Thanks to modern technology, last weekend I was able to update what was happening on the Niigaki Risa FanClub Bus Tour through tweets and pictures. But thinking back, there’s still a lot that I want to share and tell. So please allow me to start from the beginning, on Saturday morning when Day 1 started.
The ride from Osaka to Shizuoka is very, very long. We were kept busy for awhile with paper work, ID pass, and a VTR message from Niigaki. As we were finally nearing our first location, I noticed that Morning Musume’s manger (@MornibngMusumeMg) was tweeting about Ikuta being on the bus and watching concert DVDs. I wasn’t surprise to read that Ikuta came along the tour but the big question was, did they have a whole bus just for Ikuta?
The 2 shots were taken inside a grand hotel that was hidden on a hill. Just outside the room where the 2 shot took place, there were posters of Niigaki promoting her recommendation pose. This tour’s slogan was “Who had fun? Me!” (楽しかった人? はい!). It’s common for the fans to raise their hands as they answer “Me!” But if the fans did that pose their arms might get cut out from the picture, so Niigaki said to only raised your hand next to your face.
After we left the hotel there was another tweet from the manger, telling us that Ikuta has arrived and was lining up for the 2 shot. It seems they were treating Ikuta just like a normal fan, but how far are they going with it?
We arrived at a second hotel that’s located along the Pacific Ocean where we got our goods and worked on Project R. Project R was a surprise project for Niigaki. Each fan took a Polaroid themselves and decorated it with messages to Niigaki. I really could have stay inside that room and decorated the Polaroid all day long. I can’t quite explain it, but I had a lot of fun decorating the Polaroid! And this project let me got a taste of what the girls go through when they are told to decorate their own solo pictures for tour, the Hello! Project Shop, and other events.
Next stop was a small open market with a lot of famous local food for fans to get some souvenirs. It really wasn’t all that exciting… that was until I noticed a group of fans were gathered around where the buses were parked. Guess who was there, talking casually with all the fans gathered around her: Ikuta. She had a green shirt on, an ID pass just like the rest of us. The only difference was, she had a mini home-style video camera following her and well, the fact that she’s a member of Morning Musume. Some online fans were surprise the company let her this close to the fans. You got to understand though that Japanese fans not only know the rules of what they should and shouldn’t do, but they really follow through with it. No one crowded up close to Ikuta, no one pulled out their cameras and pointed it at Ikuta. (Plus, the cameraman and staff are always around to help out if anything happens) After a brief chat and an attempt to say hi to the fans that were already on the bus, Ikuta climbed back on to one of the regular tour bus and took her seat.
I wished that Ikuta had bus hopped around, that would have been so much fun! She also stayed at a different hotel than most of us. But from other fan reports, it seems she had dinner with the other fans too and was sat at the same table too.
The last event for Day 1 was the special live. Ikuta got to the location before everyone else, and was behind the goods counter promoting Niigaki’s musical tickets. When Ikuta finally entered the concert hall and took a seat near the back, she was prompted by the fans to start a Niigaki chant. Niigaki came on to the stage in a dazzling black dress. The set list was as follows:
1) Popcorn Love
2) Boogie Train
3) Glass no Pumps
4) Kiiroi Osora de BOOM BOOM BOOM
5) Yuugure Sakusen Kaigi
7) Sakura Mankai
10) Soba ni iru yo (from Reborn stage play)
11) Suggoi Nakama
12) Happy Night
13) Jishin Motte Yume wo Motte Tobitatsu Kara
14) Egao ni Namida
Highlight of the live: Sakura Mankai, Soba ni iru yo, Jishin Motte Yume wo Motte Tobitatsu kara, and Egao ni Namida. Sakura Mankai was exceptionally well done and the timing was perfect as it is the cherry blossom season. Thinking back to when this single was released, Niigaki has really came a long way as an idol and her vocal has become so strong. I’m not familiar with Soba ni iru yo, but it was a smoothing song. For some reason Ikuta was crying after this song, which only made Niigaki laughed and teased her for it. Jishin Motte Yume wo Motte Tobitatsu kara was a surprising choice. As if any of us can forget that it was Takahashi’s graduation song, yellow back lights along with a wings logo were projected on the back of the stage. But for what it’s worth Niigaki totally rocked it, did this song and Takahashi justice. Egao ni Namida was an expected choice. This performance was extra special because it’s the song chosen for her last single as Morning Musume.
