One of the most enjoyable and rewarding things I’ve ever done with my life is being a fan. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of something or someone. Of course, like most people, I do go in and out of certain phases. However, there are certain things that have become really important parts of myself, that I can’t even begin to imagine not committing myself as a fan of those things. I live on the passion I have for these things. A good friend who shares the same sentiment once said to me, “If I don’t have a passion for something, I feel empty inside.” That describes perfectly how I truly feel.

When having passion, I tend to need to act upon it. My mother used to tell me that when I was little, I used to take afternoon naps only to wake up right on the time Sailor Moon the anime was about to come on the local channel. She said, it was as if I had a natural body clock that told me that Sailor Moon was starting and I wouldn’t want to miss it. So, from a young age, I have always been very determined to do something for the things that I love. This recent Tokyo trip did start with a wish to see a live performance of the Sailor Moon musical. While it was still the primary goal and the highlight of this whole experience (more on this on the next part), there were many other things related to my passion that made this trip especially special. One of those things was: Arashi.

Arashi has been around for quite a long time, but I’m still relatively a new fan. If you haven’t stalked my Twitter, then as background information, I actually and seriously just got into Arashi on the month of May this year. The process of my becoming a fan happened for a few months before that―it was the accumulation of falling in love with the song they did for the theme song of Ouroboros, becoming friends with someone who really likes MatsuJun, finally watching and knowing the hype of the legendary Hana Yori Dango, and randomly YouTube-ing their live performances. That last part was truly life-changing. I still remember how floored I was while witnessing that epic-ness for the first time ever in my life.

Upon more research and studies, as well as my growing interest in the phenomenon of Japanese idols, I finally discovered how awesome Arashi was and is. To my surprise, their music fits right into my taste and liking. And to an even more delight, the five guys comprising the group each have charming, attractive, super-relatable personalities that I just can’t get enough of. I may have only seen bits and pieces of their history so far, but the fact that they stay relevant for years, through thick and thin, made me admire them so much. Like I’ve already said in the first part, finding Arashi at this point of my life rejuvenated me. I guess, it was because they provide me with a new kind of passion. Suddenly, I found myself learning more and more about each member and nurturing a love for them.

The passion grew bigger and bigger along with my planning for this trip. After making sure everything essential was planned out right, I started entertaining the idea about doing some Arashi-related activities. Since Arashi is under the notorious Johnny’s Jimusho, my beginner’s studies show that there are some specific activities that I should really do while I’m in Japan, because they are best to be done there. I wish I was planning for a concert, but since that’s near impossible, I planned for the next best thing: visiting the official Johnny’s Shop.

I think when I was planning, I didn’t actually have any idea what to do or expect in that shop. I stumbled upon a LiveJournal post about the ins and outs of the shop and immediately thought, “I should do this, too!” I didn’t even think about which photos to get, or if there were anything else beside photos (spoiler: nothing!). I just knew I had to be there because of the Arashi connection. Oh, how innocent I was! Beside the shop, I was really excited to go to the Tower Records store in Shibuya. I was planning to look for Arashi-related products, preferably the newly-released Japonism concert DVD. Plus, I love going to a record store and Japan is maybe the only place left on this earth where you can still find a huge record store that actually sells music.

Basically, when I was making the itinerary, I only planned to visit these two places, but during my actual time in Tokyo, my first full day there ended up being a full-blown Arashi-themed fangirling day.

The Sacred Duty of a Johnny’s Fangirl

It all began in the Harajuku Johnny’s Shop… Because I didn’t want to interfere with the day of the Sailor Moon musical performance that I was attending (that was a Wednesday), I especially planned a visit to the Johnny’s Shop on the Tuesday―my first full day. I scheduled it during the morning, just at the time the shop usually opens. I chose morning to avoid the possibility of the shop being overly-crowded by the time I got there. I also made sure I checked the date, regarding whether or not there were any important Johnny’s-related events―there weren’t, and I was pretty much safe.

Exit C3 of Meijijingu-mae'Harajuku' Metro Station
Exit 3 of Meijijingu-mae’Harajuku’ Metro Station.

