San Japan 4TW

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Texas weather can be described as hot and humid – it was anything but that inside San Antonio’s Marriott Rivercenter hotel for San Japan 4TW. Once again, the Alamo City was taken over for a weekend of Japanese pop-culture with colourful costumes that which occasionally clashed with the white and blue of Dallas Cowboys fans, also in town for their training camp. Being my second San Japan, I had great time catching up with old friends and getting to make new ones. The three day convention ran from August 5th to 7th, 2011. A collection of photos taken during the weekend are available on Gallery.

Marriott Rivercenter
Attendees relax in the Marriott Rivercenter’s lobby

The Marriott Rivercenter is pretty nice venue, but for this size of convention, felt really crowded. I’ve been told that in 2012, San Japan will be relocating to the larger Henry B. Gonzales Convention Center which is a block over from the current hotel. According to the convention’s Twitter, this year’s attendance turned out to be 6,891, a significant increase from the 4,003 when I last visited in 2009. I liked the hotel since it’s right in the middle of San Antonio with easy access to the Rivercenter Mall and many other local dining options which were within easy walking distance. This year, my friends and I would actually stay in the hotel instead of driving back and forth – it’s just easier when you stay in the same building where all the fun is. I spoke with some of the hotel staff and many of them seemed amused with watching cosplayers saunter past their eyes; most of them were never used to seeing this type of event.

Registration for San Japan wasn’t that difficult despite the fact I encountered issues trying to pre-register online a few months prior (apparently you have to reside in the US to pre-register). Friday morning, I woke up and stood in line to pay with everyone else. Pre-registration is a nice feature because of lower prices and the ability to get your badge a day early so you don’t have to queue up. The line to register moved steadily and paying $45.00 USD for a full weekend badge wasn’t too big a dent in the wallet either. When it came my turn to pay, I was asked to provide my zip code, which is used, I believe, to get an idea of where people come from, so I gave my postal code. The girl at the table seemed bemused with how to handle the alphanumeric code after I explained I was from up north and not a local. Oh Canada!

Mexican Nyan Cat
Mexican Nyan Cat

San Japan 4TW was rather organized, but still has plenty of room for improvement. Safety volunteers roamed the halls and rooms wearing bright green t-shirts labelled with San Japan 4TW Safety Volunteer trying to keep lines under control and against the walls, along with managing traffic in and out of more popular rooms. I have to hand it to the staff – they actually were checking badges and IDs going into the rooms, which is usually spotty at most larger conventions. That, and I like staff who are visible as they monitor the convention. The panel rooms had signs by the door advertising what event was inside, along with the next scheduled function, which is great to see what’s next instead of fumbling through the program guide. The room labelling seemed a bit confusing as attendees would come up and ask for directions while I was chatting with staff.

Before coming down to San Antonio, I purchased a NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G lens for my camera since it would be great for taking portraits – perfect for a con. I hadn’t had much time to play around with it before San Japan, but the lens performed quite well and everyone seemed to enjoy how their pictures turned out. I stuck with the faster lens and rarely switched it out with the stock 18-55mm model that came with the camera. While chilling with Ejen Chuang, the photographer behind the Cosplay in America book, I managed to sneak in a couple of test shots using his giant umbrella reflector flash (with permission, of course).

Eating rice krispie treats
Eating rice krispie treats at the Hetalia Olympics

Friday was busy for me as I helped my friend prepare for his panel, the Hetalia Olympics, just as I did back in 2009. The Hetalia Olympics is an event open to everyone, not just Hetalia fans. Contestants sign up for a country and participate in various challenges ranging from replicating poses from assorted anime series, to the Iron Cosplay competition, and an eating contests. As the Hetalia Olympics progress, the “nations” advance based on reactions from the crowd – a louder cheer guarantees progression. Sadly, being pressed for time, the Iron Cosplay portion had to be omitted, so only the poses and eating contest went through. The remaining contestants had to suffer through a container of teeth melting, super sweet rice krispie squares. This time around, there would be prizes awarded to the last standing “nations”: Hetalia t-shirts and other related trinkets.

The dealers room is always a big attraction; being chock full of manga, DVDs, figures, costumes, snacks, novelties and more. I picked up a couple of items including a Play Arts Kingdom Hearts Sora figure, a few Naruto shirts and some grape ramune (gotta keep hydrated). Impressed with the wide selection of manga and DVDs available, I still couldn’t hunt down an elusive copy of the movie Golgo 13: The Professional. Lining the halls outside of the main events and gaming rooms, were a number of tables set up for artists selling everything from amazing prints to plush food items to visual novels. It was great to catch up with a few of the artists who I hadn’t seen since Realms Con last October.

Zidane and Dagger
Zidane and Dagger take a break

Texas has some really amazing cosplayers – it’s always a treat to see people who put a lot of effort into their outfits.  This year, Hetalia: Axis Powers was probably the top cosplayed series with many dressed up as America, Russia, Italy and Germany, but no Canada. Sasuke and Naruto were another popular choice,  complete with Kakuzu roaming the crowds. A number of Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts fans were in attendance, yet I missed the adorable little Vivi from Final Fantasy IX. Variations of the many Vocaloid characters were mixed in the middle of it all. I even ran into a group of girls wearing kigurumi costumes with the somewhat frightening, but cute masks. They were very nice and never spoke, using a little pad to write out responses.

There were a fair amount of amazing guests, with Shinichi Watanabe aka Nabeshin, heading up the roster which also included voice actors Brad Swaile, Bryan Massey, Caitlin Glass, Carli Mosier, Chris Ayers, Clarine Harp, J. Michael Tatum, and Josh Grelle. Musical guests included the Descendants of Erdrick, The LoliHolix and Rai Kamishiro.

While I didn’t catch much the cosplay show or any of the concerts (I saw bit of the LoliHolix concert and the tail end of the cosplay show), I did want to get into the rave on Saturday night and just dance with some of my friends. The only problem was everyone else had that same idea, so we stood in line for about 20 minutes after the closed the doors before deciding to call it a night.  Perhaps next time.

San Japan 4TW did live up to its name, even though it was packed. But it’s better packed than empty, so it’s obvious the organizers are doing something right. While the crowding was an issue, it looks like that should be resolved with the move to the convention centre in 2012. I’m looking forward to returning for San Japan Mach 5 next August.

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