My 2nd Ice Show Adventure (Fantasy On Ice 2017 in Niigata)
Summer 2015, I went for my very 1st ice show, Fantasy On Ice (FaOI) in Kobe, and it was the 1st time I saw ‘nama-Yuzu’ (real-life Yuzuru) after being a fan since 2014 Olympics.
Summer 2016, I had tickets for FaOI again but this time, Yuzu pulled out of all ice shows to recover from lisfranc ligament injury, so I sold my ticket, prayed for Yuzu’s health and happiness, sent him letters of support, and managed to survive the terribly long off-season with other long-suffering Yuzu-fans.
This summer (2017), I am so busy with work projects that I have no time for fangirling, not to mention ice shows, and I moaned about it to a few friends. Almost like a miracle, one friend told me that if I wanted, she could get tickets for me for FaOI Niigata! I decided I could get away for the weekend. I must!
The shows were on Friday, Saturday, Sunday (16-18 June) and it would be my first time in Niigata. I took an ANA flight (yay! ANA!) and arrived in Niigata airport on Thursday. The first meal I had was a very delicious bowl of ramen, and as I ate, I was surprised that I could taste bits of yuzu (the fruit). I have never had ramen with yuzu before and so I was really happy! It was really oiishiiiiiiiiii~~!!! What a great omen, I thought. My first meal on this trip was with yuzu. xD
On this 1st night, there was something else that made me think of Yuzu…. I saw Bourbon ice-cream! “Mo chotto”!
I was way too full from the huge bowl of ramen and so I did not buy ‘Mo Chotto’ ice-cream to try. Thought I’d try it another day but I did not pass by this shop again and I could not find it anywhere else. Sigh. Regret. The snack is common but the ice-cream is not.
Friday 16 June (ice show is at 7pm, doors open at 6pm)
In the morning, I changed hotel. Checked into ANA Crowne Plaza (yay, ANA!) because it’s a short walk to the ice show venue. A Yuzu-fan friend, D-chan, messaged to say she is nearby and asked me to join her for coffee. OK! It was a lovely breezy walk from ANA hotel to an area called Pier Bandai and I found her in a cosy little coffee place with comfy sofas. I ordered an iced coffee and we chatted away. “I can’t believe I’m really here….” “He’s somewhere near us now, you know….” “Omg we’re breathing the same air as him….” xD
Happiness is talking with a Yuzu-fan while sipping coffee in Japan. :)
Soon it was time to meet another friend, Kay, the wonderful person who got my tickets for me. We had plans for an early dinner together and then go for the ice show. I met her at Niigata Station and we walked around looking for food. Some restaurants were not yet opened for dinner as it was too early. Luckily there was a soba shop that was open and we both felt like eating soba, so in we went. (soba= buckwheat noodles)
We ordered their specialty which was soba dipped in a warm broth with tender slices of pork. And once again, I had the lovely surprise of finding yuzu in it! I really love the citrusy fragrance it gave to the soupy noodles. We felt so happy eating soba with yuzu. It was a very good meal. :)
From Niigata station, there was a shuttle bus to the show venue, running pretty frequently. (I really love Japan; they think of everything.) There was no real need to look for the bus-stop, just look for the long queue! Luckily, it was a short wait as the buses came quickly and soon we were on our way to Toki Messe! Just a 10-minute bus ride and we were there, a lovely glassy tall building by the river.
We were early but the queue for FaOI merchandise was already VERY LONG. It’s ok, let’s admire the pretty Tanabata decorations and chit-chat while we wait in line. Finally we could at least SEE the sale counter! It’s going to be our turn! I got a T-shirt, a towel and the programme booklet. So happy to get the towel because 2 years ago at FaOI Kobe, the towel was sold out before it was my turn, on the very 1st day!
Then Kay pointed out to me something that made me very happy…. Ice Rink Sendai merchandise counter! I have not had the chance to buy anything from Yuzu’s hometown rink before, so I hurried towards it excitedly. Wow, they really have a lot of pretty things!
