Having left the Morning Musume 50th single release event in Ikebukuro just after 4pm, my friend and I then took the train towards Shinjuku, where Suzuki Airi was hosting a release event for her latest photobook: Kono kaze ga suki.
The handshake event is hosted by Fukuya bookstore. They do a lot of photobook release events. When we walked into the mall we already saw them unloading boxes after boxes of Airi’s photobook. The booth for the handshake was also being set-up, right in front of the bookstore. There’s a snake-line separated in half by the walkway leading into the booth where Airi would be in. The booth is also set up with walls so that you can’t see anything from outside. Of course, there’s also a stand with copies of Airi’s magnificent new book on display and a cash register ready to trade you another event ticket for 2940yen each.
We arrived early by probably an hour or so, but since both of us killed our legs from standing through the MM events (I was even tip-toeing the whole time to maximize my vision), we sat at a set of stairs nearby the area were fans with the handshake events were to gather at. For MM’s One, Two, Three, they have been selling signed posters for 1050yen each, aka the price of a regular CD at the official H!P stores. The catch is that you get them randomly, and you can buy up to 3 each time. So my friend and I took the time to check out which members’ he got with his 6 posters. Below is one of the posters signed by none other than Kudou Haruka.
Back to Airi. As wotas began to arrive and wandered around the mall, the staffs would gather them at this huge open empty area. The procedure is to group everyone together at a spot that wouldn’t interfere with the other stores. Then the staff would call out numbers on your ticket (ex. “Tickets up to number 450!”) and lead you towards the handshake area in groups. The staff didn’t approach us at the stairs, probably because they weren’t sure if we were wotas or not, or they weren’t sure if we could understand Japanese. After a while, we went and lined up with the wotas as they began the number-calling.
It was my first handshake event, and it was with my number 1 oshimen in all of H!P. So expectedly, I was getting more nervous by every minute. Other people have briefed me ahead about how handshake events are, such as how I would have about 2-3 seconds to shake her hand before getting pushed away. So I formulated what I would say to Airi while waiting in the line. We also came up with the plan to stand far away from each other in the line so we can take turns carrying each other’s bag as the other person enters the handshake. I was nervous enough already, the relief from the backpack was definitely a welcoming idea.
With my ticket #570 that I got on the third day since the tickets became available, my number was soon called to gather. It was much earlier than I expected, which also means the handshakes are in fact going fast. As I eventually got to the line of 50 people right outside the booth, a staff handed out the photobooks to everyone. Luckily I had a backpack to store it instantly, but for those without bags that could fit the photobook, it must be lame to have to hold onto a photobook through the handshake (sure they are in plastic bags, but still annoying). Watching the people coming out of the booths, there were two types of reactions: 1. Calm emotionless faces (probably lost their joy as they walked away from Airi and back into reality), or 2. The brightest smiles as if they just got a salary raise (probably they were still in fantasy mode). I knew, without a single doubt, that I would walk out with a retard smile resembling those from the latter group. A booth with hand-cleaning alcohol gel was set at about 15 before entering into the booth, but I passed because I hate the feeling of those gel, plus I washed my hands several times before lining up already.
As people went in and came out, I began to time those people and each person seemed to have about 3.5-4 seconds. Eventually I got into the booth itself with about 5 people right in front of me. There were 3-4 staffs around Airi, but the line was so straight I couldn’t even see Airi without leaning my body at least 40 degrees and making myself looking like an idiot. The stories about Airi being great towards her fans are definitely accurate. As she shook their hands, the smile on her fans and the attention she gave to the things the fans tell her are incredible, especially considering she just shook over 500 people’s hands and got about 1500 more to go. She would also look at each fan as they turn and leave, which in my opinion is one of the most important things an idol should do to leave a great impression for each fan. Appearance-wise, Airi was having straight long hair and wore the seifuku from the photobook, which just instantly K.O.’ed me. I wished time would have slowed down, because my heart was beating way too fast. After Airi saw the person before me off, she turned towards me with her hands out as I approached. Here’s how the exchange went:
Me: “I’m from Canada.”
Airi: “ :O”
Me: “カナダから来ました。” (At first I planned to repeat it in Japanese, but since she seemed to have understood it the first time, I have no idea why I said it again)
Airi: “Thank you very much!”
Me: “Thank you very much! (At this point I realized I just repeated her words because my mind was completely blank) Nice to meet you!”
Airi: “Nice to meet you too!”
I left after giving her a little bow and waved my hand, and she waved back as she saw me off. I walked out from the booth and informed my friend that I had about 4 seconds, so he could time himself before his turn. I then entered the Fukuya bookstore so that I wouldn’t be told to leave the area when I was carrying my friend’s bag. Also, I needed a place to stand and regroup my conscious together. It all went so quickly, yet the handshake and seeing Airi up-close were so fantastic. I was actually glad that I received and put away the photobook beforehand so my hands didn’t need to touch anything else as the feeling of Airi’s grip lingered.
When my friend finished, we hung around the area because we knew there was another opportunity to see Airi as she leaves the event in the end. We had to wait a long time, 2 hours or so, because there were a lot of fans, fans with multiple tickets, and fans who decide to buy more tickets on the spot. I believe they tweeted afterwards that there were 2000 fans (which really means 2000 tickets were sold, since people bought multiple). We were blocked away from the hallways until 8:30pm when all the handshakes were done. Then they moved us and the barricades to right across from the bookstore. We got ourselves a spot that could see the door that we expect Airi to be walking out from. After another 10-15 minutes, the staffs opened the door and Airi came out wearing her normal clothing. Since it was a public mall and the event was officially over, the staff told us who waited around to be absolutely quiet when Airi leaves. I could hear whispers of “Airi bye-bye” even though there were tens of hands waving her goodbye. With that finished, the H!P filled day was also over for me. My friend and I ended with a nice bowl of gyuudon oomori size at Matsuya and we then called it a day as we parted at Shinjuku station.
Being my first hand-shake event and meeting Airi close up, the feeling is no doubt fantastic. And experiencing first-hand how quickly everything goes yet how fantastic Airi is towards her fans, now I understand why some people loop it multiple times just for more seconds to talk to Airi. Although it was ashamed I couldn’t get to the MM handshake event, now I can say that the first handshake event I went to is for Airi. For those who will eventually visit Japan, a handshake event is for sure something you will want to try to get into, because it will leave you with a feeling of happiness that you can get from nothing else.