there was a dragonfruit event thing happening but I couldn’t find where it was so I left the conservatory to return to Namba.
Checking the time, I was surprised by how early I had returned to Namba. It was only 1pm! First up on the itinerary was lunch so I went over to where the NMB48 shop was since I had other business with them and had lunch just opposite it at the Coco Ichibanya.
To my dismay, the promotional NMB48 negimayo curry dish was no longer available so I settled for a katsu curry with everything set to normal. As far as taste was concerned, it was quite similar to what I’ve managed to cook using store-bought roux, but the rice and katsu were excellent. All in all a very satisfying meal which I did not leave a single drop of.
Re-energized, it was now time to purchase some of the items on my shopping list (mostly stuff that I was buying on behalf of others), so on to the NMB48 shop!
The NMB48 shop was set up like a jewellery store. Items were put into long display cabinets and selected photo sets were displayed on the walls. Once you’ve decided what you wanted to buy, you approach the staff at the counter and tell them verbally, upon which they will retrieve said items and charge you money for them. Since my list was fairly complicated, I only took a little bit of time to look over the wares before heading to the counter. I attempted to tell them what I was after but it soon became a joint effort with staff and I looking at my phone, him trying to read the English and me trying to speak it in Japanese. Another staff member appeared out of nowhere and they were both extremely helpful. Unfortunately, some of the items on the list were out of stock so I just bought whatever was available, and at the last moment chose a photoset for myself.
Only a few metres down the road was the AKB48 cafe in Namba.
The great thing about the cafe and shop here? No queue! However, I didn’t really find anything of interest on sale. There were quite a number of people milling about inside, most of whom seemed to be families, and they too did not appear to find anything worthwhile to buy. Having a meal here alone would be too daunting a challenge for me so I dinner would have to be at dotonbori instead. By now, it was about 4 pm so I wandered over to Yes Namba to loiter with the rest of the wota waiting to purchase tickets to the theatre.
At 415pm exactly, the NMB48 staff started calling out for those who had won tickets to the show. I opened up my winning email and presented it to the staff who then let me through to the stairway down. The lobby was long and narrow, with the escalator bisecting it right in the middle so it felt even more cramped. I wasn’t able to take a photo of the board holding the members’ photos since they had turned the area in front of it into a place to write cards for today’s birthday girl.
Upon purchase of the ticket, they gave me a piece of paper and attached a gigaband to my right arm. Since it was still an hour or so till the performance, I decided to walk back to the hotel to put down my bags instead of using the coin lockers at the theatre. As expected, the pink/purple band attached a fair few condescending looks.
A quick shower later, I set off back to the NMB48 theatre, looking forward to my very first time attending a 48 group theatre stage. By now the crowds were present in full force and it walking straight became quite an ordeal. However, I did make it to Yes Namba with plenty of time to spare
Once admission started, the staff ushered everyone who had numbers higher than 20 on their tickets into a stuffy stairwell where we had to line up in ascending order, with the higher numbers further up the stairs. This was torture, and thankfully didn’t last long.
The theatre itself was quite spacious, with a high roof, and wide walkways on either side of the sloped seating block. I followed the guy who was number 94 in front of me and sat myself in the middle, somewhere at the 6th or 7th row, which afforded me an uninterrupted view of the entire stage. I would have loved to be closer to the stage but the people with lower numbers had already taken up all of the seats in front. I had no idea who any of the girls performing for me today were, and had never seen any of them before, but at least I knew a few of the songs they were going to be singing. Light sticks were given out to everyone and the guy next to me kindly explained in simple terms what they were for. Basically, crack the light stick and wave it around during a certain song, and that it was for Togo Sora’s birthday. But who was Togo Sora?
Set list for today was the Aitakatta kouen originally performed by AKB48’s Team A. The quality of the kenkyuuseis’ dancing was much higher than I had expected, even after taking into consideration that they were indeed NMB48. Vocal quality was lacking, however. None of the girls’ voices stood out and some were almost unbearable. Good thing the sound technician cranked up the backing vocals for most of the songs. Self introduction time was quite amusing since the girls were comfortable enough with each other to make comments and converse. Unit songs was the time when I could really start to get to know the girls and Yamauchi Tsubasa really stood out amongst them with her exuberant dancing and energetic smile. Muro Kanako took the center position for most of the group songs and Ota Yuuri was tiny and very cute. It took a little while to figure out that Togo Sora was the relatively tall, reserved looking girl who gradually opened up to the audience as she realized that the loudest cheers were for her (it was her birthday).
About 2 hours after the performance started, the girls performed the ‘last song’ and disappeared off the stage. Encores are a given in any 48 group theatre performance so I knew that this night was far from over. Sure enough, one of the wota started the call for encore, but specially for today, he rallied up the audience to call for Sora. The girls returned to the stage quickly, performing a number of songs, including the latest NMB48 single, the terribly named Virginity. They then shuffled off stage to prepare for the ‘hi-touch’, which involves the girls lining up at the theatre’s exit to sequentially high five each and every person who was part of the audience. We were called out in groups of 16, which I later found out was because everyone would get a brief shoulder massage from the girls before leaving. Yamauchi Tsubasa was particularly forceful, whacking my hand and grabbing it at the same time as I went past. For some reason, I didn’t notice Muro Kanako at all though. I was the recipient of aforementioned shoulder massage from the birthday girl herself who saw me off with a sweet smile.
That wraps up my final night in Osaka for this trip. The NMB48 theatre performance was a phenomenal experience, well worth the 980yen it cost, and I would definitely go back for another stage if I had the opportunity.
Loot for today!