Since this spring, the seiyuu unit Wake Up, Girls! have been on a farewell tour. It reminds me of Major League players who announced their retirements during the off season of their final season, getting treats as their team travel around the league and getting presents from teams the player visit over the course of the regular season. It’s not that different for this seiyuu idol unit in a sense, given the extensive farewell they have received at Animelo Summer Live and Animax Musix Yokohama earlier this year. (AnimeJam is this coming weekend and it would be interesting to see what they do for WUGchans!)
While the shut-down date set as end of March, 2019, the IP will live on (most notably in a mobile game) as the voice actresses will be off contract for the main project. They will still work on the franchise, of course, but not as performers of live shows, and likely not so extensively tied to the various media opportunities such as their ongoing radio shows (though this remains to be seen), live action theater, as “solo artists” and most importantly doing new songs and concerts.
There is a actual farewell tour for WUG, which is broken into 3 parts. First two parts were announced right off the bat after the disbanding announcement. Part 1 covered Chiba, Kanagawa (Zama) and Saitama (Omiya). Part 2 covers Osaka, Iwate (Morioka), and Kanagawa again (Yokosuka). Part 3 will cover Kumamoto, Osaka (again), Nagano, Tokushima, Aichi (Nagoya), and finally Miyagi–or Sendai. It’s a lot of stops. Each stop promises at least 2 shows (early and late). The Aichi stop has 5 shows. Osaka totally gets 8 shows between parts 2 and 3. About half of these sold out, but it isn’t hard to get tickets for some of the more remote and remaining ones, even as I write.
The locations are important in that the farewell tour will take all the WUGs to their home prefectures. Yoppi is probably the most difficult, all the way out in Kumamoto, so it’s good it finally will happen. Iwate is where Kaya is from, and this tour marks the second WUG visit to Morioka. Minyami and Myu are from Kanagawa and Chiba respectively. MayuC is from Osaka, and Osaka is the city WUG toured the most outside of the Tokyo region proper. Nanamin is from Tokushima, which is also a rare stop for WUG tours but thanks to Machi Asobi, WUGchans have frequented Tokushima quite often. Of course, Aichan is the Sendai native who will invariably hold court for that final stop on that final tour, and it’s the second most common tour stop outside Kanto for them. You would think, right?
Sendai is obviously a super special place for Wake Up Girls. It gave birth to the group and the project, and promoting the (kinda still) struggling Tohoku region is a core mission for the team. The way the team was put together in 2012-2013 was just as much of a promotion of Japan’s rural areas as it is a way to represent them in this fandom niche–seiyuu idol and media mix. It’s really heartful to see the management stick to this aspect of the mission. I mean I would not have had reasons to go to Sendai until next year but for WUG, a good 3.5 years after my real first visit. It taught me a lot of places to visit, either ones I had in the past or will in the future, and sights to see and recommend to others. The TUNAGO solo tour earlier this year is a great example, when fans had to travel across Tohoku to see the WUG member solo events in tiny live halls in the countryside. It ended with a bus tour that took you even to rebuilding banks of the Eastern shore and survey the reconstruction after the 3/11 tsunami waves had left their marks.
In the same spirit, my visit to Morioka to attend WUG Final Iwate was just as much about WUG as much about Morioka. I am really going because timing worked best, not because Iwate or Morioka is special, plus honestly I can’t see myself ever going for another reason, so why not visit a part of Japan I don’t think I’ll ever go again?
The actual concert is on Sunday afternoon and evening. I had booked a flight back home leaving Haneda in the morning Monday after. In order to make the flight I had to travel by night bus (as the most reasonable transportation option), which was both reasonably priced and convenient, as the bus depot is right at the JR station Morioka, and a short walk from my hotel. The fact that it snowed overnight Saturday was a little disturbing, but it wasn’t a problem at all for me–the weather was still warmer in Morioka than at home. And unlike Kanto proper, this part of the country regularly deals with snow, so it isn’t as much of an issue for transportation.
Arriving Morioka by train Saturday morning, it was a fast ride up the Tohoku/Akita line, taking about 2.5 hours. At Morioka the Hayabusa and Komachi trains separates, which you can actually go see. The Komachi in front decouples, moves forward, and both it and the Hayabusa train retract the latches and the cover pops back to keep that aerodynamic nose shape. Literally, Shinkalion.
Right at the station, a famous local food, the fukuda pan, can be had. They literally are just rolls with different fillings, kind of like souped up buttered breads. I had chestnut and plain butter, and it was pretty good because the bread was of good quality and it was fresh.
