Sakura-con 2012

It was Sakura-con’s 15th anniversary and it brought to mind how long I’ve been going to conventions, and how old I now am. I was staff in 2003 and now in 2012 it was my 10th year wearing a staff badge.

Logistically, it was going to be tricky given the baby. Hitomi agreed to be Hideki’s assistant the weekend and thus was not tied to any particular guest nor was obligated to stay out. I tried to work out a deal with my parents taking care of Leo the weekend but instead we used a number of nannies (babysitters) instead. And then there was the problem of parking, getting the baby home, meeting the nannies, etc. And Hitomi was in the middle of making a Kyuubei costume for Leo.

Thursday, I had to make it to the convention. I was assigned (again) to a fashion guest, h. Naoto, with his popular and prolific gothic-rock fashion brand in Japan. Already by email I had been in touch with C who had arranged the models and schedule. And then I got called by H who was running Naoto’s booth for the weekend. And then I was called by h. Naoto himself who was at the airport wondering where Sakura-con was.

This was all happening during my work day and I had to finish up before too long. I knew already given the fitting schedule there was going to be no industry dinner for me. Almost 20 models were coming. And the moment I take the exit onto I-5, I sadly notice a back up, and I hear on the radio the freeway had been entirely shut down to clear an accident downtown. Exiting off the next exit I plan an alternate route, which I suffer through for over an hour. Already quite late, I then realize I had left my wallet at home, in another jacket. (Hitomi had bought me a new and fashionable Levi Commuter jacket which I now wore.)

Fortunately I find Sabrina who gets my badge from a very reluctant badger; the volunteer models swim their way upstream for the fitting; h. Naoto turns out to be a very regular guy; and his assistant from “Frisco”, R, turns out to be gorgeous and fashionable, but luckily not a snob. As for me, I tried to make myself useful but R did most of the work. It’s always exciting to be around young models changing clothes and being eager to please. A few didn’t show up so the dressing room staff were eager to offer up their friends as alternatives.

One model wanted to use her friend for make-up, since her feeling was the incoming make-up artists didn’t know how to do the right style of make-up. But to have one artist do a girl differently, wouldn’t that be somewhat unreasonable? Speaking of unreasonable, we had too many dressing assistants in the room, and Naoto let the last one go, who I think was okay but it did make her quite upset. C seemed to think (via email) one more doesn’t hurt but it might of given the size of the space and amount of directing Naoto had to do.

When that was all over (in a matter of a few hours), Naoto also had a booth to help manage. Luckily, unlike 6%DokiDoki last year, there were about 4-5 staff dedicated but Naoto helped out anyway. R and myself were tired and hungry, and it was late but we found the convention center had a pretty decent pizza place. Taking the pizza to the main event area R and I eat as there is some discussion over the video and sound. Unfortunately, one of the videos just didn’t play on the DVD player (disk format issue?) and though I offer to copy it on my Mac, Dinger, a video nerd fortunately offers his services to remaster it. Matters settled, Naoto gets himself a few slices of cold cheesy pizza.

Hitomi had already headed back with Leo a few hours ago. Hitomi briefly shows up with him in the backpack, makes the rounds. I’m sleeping alone (again).

Friday, Naoto’s up about 7AM the next day, off to set up his booth. I am up early too. I grab some bread from the Fairmont’s excellent cafe (much better than the Georgian’s breakfast) to bring to him. Unfortunately, his booth has no sign and I am recruited to locate some spray paint so he can craft one. Just past 9AM I grab a staffer, I get three cans from up the street, and it’s off to the exhibit hall. The spray paint sign doesn’t look very good and so much for that.

Naoto, R, and I head off to opening ceremonies, where we are backstage watching a very animated Japanese Consulate General do silly things on stage. This guy is much sillier than the last one. And not-so-Japanese wu-shu sword play. Naoto gets to make an appearance on stage and I think I might have to translate but then everyone uses English anyway. (Actually did I? I might have mentioned something about “please come to the booth.”)

The relations room had some food but nothing great. Hitomi was there trying to eat noodles which didn’t cook in the warm water. I eventually resolved to get some pan-Asian food from across the street, which had originally been solely Vietnamese and hard to market as such. I’m doing errands with R, and it feels good working with her, since she knows Naoto, and has worked conventions before.

Naoto’s kind of stuck in his booth. I find out later he’s doing pictures with customers who buy a certain amount. But he does have his Q&A Panel Discussion and we get him out for that.

