Learning both what Sutopuri is and what makes them special all in the same day!

“Please go to Harajuku.”

That was the message that our Japanese-language reporter Takashi Harada suddenly got from his teenage niece. As a guy whose hobbies include eating obscenely large steaks and playing made-up sports like pull-your-pants-up-to-your-collarbone soccer, Takashi doesn’t spend a whole lot of time in Harajuku, the Tokyo neighborhood that’s the youth fashion capital of Japan. Harajuku is a very short train ride from SoraNews24 headquarters in the Shinjuku district, though, and so he was happy to oblige her request.

▼ Plus, as a veteran member of the SN24 team, Takashi knows that whenever you have an opportunity to get away from the office, where things like this could happen at any moment, you take it.

And so it was that Takashi found himself at the entrance to the Sutopuri Summer Strawberry Culture Festival. Don’t know what Sutopuri is? Neither did Takashi, until about 20 minutes before he was standing in the huge line of people waiting to get into the venue.

▼ Takashi

Let’s rewind just a little bit. Sutopuri is the official nickname for Strawberry Prince, an idol unit that straddles the line between anime characters, virtual YouTubers, and an actual boy band. Takashi knew absolutely none of this until he got the text message from his niece asking him to pick up some limited-edition merch at the Sutopuri Culture Festival fan event, prompting him to ask fellow SoraNews24 reporter Ikuna Kamezawa “Umm…do you know what Sutopuri is?” Ikuna, whose own niece is also a Sutopuri fan, explained that the group’s members are generally represented by their illustrated avatars, and their faces are only seen by fans lucky enough to attend their live concerts.

Armed with this information, Takashi made sure to double-check which character is his niece’s oshi, or favorite, so that he’d know which character-specific merch to buy. It turns out she’s a fan of Satomi, whose image color is pink, while Ikuna’s niece’s heart belongs to blue boy Koron.

OK, so now Takashi knew what the event was and what he needed to do there, even if he still felt a little self-conscious being in a crowd that was made up predominantly of young ladies about half his age.

Once inside, one of the first things you come to is a series of member profile displays. Sure enough, even in the live-concert photos, the members’ faces are covered by stamps of their illustrated versions. Here Takashi learned that the other core members of the group include Riinu (image color red), who appears to have the ears and tail of a dog, and Root (image color yellow), who’s Sutopuri neophyte Takashi’s personal favorite, thanks to his hard-working personality. But the whole reason Takashi was at the event was, of course, Satomi.

The “Culture Festival” part of the event’s name refers to the open house-style festivals held at Japanese high schools, and so each character panel included a student-days memory. Satomi’s was a bittersweet story of the time he found out the classmate he had a crush on had a boyfriend and spotted them walking to class together in the morning. Takashi felt sympathy at the tale of teen heartache, and hopefully Satomi can take some solace in the fact that he now has thousands and thousands of fans.

Other highlights of the event were a display of Sutopuri concert stage costumes

…a group concert video-viewing zone…

…even more character artwork…

and photo areas, though the meaning behind the giant eyeglasses went completely over Takashi’s head.

There was also a snack bar, where Takashi cooled off with some shaved ice (naturally he chose the pink-syrup flavor, so that his niece could enjoy it vicariously), and, of course, the gift shop, where he picked up souvenirs for both his niece and Ikuna’s.

Back at SoraNews24 headquarters, Takashi passed off half the haul to Ikuna, who immediately started taking pictures of it with her phone, and Takashi reflected not just on what he’d seen at the event, but who he’d seen too.

The majority of the attendees had been women in their teens or early 20s, who’d shown up as part of a group of friends. He’d also spotted father/daughter pairs, though, and not of the bratty-kid-drags-grump-dad-around type either. The dads knew their stuff, and were actively engaging in conversations with their daughter about Sutopuri, having clearly done their homework on the members’ backgrounds. There were even a few mother/son groups, and while in some of those the mom seemed to be much more interested in the subject matter than the son, it was still a parent and child connecting and communicating, something that often gets harder and harder to do once a child reaches their teen years.

In the end, Takashi came away with a deep appreciation of Sutopuri’s power to bring people together. Sure, you can make the argument that it’s silly for superfans to get so attached to what are, for the most part, fictional characters. But just one minute after Ikuna sent the photo of the merch to her niece, she got a stamp thank-you reply…

…and that moment of shared joy between the two of them is as real as it gets.

Event information
Sutopuri Summer Strawberry Culture Festival / すとぷり 夏の苺文化祭
Venue: Yodobashi J6 Building / ヨドバシJ6 ビル
Address: Tokyo-to, Shibuya-ku, Jingumae 6-35-6
Open 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Runs until August 28
Admission 1,800 yen (US$13)

Images ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]