Sakura-Con 2015

With Sakura-con coming up, the original agreement I had with Hitomi was, I’ll watch the kids, and Hitomi can spend the weekend with the guests.

Well, h.Naoto was back this year and given I was assigned to him, I knew I couldn’t manage him with two children. I scrambled a bit to get my parents and Ilana to help out watching Leo and Luca.

Thursday

I didn’t take off Thursday, but I did get a call around 3PM asking for my help. So on my bicycle I went, carrying my clothing and computer in panniers for the extended weekend.

Naoto was setting up his booth, and by the time I did arrive I met him at the Cheesecake Factory with his assistant/publisher Ms. Yamamoto. Naoto was pretty surprised but happy to see me. R wasn’t able to make it this year (due to financial reasons, i.e. not getting paid like she expected), which disappointed both of us since R’s nice to work with and beautiful, of course. Anyway, with lunch/dinner wrapped up around 4PM, and we’re ready to go, of course the wait staff wasn’t on hand, and I went direct to the counter, which turned me back to the table.

With young children, this comes up often in restaurants: Asking me to wait is fairly problematic. When I need to leave a restaurant, I need to leave then and there. Of course, in this case, mostly it was a problem of needing to set up for tomorrow.

Back to the booth: I met up with David, who was assigned (“at the last-minute”) to work with me. Of course there was a bit of confusion as to how much time I could spend helping Naoto, and since he was new, it seemed like a good idea to pair him with someone experienced.

What I ended up doing, mainly, was calculating the appropriate dollar amount for clothing items (after calculating a 50% price increase from the original yen). Mainly, I would divide by 12. I was carrying around a calculator and pen, thinking to myself, “Why am I doing this?” But in the end, the work needed to be done anyway, before my guest could do anything else that evening.

The booth was run by Harry and several other ladies. I’m not sure why Naoto didn’t just let them do all the boring retail work, but maybe he was being nice. Since most of what I could do (simple arithmetic) was done, I excused myself for the “staff signing.”

Staff signing usually consists of me behind the long row of tables with my guest, but this year I was with Hitomi gathering signatures. It was kind of amusing, because this was really the first time ever we got to actually get signatures. The odd thing, of course, is that the American guests—who Hitomi and I don’t really know that well—were lined up before the Japanese, and well, it seemed inappropriate to walk past them, and stop in front of just people we knew. Of course, we didn’t know half the Japanese guests either…Still, isn’t it just a bit a waste to get signatures of people you don’t need?

The signing ended and following that is the Thursday night “Industry Dinner.” Which is neither really a dinner (maybe a cocktail party?) or exclusively industry. There’s a lot of staff and maybe press? But mostly it’s just people who seem to be interested in free food.

Although I previously stated via Facebook, I didn’t have a complaint about Sakura-con, I do have some important suggestions to make here: It’s weird to bring honored guests from Japan and have them deal with navigating an American style cocktail party/buffet. And actually, it wasn’t really a true buffet, just a bunch of finger foods in steamer trays, and which most of the time was thoroughly pilfered. As for drinks, there were not so great drinks: For example, no draft or micro beers. And unfortunately for ambiance, this all took place in a noisy cave-like place with limited seating.

The gold standard for the Thursday night dinner is the arrangement we made many years ago at the Palace Kitchen, where there was plenty of good, fulfilling food and places to sit, importantly. The only downside, being that the Palace Kitchen is a bit of a walk from the hotel.

Friday

I knew already (without being asked) that people working the booth need convenient food and drinks. Luckily I had my bicycle and knew that I could get some piroshki at Pike Place Market: Keep well, easy to eat, and filling. Oh, and coffee from nearby.

The convention center amply has what I call industrial food (e.g. pizza and hotdogs) inside, and places like Subway lurk outside. Yet, nobody working a booth wants to leave if they don’t have to, and especially when you do need to eat have to wait in a huge line. My recommendation as a guest liaison is to think ahead the night before as to where and how easy it will be for your guest to eat. Even if you plan on having time, sight-seeing may trump the time it takes to stop to eat.

If anything, if you buy extra food that isn’t consumed, there’s usually someone around who hasn’t eaten and will be glad to help.

Many years ago, I used to buy boxes of bottled green tea, but then the convention center food service folk put an end to that. My recommendation is to buy enough bottles for you and your guest to have on hand.

Most of the day, I hovered around the convention center and walked around, as Naoto was at his booth and wouldn’t need me until closing that day. Still, when dealer’s room closed, there was a bit of work to set up for the next day. After a few hours, finally we headed off to the guest reception dinner at the Fairmont Hotel.

