My journey home from the remote city of Kurobe following a weekend of Spring concerts for the idol group Momoiro Clover Z was a long, late, 2 and a half hour shinkansen back to the familiar cityscape of Tokyo. I had initially planned to sleep on this return journey, the exhaustion from the weekend being acutely felt in the aching pain I felt in my arms and legs as I boarded the train, yet I wanted to write about my experiences of this weekend before I did so, a personal journal, of sorts. It won’t take too long, I thought. Over 3000 words later, the train began to pull into Tokyo Station and I felt I had barely scratched the surface of what I wanted to say.
‘Momoiro Clover Z is a community, a family.’ Those were some of the words a friend sent to me and others the following day, and these words have stuck with me from the moment I read them. When I first proposed writing this article a few weeks ago, I suggested writing about the experience of attending a large-scale idol event, but I felt afterward that solely discussing the event from this angle is doing a bit of disservice, for reasons this message encapsulates. To fail to discuss the group and its fandom and the use of its platform here and more broadly to promote Japanese culture and tourism would mean I hadn’t adequately spoken about the concert itself, I realized, so I had to adjust accordingly.
Momoiro Clover Z had a meteoric rise to the top following their debut in 2008. It didn’t take long for the group to make a major label debut with “Ikuze! Kaitou Shoujo”, a song that has become iconic not just for the group itself but within the entire music industry within Japan. Within 5 years the group were selling out concerts at the Nissan Stadium, the largest concert venue in Japan, and becoming the fastest-ever artist to perform a solo concert at the National Olympic Stadium just a year later.
This rise to the top cemented their still-held position as one of the biggest artists in Japan at the moment, giving them a broader appeal that includes those who wouldn’t typically engage within the idol fandom. This has a huge impact on their audience. While it’s unfair to stereotype in such a way, it would be fair to admit that a majority of female idol fans are male, yet the fan base for Momoiro Clover Z spreads beyond such a typical remit. It’s rather common to find that multiple generations of the same family will be fans, with more even splits between younger and older fans as well as even splits along gender lines. I met fathers attending with their 20-something daughters and I saw entire families coming together and spending time together at this event.
It’s this consideration which has to be kept in mind when discussing Momoiro Clover Z’s ‘Haru no Ichidaiji’ Spring concerts, held on April 20th and 21st. The group has been using their size and image as a way to promote Japan and promoting lesser-known sports in the run-up to the looming 2020 Tokyo Olympics. In recent years their concerts have held the monicker ‘Road to 2020’ in recognition of this, and their summer concerts have heavily leaned on a sports theme that seeks to highlight both old and new Olympic and Paralympic sports, even hosting a half-marathon during a recent concert.
At the same time as this has been going on, their Spring concert has become a vehicle for promoting tourism, hosting each of the more recent April live events in remote locations while working with local governments to promote the local area. Many governments have been receptive to the idea in turn, recognizing the influx of visitors and the impact it could have on a local economy, as well as the ability of the group to put their name on the map. There is now even a formal bidding process for governments to submit proposals on this, with the best proposal chosen as the next venue.
This remoteness, however, is the reason I was forced to wake up at 4 am on a mild Saturday morning in order to catch a 6:30 am bullet train to the remote city of Kurobe in Toyama prefecture. It’s likely that without a concert being planned for this area I would never think of visiting this city, and it was certainly an unknown to me before this concert was announced.
Arrival at the station really put into perspective the admirable goals of the group to improve tourism in the area as well, with a reciprocal relationship forming between both the group and the city, each helping the other in this endeavor. On the group’s part, an athletics park roughly 1.5km away from the station had been temporarily transformed into a venue for this concert, while the city utilized this opportunity by tying local produce and promotion to imagery commonly associated with the group.
Each member of Momoiro Clover Z has their own color associated with them, with fans attending these concerts in the color of their favorite member, which in turn was used by the city for this Spring event in the creation of Kurobe City shirts in these colors. Locally-produced alcohol and food were available to purchase as gifts with the iconography of the group plastered on it, while a huge array of local businesses selling fresh food and items ranging from gloves to notebooks to train tickets were made available for purchase both near the venue and near the station. Tourism leaflets were bundled with Momoiro Clover Z stickers, while a broader initiative encouraged fans to board the train to tourist attractions in the prefecture to complete a special group-themed stamp rally. All of this had been achieved through this initiative, and though I myself was unable to visit the broader prefecture myself, the event’s handling and the stunning scenery have me determined to return to this place which I likely would have never considered otherwise.
