Sakura-Con 2014

A sure sign of spring in Seattle is the Easter Weekend and Sakura-Con. For three days, April 18th through April 20th, 2014, a veritable army of costumed fans conquered a small portion of the Emerald City’s downtown, concentrated around the Washington State Convention Center. Didn’t get to attend? Check out my collection of photos from the event on Gallery.

Blossoms blooming for Sakura-Con.

Blossoms blooming for Sakura-Con.

Sakura-Con for me generally starts on the Thursday before the convention. I took the day off from work so I could drive down to Sea-Tac to collect my friends from Texas, Tony and Edgar, from the airport. After lunch and a quick trip up to Nintendo of America’s offices in Redmond for some photos, we made our way to the Sheraton Seattle Hotel. For the last few years, I’ve been reserving a room at the Sheraton because of its location (right across the street from the convention centre), it’s relatively affordable, the rooms are pretty comfortable and the staff are friendly. One of the better features is the luggage storage on Sunday — I can have the hotel hold onto all of our luggage until 6:00 pm PDT so we can enjoy the rest of the convention without spending time packing the car and parking somewhere else.

Badge pick-up opened up on Thursday afternoon to those who pre-registered online and to those willing to complete a mobile form for immediate registration. Lines were non-existent and we walked out with our badges and goodie bag fairly quickly.

As two of our friends weren’t able to make it, I had lost my Sasuke and the plans I had for a photoshoot, one that I’d been wanting to take during San Japan last year. Thankfully, Tony saved the situation by getting in touch with one of his friends who cosplays as Sasuke. So for Friday, I would be Naruto.

Part of our Sakura-Con tradition is to stop off at Pike Place Market before the convention to some breakfast — coffee and piroshky — in cosplay. With myself as Naruto, Tony as Endou Mamoru from Inazuma Eleven and Edgar as the main character from Cave Story, we turned many heads and became the focus of a few photos. Even the baristas at Starbucks knew who I was, one of whom was from Japan. Since Friday mornings are not really busy convention-wise, we chose to explore the market and found a comic store which shares the name of a similar location in Vancouver: Golden Age Collectibles. The staff even asked for a photo to post on their Facebook.

Walking into the Washington State Convention Center during Sakura-Con feels like home. Being surrounded by thousands of others who share the same interests makes for an unforgettable weekend. I had the camera out and snapping pictures of passing costume (with their permission, of course) and it felt sort of magical. Here you can be who you want — a ninja, mecha, hero or a villain. It’s a lot of fun and it’s all the better since many of the locals are welcoming of all these visitors in costume.

The Get Backers are ready to help!

The Get Backers are ready to help!

Since the early morning crowd for the Exhibitor’s Hall died down, we ventured in to briefly scope things out. As always, this is probably one the largest room of vendors I have encountered — so much stuff from DVD and Blu-ray discs, shelves of manga and art books, mountains of figures, stacks of tshirts, walls covered by wall scrolls, bags, plushes, snacks, games, consoles, costumes, hats, tails, and so on. The list of stuff you could purchase would probably bankrupt a small city. During the course of the weekend, I bought a Naruto t-shirt, a Sword Art Online binder, the fourth Soul Eater DVD, an adorable Inazuma Eleven chibi Fudou Akio phone charm and a replacement Konohagakure headband. In the far back of the hall, past the tables of dignitaries and neighbouring conventions, Sakura-Con set up a space for picture taken up against a branded backdrop in an effort to cut down on the aisle disruptions. Not many people utilized it, but I thought it was really cool, thinking my pictures would look like something you’d see in an entertainment magazine.

The Naruto photoshoot on Friday afternoon was a bit interesting. Rather than the traditional setup of a dozen or so photographers taking pictures of the groups, instead it was one cinematographer recreating battle scenes — the Akatsuki versus the hero ninjas. But it was amazing to see the level of details in the different costumes – it made me feel like I was in the series, even though I was just standing outside of the action. I won’t lie, standing next to a reincarnated Uchiha Madara that was taller than I and wielding a gunbai was pretty intimidating at first; he turned out to be really friendly.

Kakashi has to separate Sasuke and Naruto.

Kakashi has to separate Sasuke and Naruto.