Before going, I did my research and read a few blogs reviewing how to get to the Harajuku Johnny’s Shop. The guides that are available out there, provided by some kind souls, are truly helpful. The information listed on the official Johnny’s website is also pretty straight-forward and should help us. This is how I got there… Since I was going to Harajuku from Ikebukuro, I actually had two options of transportations: JR train through Yamanote line or the Metro. I opted for the Metro (through the Yurakucho line), because the access to the Ikebukuro Metro station was really close to where I was staying. I have to say, if it is accessible for you, then it is better to take the Metro to the Meiji-jingumae’Harajuku’ station. The big difference lies in where you exit after getting off the train. After you arrived in Meiji-jingumae’Harajuku’ station, take Exit 3, which is literally the closest exit point to access the shop. Upon ascending the stairs through the exit way, all you need to do is turn to your right and see a kind of narrow street in between a takoyaki place and a mobile phone provider store. Go straight into that street, and you will start seeing some small cafés (there’s a Pablo Café; find it and you are on the right track), and next, to your left, you will find the Johnny’s Shop (the shop does feel like it’s hiding; apparently Johnny’s likes to hide…?).

The shop opens at 10 in the morning, and if you get there before they open―like I did, you will be asked to queue in the park next to the Exit 3. Depending on how many people on that queue, as per some blogs that I’ve read, you might be given an entry ticket. However, I didn’t experience the entry ticket thing, because when I came, there were only about 10-15 people queuing. So, when it was time to open, the security guard simply led us to walk to the shop in two lines.

Arriving at the shop, you will be guided to go to the photo display room downstairs. The room is basically just a long rectangular room, separated by some glass walls filled with photos of your favorite Johnny’s. The photos are displayed in their original 3R size―it’s small, but so glossy and pretty. It took amazing concentration to get through all of them. (My neck started hurting after a while because I was so determined to look at them one by one).

The workflow of the shop goes like this: once you enter the display room, you will take a pen and a form to fill out. One form represents one group or unit; so for me, because I was only there for Arashi, I only took one form. Basically, on the top of that form, I needed to write the name of the group (“ARASHI” is fine, you don’t have to write the kanji). After the group name column, there is an option to get a complete set of photos (I don’t remember the writings, though; well, it was, as you guessed it, in Japanese). And then, that is followed by lines of photo codes and a blank space next to them to write the quantity of each photo according to the code that you want to purchase.

The fun part is this: you go through the displayed photos, and if one (or thirty-six) catches your attention, you look up the code on the wall, search for the same code on your form, then write how many sheets of that photo that you’d like to purchase (for example, maybe you only want 1 sheet of that Aiba photo number 15―so write ‘1’ next to the ’15’, but you need 5 sheets of that really cute Ohno photo number 76–so write ‘5’ next to the ’76’). There is something kind of magical about this process. Of course, I could’ve easily gotten a full set and be done in 2 minutes. But there is an art in reviewing each and every photo, and spending substantial 20 minutes to invest my money in these small, glossy, and pretty pictures of my idols.

I observed, people who come with groups usually look at the photos slowly, while talking and commenting to their friends, “Ah, this Sho-chan kawaii!” But for a lone wolf like me, I took my time very seriously. It was sort of like a ritual. I went through every single Arashi wall meticulously and marked all the photos I wanted. To my delight, as I was busy with my ritual, the shop was playing Arashi’s “Daylight”―what a perfect background music. Arashi walls are considerably more crowded by people than the other groups, at least on that day, so I did have to kind of brush elbows with some people to get the mission done, but basically I felt a kind of bond with those strangers. We were all embracing our happiness in these pretty, sometimes silly male idols. Before leaving the display room, I took a glance at the other groups’ walls and man, aren’t these Johnny’s cute or what?!

Once you’re done in the display room, you will get directed to get upstairs to offer your payment to the gods of Johnny’s Entertainment (LOL) and get your photos. They have a number of cashiers, all girls (which made me wonder, are these girls fans, too? I wouldn’t mind trying that job…?) who review your form and get the photos you want. The one that attended me had a kind face and her fingers worked like magic while counting the number of photos I was getting.

