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J-Pop Summit Festival 2012 August 27, 2012

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Otaku.
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2012 J-Pop Summit Festival 139

I went to this year’s J-Pop Summit Festival held in San Francisco’s Japantown during the August 25/26 weekend. This festival was a great way to end my summer vacation as the school semester starts tomorrow (or should I say today). The next Japan related event I plan to attend won’t happen until next year so it was also a way to end my con/event season as well. I enjoyed this year’s J-Pop Summit Festival, though a bit less than last year’s though.

I went both days, taking photos of the festival overall on the first day, though since there wasn’t much to see besides the street booths and the peace plaza, I got slightly bored towards the second half of the day. At that point I decided to focus on events happening on the stage area like the fashions shows and music performances. On Day 1 I was looking forward mostly to the Vocaloid Dance Contest as it’s cool to watch. I remember that last year Danceroid came to the J-Pop Summit Festival the kickoff the annual contest and I was glad that they came, well actually only two of them came last year, but the one Danceroid I’ve followed the most out of all is Kozue Aikawa. Anyways, I like watching talented dancers doing dance covers, and this year’s contest really had some great competition, everyone did really well. There was a few  things I found strange with this year’s contest. First, the judges. Most of the judges were OK, though there was one notable judge that to me was making things uncomfortable in a funny way. She is a professional dancer but with no knowledge of Vocaloid or the dance choreography that goes along with them, so her comments on the dances themselves were off sync. The first dance she judged was where she mentioned that she didn’t know what to expect to see in these dances and that she had no prior knowledge of anything Vocaloid. Well to me, to be a judge for this kind of thing, you kind of need to be knowing a little about the contest’s content before judging it. It felt like they just brought her in as a judge just because she is a professional dancer. The commentary she gave throughout the rest of the contest was very brief and general, which was funny at times as since she couldn’t comment on the Vocaloid aspect of the dance, she basically said things like “It was very good” and “I like the hips and hands moving” and so on. The second thing I found kind of awkward was the speaker host of the festival. He is a local radio host (I forgot from where) and during the contest kept asking the contestants right after their dance “So tell us about your outfit.” While that is not a out of subject question, it felt kind of unimportant to ask immediately after someone dances. Sure, the outfit does make a person, but the contest focuses on their dancing and their ability to perform well with energy, movements to music sync, and expression. I thought he should of been asking them about what they felt about their own dance performance, and then he could of asked them about their outfits, but maybe that’s just me. The third thing is what I think all contests need: A person like Simon Cowell, someone who gives constructive criticism. It’s kind of lame hearing the same feedback over and over again, the judges always just saying “like your dance and energy” with little variation of feedback between judges for each contestant. I know that each of them did well, but still there’s always room to improve, just saying that your good doesn’t help them to improve for the future. In the end, the Vocaloid Dance Contest was nice to watch, though it was getting cold out with the fog and all.

On Day 2 of the J-Pop Summit Festival, I got there at about 3:30pm or so as I already scouted the festival the day before, and so there really wasn’t much I wanted to see besides the events at the peace plaza. The lolita fashion contest was just finishing up when I arrived, managing to take a few shots before it was over. I happened to bump into a friend I met at Anime Expo this year and so we talked for a bit before the main event of Day 2 started, the Kylee music performance. Now prior to this festival, I’ve never heard of her before. She is a 18 year old half-American, half-Japanese musical artist signed with Sony Music Japan. Her music is a mix of pop and rock. She plans to focus her music on on Japan more than here to bridge the gap between herself and Japan. Her performance was good, and so was her band. If you want more information about her, check out her website at http://www.kylee.jp/ I stuck around for the final act which was a performance by DJ Amaya whose mixes I have on my iPod. It was cool but not too many people came down to dance and it made me feel that the festival ended on a good but weak note.

Overall the festival was OK. It didn’t have too much going on that I was really interested in. I did see some cosplay but not enough for me to try to take pictures of. I hope that next year’s will have more interesting stuff going on because it’s the first time in an event like this that I found myself waiting for something photo worthy to take pictures of.