For our Naruto photoshoot, Tony was able to ask his friend, Audrey, to fill in as Sasuke with one of her friends as Kakashi. If only we had a Sakura, but I think our modest session was pretty good. Freeway Park, the lovely green oasis behind the Washington State Convention Center, was perfect as we were able to utilize the trees and come up with some neat poses. Naruto chasing Sasuke into a tree, how awesome is that?

While wandering around the convention centre and snapping pictures, we ran into famed cosplayer Li Kovacs (Pikmin Link), known for her fantastic Legend of Zelda costumes. Dressed as adult Link from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, she was accompanied with an adult Princess Ruto and an adult Princess Zelda. It’s not very often you get to see someone so famous in the halls. Li’s costumes are approved by Nintendo and she has even met the man behind the legend, Shigeru Miyamoto. I’ve known about Li for many years, and it was awesome to finally meet her in person. Sadly, we didn’t get to see her in other costumes on Saturday and Sunday, which included her newest outfit: Princess Hilda from The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

The Starbucks just down from the Washington State Convention Center offers a unique drink during the weekend — the Sakura-Chino. It’s a green tea frappucino blended with cookie crumbs topped with strawberry-whipped cream and caramel drizzle. It’s a delightful drink that envokes the the pink blossoms and green leaves of spring. If you needed a sugar rush before that photoshoot, this is the drink.

Saturday morning I donned Tony’s Inazuma Japan tracksuit to masquerade as the team’s secondary goaltender, Tachimukai Yuuki from Inazuma Eleven before transitioning in the afternoon into Soul Eater‘s Soul Eater Evans. Back in the Exhibitor’s Hall, we found ourselves in the back by the designated photo area for an impromptu Blue Exorcist shoot. Tony, now dressed as Yukio Okumura, met up with his friend, Audrey, who was Sasuke on the Friday, now appeared as Rin, the twin to Yukio. This made for some great pictures in front of the Sakura-Con background – some serious, some hilarious. We even encouraged a passing Skull Kid to partake in the fun.

Elisa on stage.

Elisa on stage.

In the evening, we made our way to the Main Stage for the Elisa concert. As we were being whisked in, staff shouted that we could take pictures, but without the flash. As I only had my 50mm f1.8 prime lens on the camera, I bolted back to the hotel room to grab the 55-300mm zoom lens and then a return sprint to the concert, making it just as the music started. After doing more running in the last 15 minutes than the entire month, I caught my breath in the seats before moving up to the standing area near the front of the stage. Sakura-Con set up seats in the back with a couple of screens to ensure everyone could enjoy the show. Although I have never heard any of Elisa’s songs prior to the convention, I did appreciate the music and her effort to communicate with the thousands that came to listen. Her vocal range impressed me; she is a talented singer. I managed to take some really nice photos of Elisa during her first North America performance making the 55-300mm zoom lens worth its weight.

Sunday, the last day, was a bit more laid back, at least for myself. I didn’t wear a costume like last year instead opting for something a little more comfortable since we had planned to take Edgar to Seattle Center to check out the Space Needle. Being the end of the convention, we had to spend extra time in the Exhibitor’s Hall looking for anything we might have missed — unfortunately, I missed out on getting the Naruto 10th Anniversary wallscroll, beaten only by seconds by another fan. So close!

Kuroko no Basuke photoshoot on Sunday

Kuroko no Basuke photoshoot on Sunday

Once our last rounds through the all the vendors was made, we walked down to Westlake Center to take the Monorail towards Seattle Center. Being such a sunny Sunday, the view from the from the Monorail was beautiful. We spent some time wandering around the base of the tower, perusing the trinkets for sale inside before snapping pictures with the structure in the background. Following our touristy outing, it was time to return to the Washington State Convention Center to catch the closing ceremonies.

This was another great convention. I had a lot of fun, and I know my friends from Texas loved the time they had. As always, Sakura-Con didn’t disappoint with a wide selection of dealers, the musical guest and of course, all the attending cosplayers. I know I keep saying this, but next year, I have to sit down for some more panels or catch a break and watch something new I haven’t seen before. I’m certainly looking forward to 2015.

About Frederick Linsmeyer

A regular pop-drinking, hockey-watching, snow-shovelling Canadian, Frederick, aka Nephrus, loves his anime. Born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia, Frederick runs amok between his hometown and the states of Illinois and Texas, spending time with friends, at anime conventions and looking for some good burgers or sashimi.


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