The panel is fairly well attended. Like 6%DokiDoki’s Sebastian, h. Naoto has a lot to talk about regarding the history of his brand and being a designer. (Sebastian, though, did go into more detail on street fashion and its origins and political message.) I got the feeling he was feeling constrained just doing black this and that, clothing for young rock stars but not for those of his age group or older. (He’s near my age, 35.) And though creativity is important for him, it is a business driven by customer demand, not originality.

The exhibit hall and his booth closes at 6PM so R and I stick around until about 6:30. We do our best to amuse ourselves. The guest reception already had started at 5:30. I convince R to walk all the way to the Hard Rock Cafe, though she’s in cruel shoes–heels–making her wince a bit. Friday is gorgeous and cool weather, and I feel a pang of sadness knowing my guest is going to be indoors all weekend long, missing out on all the heavenly glory.

Hitomi manages to reserve tables (against Sabrina’s wish) for the Japanese guests. Naoto, R, and I get a crammed booth in the corner. I picked up some heavily fried food, a beer, and wondered if given the location anybody would find us or feel inclined to stand by the table while we sat.

I got an invite with my guest to eat at Elliot’s Oyster house and we took a big charter bus. It was an amazing sight from the pier. There was snow and rain coming down on the Olympics. And then I wondered why most of the pier near the end was devoted to car parking? Nevertheless, we still had a pretty good view from the private room. I’m assuming Hiroaki ordered the six dozen or so oysters ahead of time, since there they were already out.

I wasn’t particularly hungry and instead just ate off of the raw oyster plate, or appetizers, or off others plates. Naoto got the king salmon alder-planked, and R had seared tuna. I kept sober while the ends of the table had more wine than necessary.

Sober or not, tired or not, the green room was open this night, and my guest had surprisingly enough energy left to visit. As much as I have fun talking to people I usually just see once a year, I also feel like I had better get back to bed.

Saturday: The fashion was in the afternoon but all the preparation was in the morning, leading up to a quick rehearsal followed by open doors immediately after. At 9:30, I was in front of a locked dressing room with a bunch of panicked models. Luckily the doors were opened soon after. Then there was a flurry of activity: black fabric, hair extensions, ghoulish makeup, and a miasma of fixative chemicals.

Most of the models (girls and a few boys) had hair across their face, under their eyes and chin, causing quite a bit of discomfort. But such is the nature of fashion.

Working through lunch, a plate of food was incidentally provided but quickly consumed by the army of stylists. I had to order another exorbitant convention center platter, but it ended up being delivered to MDM‘s side. R brought back some cheesy crackers and water from the relation room.

Meanwhile, I was working on getting the video and cues set up with Naoto. It was all quite simple in theory, but took a number of tries to get the transitions correct. This was all during on stage rehearsal where Naoto was timing the runway walks with a stopwatch.

There was a post show interview, supposedly scripted, between the “MC” (con chair) and Naoto. And originally I was going to act like a translator and read the pre-translated version. But since Naoto didn’t really know his own script, I couldn’t follow my script much either, and I wasn’t going to translate in front of a audience of hundreds. At the last minute, D offered to come translate, which saved the day.

The show went according to schedule and plan, with a fairly strong turn out. But when it came to the end, D was gone, apparently taking pictures. I ran on stage with Naoto, and then ten seconds later D appears.

Next we had about 20 minutes to get everyone undressed and back to normal. I helped rack and fold up clothing while makeup staff attempted to untangle, unpin, and unglue people’s hair. They had literally used glue to hold some people’s hair together and a separate chemical to remove it. Back to normal, the show was over but Naoto had to make a return to his booth.

I bought sushi for afternoon lunch for R, Naoto, and myself at Blue C Sushi across the way. Blue C had a selection of “anime inspired” rolls and preparations but I stuck with what I knew. Sushi is a great snack.

Naoto was still working his booth until after 6:30, and had a meeting soon after so R and I headed off to the Kanon Wakeshima/Moi dix Mois concert. Luckily I had a guest relation badge getting me front row seats: Which were entirely unnecessary since if you sat, you couldn’t see the stage anyway, and you were still just looking at the video feed anyway. But having a chair meant I could watch from the mosh pit and have a fine view, and fortunately take a break when necessary.

Kanon Wakeshima had an awesome white dress, that was more or less a form-fitting nightgown with a translucent shawl. I was obsessed about the dress until the music went from fairly boring J-pop anime music to more creative at the end.

I knew Moi dix Mois was coming on stage as soon as the smoke machine went into overdrive. For those into head banging–not exactly me, but sure, I was game–it was awesome and it was surprisingly precisely executed music for death metal. It’s the kind of music I’d love fighting some end-boss in Castlevania.