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2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival April 30, 2012

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Japan, Otaku.
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San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

I attended the 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom which was held in San Francisco’s Japantown April 14,15, 21, with the grand parade taking place on the 22. All photos taken can be found at my Flickr set: 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a mixed bag for me. I only went to the second weekend of the festival which was the weekend of the parade. Usually I would go as much as I would, like going to the first weekend of the festival, but one major thing really held me back and made me feel uneasy. What I’m talking about is school, specifically Journalism assignments that were to be done about Japantown. As a beginning photojournalist, its hard to deal with behind the scenes people, especially if you don’t have connections, experience, and time. For my photojournalism class final project, I was planning to takes photos of a behind-the-scenes kind of thing for the festival, sort of like set up of the festival in the form of office meetings and stuff like that. Unfortunately as I only started the project in early April, when e-mailing the Festival organizers, they responded with a disheartening message telling me that it was too late to get any photos of the planning and meetings and that it would be “misleading”. I know that time wise I wasn’t in the best position to argue any more after that, but even then the earliest I could of asked was mid-March due to the assignment being made then, and I might of gotten the same response. I know it’s partially my fault for not working on it a bit earlier, but if I at least got a few photos of the final plans being made in a final meeting before the festival started, then to me that would of been the money shot. Knowing that I wouldn’t be able to get a hold of those photos made me feel a bit unwilling to go to the place that I felt a bit shunned from, even though its Japantown, one of my favorite places of the city. Because of this and the fact that I was busy with a few other things the first weekend of the festival, I didn’t go then. End of that story.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

My all time favorite combo to have for lunch at Japantown, Spam Musubi and Guava Hawaiian Sun.

I went the the festival on the second weekend, on Saturday the 21 and Sunday the 22. On Saturday, I got to Japantown at about past 11am or so. My goal for today was to take some photos of behind-the-scenes of some performances at the JCCNC (Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California) building in the North section of Japantown, with some overall shots of the festival as well at Japantown due to that I was going to be at City Hall for a while the next day for preparations for the parade. The weather was pretty warm for San Francisco that day; it wasn’t helping that I was wearing dark colors with a backpack to carry. When I got to the JCCNC building, there was set up for a Koto performance. I got a few shots there, but for the most part I just rested there because it was cool and nice to hear some traditional Japanese music with some live performance. Afterwards I went out and grabbed something to eat; I always get some spam musubi because it is one of my most favorite things to eat, especially at  a festival, along with a can of Guava Hawaiian Sun. I took more photos around the place still thinking about where to get more behind-the-scene type shots. I was thinking that getting some photos of set up of Taiko woul be good, so I looked up when the next Taiko performance would be. I saw that there was one at 7:30pm back at the JCCNC; it was around 4pm when I decided to pop into the JCCNC to see if I could get them setting up before their performance. I got pretty lucky with this, and an amusing story to tell.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

What happened was that I went into the event area just as the last performance was finishing up before the Taiko Dojo people was to set up and practice three hours before the scheduled Taiko Festival performance. I was able to take some nice photos of their behind-the-scenes set-up of the stage, and see a little bit of what they were going to perform at their performance later tonight. What made this amusing was the fact that this was a closed practice, so one that was closed off to the public. I noticed that they were asking people who was not part of the performance to leave the auditorium after the last performance finished before the Taiko Dojo started to set up. While that was going on I decided to take photos while there was other people around still and also while they were setting up, because I needed behind-the-scenes photos for my Photojournalism class. When it seemed that everyone who was not suppose to be there was out, I noticed that they didn’t ask me to leave. I’m guessing that I looked as if I was part of the back stage people, a photographer for them or something. While thinking I could actually wait for the show to start and get a good seat since I was “first”, I read the Cherry Blossom Festival program to waste some time. Looking over the Taiko Festival performance that I was waiting for in the program, I noticed that the performance I was waiting for was actually a pay to see event. I thought it was free. Right after the read that however, one of the staff finally asked me if I was with someone of the Taiko Dojo people. I told them that I was just a photographer, not with anyone, and that was when I finally left. It was about 6:30pm I think that I was kicked out. While I wasn’t able to trick my way into seeing the Taiko performance, I still got some decent shots of them setting up and practicing their drumming pieces.

Pretty much after that I went home. I knew I needed my energy for tomorrow’s Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade starting at San Francisco’s Civic Center.

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San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

The morning of April 22, I head out to Civic Center to get there at about 11am or so. The parade starts at 1pm; I arrive early to take some setting up shots of the parade getting ready for my Photojournalism photostory project. When I get to Civic Center however, I’m surprised to see a city (within a city) of white tents set up all over Civic Center. At first I was not sure what those tents were for, as previous Cherry Blossom Festivals did not do something like this. Walking though the white forest of tents, I look for any sign of the cosplayers that I focusing on for the parade. I finally spot them in the north west corner of Civic Center and found out that the white tents are for a Earth Day event. I didn’t even know it was Earth Day today; I guess that it just happened to fall on a Sunday this year. Now with both Earth Day celebrations and Cherry Blossom Festival Grand Parade being held in relatively the same areas, it was a more crowded than ever. It wasn’t too bad though, actually it made things a bit more interesting. When  I thought about the previous years going to Civic Center for the pre-parade stuff, it felt a little bit empty but plenty of space for cosplayers for photo ops.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