So, remember how I said I planned everything into the tiniest details, including my expected spending? Well, in the original plan, I only wanted to get 6 photos: a solo shot of each Arashi member and one group shot. I was going to be very picky, because I only wanted to take the best. Or, so I thought… This kind of situation is tough, after all, and I think I learned my lesson not to ever underestimate my level of obsession. I did enter the display room with 6 in mind, but I ended up walking out of there with 36 marks on my form and the cashier girl confirmed to me that I indeed had just placed an order of 36 shop photos of Arashi. Six… became thirty-six. I completely lost it there. Completely over-budget. Completely in heaven.

In total, I spent only about 30 minutes in that shop. It felt longer, though, because it was pretty overwhelming seeing those walls filled with pretty boys. But the important thing is, I got (much more than) what I wanted and I’m happy it was quite a chill experience.

If you plan to go to the shop, too, I do recommend going on weekdays when there is no special event or concert or new releases. Morning is nice, because you can count how many people are going into the display room with you, plus it is to anticipate if there is a sudden boom of visitors. However, when I did come back to check on different timings, the shop looked pretty chill, too. I went back near lunchtime on the Wednesday and near dinnertime on the Thursday, and both occasions, the shop looked quiet and people can go straight into the display room without queueing.

The Beauty of an Actual Record Store
The scenery from that morning.
The scenery from that morning.

After the brief but lethal (to my wallet) time in the Johnny’s Shop, I took a bit of break in the park near the Meiji-jingumae’Harajuku’ Exit 3 and had my onigiri breakfast, while still dying inside because there I was sitting underneath Tokyo’s early autumn morning sky. It was a beautiful day. Thereafter, I proceeded to walk towards the Shibuya area because I had an appointment with my neighbor’s son to deliver a package from his mother (the neighbor) to him. We agreed to meet by the Hachiko statue at the Shibuya station.

I thought I’d walk slowly towards the Shibuya station, which is pretty much just a straight path from Harajuku. I hadn’t really looked it up yet, but Tower Records is actually located on that street heading to the station that I was walking on. My appointment is around lunchtime, and that was just about 11 a.m., so I figured I paid the record store a brief visit just to get an idea of what’s inside.

Obviously, as a music store, Tower Records offers a lot of great stuffs, especially if you’re really into the whole Japanese music scene. However, when I entered, there was only one thing on my mind: Arashi’s Japonism. During my short history of being an Arashi fangirl up until that point, I completely fell in love with the Japonism album and the subsequent concert and pretty much the whole concept behind them, because that was the first time I realized how much of an artist this particular group is. They had a clear message to give out and knew exactly how to communicate them through the music and the visuals.

Tower Records Cafe.
Tower Records Cafe.

The Shibuya flagship store has about 7 floors, with each floor containing different categories of artists and genres. I only managed to explore the first three floors, though. The first one is basically dedicated for the new releases, best sellers, and special items. The second floor has magazines, books, and a comfortable but always-packed-with-people café. I did have coffee there when I came back on my third day; it’s pretty expensive, but it tastes good and the atmosphere is really nice and hip, so you can observe the trendy crowd of Shibuya. Then, the third floor is basically heaven for all the J-Pop/J-Idols fans.

On that floor, I was looking left and right for an Arashi section, but somehow couldn’t find anything. (Ironic trivia: I went to Tokyo exactly a week before the new Arashi album Are You Happy? was released, so I missed out on all those excitements because I was early). Because I was getting confused, I finally decided to pick up some courage and recollect past Japanese language lessons, so I could ask one of the employees. The one I talked to (「あのう、すみません。嵐のJaponism、ありますか。」- “Ano, sumimasen. Arashi no Japonism, arimasu ka?”)―a kind of cute girl with short hair―gracefully showed me the Johnny’s artists shelf, which is hiding in the corner of the whole floor (well, hiding again. I see a pattern here). She got me the DVD that I asked for, but then for a split second, I remembered there is also a Blu-ray version and the price is not far off. So I asked the girl again to get me the Blu-ray version instead, and just like that, I finally owned a copy of the Japonism concert Blu-ray (bye, money, nice knowing you).

If you love music, then I recommend browsing this store to your heart’s desires. However, it does get a bit overwhelming, because the store sometimes feels like a library―they have everything. If you’re in a bit of a hurry and know exactly what you want, maybe it is best to ask a staff to help you get something. The café does not only offer coffee, you can also eat a full meal there. However, depending on your budget, it can be pretty pricey, so I wouldn’t make this a priority―just do it if you have spare time and spending.

