Sakura-Con 2016

Naruto and NHK's Domo-kun!
Naruto and NHK’s Domo-kun!

Spring in Seattle doesn’t start until the colourful costumes that flock towards the Washington State Convention Center for Sakura-Con. Three days over the Easter long weekend gives fans of Japanese culture and entertainment the chance to indulge themselves in anime and manga. All the pictures I took during the event are available on Gallery.

This was my 8th trip down to the Emerald City for this weekend event. Due to some early uncertainty, I wasn’t able to reserve a room at my usual hotel, the Sheraton. I did manage to book a spot at the Crowne Plaza instead, and aside from a ten minute or so walk between the hotel and convention centre, that was just as good if it were only a block away. Friendly staff helped accommodated the large number of dressed up attendees, rooms were reasonably priced and perhaps most importantly, free wifi.

Getting to the convention center wasn’t too difficult as we had to make our way through the appropriately titled Freeway Park (which is built above the Interstate 5 freeway); it also served as a place for multiple photoshoots, something that I capitalized on by sneaking in for a few pictures going back and forth. With Seattle’s reputation for being drenched in rain for most of the year, Friday and Saturday were an exception to that rule.

Hatsune Miku checks out her design on Good Smile Racing's car!
Hatsune Miku checks out her design on Good Smile Racing’s car!

On Thursdays, a smaller portion of the convention centre called the Conference Center, opens its doors to allow attendees who pre-registered to claim their entry badges, or last-minute visitors a chance to sign up before the show. Uniquely for Sakura-Con is that they don’t sell individual day badges anymore — registration nets you all three days, regardless if you want to come in for one day or forget the outside world exists for three days. I don’t have complaints since I enjoy the whole weekend, but others aren’t as lucky as myself and bemoan the fact they have to shell out $70 USD for a pass just to enter for an afternoon. In any case, lines on Thursday afternoon are non-existent and we had our badges within 10 minutes of entering.

The good thing about hosting Sakura-Con in downtown Seattle is that there are so many options for dining. Pike Place Market is just down the street from the convention center, which is perfect for grabbing a bite or spend half an hour posing for tourists, like I keep forgetting to remember. Standing in line for flaky Russian pastries at Piroshky Piroshky or steaming hot Starbucks, I managed to nab everyone’s attention (and so did anyone else who wandered down in character). But it’s fun doing so and I know those who took pictures found it entertaining.

For Friday, I donned black and white shikakusho (or kimono) and a recently restyled wig to masquerade as Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach. Unfortunately, the sandals I ordered online didn’t arrive so I wouldn’t be able to fully dress up as the reaper, but I did have a plush Kon bag strapped to my back (okay, that’s not really accurate). Plus I’m also missing the zanpakuto, something I really need to start working on. In any case, I’m still happy with how my portrayal turned out even though there’s still plenty of room for improvements.

The multiple floors of the venue were always packed and the main escalators endlessly moved people, either in costume or not, up and down. The fourth level with the main stage, autographs, exhibit hall and artists alley became almost stagnant with the huge crowds trying to navigate. Staff dutifully checked each and everyone’s badge to validate their presence — if it was obscured or flipped over, they quickly asked to see it before letting them continue on. I don’t think I could’ve tried flashing a previous year’s badge or that of a different event to gain entry.

One of my favourite places to wander is the exhibit hall with all its wares and goodies. Manga. DVDs and Blu-ray. CDs. Figures. Posters. Wallscrolls. Plushes. T-shirts. Swords. Masks. Bags. Wigs. You could very well blow a whole pay-cheque in here and still feel unsatisfied. This year I did rather well in terms of spending money, not blowing my budgeted $600 cash of frivolous items. So I bought a few shirts, figures and books. I do, however, lament that I didn’t grab that S.H. Figuarts Sasuke Uchiha figure when I had the chance — learning from the vendor it was $75 USD turned out to be bit of a killer, but further investigation deemed it somewhat reasonable only to discover it had been snatched up by someone else. You must be quick because some things go quickly if you hesitate.

The Squid Sisters take a moment to pose for the camera
The Squid Sisters take a moment to pose for the camera

Saturday morning, I popped into my orange jumpsuit, threw on the fourth Hokage’s cloak in a style reminiscent of Minato Namikaze, grabbed my Japanese McDonald’s toy rasengan and strutted up through the gardens and into the centre as Naruto Uzumaki. This is one of my most popular cosplays and I’m always amazed that I get many requests for pictures — more so than most of my other outfits at least. Though this would be the last year for the lemon-yellow wig which I’ve worn for the last 6-7 years — its replacement didn’t arrive in time for me to style and pack it up (I acknowledge that my lack of planning).

There were a few events on Saturday I wanted to check out, inlcuding the Sword Art Online movie panel hosted by series mastermind Reki Kawahara and artists abec. Sadly, while I did set reminders in the Guidebook app on my phone, I didn’t hear the alerts and lost track of time. It wasn’t a huge loss as I was able to see Kawahara at a previous Sakura-Con.

The last day, Sunday, felt like the weather did: dreary. Not a fault of the event, but that all good things come to an end. Rather than dread the fact we had to pack up our costumes and purchases, we made the best of it. I semi-dressed up as Naruto again just for the heck of it and I enjoy wearing the outfit. We did a few laps around the building, up and down the escalators and stopped to rest in the AMV room to catch our breath and some fan-made videos. Our final circuit took us back to the exhibitor’s hall until last call. By then the weekend crowds had thinned making the aisles seem wider than before. With the last announcements marking the closure of sales, it was off to the main stage for the closing ceremonies. Sitting down in the darkened chamber, we were treated to musical performances from the Seattle Video Game Orchestra and Choir with their renditions of music from familiar titles including Final Fantasy X, and Pokémon. We left before the final remarks to return to the hotel and load my car before the parking ran out. Unfortunately for us, the rain came down in sheets and despite my creative dance moves to avoid puddles I still got soaked. I didn’t let that get me down.

I love Sakura-Con and it always feels too short when I visit. There’s always plenty to do and this year I wasn’t able to take advantage of what I want to do or who I want to see. That being said, I still had lots of fun, got to catch up with a few friends and meet new people and that’s probably the most important part of a convention: its community. 2017 will be Sakura-Con’s 20th anniversary and I’m definitely looking forward to it.