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Akihabara idol showcase venue to shut

Aya Ueto at Soft 1 (Zakzak)
Aya Ueto at Soft 1 (Zakzak)

TOKYO (TR) – Entertainment news site Zakzak is reporting that a legendary idol event space within the electronics district of Akihabara will close next month.

Known as the “Idol Holy Land” for showcasing gravure stars in bikinis and costumes on a weekly basis, the third-floor venue within Ishimaru Denki Soft 1 has featured appearances by Aki Hoshino, Yuko Ogura, Aya Ueto, Masami Nagasawa, Shoko Nakagawa and Mikie Hara.

The April 8 article says the appeal of the 300-person-capacity space had been the intimate setting it offered to everyone, from otaku to salarymen, for viewing the idols of their affection and purchase their latest photo DVD titles.

Ishimaru Denki has multiple outlets in Akihabara offering consumer electronics, CDs, and DVDs. The retailer will shut all three floors of Soft 1 that it occupies within the Daido Bldg.

A DVD production company employee says that the impact will be substantial since decent sales for a disc might number 1,000. With a typical idol event at Soft 1 resulting in sales of a few hundred copies, a sizable chunk of the expected total will now be lost.

An executive at Geino Productions said: “We were doing business based on selling DVDs at that space. I am very disappointed.”

Online news site Akihabara Keizai Shimbun (Apr. 10) believes the closure is primarily due to restructuring. In February, Ishimaru Denki, whose presence in Akihabara goes back to the Showa Period (1926-89), was acquired by Nagoya-based electronics retailer Eiden, which is a subsidiary of the Edion Group.

“Ishimaru Denki’s Soft 1 and Soft 2 are similar in terms of merchandise,” explains a public relations representative of Eiden to the Akihabara Keizai Shimbun. “So we will close Soft 1 and bring everything to Soft 2 to improve efficiency of operations.”

The plan calls for the Ishimaru Denki brand name, however, to remain intact. The news site goes on to add that the exact closing date has yet to be determined, but Zakzak says that Ishimaru Denki’s event schedule does not include listings beyond the end of this month. Events are scheduled at Soft 2, which has an event space on its 8th floor.

Yuko Ogura at Soft 1 (Zakzak)

Zazak offers a differing view for the change, saying that the real reason is rooted in the murder spree that took place last June. Since that incident, in which seven died and 11 were wounded, the main thoroughfare of Akihabara has not been closed off to vehicle traffic on weekends — a condition dubbed “pedestrian heaven.”

Idol commentator Masahiro Kitagawa told Zakzak: “With the closing of the pedestrian heaven as a result of the stabbing spree, a sapping of energy from Akihabara may be a factor. There are other event spaces. Yet for a while there will remain an emotional scar on the area. Should the ban on the pedestrian heaven continue, the power of Akihabara to attract people will go down.”

Saddened by the news are past idol performers. A separate article from Zakzak (Apr. 9) notes that later this month Chiri Arikawa, a gravure idol and maid cafe commentator, will appear at an event to promote her DVD “Angel Kiss.” Arikawa, 18, has fond memories of past live performances while inside a costume-character outfit, being surrounded by lovely young girls in bikinis in the dressing room, and seeing (and being stepped on by) a leggy lady with high heels.

Himeko Sakuragawa, 23, said: “I am simply astonished. I received a lot of support there. I thought Soft 1 played a central role in Akihabara.”