The photo of Yuzu wearing ‘Irene gloves’ was there. (Irene is short for ‘Ice Rink Sendai’ and is the name of the mascot.) And also his signature with a message saying “I will never forget, I will continue to do my best and give my support.” (my translation from Japanese) And there is a little mushroom at the end. ^^
What a simple but heartwarming message for his hometown rink….
I bought the ‘Irene’ gloves, T-shirt, keychain and some stationery. I love the pink theme!
There were also stalls selling really beautiful books and magazines….. I want them all!
Glad we were early. It was hard to take a good look at the stalls when it got very crowded later.
I was also very amused to see a counter that rented out binoculars, haha. I did not rent one on the 1st day, but I did for the next 2 days. Best decision ever. I could see clearly all his cute facial expressions and who he was talking to all the time at the finale. (Guess who. :))
And of course, there were big boxes for fan letters and gifts to skaters. Yuzu’s box filled up quickly and the inner bag had to be changed several times by the staff. I used my new Irene stationery to write 2 fan letters (one on behalf of the FB international fan group and one from myself) and dropped them into the box on the 2nd day. On the 3rd day, I decided to also drop a letter into Oda-san’s box. I told him I enjoy his skating, his talk shows and his blog, thanked him for his great friendship with Yuzu, and may God bless his beautiful family. :)
After all the excitement outside, it’s time to go in. The seating arena for Niigata is smaller than some other places, so even the furthest row was not that far away. I was somewhere in the middle, nearer one end of the rink.
As usual, there were guys in black jackets who walk around holding up big signs that say “No taking of photos or videos”. (I took this pic before the show, no pics during the show. Law-abiding fan.)
The show started and the skaters were introduced one or two at a time. Yuzu was the last one to come out and the applause and cheers for him were huge. It was clear who the star of the show was. :)
After the opening number, the skaters did their individual performances. I enjoyed watching all of them. My favourite ones were the 2 performances by Nobunari Oda – the music was beautiful for both and I love to watch his jumps; it’s like he lands on marshmallow (once again I am reminded of why they gave him that T-shirt saying ‘landing with cat’s feet’); Sex Bomb by Plushenko was hilarious and I laughed so much; and Shizuka Arakawa– what supreme grace and beauty.
Ice dancers Papadakis and Cizeron were very beautiful to watch. So glad they performed in this FaOI. The acrobatic duo of 2 men in Swan Lake tutu performing ‘Notte Stellata’ was very funny. I have seen Yuzu perform to this song so beautifully so many times in the past season (and watched it live at 4CC) and now this exact same song is skated in such a comical way….. I was so tickled. xD
For the record, the other skaters were Kaori Sakamoto, Marin Honda, Akiko Suzuki, Miki Ando, Shoma Uno, Evgenia Medvedeva, Denis Vasiljevs, Javier Fernandez, Elladj Balde, Johnny Weir, Stephane Lambiel, Jeffrey Buttle and the Chesnas. Many of them performed twice, before and after the intermission. Much thanks to all for their wonderful performances!
At the end was Yuzu’s Chopin Ballade Number 1. I had the good fortune of watching this 2 years ago, at the last show of FaOI 2015, when he gave us a surprise performance with live piano music played by Kotaro Fukuma. At that time, he did the 2nd half of his usual Chopin, in a black FaOI finale shirt. It was awesome. So this time, I was really excited that I would see the full performance with that beautiful white Chopin top. And wow…. he really took my breath away. Although I have watched him perform Chopin for 2 seasons already, it felt like a different Chopin. It was the same and yet it was different. More beautiful, more powerful, more flow, more speed, more precision…. it was already so perfect, how can it be even better, but it is! (based on my ‘expert’ opinion.) I am so thrilled that he is doing this for the new season! I LOVE Chopin!
After Chopin, he went backstage to dry his sweat and then came out again to do an encore of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ (his SP for last season). It was funny to watch LGC performed in that sweet Chopin costume. So mismatched, haha.