Transit in Morioka is JR only, and there is no local mass transit on rail. You can take a pretty cheap bus to go around, but it’s hardly faster than walking. The JR local trains take you to the suburbs, so it’s not even helpful. There is a tourist bus, but I ended up walking around the area between JR Morioka and the main castle park area.
At the time there was a Salmon Festival in the park. Too bad most stuff there can’t really be had. You either had to eat it there, or bring home a fish or a sack of clams or something. The salmon looked good though.
The main park area is three things: a park, the remains of the Morioka castle, and a temple. It’s not what I’d say scenic in a dreary December weekend, but I imagine it looks good with some cherry blossom to go with. Very nearby is a historic house and museum, and some older buildings from before the War. Also a couple blocks away are the government buildings, and the famous Rock-Breaking Cherry Tree that grew through a boulder. As people (nee: Kayatan) say, the Ishiwari-zakura encapsulates the spirit of Iwate.
There weren’t a lot of sights in Morioka proper. I walked a bit to kind of take in the place. It is cold and I didn’t want to walk too much (but still probably did too much walking). It is kind of inaka-y but it felt more urban than it really was. The side where the older town was (where I was walking) did feel very much like “Morioka” in that it reminds me of Sendai and Hakodate, maybe because it’s kind of in between the two places. The other side of the JR Shinkansen tracks felt more like modern, newer developed suburb-y part of the city. There was a huge Bic Camera and Round 1 where my hotel was, where as the other side of the station had the densely zoned businesses and homes you expect in a Japanese city.
So instead of walking, we ate. Morioka has 3 famous noodles: the jya jya men, the reimen, and the wanko soba. Naturally we had all 3.
Reimen is a form of korean cold noodles. I’ve actually had varieties of this across the USA and even in Taipei. It’s more commonly the clear wheat version that you see, but the Morioka style is served up like a cold ramen, with sweet flavorings. It’s served with apple or pear in the broth, in the winter, and with watermelon in the summer. The ideal pairing for this is either hot weather, or because you have just had a lot of korean BBQ/yakiniku so you can cool down with it. We did not have BBQ with ours, but it was still tasty. You should get it spicy when you could, just know that Japanese eateries generally downtune their spicy levels.
The jya jya men in Morikoa is similar to the Chinese and Korean versions, except it is made with miso instead of black soy bean paste or fermented flour paste. This means it’s a meat miso that you mix with your noodles, and it pairs with similar toppings. Because miso is actually more mild than soybean paste or fermented flour paste, there are more options for topping such as umeboshi and grated ginger, or even rice vinegar. The noodle used is much thicker too, they are basically udon level. It makes for a cheap and hearty meal. 600 JPY fills me up, with chi tan tan, which is a complementary soup they serve you in the same bowl by mixing an egg with hot noodle water.
Somehow I had it three times, because you can get Pairon (which is like the one famous name for the dish) jya jya men at the station, and JJM was the easiest eat that you can have all day long. Other than these noodle bars, most places don’t open late in Morioka so jya jya men is a good substitute if you would have ramen instead.
Wanko soba is more of an experience than a dish. Basically the idea is a server will serve you bite size portions of soba at a time until you are full. There’s some ceremony to this, so you ought to go with Instagram ready with a small group. Our server served the three of us over 300 servings, and it is a pretty (ugly?) sight (unsightly?). It is at a rapid fire pace, when you eat it, the next serving comes. You get a break when the server runs out of noodles on her plate, but these rounds can be brutal. Wanko soba is lightly flavored in soy sauce, so you can also add other condiments like grounded chicken or grated daikon or whatever, which they provide to you. Not that it matters, you are literally eating as fast as you can most of the time, and if you are not drawing the meal out, the whole experience can be over in less than an hour. But yeah, having Moriokan(?) waitress throw noodles at you non-stop turned out to be surprisingly fun. To stop eating there’s a procedure you do with putting the lid on top of your bowl. The server’s trick is to throw noodles in it while you show it to her empty. It continues if you let it happen as you have to finish what’s in your bowl.
I wonder if this is why Kayatan is kind of S.
As a proper dining experience, wanko soba should really be had as a proper meal, but most places close quite early (like, 8:30pm). And according to what I hear, wanko soba in Tokyo is just not as good as wanko soba in Morioka, but who knows. We went to Azumaya by the JR station, which I guess is well-detailed in this CNN article.
Anyways, the live.Continue reading