Underground Paradise

The great thing about entering a new fandom is that you meet several new friends. Based on some conversations with a few of them, I was recommended to go to Mandarake Shibuya, if I wanted to look for some Arashi merchandises for a good price. I was so new to this whole fandom that I didn’t actually have any special expectation for this store, but upon spending time there, it became my instant favorite.

Somehow, again, the place I was coming to hides in the lower ground floor of a building in Shibuya (I forgot the name of the building, but rest assured, it does have a signpost that confirms that Mandarake is indeed located there). However, it’s not that difficult to find the building. I forgot the details, but I was coming from the direction of the Shibuya crossing, and what I did was look up Mandarake on my phone’s map and count how many intersections I should pass before getting to the building. When you’re kind of direction-blind, you make do with all the clues you can get (basically, I count intersections, traffic lights, etc. to mark the place I’m heading towards).

Anyway, Mandarake sells a variety of stuffs, mostly manga and anime-related, but the one in Shibuya especially also sells Johnny’s idols stuffs and this time, they are not in hiding. They are displayed right by the entrance door, so immediately after getting off the elevator, I was welcomed by jumbo uchiwas with pretty faces―some are my favorite faces―plastered over them. Instantly, I fell into the deepest heavenly hell of Arashi merchandises.

Stole a selfie with 3/5 of Arashi in Mandarake. Excuse my sweaty forehead.
Stole a selfie with 3/5 of Arashi in Mandarake. Excuse my sweaty forehead.

I spent a considerable amount of time there, sorting through the goods available. To be honest, it was pretty overwhelming, because I didn’t actually know what to look for. Suddenly, there are all these stuffs, but how does one start sorting them out? Somehow I managed, though. I patiently went over each section: tour goods, magazines, photos, albums, uchiwas, posters and clear files, while holding the need to pee (worthy to be mentioned, because can’t you feel my determination for Arashi?).

I survived that whole experience and got myself Ohno’s first Freestyle book, Ohno’s clear file from Waku Waku Gakkou, a mini Japonism group uchiwa, and a couple of other things that a friend asked me to get for her. And then, on Thursday, I actually went back to look for something for another friend, and ended up getting two more items for myself: a Japonism shopping bag (needed it because my small suitcase would never fit all the things I acquired from those three days) and a cute A6-sized Waku Waku Gakkou notebook. (Interesting thought: When I first shopped there, I was wondering why their plastic bag is in the color of black, but upon coming back for a second time, I realized it represented the color of all my sins I ended up burying there by purchasing items I never knew I needed―LOL, just kidding!).

Mandarake opens at noon, so I think it’s probably better to get there by the opening time. That day, I entered around 1-2 p.m. and by minutes, some schoolgirls immediately followed and flocked to the idol section. I would say, based on my experience, it’s best to allocate a longer time here, because it takes focus and concentration to sort through all those goodies in a rather dark room. The racks are differentiated by kinds of items (tour goods, photos, magazines, albums, etc.), then those are categorized into groups, and groups into members. It’s pretty organized, so you will definitely find some beautiful gems of your favorites.

Searching for Makino and Domyouji

Coming out of Mandarake, I needed fresh air. Shibuya is nice, but it was crowded as hell, even on a Tuesday. Looking at the time, I was so early on my schedule, and suddenly a thought popped out in my head. What if I visited Ebisu?

But, why Ebisu in particular? Well, because, “Sunday. Ebisu Garden Place. Clock Tower Square. 1 o’clock.” Ebisu Garden Place was the place featured in Hana Yori Dango as the spot of Makino and Domyouji’s first meeting point on their first date, and eventually the site of their wedding day. Before coming to Tokyo, I had accidentally read a blog post of someone who visited real-life locations of HYD and became interested in doing the same. However, because I thought I already had a packed schedule, I didn’t put it in my itinerary.

That day, though, I had lunch with my neighbor’s son. He said he had an errand to do in Ebisu during the morning before our meeting. Immediately, it reminded me of that plan I didn’t actually plan. So, because the time was right, I jumped on the next train to Ebisu. I was determined to get there before it got dark.