The guest reception dinner is the best chance for attendees to meet our guests. I would say, if you are serious about actually talking to a particular guest, then the dinner is really the best way to meet them. There are the autograph events, but having 2-3 hours with a guest is quite an honor and privilege you don’t get at any other convention.

Though every year, there are a couple of problems that surface with such an event: Often due to different circumstances, a guest shows up late and can find no place to sit. Also, some guests are seemingly unpopular. Actually, they might be generally popular, but not popular as some other guests attendees want to see. And depending on the situation, guests can often not have time to eat, as eating and talking simultaneously isn’t that possible. Given the seating, attendees can camp around guests they like and prevent others from getting to talk. And some attendees show up, but can’t manage to speak up. And worse what can happen is that it turns into a sketch and signing gathering, which isn’t really what it is about. But you know there’s a problem when attendees bring in plastic binders of signature boards and bags of Copic markers to a dinner.

In my case, very few attendees wanted to talk to Naoto, I didn’t have enough seats, and we were seated with attendees who didn’t want to ask anything. So David and I got some beers and just chatted amongst ourselves.

Logistically, it would all be better if attendees could simply choose the preference on who they would like to sit near, then the table seating could be pre-arranged for the attendees, avoiding fights and bad feelings. And there really should be no signing, sketching, video, or pictures…because there’s a lot of overlap with other convention events. And it really distracts from the purpose of the event, which is to talk to guests.

Saturday

Today was the day of the fashion show; the most important day for my guest.

I knew there would be no time for breakfast or lunch. So I got up early again, in search of rice-based food at Uwajimaya. I discovered, although they open at 8AM, there is no fresh bento lunches until much later. So I bicycled back to the Pike Place Market and bought french sandwiches and yet more piroshki.

The schedule was roughly this: 10-11AM we rehearse, practice the walks, and work with the sound and stage crew on lighting and video. Then there was hair, makeup, and fittings.

There were about 13 female models, some with actual experience, and many new faces, but fortunately it was an easy walk-on, walk-off. I did my best translating and talking to Naoto and the Sakura-con staff, who were very helpful. It was just going to be a 15-20 minute show but there’s a lot going on when you’re in front of an audience.

Once the rehearsal ended, we were back in the dressing room. Of course, few if any of the models had brought food so my food went to them. And then we sent David on a run to buy more things to eat.

I was going to make an appearance on stage. Naoto wrote down what he was going to say, I translated. And of course I find out the problem with that, which is he does not stick with the order of what he wants to talk about…

Incidentally, where was a question of time. Programming had somehow bumped back the show to 2:15PM, yet the Guidebook application was showing the show from 2:30PM. Which meant that attendees might end up missing the show. I had tried to make several calls to update the Guidebook to no effect. Since we were running late with the makeup and hair, it didn’t seem like we could make 2:15 anyway.

But we were on time, at least we arrived backstage at around 2:15. There was a bit of a scare as we took the freight elevator and I hadn’t quite figured out the controls. It was a then the decision to start or not start right away. Well, we started around 2:22 I think, which I guess was splitting the 2:15 and 2:30 difference.

I was wearing Naoto’s black jacket (it fit!) and made my appearance in front of the audience of … I couldn’t see anybody with the bright lights in my eyes, just as well. After saying thank you, Naoto went off script, I tried to read off my translation, it obviously wasn’t corresponding to anything, and plainly obvious. So a bit of a laugh I guess. But then after, things were okay.

Post show, there was a lot of good cheer, photographs, and makeup removal. David and I helped move things back to the booth and again, we were on our own.

Hitomi and I don’t often get to go to the Saturday night concert at Sakura-con, but with Naoto having dinner with his booth staff, I had a chance. Although I admit later, Naoto did contact me and ask if I wanted to go eat with him, I did turn him down, saying I had to watch the kids. Which was true.

Well, Hitomi and I brought the kids to the concert. I didn’t know how well it’d work out, but with the lighting and energy in the room, Leo and Luca had a lot of fun. It was loud, of course, but Luca didn’t want to wear his ear protection.

Sunday

Sunday’s always on Easter, which makes for an extra quiet last day compared to most conventions. Which is just as well, as sleep deprivation eventually catches up to even the youngest of us.

The original plan with Naoto, was, post convention to head to a shooting range. For which there are plenty in the Seattle area, even there are many open every day of the year. The problem is that I couldn’t find one with a coach on Easter. I think, if you wanted to do something fun and that’s still illegal in Japan, marijuana might be a better option than firing a gun.

With my parents coming by in the afternoon, and Hitomi busy, I had both the kids to watch. I tried taking them to the convention craft room, but Luca was really too young to do anything there. Leo wanted me to fold something, but he couldn’t really fold origami on his own, either. Then discovering Luca’s poopy diaper, I bailed, and instead headed to Pacific Place for an early lunch.

