Taking something that is already weird and using the latest technology to make it even weirder—this seems to be a hallmark of Japan’s otaku culture.
The akushu-kai (handshake event), for instance, might seem weird enough. This is a simple arrangement designed to coax cash from the wallets of the (otaku-skewing) fans of “idol” groups like AKB48 into the coffers of the music industry.
Fans who purchase a limited-edition single put out by one of these groups can receive a ticket to attend one of these events, where they can have the chance to press the flesh with their favorite band member. I should note, to undo any misunderstanding, that the flesh-pressing in this case is but a brief handshake (akushu). Instead of a handshake sealing the deal—the handshake is the deal.
Each ticket only gives the bearer the right to one handshake with one of the members, who are standing at the head of different rows. If you want to “meet” and greet other idols, you need to shell out for more singles. P. T. Barnum’s (or David Hannum’s?) view on suckers still seems to hold true—only now it takes but a split-second to suck money out of the sucker.
Of course, as an outsider, I may be overlooking some of the subtle joys that come from waiting (and waiting . . .) in line to shake a stranger’s hand. Some of the first-hand accounts of attending an akushu-kai might provide a more objective view.
But what if you are an idol fan who is unable to physically attend an akushu-kai? Let’s say you come down with the flu and don’t want to infect your favorite group. Or you simply find the prospect of exiting the kotatsu and getting dressed too daunting.
In the past, this would have meant forgoing the thrill of the shake. But one otaku out there has come to the rescue by developing a decidedly handy device that brings akushu-kai excitement to the taku (house) of the otaku.
The Youtube user known as Netkick has put together a system with a Novint Falcon 3D touch controller and an Oculus Rift VR headset. (In the video below, the stereoscopic Oculus video is output to a computer.) This contraption allows you to shake hands virtually with humanoid singing application character Hatsune Miku. The character seems to respond to the movement of the hand, as you can see:
This virtual experience might seem a bit shallow—but probably not much worse than the real-life encounter at an akushu-kai. (MS)
Translator and editor (and occasional writer), Nippon.com. Graduated from Kenyon College in 1991 with a degree in French literature. Has lived in Japan since arriving in 1995 on the JET Program. Received a master’s degree in social science from Hitotsubashi University in 2001. After stints at the Society for Testing English Proficiency (EIKEN) and a translation agency, joined Japan Echo Inc. in 2010.