Translated by Collin Radford
Otaku as Missionaries of Japanese Culture? What We Saw at Sakura-Con
We attended "Sakura-Con" in Seatle. "Con" is short for "convention". In America there is at least one convention in each state, and are typically held in convention centers, not unlike Tokyo Big Sight. They are completely different in nature from other ev
Written by Kazuyuki Sato
Here at MATCHA, we introduce to readers world-wide popculture like anime, manga, and Lolita fashion from several points of view.
But what if readers here, in Japan, had interest in what happens to their popculture overseas? How is it consumed? This time around we went to a "convention" in the West to investigate.
An event completely different from Comiket - the "Convention"
We attended "Sakura-Con" in Seatle. "Con" is short for "convention". In America there is at least one convention in each state, and are typically held in convention centers, not unlike Tokyo Big Sight. They are completely different in nature from other events such as Comiket.
But how is it different? We will begin by looking at the origin of the word "convention" itself.
"Convention" comes from the word "Con (together) vene (come)", and is used to refer to regularly held meetings and gatherings. In other words, an American convention on Japanese culture is basically a "gathering" for people who like Japan.。
By seeing the event in action we hope to get an even better handle on the differences between it and Japanese events. Bigger events like this year's "Sakura-Con" tend to be held for 3 days or more. At these events, the managers tend to prepare a hotel at the convention center, where the majority of the participants stay. They share in their love for Japanese culture for three straight days.
To compare it to a Japanese event, "Nihon SF Taikai」（*1）is very similar.
（*1）Nihon SF Taikai is an SF event held by amateur fans. People attend from all over the country.
Japan's events are largely based around a single thing or theme like Comiket, but at conventions, which center around Japanese popculture in its entirety, there is a unique importance placed on "guests". This year's Sakura-Con had guests like the singer ELISA and the character designer Adachi Shingo, as well as several others of note.
It's this different! The scale is massive
The event was held place at the Washington State Convention Center. The entire building was booked, and every room and hall was used. Not displays unlike at museums and project shows, a hall with commercial booths and private booths running throughout the event and smaller events only scheduled at certain times are both available.
The commercial booths tend to consist of nearby anime shops and internet shops. Japanese companies like the toy maker GoodSmileCompany and the anime distribution company ANIPLEX also have booths.
At the private booths there are tons of doujin and related merchandise, and what's unique is that because of the lack of availability of printing facilities, each booth distributes flyers and posters printed by the individuals themselves. In Japan, where such facilities are readily available, we may be luckier than we think.
In the smaller rooms, where events as short as 30 minutes are conducted, there are all kinds of neat programs. For example, the photos above shows a room where Oto-ge (sound games) have been gathered, and an Oto-ge Contest held.
There was also"J Fashion and Lolita Fashion, "Idol Master Fans Unite, the Gather of P", "Lets talk about Hetalier", "BL and Yaoi Meetings", "ELISA's Signature Gathering", and "Sword Art Online Show"...and it goes on, with endless events centered around Japanese culture.
Of course, it's always great to participate in events for things you already love, but you might also discover a new world at any turn.
The second night of "Sakura-Con" was the most exciting. The big hall was turned into a night-long Ani-song club. MADs were shown on a gigantic screen, and ani-song remixes were were blaring throughout the night. And droves of participants went wild. The fans of Japanese culture became one.
It's not just about enjoying popculture
We just went over several types of programs carried out at Sakura-Con, but these don't just stop at the appreciation of popculture. "Kendo", "Working and studying in Japan", "Yurei: About Japan's Ghosts", "Learning New Languages and Cultures Through Entertainment" - there are countless programs with a wide variety of purposes.
At an event where popculture is the main attraction, the existence of these types of programs suggests that anime and manga are introducing people to Japan's culture and daily habits.
But the Cosplay Still Cannot be Ignored
The first thing you imagine when you think about Western events is their cosplay. And as you might expect, there tons of cosplayers at Sakura-Con. There was a wide range of costumes, from people in simple straw hats as Luffy, to cosplayers with everything perfect down to the smallest detail.
The amount of effort put in varies from person to person, but each of them wanted to become the character. Touched by anime and manga, they now turn toward our culture as a whole. "Sakura-Con" is an event overflowing with their passion, and you can practically hear them say, "I love Japanese culture!"
A convention is a place where those who love Japanese culture gather, and share in their appreciation of popculture in all its forms. Here in Japan, we separate are events into categories like like Comiket, and cosplay photos shoots, and ani-song live events. You could say that a convention is all of these combined into one.
There's no commercialistic feel, and the atmosphere of the gathering of Japanese culture freaks makes for a novel experience. Similar events are held the world over.
If you find yourself abroad, you can check "animecons.com" and similar sites to search for any nearby conventions.
However, a Japanese person would need at least conversation level English skills to talk with the participating otaku. I know otaku culture has gained popularity around the world, but don't forget this point (laughs).
Official Website: http://www.sakuracon.org/