Feeding two young kids on your own is a bit like juggling cats. Leo’s finally getting more self-sufficient, but Luca’s entered a fussy phase of refusing to try anything new. It used to be I could shove a spoon full of something in Luca’s mouth and he’d just simply eat it. Now he uses both arms to great effect.

I also bought some clam chowder (a combination) for Naoto and Yamamoto and headed back to their booth. Unfortunately, they were busy then and busy two hours after the hall closed at 4PM. Still, I made reservations, and so we were going to (finally) get dinner at a nice restaurant at 7:30PM. So with only about an hour, any sort of major sight-seeing was off the table, but I had my car ready and we managed to take a trip to Kerry Park on Queen Anne, overlooking the Space Needle. (We were going to not appear at the closing dinner, which was just as well, given the things I had heard.)

Three years prior Naoto didn’t even get to see anything in Seattle but Pike Place right before it closed. And he had said he never got to do any major sight-seeing in other cities he’s had shows in. Obviously, he’s a hard-working man, but a major draw of coming to an anime convention our guests is indulging in eating, a bit of sight-seeing, and shopping.

We all had a nice quiet dinner. Anthony’s Pier 66 wasn’t my first choice for the evening but it had a nice selection of seafood, oysters, and wine. David picked out a nice bottle of white. And the huckleberry and blackberry desserts were surprisingly good, with the right proportion of sweet, sour, warm and cold.

It was the final night for h.Naoto, but not for me, who took off Monday to help out with some remaining guests.

Monday

Hitomi left in the morning to go to work and take the kids to daycare.

So I had no car, but we needed something for the guests. There was no problem with Sakura-con renting another car and I managed to score a 7-seater Lexus at Hertz. At Hertz, there was only one person manning the phone and line, who was overly nice and enthusiastic, especially when it came to their super-duper insurance. (If it were me, I’d forgo paying another $100 a day, but so be it.)

We took people to the Museum of Flight. I kept my membership from last year, so I got a few folks in pretty cheap. I’m not a real flight enthusiast, and perhaps a few of the guests were not either, but it’s still great to see aviation history all hanging from a glass ceiling.

Afterwards, Sumi Shimamoto and her lovely daughter, wanted to go watch shopping for her father. Watch shopping is something I have never done since my college days in Japan, back when G-Shock Casio watches were peaking in popularity. (Hitomi had one herself.) The particular one we were looking for, of course, no store carried. The rumor is luxury goods are cheaper in the U.S., but the true price depends on the currency you’re spending, and the yen has been weak.

Run Sasaki and Sumi were hanging out, and I took a much-needed nap on some chair outside Macy’s. With dinner only about an hour or so away, we left the mall and I decided to take them on a little journey again to Queen Anne Hill, to Kerry Park. I don’t think anybody knew how to work their cameras properly, but whatever, there was the Space Needle! I really wish we had some time to walk around a bit, but…dinner!

Dinner was again at Eugene’s uncles’ place (?), near Greenlake. Hitomi and the kids came and we again had our own table. Luckily things were a little more laid back with the children, but with any long meal it’s a challenge to keep them occupied, at least until dessert arrives.

And so the kids go home again, I take the guests back to the hotel, drop of Lillian in the middle of the night, head back home (with my bicycle in the trunk), and guess what? I have some guests going to the airport at 6:30AM the next day.

Tuesday

I had to work, but my work starts at 10AM, so I had the morning for the airport run. I actually hugged the guests at the airport, whereas most Japanese manage a bow and if anything a weak handshake. I don’t suppose they minded, I figured it would seem more American that way.

Eugene got the car, dropped me off at home so I could work. But then for lunch I met up with Run, Sumi, Rick, etc. again. I convinced the group to go see the tulips in Mt Vernon. (For the full experience, I suggested Deception Pass and a ferry from Whidbey Island, but I don’t think they were up for a long day.)

And again, I got invited to dinner, which was fried chicken at Ma’ono. Oh, and I brought the kids and wife but they didn’t expect to run into Run Sasaki and the rest of them…

So ends my convention experience for 2015.

Suggestions for Next Year

It’d be best to pre-arrange car rentals for post-convention travel use. Car rentals are always cheaper this way.

The Industry Dinner needs to serve better food and drink, be less crowded, and better suit the tastes of Japanese.

Do away with autographing, sketches and possibly photography for the guest reception. Also, allocate attendee seating per guest, possibly charge more for attendees.

A better theater for music performances, which I know isn’t realistic in some ways, but honestly larger conventions use outside venues. AX, Otakon, Fanime all use proper theaters.

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About eliasross

Blogging before the word "blog" was invented.
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