I’m no photography expert, but I love going to satsueikais. If you don’t know what a satsueikai is, it translates to something like photography meeting and they are photo events where you take pictures of a model or a number of models, who are usually underground idols or gravure idols. I think these events can appeal to many different kinds of people. If you’re a fan of gravure, you can recreate your favorite shoots with beautiful models or possibly even your favorite idols. Maybe you’re not so much of a fan of gravure, but you love photography. Satsueikais are a great opportunity to build your portfolio and experiment with different poses, lighting, and backgrounds. Even if you’re not interested in the photography aspect, satsueikais are by far the cheapest way to talk an idol and probably the most personal experience you can have with them.
What Are They Like?
Satsueikais usually take place in a studio, but sometimes there are outdoor satsueikais that take place in a park or some other kind of scenic area. They will either be run by an idol group or agency or they will be run by staff at a photo studio. Satsueikais can either have multiple girls and multiple photographers, one girl and multiple photographers, or they can be one on one (with staff present). They can last from one to eight hours and you typically pay by the hour. Most of the time, you have to bring your own camera, but sometimes you can rent a camera for a small fee, as long as you bring your own SD card. It’s generally against the rules to bring a Polaroid camera, but any other camera is fine (with the exception of a cell phone or tablet camera, which some places don’t allow). Taking video footage is basically always against the rules, so don’t do it. Bringing in your own photography equipment is totally okay, unless it’s so big that you’ll disturb other people trying to take pictures.
Models will choose their own outfits and depending on the model and event this will usually either be a swimsuit, casual clothes, their group outfit (if they’re in an idol group), or some kind of cosplay. The most common cosplays are probably what you’d expect: schoolgirl and maid, but you’ll see a lot of different choices. If you’re going to a one on one satsueikai, you’ll usually get the opportunity to say what you’d like them to wear. You can typically also bring an outfit for them and as long as they’re comfortable wearing it and you let them keep it, they’ll wear it for your session. Even if the satsueikai that you’re going to isn’t one on one, you can usually tweet the model outfit suggestions and she’ll at least consider it.
How to Attend/Dos and Don’ts
As far as my experience with satsueikais goes, I’ve been to something like seven Alice Project satsueikais, three Fresh! AKIBA satsueikais, and two FOTO-JO satsueikais. I’ve also talked to people who have done Plus, ArcJewel, Honeycomb, and Honey Bunny satsueikais. If you’re doing a satsueikai for a particular idol group/agency, you might be able to just show up day of, but you’ll probably have to reserve. You can do this by checking the group’s Twitter and they’ll usually tweet something about a form to fill out with your name, your favorite member, and what event you’re going to. At satsueikais run by the studios themselves, like Fresh! or FOTO-JO, you can typically just walk right in unless you’re doing a one-on-one satsueikai, in which case you have to reserve beforehand and choose a time.
While some satsueikais are outdoors, 95% are held in a studio and when you get to the studio, there will be a staff member at the front desk. You’ll say how long you’d like to stay for, which model you’re there for, and if you’d like to rent any equipment if that’s an option. They might ask you to pay upfront for your time (and equipment if applicable) or they might wait until you leave at the end, it depends on the studio and the staff. If you are renting a camera, staff will probably ask to hold some sort of ID to make sure you won’t run off with it or anything, so keep that in mind. The staff member will probably ask if you’ve been there before and if you say no, they’ll explain the process and give you a short tour. This will all be in Japanese of course, but I have noticed that FOTO-JO in Akihabara has an English guide and their staff speaks a little bit of English, so if you don’t know any Japanese, that studio might be the best option. You’ll get a lanyard with a card attached to it saying that you’ve paid and what time you came in, you may have to put your shoes in a cubby and change into slippers (so wear socks!), and you’ll either put your things on a shelf or in a coin locker. After that, you’re free to start taking photos of the model or models you came there for!