Again, because it was more convenient, I opted to take the Metro and headed straight to Ebisu station. However, I wasn’t exactly sure which exit was best to take to get to Ebisu Garden Place. I just kind of followed the crowd to the main exit and ended up having to walk quite far to my destination―but it was still very enjoyable! After all, I got to experience the atmosphere of the surroundings. There is actually a skywalk that you can use to get straight to Ebisu Garden Place, but I think it is accessible through the Ebisu JR station. (I did take that skywalk to get to the station on my home and it does help in saving time).

Makino and Domyouji are nowhere to be seen (but in my head).
Makino and Domyouji are nowhere to be seen (but in my head).

Perhaps, if it didn’t mean anything to you, Ebisu is not anywhere special. It is a fancy neighborhood, I could tell, and certainly has a different quality compared to other more well-known areas in Tokyo, such as Shibuya or Shinjuku. It has a kind of serenity to it. I was there on almost sunset time. I didn’t actually see the sun setting, though, because I was fixed on the monument, which stands exactly at the opposite way from the sunset. But sitting there, in front of the monument, while listening to Arashi’s “One Love”, I remembered that period a few moons ago while I was drowning myself in the HYD world (that was the craziest ride of a drama!). When I was there, I couldn’t help but curved my lips to a silly smile, imagining how Makino and Domyouji were doing at that moment. How many children would they have by then? Do they still meet by the Tower Clock just for the fun of it? (I know, I’m very invested in these fictional characters, but that’s just the way I am). Before leaving, I got a chance to sit down on the monument for a little bit, where Jun’s beautiful behind have once sat, while watching the sky got gradually got darker.

Ebisu was the last place I visited on that day. On my way home, I stopped by the konbini to get some quick dinner and ended up getting myself a can of Arashi-endorsed Kirin beer. I’m not really a drinker; in fact, I kind of dislike beer. But somehow, that Kirin beer tasted okay to me. It was somehow the right taste to end that thrilling day, while pondering at all the things I experienced and acquired that day.

On the end of that day, I also confirmed to myself regarding my answer to the most sacred question in the Arashi fandom: “Who is your ichiban?” Up until that point, I never claimed anyone to be my ichiban. Yes, I was kind of Jun-baited at first, but the truth is, I always found each and every member of Arashi to be lovable for differing reasons–it felt weird to claim one as the most favorite. I say it as a joke, but it’s kind of true: I feel like a mother to these guys. It feels wrong to have a favorite child, right? But then, after reviewing those sinful 36 photos that I got that day, I actually counted and the science and statistics have spoken that I have a strong Ohno Satoshi bias. His face appears more than anyone in those 36 photos (plus, I did get specific Ohno stuffs, like magazine and the clear file). So, that’s one more thing I’ve learned about myself that day!

Although my Arashi-themed day technically ended with that can of beer and a declaration of my ichiban, Arashi kept on watching over me for the rest of the trip. Although it was less than I expected (because I expected their faces to be plastered all over Japan), I did do some ads/billboards-spotting. That was quite fun. I only got one group sighting, though, when I arrived in Azabu-Juuban on the second day, and somehow it was an old-ish I seek/Daylight ad.

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Anyway, if you don’t get it, the tale I’ve told you so far was basically about a day of me spending money and time on some trivial things. But for someone who identifies a lot with the term “fangirl” like me, this day was what dreams are made of. I got to experience my day through the eye of being an Arashi fan and it’s seriously one of the best feelings. Maybe I’m still a beginner at this, but you know what they say about beginner’s luck? I certainly felt like the luckiest fangirl alive. The day couldn’t have gone more smoothly.

This was honestly the first time I went all the way through when it comes to fangirling. I mean, sure, I’ve gone as far as making sure I attended all of my favorite musicians when they had a gig in Jakarta, or making sure I went to the very first match Chelsea ever played in Jakarta. But, this felt slightly different. This time, I was the one who came to the things I love. There was more effort on my part, so the end result felt much sweeter―it felt like a really sweet reward.

To me, it is such a beautiful thing. Through admiring someone or something, I got the push to do this crazy trip and experience all the things that opened myself up to new perspectives. I think, that’s the beauty of being a fan. You look up to someone, watch them succeed and fail, and you learn from them to be able to navigate your own self.

(…to be continued in Part 4/7)