Post concert, I went out for food with R. I was hoping Naoto would come but he was with H the booth manager. R and I split a steak and salmon at the Capital Grille, a fine expensive steak restaurant but not terribly inventive either. I felt a little bad eating with R, with Hitomi back at the room watching Leo, but I had a long productive day, so what if it looked like a date?

I stopped by the room and Hitomi was asleep and I headed up for one more round with the green room folk. Moi dix Mois band members were there looking surprisingly normal. I hung out with R and Naoto, saw the pictures D made on his iPad while he should have been back stage, etc.

Sunday: A continuation of sleep deprivation but enthusiasm. There were just a few more events until the end of the con for Naoto, including a fashion panel and autograph session.

The autograph session was decently attended, but given the short length of the line there wasn’t much point to the priority ticket system for him. Sadly, only a small percentage had anything for him to sign, outside of their con book and badge, but quite a few people wore his clothing and had things like hand bags to sign. The first person in line to come, who was handicapped, had an h. Naoto bag specially provided by the online shopping site for her motorized wheelchair. (Little did Naoto know that she had a terminal disease. I was told this by her handler after the QA panel, where there was some concern about getting into the signing.)

Since the line wasn’t long, we were allowing pictures. Most of the girls (median age 16 for the most part) were eager for them. Naoto had is own name sign, but he made me a sign saying I was Nicolas Cage’s younger brother. A few Japanese believed it, possibly…

The fashion panel was made up of various fashion guests, who more or less were someplace on the gothic-lolita spectrum. One of the most interesting questions, “What do you think is unique about Japanese street fashion,” was answered by Naoto in this way: Japanese are obsessed with details, because of the influence of the written language of Japan, which is quite complicated. Japanese are physically plain, so to express themselves they use fashion that is layered and busy. Westerners are more interested in accentuating their physical features, so Western fashion is quite simplistic.

Once the exhibit hall closed, R and I spent a few hours helping pack boxes and fold clothing. The convention was over, for the most part.

It was a beautiful weekend, but yet we were almost entirely inside all day these three days. R didn’t have much time for sight-seeing but at the last moment she wanted to go see the first Starbucks, found in the Pike Place Market. After helping R stuff her suitcase, the three of us leave the Fairmont. It’s a fair walk so once we arrived it was pretty much time to turn around. I hailed a “green cab” (bicycle cab, with battery assist), and we had a bucolic ride back. Except at the end when the motor gave up hauling the four of us up 5th Avenue. It was just a one block trip at that point. I gave the driver (who was supposedly filling in for his son on his day off) a $20 bill for effort, though he was somewhat reluctant since the motor died.

R left, back to Frisco. Naoto and I walked to the Taphouse for his final convention dinner. (Yes there is a shuttle, but it was only about 4 blocks away.) The food is better than last year, but I’m not eating a lot, mostly talking. Hitomi has come with the baby and it’s great to see Leo since I had hardly seen him. It’s great fun but too loud for the most part, and I leave for the green room again, which usually doesn’t operate Sundays but we do have the room available.

On the walk back, Naoto and I come across a group of stranded girls outside the hotel headed back to Vancouver, their driver asleep and unavailable in his room. I think to myself, how many stories all these attendees have?

Most of the relation staff are off Monday, but Hitomi and I volunteer for the day, taking out Tateo Retsu and Zekkyo, two manga artists I’m not entirely familiar with. Lunch at the market, at Maximillian a French restaurant is quite good and lengthy. Jeremy and Michiko are with us. We enjoy oysters and drinks under the sun, overlooking the sound and Olympics. (Last time I ate was with another Sakura-con guest, Nishimura, who had suggested I take my wife here on a romantic date.)

Jeremy and Michiko split. The remaining four of us (two guests, Hitomi, and me), head out. First is a stop at the Market News Stand where all the issues of Otaku USA are picked up. Then we head towards Zanadu comics. I help find some American comics and figures from the store clerk. And then we walk to Westlake, board the Monorail and Hitomi takes them up the Space Needle for a look. My stomach hurts so I just wait in the a corner to sit, in the Space Needle gift shop.

It’s getting around 7PM and time to get back home. Ilana is watching Leo and I’m not energetic enough for yet another dinner. Up until this year, I have been to probably every Monday post-con dinner, but not this time. Maybe next time, when I don’t have a guest with a booth and a show to put on.

Until next year.


About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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