After Niigaki walked off the stage the fans once again prompted Ikuta to start chanting for Niigaki, and she did came back on to the stage briefly. The fans let Ikuta leave first before we all got up and headed toward the exit. As we were leaving the building, Niigaki stood by the exit and personally handed back everyone’s 2 shot from earlier.
Day 2 started out just as early, but we still didn’t know what was in store for the day. We were shown another segment of the VTR on the bus, where Niigaki told us that we were going to a tea processing factory (because Shizuoka is famous for tea). Well surprise surprise, turn out that was a lie. The staff had secretly arranged a SL steam train ride, and kept it a secret from Niigaki too. We got to train station before Niigaki and were entertained by the conductor, Sugi-san, as we waited for her to arrive. When Niigaki got out of the car, she suspected something but still didn’t know what was going on. When she asked what happened to the tea processing factory, the fans teased her and said it was just behind her. Finally we just told her to turn around and look at the steam train that had the tour logo on it. Among all the excitement, Niigaki bumped her leg as she finally noticed the train. The design for the towel was also revealed: it was a green towel with a steam train engine on it, and at the conductor’s seat was a character designed by Niigaki. We then took group shots and got our special lunch boxes. Ikuta was also here, but she was just standing in the back taking random pictures as everything unfolded.
Everyone boarded the train and waited for it to start. I sat at the second last cart and I assumed the last cart is saved for the staff and Niigaki. The inside of the train was very old, a very normal train cart. But suddenly, Ikuta walked on to the train cart. We held our hands out as she walked down the cart, hoping to get high fives. She was reluctant at first, but she did slow down and high fived everyone along the way with a smile. Ikuta sat at the very back of the cart with the camera still following her around, just a few seats from where I sat. This wasn’t what I had in mind when I wished she’ll bus hop, but I’ll take it! Ikuta borrowed tape from the fans and put up a Niigaki towel on her window. As she was finishing up, Niigaki walked pass outside, and got on to the last cart. The fans told Ikuta to bang on the window to get Niigaki’s attention, but she just kept staring out hoping Niigaki will turn around on her own.
Shortly after the train started up, Niigaki came into our cart for a chat. We played rounds of janken for 3 special doriyaki that had A LOT of red bean paste in it. Ikuta lost out, but all 3 winners ended up giving her the doriyaki anyways. When the staff finally came around with the towels, the fans asked Ikuta how many she was getting. She said only one, because she doesn’t have much money. The train made a brief stop, and as it started up again we realized it was to let Niigaki and some of the staff off the train. When Ikuta saw Niigaki standing on the platform, she frantically stood up in shock staring out the window. She was more worked up about Niigaki just hopping off the train unannounced like that than any of us. Midway through the ride, Ikuta asked when what was going on with the “fun event” that was supposed to happen. She was in dismay when the fans told her that the train ride was the “fun event”. As the train was nearing the station, Ikuta took down the Niigaki towel from the window and said “Ain’t Morning Musume great?” Ikuta really is adorable. To be on the whole train ride with her and being able to eardrop on all these conversations was a real treat.
When we got back on the bus, we were given the lyrics to Egao ni namida and a sheet with a message to Niigaki that we were going to use for the surprise after the talk event. Ikuta was also in the hall for the talk, but once again she took a seat in the back. The talk event started off with Niigaki drawing out random topics from a box, the MC then explained what each topic was about. The highlight included a surprised pop out box, but Niigaki was told it was a present from the fan so she opened it right away. Nothing like seeing an idol get freaked out by a jumping prop, right? There was also a surprise t-shirt giveaway: The staff took two of Niigaki’s designed character and printed them on the t-shirt. Through a lucky draw, 10 of these t-shirts were given away to the fans. Next was an award ceremony with nominations from the fans to Niigaki. They had moving spotlights to create an award ceremony atmosphere, even had flowers and a trophy prepared. After each award was announced they gave Niigaki the flowers and trophy, but then took it back right away. It was funny the first few times, but it got old quick and thankfully they stopped that routine after awhile. Then the staff brought out 4 big boards that were full of messages from various people including Michishige, Tanaka and Niigaki’s mother. At the mention of the message from Niigaki’s mother, some fans looked toward the back of the audience and I followed their glance. That’s when I noticed a middle age man, women and a young girl sitting higher up at the back away from the other fans. I think, these might had been Niigaki’s family. It was dark and I’m not good with identifying family resemblances between people, but the younger girl had the same bone structure as Niigaki. Niigaki did mentioned on her blog that her family came, but since I’ve never seen official pictures of her family, I can only guess that was them. If that is the case, it’s really sweet of them to take the time and come out to support Niigaki like this. The talk event ended with the handshake which moved at a reasonable speed. We all managed to say more than just “Thank you” to Niigaki before the staff hurried us along. As soon as we walked out of the hall, we were handed green balloon with the tour logo on it and instructed to wait quietly in the lobby. Once the handshake was over and Niigaki has left the stage, we quietly went back to our seats and waited to surprise Niigaki.