Some satsueikais are one on one, but if they’re not, typically you will get 45 to 90 seconds to take pictures of and talk to the model and then a staff member will say it’s time to switch. After you hear that, if someone else is in waiting to take pictures with your model, you go to the back of the line and wait until you’re in the front again or you can go over to another model if you’d like, assuming it’s a group satsueikai. When it’s your turn, you can ask an idol to pose in a certain way, but if she refuses to do a pose, don’t push it. Use common sense: models that have done a lot of gravure are probably comfortable doing poses that are a bit risque, but if your model is an idol that doesn’t even have any swimsuit pictures released, keep it tame. If you’re not comfortable with Japanese and the model isn’t very good at English or if you’re more there to just talk instead of take pictures, the girls are pretty good at posing on their own, so you can just take a few snaps without having to worry about setting anything up. On the other hand, if you want to try to get the perfect shot, you’re usually allowed to move around lighting equipment within reason. Obviously, don’t make any physical contact with the model, don’t ask for a model’s personal information or offer up yours, and don’t make any inappropriate comments.
At any given time, most of the models will be available in different parts of the studio, but some of them will be taking a break. If you’re going to a long satsueikai, the girls will probably be available to take pictures for 30-60 minutes and then take a 15-30 minute break to change outfits, fix their makeup, maybe have something to eat/drink, and rest before they come out again in a new outfit. This means that if you stay for a long time, you’ll get to see the girls in a lot of different outfits, but it also means that when you get there, your favorite girl could be on break. The girls also rotate positions in the studio, so if you don’t like the location of your favorite girl, just give it some time. Sometimes you can find the full schedule of breaks and locations on Twitter before going, but if not, it’ll be on the wall at the studio. If you want to give gifts to the models, you’re usually able to give them to the girls directly, unless their agency doesn’t allow it. Most agencies do, with the major exception of Alice Project.
When it’s time for you to leave, just go back to the front desk, give them your lanyard and any equipment you’ve rented, and pay if you haven’t already. Note that it’s your responsibility to keep track of the time and if you paid for 60 minutes, even if you stay a minute or two over, you’ll have to pay a bit extra. If they took your ID, make sure you get it back (once they forgot to give me my residence card back at Fresh!, so I might be a bit salty).
The models are usually happy if you post the pictures you took on Twitter, but make sure to check if it’s okay! As a general rule, you can post any pictures of gravure idols publicly, but you might not be able to post swimsuit pictures of an underground idol on the internet. There are some exceptions, so make sure to scan the event page for 水着掲載NG (you can’t post swimsuit pictures publicly), 水着掲載事務所確認 (you need to check with the girl’s agency before you post swimsuit pictures publicly), 画僧掲載事務所確認 (you need to check with the girl’s agency before you post any photos publicly), or 画僧掲載NG (you can’t post any pictures publicly).
Studios and Groups That Do Satsueikais
Now, I’ll get to talking about the idol groups/agencies and photo studios that hold satsueikai. There are many, but these are the main ones. Since I lived in Tokyo and Tokyo is the biggest city in Japan, it’ll mainly be Tokyo based, but there are options in other parts of Japan too if you keep an eye out.
Fresh! AKIBA is one of the two biggest studios for satsueikais in Tokyo and it holds satsueikais every day from 2 PM-10 PM. Prices are cheapest at Fresh; it’ll run you 3500 yen for an hour, 7000 yen for 3 hours, or 12000 yen for the whole day (plus tax). 20 minute extensions are an extra 1000 yen. If you’re a girl, these prices are knocked down to 2500 yen, 5000 yen, and 9000 yen. Assuming they’re avaliable, you can rent an OLYMPUS STYLUS SH-1, Canon EOS 70D with an EF-S18-55 IS lens, or Nikon D7200 with a 18-140 VR lens. Photo studios are often out of the way, but Fresh is pretty easy to find: it’s on the main Akihabara strip above a Softmap, you just need to look up, because it’s on the 6th floor. You pay at the beginning for equipment rental, but at the end for your time. They have coin lockers for your stuff and you’ll need to put in coins to activate them, but you get them back at the end. If you want a cheki (Polaroid picture) with a model, you can ask a staff member at any time and they’ll take it for you the next time it’s your turn. Chekis are signed and cost 1000 yen.