For the finale, Yuzu came out in a glittery blue FaOI top with a cat ears-hair band on his head. He danced in the group number and even did a cartwheel on the ice! And he waved happily to all of us. It was so good to see him enjoying himself. I am very glad he did not do any quad battles at the end. He just did a side lunge for the 1st show (with one under a set of hurdles, so amazing!), a hydroblade for the 2nd show, and a ‘muscle man’ pose with Plushenko at the last show. And when others are doing their jumps or special elements in the middle of the rink, he would skate from his original position to the space between his idol Plushenko and good buddy Nobu. And he was often talking to Plush. Ahhh… Yuzu, still the cute fan-boy after all these years. :)))
After the finale, when all the other skaters have left the rink, Yuzu took a mic and spoke to thank all of us. He said things like please take care of yourselves, take care as you go home, have a meal, have a good rest, who is staying on for tomorrow’s show? oh that’s quite a lot of you (laughs), thank you for your support, I really enjoyed myself, eh to, eh to, there is still so much that I want to say, but never mind, it is already very late, I should stop here, I really want to thank all of you for today……. And he would end by putting the mic down and shouting as loudly as he could with his own voice “Arigato gozaimashita!”
Listening to him speak was just wonderful…. I was touched by his concern for his fans and also half-laughing at some things he said. He wanted to talk more but he did not want to hold us back as it was already way past 10pm on that 1st night. That dear talkative boy. :) Oh Yuzu, your fans would listen to you all night, if only we could. But then we want you to rest too! You need a good rest and a good meal more than us!
In his speech for the 2nd day, he also thanked the people who made the ice rink. He said the ice was very good to skate on and they all loved skating there. Yuzu and his grateful heart. :)
On that 2nd day, I was seated at the other end, where the stage was. (I took this pic as I was leaving.) When he was speaking, he was standing on the left of the stage just outside the ice. I had a very clear side view of him through my binoculars ( I was halfway up the stands). His face was sweaty but dazzling with happiness as he spoke. How I wish I was sitting this close!
The shows for Saturday and Sunday were at 2 pm and 1pm respectively.
Most skaters performed the same programmes for all 3 shows in Niigata but a few skaters did a different one for one of the shows. Like Marin Honda, for the 2nd show, she performed in a very cute Japan Airlines air stewardess costume. Elladj Balde was the skater before Marin (he did a great Michael Jackson medley) and when he finished his performance, he skated to one end with his chair and just sat there. Marin skated out in her JAL costume, went to him and said in Japanese, “Sir, would you like some coffee or tea?” Haha, that was how she started and I really enjoyed her performance. For the other 2 days, she did ‘Crime Tale’. Javier also had a different one in the 2nd show; instead of his new SP, it was a funny pirate one where he was a cleaner-boy daydreaming. Johnny Weir performed ‘Amazing Grace’ in the 2nd half for the 1st 2 days, then on the 3rd day, he did a song called ‘Creep’. His performance was so heart-wrenching, I almost cried. I can still feel the pain he expressed even now when I think back….. Johnny’s skating is really very special. No wonder he is one of the skaters that Yuzu has looked up to since junior days.
In the 3rd show, which was the last FaOI show for 2017, Yuzu had some surprises for us.
After performing Chopin, he went backstage as usual, and the rink was dark. As with the previous 2 shows, we waited a while and then started to call his name. “Yuzu, Yuzu….” The MC said we have to shout his name louder because he can’t hear us. So we shouted “YUZU!” as loudly as we could, expecting him to appear for the LGC encore. Suddenly, the sounds of an electric guitar filled the air. There was a guitarist on stage and he was playing ‘Parisienne Walkways’!!!! We recognised it immediately and the fan beside me turned to me with eyes as big as saucers. She grabbed my hand and we started screaming and jumping about, mad with excitement! Yuzu then skated out to all our screams and did his legendary PW wearing his Chopin costume (he did the 2nd half of the usual PW programme). Oh wow!!! What a surprise! What a treat!!! Yuzu’s PW with live guitar!!! I felt like the luckiest fan in the world!!!
After that amazing encore, he went backstage and the finale started. The other skaters came out in turns to do the group number. When Yuzu came out again for his part in the finale, we all went hysterical again! Because he was wearing a yellow headband with Pooh ears!! Hahaha…… this guy really knows how to make his fans scream. He looked so adorable! It was wonderful to see him looking so happy and enjoying himself so much.