The surprise was a big success! Niigaki walked on to the pitch black stage, still hasn’t a clue what was going on. When she was near the centre the lights came on, big party poppers went off, the fans started cheering and waving the balloons. A karaoke version of Egao ni Namida started playing and everyone sang along, just like we practiced on the bus earlier. Niigaki tried to sing along too, but a lot of time she was crying too much to sing properly. Apparently some fans told her during the handshake that “I won’t be able to see you again!” so she didn’t suspect anything. The MC then revealed that the surprise wasn’t over, and asked the representatives from each bus to come up and present the gift. The staff took the Polaroid that we decorated on Day 1 and put them into photo albums, one for each bus. Representatives from each bus gave a small speech then personally handed the photo album to Niigaki. Representing Bus #5 was none other than Ikuta herself! Although this wasn’t the official graduation speech, Ikuta was already crying nonstop. After Niigaki received the photo album from Ikuta, she faced the fans and expressed the desire to pass on her colour to Ikuta after she graduates. The last time a colour was passed down right away, was when Konno graduated and passed on the colour pink to Michishige. We don’t know if this will actually happen, but for Niigaki to say it out loud like this, there’s definitely a high chance that it can come true!
We had one more surprised for Niigaki, and it was a message from all of us fans (okay so it was written by the staff, but we meant every single word of it!)
Gaki-san, thank you for all your hard work these past 10 years!
Sadly, Morning DAYS (the tour) is coming to an end real soon.
Please do your best till the very end!
We will (females)
Always support Gaki-san, even after your graduation!
And with that, it marked the end of the surprised event. Niigaki started crying the moment we started the message and seeing that along with the warm atmosphere in the hall, I got teary eyes too.
It was raining as we left the building, but that didn’t stop Niigaki from coming out and waving goodbye to all the buses. The parking lot was small, so instead of the buses turning around for everyone to see and wave to Niigaki from their side of the bus, she ran across the pathway towards each bus and waved to the fans on the other side.
There was one last VTR message waiting for us on the bus, where Niigaki mentioned the Morning Musume PV that were especially memorable to her ( Morning Musume no Hyokkori Hyoutan-jima and Aruiteru). Ending the VTR, we were shown the full version of Egao ni Namida. The PV was really well done. Very simple, but very sweet and cute. Takahashi might have gotten an original graduation song, but Niigaki definitely has the better PV of the two. We also got LED lamps with the tour logo as a last tour souvenir.
And that basically marked the end of the bus tour. It was a short 2 days, and there could have been more organised events or activities. But I walked off the bus feeling very happy. I was extremely happy (and surprised) I was able to take many pictures of the posters and the chalkboards without being told off by the staff. This allowed me to post it online and share it on twitter right away. The setlist for the Live was perfect. Niigaki has proof that being in Morning Musume for 10 years has done wonder to her vocals. She can’t belt it out like Takahashi or Tanaka, but she is a damn fine singer! The train ride was okay, but having Ikuta in the same cart made it such an entertaining experience. Ikuta won me over back in January at the Morning Labo III event, this tour made me adore Ikuta even more than before. Although she doesn’t quite have the charm, vocal or dance skills like her fellow generation members, I know I’ll be wearing her colour after Niigaki graduates (whether it be purple or green!)