Usually, at any given time, a little over half the models will be in swimsuits and the rest will be in casual clothes or cosplay. One or two days a week, though, Fresh will have an all swimsuit day, where all the girls will be in swimsuits all day. On other days of the week, you can look on the schedule here and it will say a list of the girls that are appearing. If they have 水着あり by that name, it means they’ll be in a swimsuit at least some of the time. If they don’t, they won’t (unless it’s an all swimsuit day, because they don’t need to write that, it’s pretty obvious). Talk time is always one minute and then if someone is behind you, you need to get in line or move on to another girl. Sometimes no one is in line and if that happens, you’re free to keep taking pictures and talking. I’ve never done it, but on some days, you can call and book a one on one satsueikai with a specific girl. From what I can tell, you can’t do this online, you have to call, so it might be a bit tough if you don’t speak Japanese. “Premium satsueikai” prices vary, but they seem to usually range from 8000 yen to 15000 yen for a one hour private photo session.
Fresh usually publishes their schedules about a month ahead of time, but there are usually some last minute additions and withdrawals. Most of the models are gravure idols, but there are a lot of underground idols too. Some of the groups that send their idols to Fresh include Cerisier, Cerisier Kouhousei, Fille Ailes, Yoyogi Joshi Ongakuin, Kamen Joshi Kouhousei, Slime Girls, No Plan, Mousou Addict, Maya to Arisa, Reon Kurosaki, DISDOL, and Tokyo Illuminati.
FOTO-JO is the other main satsueikai studio in Tokyo. It’s a little more expensive than Fresh, but the studio is a bit nicer. It also holds satsueikais every day from 2 PM-10 PM and it’s 5000 yen for one hour, 8000 yen for 3 hours, 9000 yen for 4 hours, or 15000 yen for the whole day. They always have a few deals going on; right now, if you retweet the pinned tweet from the official twitter here, you get a free 15 minute extension. If you’re a girl, you get 1000 yen off your total, if you’re a student, you get 500 yen off, and if you bring a friend, you both get 500 yen off. On weekdays, there are three special packs: 9 PM to 10 PM for 3000 yen, 8 PM to 10 PM for 6000 yen, and 2 PM to 4 PM for 5500 yen. FOTO-JO is a bit out of the way compared to Fresh, but they have pictorial guides that explain how to get there here.
At FOTO-JO, you have to pay at the beginning for your session and any chekis you might want. Chekis are signed and cost 1000 yen. If you buy two chekis, you get an extra 20 minutes and three chekis, an extra 30 minutes. You can also rent a Nikon D80 or Canon EOS Kiss with an EF-S18-55 IS II and it’ll cost you 1500 yen for one hour, 4000 yen for 3 hours, or 7000 yen for 6 hours. FOTO-JO requires you to change into slippers and I don’t think they have any coin lockers for safekeeping, so you’ll have to either keep your stuff with you or out in the open. If you’d like a cheki, just hand the ticket you got at the desk to a staff member at any time and they’ll take a picture of you with the model when it’s your turn. If I remember right, you can’t get a picture of just the model, it has to be the two of you (I assume lots of people were selling chekis or something?) Usually, one of the models will post the day’s schedule on Twitter, so if you’re not sure what time of the day to go, you might want to see if you can find anything.
Like Fresh, at any given time a bit more than half of the girls will be in swimsuits and all of the girls listed on the schedule here will be in a swimsuit for part of the time unless they have 水着の着用なし by their name. FOTO-JO doesn’t post their schedule as far ahead of time as Fresh does and often you won’t know the models until a few days before. Most of the girls who model at Fresh model at FOTO-JO and vice versa, so you can see what I listed for Fresh to get any idea of who will be there. Sometimes FOTO-JO also has one on one satsueikais, which like Fresh, will run you 8000 yen or more for an hour with the idol but unlike Fresh, you can easily reserve online.
