Tohoshinki, the Japanese persona of Korean duo TVXQ!, is a fine example of how Korean artists can be successful in Japan, and of how that success is achieved and maintained. ‘Tohoshinki’ is more than just a Japanese moniker of Dongbangshinki or Tong Vfang Xien Qi. Tohoshinki has their own Japanese songs targeted at and marketed for the Japanese audience, not just translated Korean songs that are meant to repeat the success in their homeland and everywhere else; Tohoshinki’s tours are designed, planned, and executed differently from TVXQ’s tours in other countries (this is made easier with the so many original Japanese songs they have in hand). These are the recipe for Tohoshinki’s massive success in Japan, which many Korean bands have taken lessons from in attempting to ‘break Japan’ too. (They even have their own fanclub in Japan, called BIGEAST, different from fans from the rest of the world who until now, post-original line-up break, are still called Cassiopeias.)
With the differences in Tohoshinki’s and TVXQ!’s tours, watching Tohoshinki live in Japan is a dream for many non-Japanese Cassies. This year, in support of their third Japanese album, TREE, Tohoshinki again holds a tour that sweeps arenas and domes across Japan for a couple of months – it is ongoing now as we are writing this. The tour was started in Yokohama Arena, on April 22, 2014, and that’s where RekON found ourselves in that rainy day. We’ve watched concerts several times in Yokohama Arena, and we had never seen as many people before in the venue. Granted, the umbrellas people had over their heads made the place more congested than usual, but it didn’t diminish the fact that there were so many fans coming, so many that we could not enter the Arena straight from the front doors; we had to follow a path that took us half-circling the venue, went upstairs and down again, before we were directed back to the front doors. The long path was arranged so that the great number of people wouldn’t gather and overflow into the streets on the front of the Arena, and so that they wouldn’t rush through the front doors. Only premium ticket holders got to enter the Arena directly from the front, through the special gate provided for them. On the other side of the building, even under the rain formed a very long line of people who didn’t have tickets for the day but wanted to buy goods in another part of the building. And around the Arena, even up the walkways that lead up to the venue, there were fans who didn’t have tickets but did not want to give up hope, and held up signs saying ‘PLEASE GIVE ME TICKET FOR TODAY’. And there were scampers too. They knew they could earn much from eager fans who lost the battle of buying tickets legally and were left with the only weapon they had: money.
As soon as we got into the front lobby of the Arena, we could choose to go straight to our seats (because it’s an all-seating concert), have some snacks or drinks first, or spend our yen in the goods stalls. There were not too many stalls prepared inside, just the usual number of stalls like in the concerts of other Korean bands performing in Arena, but the staff worked effectively, preventing fans from lining up too long.
For the concert today, as expected of Tohoshinki, the three tiers were used, and not one seat seemed to be empty. Even if there were empty seats, they would have been very, very rare that it was difficult to see. The three tiers quickly turned into a red ocean as fans lit up their red lightsticks as the concert was starting. Many had two lightsticks, arranged in a special ‘T’ lightstick holder, turning the two sticks into one big T. The sight could only be matched by the loud screams fans let go as the first VTR started to roll.
Not only the goods, but the concert was also designed with the concept ‘tree’ in mind. To be exact, the whole concert was strung together by a story of Tohoshinki as mythical beings and the Tree of Life, a concept found in many cultures around the world. The first VTR began by showing a giant tree, and lots of leaves being blown in the wind. (By the time audience’s attention was drawn to the screens, RekON could see the band members quietly taking their positions on the stage.) Changmin and Yunho appeared on the screen, wearing all-white. Each time the camera zoomed in on their faces, fans loudly called their names accordingly. Some of the leaves in the wind were golden; one entered into Changmin’s chest and another into Yunho’s. Then an upside-down city was shown; the city turned to the right direction, and two cloaked figures appeared, approaching the city. These two figures too were Changmin and Yunho, but they appeared different from the first Changmin and Yunho we saw. And on the stage, these two cloaked figures also appeared! Fans screamed in excitement. Were they the real Changmin and Yunho? At first the two were only shown behind white screens. But like magic, as the live band began the music, they appeared on the raised floor square in the center of the main stage.