But wait, I was here for a concert, wasn’t I? That I was, and after the uphill climb to the venue itself, I was ready for it to begin. It was a shame, then, that I arrived at just around 10 am in the morning when it wasn’t due to begin until 3 pm. Luckily, this gave me a chance to explore what the local businesses had to offer as well as purchase the concert merchandise that I had been desiring.
The Spring concert is obviously the main attraction of any event such as this, yet massive attempts are made to create a hub around the venue that can entertain fans who arrive early before Momoiro Clover Z were set to perform. For this venue, a massive grass plain became the central beacon for much of the merchandising, gacha machines with special themed prizes ranging from eye masks to badges, and food. Tying in with a long-running advertising campaign, Suzuki Hustler vans in the group’s colors were on display as well, while there was even a VR booth allowing fans to experience a song from a previous concert in 360-degree 4K VR. Most exciting of all was a small stage area. On this stage, various groups would perform short mini-lives on that stage for roughly 30 minutes, providing an opportunity to introduce these groups to new audiences. This was one of my favorite elements of the pre-show entertainment, as it helped to open my eyes and learn of new artists to keep an eye on. Between this stage and the chance to catch with friends old and new, I was satisfied before the concert even began.
…I still wanted to see the concert, although I don’t think I was ready for the moment it started. Nothing can truly prepare you for the rush of emotion you feel as the concert sparks into life, especially as someone who had experienced it before but had been left waiting for so long before I could finally see them perform live again. After an introduction by the mayor of Kurobe City themselves and an intense overture livening up the waiting masses for the Spring concert, we finally got to see Momoiro Clover Z get onto stage and perform. What followed was an intense 150 minutes of musical fun that barely gave itself time to rest except for the moments between the main chunk of the concert and the encore.
If you’ve never attended a concert in Japan, what you would come to expect from a concert internationally is very different from the experience you would find here. While you won’t have to look past a gaggle of fans waving their phones around, you would instead have to look past (and be expected to partake in) chants performed by the fans in time to the music in order to cheer on the performing members.
I find this a lot of fun and was fuelled by a desire to support the group into doing their best performance, even if it means I’d liken it more to an intense workout. Some songs even have special chants, such as my personal favorite song of the group, “Hashire”, which sees fans wave their penlights above their head for the chorus, with all lights except for the penlights being turned off for the final chorus. It brings everyone together for a single cause in a way that, as this song played as it does every concert I attend, brought me to tears.
The desire to involve the local area I’ve mentioned a few times in this piece was even able to find roots here during the concert itself. Local schoolchildren were used to create a chorus for one of the slower ballads the group performed, a beautiful touch accentuated by drawings from these children also featuring prominently on the stage. This was a celebration of the city of Kurobe, its people and its scenery. Videos played during small breaks featured the city and its mountainous surroundings, the mascot for Kurobe made a brief appearance, it was a wonderful salute to the people who made the event possible.
Over 30,000 fans attended these events over the course of two days, and while there will have been overlap in those numbers due to some people (like me) attending both concerts, it still can’t be overstated how impressive and successful such an event held in such a remote area of Japan was in galvanizing a group of fans to converge on this city. After each concert our ragtag group of friends converged on a local restaurant for food and drinks, businesses open to and welcoming of fans, some of whom were fans themselves. I had the opportunity to try local specialties like salmon sushi and bask in the warm hospitality of the people.
‘Momoiro Clover Z is a community, a family.’ To me, this refers not just to the fans of this group but to events like this, the group being a catalyst that brings people together. As much as it was about the music and the group it was about the local city, it was about tourism and it was about the fans of the group. It was a celebration. You can’t discuss it as a concert as it was so much more than that. I met people of all ages from all around Japan, I met people from all walks of life who each welcomed me with open arms. Many had produced their own gifts from colored wrist straps to hair bobbles, others bringing sweets and chocolate, all with the express purpose of sharing them with others and making connections.
Momoiro Clover Z is a group going through changes, ones still being felt during this Spring concert. I wrote about how 2018 was a transitional 10th-anniversary for the group and this transition is still going on. In many ways, the group is going through a reset in expectations musically with its changed lineup following Ariyasu Momoka’s graduation that will conclude with this Diamond Four releasing a brand new self-titled album later this month. Yet for all the change they’re going through, the family and community ideals have stayed strong, and nothing emphasized this more than this concert. From here, and from this new album, they work towards this summer, and towards their own self-stated goal of 2020. This concert shows they’re stronger than ever, and their fans, their community, is standing right alongside them, wherever they go next.