(Later, I saw a Japanese fan on twitter say the Pooh headbands were all sold out. But of course. The Yuzuru-effect. XD)
(2 pics above are fans’ screenshots of a TV news segment on FaOI.)
Then at the very end of the show, when the other skaters have left the rink, he gave a very emotional speech and made me cry. He said that last year he could not do anything (no ice shows at all due to injury), so now he is feeling very happy to be back doing this and he loves skating and he is feeling most blessed and he is the happiest person in the world. (*may not be the exact words but the meaning is such.) And he thanked the organisers and other people and all of us. It was not so much the words he said but the way he said them. There were so much emotions. His voice trembled a bit at the beginning. It sounded like he was tearing and was trying to control himself not to cry. As he spoke, his feelings were just gushing out…… he was just so utterly happy and grateful for everything!
Then he did the usual ending-shout; he put down the mic, cupped his hands near his mouth and shouted “arigato-gozaimashita!”, and we all shouted back “arigato-gozaimashita!” And then he bowed and waved and went in through the curtains.
Tears were running down my face. I continued to say softly, “Arigato, Yuzu-kun, arigato.” Thank you, Yuzu, thank you. My tears just kept flowing as I thought back. After going through so much… so much….. he is finally where he is supposed to be…….
Seeing Yuzu so happy and healthy is one of the best things in the world.
I met Kay after the show and we talked about how special Yuzu is. And how is it that he can make us fly thousands of miles to watch him perform just those few minutes and we feel it’s so worth our time, money and energy. She would be flying home that night, and for me, my flight home was the next day. As with all good things, it ended too quickly but our hearts were filled to overflowing.
I am very grateful to Kay for her help with tickets and for her fun company. We met up every day and ate some very delicious food together. On the 2nd day after the show, we walked around and found a little ramen shop to have dinner. And again there was yuzu in it!!! (See the little yellow strips on top of the soup?) Kay also ordered a yuzu sparkling wine. I had a sip and it was lovely! Another meal with yuzu…. ahhh life is good. :)
On the last night after the ice show, I shopped for stuff like P&G Bold clothes detergent, Lenor clothes deodoriser and softener, Ghana chocolate and Xylitol gum. I was so happy to find all these things near my hotel, and after I lugged my heavy shopping back to my hotel room, I realised I had forgotten to buy rice! Niigata is famous for very good rice and I had wanted to buy a small bag of rice home. :(( I messaged Kay to lament and she replied, it’s ok, he is not the ambassador for rice. Hahaha….. I love Yuzu-fans. (I did manage to get a bag of rice before I left for the airport the next day. :) )
Yuzu-fans are really wonderful and generous. And just like Yuzu, they surprise me all the time. On the 2nd night, D-chan passed a package to me from a fan that I don’t even know. Inside were some Japanese newspapers and advertisements with Yuzu, and also ‘Weekend Sendai’!!! OMG I nearly fainted with happiness. (Weekend Sendai is a free travel magazine given out in Japan many months back. Yuzu is featured inside recommending food and places in Sendai. 1st pic below, left side.) Gosh, how did she know it’s something I had been coveting for ages now??? I told D-chan to give her my utmost gratitude. And thank you, D-chan, for being a good friend and messenger! So glad I met you on this trip!
Another fan gave me gorgeous photos of Yuzu that she had taken herself at competitions. And she said, “Thank you for the good work that you do in the fan group.” Aww….. I was so touched! Thank you, CL!
I was so happy when I was packing my luggage on the last night in Niigata. I had so many precious goodies in my bag! Thank you, dear Yuzu-fans!!! Hope to see you all again!
Below are pics of my FaOI tee, towel and booklet that I bought on Day 1.
There is so much more that I want to say, but this is already so long, I should stop here now. Dear Yuzu, thank you for everything!!! May God bless you and your family. Always supporting you and hope to see you again soon!
Note: This is written one month after the event due to being too busy at work. If any details of FaOI are incorrect, I am sorry for my bad memory. :P
[Credit: photos are all mine except for the 2 screenshots of Yuzu with Pooh-ears from twitter and the Pooh pics from pinterest - thanks!]