Now we would ask for a time to explain about the stage first. This was how the whole stage in Yokohama looked like:
There were the main stage, with a round substage and a path leading to it from the main stage, and two smaller round stages branching out from the bigger round stage. Right in front of the path, at the main stage side, the floor square could be lifted up to form right angles with the floor and serve as a screen. Another floor square right behind it, near the backdrop, could be raised. These two floor squares were often used in combination; as the back square was raised, the front square was also raised to cover the hydraulic frames underneath the back square, while showing graphics that supported the song being performed. Then as the back square was lowered, the front square could be pulled down too, forming a certain angle to the floor, and serving as a bridge or a ramp that performers could walk up from or down to the main stage. This was what happened when Tohoshinki started performing their first song, Champion.
Yunho and Changmin took off their cloaks, revealing their first costumes of the night: Napoleon-era inspired white tights, dark blue coats, and black boots. Blue flames lit up on the front side of the main stage, making their performance – accompanied by their group of dancers – even more dazzling. Without stopping, they walked the path to the round substage, to perform Scream, their contribution to the horror flick The Ring 3D 2. This round substage was actually made up of rings, each could be moved separately from the other rings. During Disvelocity, Tohoshinki’s dancers stood in a circle on the outer ring, while Changmin and Yunho stood in the center stage. This center stage spun around with Tohoshinki dancing on it.
While their dancers disappeared to the backstage, Yunho and Changmin returned to the main stage for self-introduction and greeting the fans who had come to the concert. This first session was short, and without changing their costumes, Tohoshinki continued with two songs which were not so upbeat as the first three songs, Cheering and Ai wo motto. For Cheering, Changmin went to the left side of the main stage (as seen from the audience’s point of view), saying hi to the fans on the second tier (the arena) and the third tier (the stand). Yunho did the same thing, but on the right. In the middle of the song, they switched sides, and when they met at the center of the main stage, they slapped each other’s palm while passing. While for Ai wo motto, they went to the smaller branch stages, again one person on one side each time.
While Tohoshinki were changing costumes for the next part of the concert, the second VTR – a continuation of the first one – was shown. This time we were taken to the inside of the city. In one park, there was a big apple tree, with people making merry around it. White-clad Yunho helped a child pick an apple, but to the child and everybody else, Yunho was invisible; he was like a spirit. In another place, in the same city, there was another big tree, also surrounded by people who were having fun. Changmin, also unseen by the people, helped pushing a child’s swing. Everything seemed fine, but suddenly the sky grew dark. Leaves fell off the trees and were caught in a swirling storm that brought them to the top of the looming, bare, black giant tree of life. Something bad was happening. Yunho and Changmin looked worried.
The real Yunho and Changmin re-appeared on stage, wearing golden-and-black costumes, performing Breeding Poison. This time they stood on steps that could be pushed to the sides of the stage when they were not used. Yunho and Changmin walked down the steps to the floor, and Yunho made fans shout in surprise because he jumped off the steps when he’s still quite high up. Be careful Yunho, you don’t want to hurt yourself! And fans still had another reason to be surprised – very loud firecrackers that went off during the song! RekON now wonder whether the golden-and-black Tohoshinki were supposed to be different characters from the all-white Tohoshinki, because they appeared after the storm was shown on the screen, and the songs chosen to be sung in this part had a different atmosphere than in the first part. Somehow darker, if we might say so.
There were still tricks hidden by the engineers on the stage. The path leading to the ring stage could also be raised. Yunho and Changmin walked the lifted path to again go to the ring stage, also raised, singing Shinjiru mama. And it’s there high up where they performed B.U.T., so energetically that the lifted path shook! It looked a bit frightening, but of course they knew what they were doing.
Another break (and costume-changing) time. In the VTR, the sky kept going darker, making people very afraid. As Yunho and Changmin, now stood side by side, looked upon the chaos, the golden leaves left their chest and went into the swirling storm. It turned out that they were not the only ones with golden leaves in their bodies – more similar leaves left the bodies of the people of the city, joining other golden leaves. We think it’s safe to assume that these golden leaves symbolized the Goodness of the Heart, or in short, The Good. And it took everyone’s Good to put an end to the chaos, not only Yunho’s and Changmin’s. Sky began to clear up, and the Tree of Life again bloomed.
Yunho and Changmin returned, wearing light-blue long coats with only one sleeve each. Now they sang more light-hearted songs, like I Love You, and to the surprise of many fans everywhere, With all My Heart. Having delivered the two songs beautifully, Tohoshinki continued with Wedding Dress. For this song, they stood in the inner ring of the round stage, while the outer ring became water fountains, with real water! Two pairs of dancers appeared from below, and they climbed to the smaller round stages and danced there to the song. Yunho and Changmin separated, each went to the smaller stages on a different side to join the pair of dancers there. Yunho took the time to slap hands with the male dancer on his side.