There are some other photo studios that have satsueikais every day or almost every day too, but since they mostly focus on gravure idols, it’s really rare for underground idols to appear, and I don’t know much about them, I’m not going to write up about them. If you’re interested, two of the ones I’ve heard of are smooth TOKYO and CC Satsueikai.
Alice Project typically holds a satsueikai for every Kamen Joshi and Cerisier unit once a month. They hold three sessions and each session is 60-70 minutes long (including a bit of time at the end to take chekis) and costs 8000 yen, with a 1000 yen discount if you’re a girl or a student. AP satsueikais have multiple girls and multiple fans taking pictures and the same time and you can take pictures of any or all of the girls. The members are really responsive to outfit requests from fans, so be sure to send them a tweet if you have a good idea, however, they usually refrain from wearing swimsuits. If they happen to, you can’t post them online. It’s usually not necessary to reserve ahead of time, but just in case, it’s a good idea to reserve by sending an email to email@example.com with your name, gender, if you’re a 学生 (student) or 社会人 (working adult), your email, the date and time you’d like to go, and your favorite member. Taking pictures with cell phones and tablets is strictly banned and so is just talking to the girl without taking pictures. You can find more information about Alice Project satsueikai here.
Plus is the agency that manages TOKYO SWEET PARTY, Heisei Kotohime, Happippi, Dear L mana, and Tenshimeshi. Heisei Kotohime and Dear L mana don’t do satsueikai for whatever reason, but the rest of the groups do them about once a month. Plus satsueikai are almost all one on one and cost about 13000 yen for an hour. Popular members book up fast, so you should try to book right when the information comes out. You can bring an outfit for the girl to wear if you give it as a gift, but swimsuits are not accepted. Plus staff are really chill about taking pictures with phones or tablets or even not taking pictures at all, so if you just want to talk, don’t worry. You can find out more information here.
SHINGEKI occassionally does satsueikai and you can either take pictures of Imoko for 80 minutes or the rest of the members minus Imoko for 60 minutes for 10000 yen. Their satsueikais aren’t one on one, so you’ll be taking pictures with other fans. When they decide to hold satsueikai, they post about it in the group twitter.
Bell Agency’s groups holds satsueikais for their two groups, DISDOL and Tokyo Illuminati, about twice a month. They are one on one and cost 10000 yen for 50 minutes. You can check the dates and reserve here.
Arc Jewel’s groups (Lovely☆DOLL, Luce Twinkle Wink☆, Ange☆Reve, Stella☆Beats, Jewel☆Neige, Chu! Oh☆Dolly, and Jewel☆Rogue) have satsueikais a couple times a year. They are group satsueikais that are limited to seven fans a member and cost about 7000 yen for an hour. There’s no specific website or blog or anything, so check your favorite group’s twitter for information.
The unit TEARS usually has a satsueikai once a month. You can take pictures of the whole group with multiple fans for 5000 yen or have a one on one session with one member for 10000 yen an hour. When they have an upcoming event, it’s posted on this site.
Honeycomb holds a satsueikai for their groups, Hachimitsu Emperor and 7FACE8, about once a month. Usually they’re held in Nagoya, but sometimes they’re held in Gifu or Tokyo. It’s 4000 yen for a 20 minute one on one satsueikai with the member of your choice or 5000 yen for a 30 minute satsueikai with multiple fans taking pictures of all the girls. They don’t have a specific site for it, so you’ll have to look at one of their twitters to find out.
Honey Bunny holds a unit satsueikai in Nagoya every couple months. It usually costs 5000 yen for a 40 minute group satsueikai with a limited amount of fans. You can check their schedule here to see if they have anything coming up.
I hope you learned a little bit about satsueikais, the process of going to them, and the groups that do them. Ask me if you have any questions! Have you been to a satsueikai? Do you know any other groups that regularly do satsueikais? I’d love to hear about it!