Yunho and Changmin again left the stage, giving the chance for the introduction of their dancers – 8 male and 2 female dancers. Each had their name called by Yunho and Changmin’s recorded voice speaking in English. Every dancer got a chance to show off their dancing skills to the audience. They were then joined again by Yunho and Changmin, who now were wearing pink/blue/silver costumes. The set continued with three upbeat and cheerful songs: Hide and Seek, Crazy crazy crazy, and Good Days. Fans followed the rhythm of the song enthusiastically, moving their bodies as well as their lightsticks.
Yunho then talked alone for a while on the stage, while Changmin changed costume, preparing for his solo song. He then excused himself when Changmin was ready; white-clad Changmin then delivered a flawless performance of a ballad song that showed off his vocal range. With only a minimal music to accompany his singing voice, Changmin truly showed the audience what a good singer he was. After that it’s Yunho’s turn for a solo performance; he was accompanied by the guitarist and the bassist of the band, going crazy with a rock song. They often moved together harmoniously – Yunho with his mic stand instead of a music instrument. They even ran to the round stage! And Yunho, who was wearing shades, often teased the audience by looking to the camera and lowered his shades to show his eyes.
Not only the dancers, the band members too got their turn to be introduced and to have a short jam session. After their session ended, Changmin and Yunho appeared again, sitting on a table that was taken to the center of the stage under the cover of darkness. They were now wearing golden suits and black bowties – just by looking at the outfits, fans could guess what the next part was about. Yes, this part was dedicated to their latest Korean album, Suri suri (in English also known as Spellbound), released only a short time before Tree (Suri suri on February 27 this year, while Tree on March 5.). (We couldn’t help but notice that the way Japanese write Tree in katakana, tsurii, sounds similar to Suri suri. Maybe just a coincidence, but we think it’s a nice one. And tsurii actually was also close to how three sounds; a good word play for the title of album number three! During one of the MC, though, Yunho told the audience the way to read the title of their third Japanese album correctly. “It’s not ‘tsuri’, it’s ‘tree’. ‘TRRRREEE’,” he said clearly. Changmin imitated his hyung, “Tree! Wakarimashitaka? (Do you understand?) Tree. You know?” Yunho cut in, “You know? Ah, that’s my name. My name is U-know. Emmm… I’m sorry.” In fact, that night Yunho often acted funny and cute, sometimes Changmin looked like he had a sudden headache and gave Yunho a disbelieving look.)
Yunho, Changmin, and some of their dancers acted as if they’re in a casino, playing cards on the table which Tohoshinki had sat on. It’s time for Suri suri, and Tohoshinki acted like magicians during the song. They also did a bit of a sexy choreography with the female dancers that made fans shout in jealousy. They might not be performing ‘real magic’ on the stage, but their true magic was in how they were still able to keep their fans spellbound even after a decade, and keep attracting new fans. Some of the BIGEASTs we saw that day were junior high school students! Tohoshinki looked especially confident and fun during this part; we think the jazzy, elegant concept of Suri suri/Something fits the older Tohoshinki well.
After the party in Suri suri was over, Yunho and Changmin parted ways, again going to a different side of the stage. Yunho went to the left, meeting up some people (their dancers). They seemed to be having fun chatting and laughing, until a disagreement broke among them, and they fought. Yunho showed off a bit of his martial art ability and skillfully brought down one of the dancers down to the ground with what seemed to be a hapkido movement. Lights on him went dark, and the spotlight shifted to Changmin on the right. Changmin too was having fun, playing cards with some people. But one of them cheated, and here fight broke also. With this they launched into Something with its complicated ropework – the choreography was one that trusted dancers with a vital part of the success of a performance, and their good teamwork ensured a smooth performance of Something by Yunho and Changmin. All fans must have seen Something performed live on TV programs, but watching it with your own eyes still makes you hold your breath in awe. The way the dancers meticulously arranged and moved the ropes with lightning speed, and the way Yunho and Changmin masterfully danced among the ropework, were just breath-taking.
Next was another VTR that seemed to show the origin of the Tree of Life world. This time Yunho and Changmin played the Creator Gods; they looked like two Willy Wonkas with colourful suits (blue on Changmin, red on Yunho), top hats, and walking sticks. The process of Creation was shown as a papercut world; shaped by armies of mini-Yunhos and mini-Changmins commanded by the two giant, original Creators. First they started with trees, followed by rivers, mountains, everything, and Yunho brought up the Sun, creating day and night. The papercut world kept developing, until houses and finally cities appeared. The two Creator Gods looked very happy and satisfied, but was this good? Was this what they originally had in mind when they created the world? Then again the two ‘spirit’ white-clad Tohoshinki appeared, smiling at the city from afar.
With another set of costumes, again golden and black, Tohoshinki came back on stage to deliver an explosive performance of Why? (Keep Your Head Down). Itself it’s an epic song, made even more epic with the hand movement performed by the whole audience each time Tohoshinki reached the keep your head down part in the lyrics; it’s like a massive red ocean rising and falling! Although it might seem like the peak of the concert, Tohoshinki didn’t slow down after KYHD and performed Easy mind (actually, with its cheerfulness, a bit of an odd choice, put directly after KYHD; Yunho and Changmin flashed smiles so often during this song); continued with HUMANOIDS that commanded the fans to singalong; and finished the main setlist with Tree of Life. On the screen, the tree of life again bloomed, full of colours, against a clear sky.
Of course Tohoshinki won’t leave their audience without an encore – especially not when they enthusiastically shouted Tohoshinki’s name again and again! Wearing their light blue tour T-shirts, Yunho and Changmin appeared in the aisles among the audience before running up onto the stage and opening the encore with Miss You.Lucky people who had their seats along the aisles! (And some people asked us about this in Twitter: Yes, the T-shirt did nothing to hide Yunho’s cute almost-30 tummy. He still looked awesome and healthy, we have to note.) They then talked a lot, reminiscing of their ten years as Tohoshinki/TVXQ. Changmin remembered how he was very young when he first performed in Yokohama Arena.
And to everyone’s surprise, the next song was a new song, performed live for the first time – a special privilege for those who got to attend the first leg of the whole long tour! It’s called Sweat and will be released on June 11, 2014. It’s a song with a nice rhythm and choreography, and seemed like it would be one of another concert staple for Tohoshinki. By the way, the dancers too wore Tohoshinki Tree tour shirt, but the pink version. They then made fans dance and shout to OCEAN’s ‘Ooga! Jaka! Ola!’ No one maybe was really sure what the phase meant, but it was surely good to shout out! And if you sometimes wonder what use have the muffler towels as band goods other than to swipe our sweaty faces and necks, here’s one: everyone on the stage held a Tohoshinki muffler towel and started swirling it while jumping vehemently. Fans joined them, and even when they did not have a muffler towel, they could just move their wrist as if they were holding and swirling one. Then in Somebody to Love, Yunho and Changmin again went to the stage branches. They had baskets with signed balls and frisbees that they threw at the audience as presents. Too bad, no matter how hard they tried, the stuff they threw never reached the arena and the stand tiers.
Tohoshinki then lined up together with their dancers and band members on the main stage, thanking the fans, bowing deep to them. Fans must have really felt it when with Tohoshinki they shouted “We are… T! We are… T!” Others left the stage, but Tohoshinki stayed and led the audience to sing Goodbye for now to recorded music. Yunho acted and danced cute and put on a funny face each time they reached the ‘pa-lu-pa-pan’ part. He then asked the audience to sing ‘pa-lu-pa-pan’, first with a normal voice, then with a high-pitched voice. He himself gave example of the high-pitched voice, which made everyone laugh. At first Changmin had a ‘Hyung, I don’t believe you do this’ look, but at the end he did a similar voice too.
When the song ended, it was truly goodbye… for now. Yunho and Changmin took turns standing on each branch stage to say their thank you, bow at the audience, and throw some more presents at them. They then gave their final bow from the center of the mainstage, keeping saying thank you in Japanese as they walked away from the stage. But amidst the hand clapping and shouting, RekON still could hear that the final word they said was “Kamsa hamnida.” And this was just a start. As the tour goes on, like what Yunho said, Tohoshinki will keep on growing like a tree, nourished by their fans’ love to them.
Tohoshinki setlist 22042014
- Ai wo motto
- Breeding Poison
- Shinjiru mama
- I Love You
- With all my heart
- Wedding Dress
- Hide and seek
- Crazy, crazy, crazy
- Good days
- Changmin’s solo
- Yunho’s solo
- Suri suri
- Why? (Keep Your Head Down)
- Easy mind
- Tree of Life
- Miss You
- Somebody to Love
- Goodbye for Now