The couple of hours before the start of the parade, I mainly took photos of cosplayers, parade floats getting ready, and performances practicing. I was running around so much, I guess what kept me from getting tired was adrenaline and the feel to do a good job as a photographer and for my PJ assignment. Finally at quarter past 1pm, the Cosplay contest segment of the parade left Civic Center to walk to Japantown along the parade route. This was my second time walking within the parade, and it felt very much similar to what I experienced last year. The only difference was that I had a better camera now and so felt like a true photographer that was walking with us as well. The photos I took from the parade part of the festival, in my opinion, were not as great as last year’s that I took I think. I’m guessing that the photo moments were not as great as last year’s, though I have to admit that the cosplay was better and tighter in quality than last year’s Cosplay Contest. Of course I have to thank Ray Nagar, who is one of the people who leads the Cosplay contest people, for allowing me to follow the Cosplay contest segment of the parade.

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival 2012

After arriving back in Japantown, I grabbed a bite to eat before making my way to the Peace Plaza stage for the Cosplay Contest results. I already knew who won as the winners are decided back at Civic Center, though photos were still needed to be taken. The winners get to ride on a float of their own, pulled by a UPS truck. While waiting for the award ceremony to start, I met up with some other fellow photographers that I know and talked a bit with them before the show went underway.  Besides the Cosplay Contest, there was also a talent show kind of thing, which focuses on cosplayers and their talents, whether that be dancing, singing, etc. There was a couple of good ones and a few bad ones. Overall the whole show was fun and interesting. Afterwards, I chatted with some other friends for a while until leaving for home once the weather got cold again.

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The 2012 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival was as usual an enjoyable event, though I don’t feel that it was as good as last year’s for a couple of reasons. For one thing, with my Photojournalism assignment that was always looming over my head, I felt a bit pressured to take specific photos that were hard to take. I knew I could do it but the thought of missing an important shot that could make or break my assignment was always on my mind. Never again will I choose to use an event I enjoy to go to for an assignment. I hate how I killed my enthusiasm for the festival I always look forward to every year with this assignment. I’ll need more experience before I can balance work and play together.

Secondly, I noticed that there wasn’t as many people around in this year’s festival as opposed to last year. I’m pretty sure it has to do with how last year’s Cherry Blossom Festival was a month after the Japan Tohouku earthquake, and people were in “helping mode”, donating money and what not to organizations like the Red Cross. There was so much recovery efforts last year that brought in so many people willing to come to support Japan. This year however, people have already reached their limit for “helping.” I’m not saying that people don’t want to help out, but just like with any big natural disaster and the recovery efforts that come after that, it dies down after a while which is only natural. This year’s Cherry Blossom Festival showed that the extra amount of people that came last year probably came because of the earthquake. It felt quite mellow this year’s festival, or should I say less lively. It was still a great festival none the less, and you can bet I’ll be around for next year’s San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival, hopefully with more photography experience to really take the best photos possible that I can do. I know I didn’t do that great this year in terms of photos, I guess I aimed for quantity over quality, something that I always aim to do the opposite of. This year is more of an experimental year for me in photography, as I only have had my Canon Rebel T3 for about half a year and am currently taking photography classes at my college campus. I’m always aiming to better myself in any skill, as I believe that as long as I do something, it will lead to something more.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival – Sakura Matsuri April 26, 2011

Posted by coolmikeol in Events, Japan, Otaku.
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2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I attended San Francisco’s Japantown’s annual Cherry Blossom Festival which is always held in April, also known as the Sakura Matsuri. I’ve been attending for three year in a row already and it’s nice to come and visit when the sakura (cherry blossoms) are in full bloom, well actually I think they were a bit overgrown due to the green leaves already taking over. I already did a long post about the Cherry Blossom Festival on Figure.fm, so I’m not going to do the same thing here, I’ll just summarize my experience of the 2011 Sakura Matsuri. (Here is the link for my full post about the festival: 2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival)

All photos here are from My Flickr, here is the link to the set containing photos from the 2011 Sakura Matsuri.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I went 3 out of 4 days of the festival, the only day I didn’t go was the first day Saturday April 9th due to having other plan. Throughout the entire festival, I noticed a couple of differences from last year’s festival. One was that there seemed to be more people attending the festival, and Two is from the shops and stalls asking people for support for the victims of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, both of which I believe are related to each other, more people attending the festival to support Japan’s relief efforts.

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2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

On Sunday April 10th I went with my family, mostly just sightseeing stores and and other things of interest. One store we stayed in for a while is the new Daiso Japan store that opened up. Located right under the Ichiban Kan store, they sell a wide variety of Japanese store items ranging from bento lunch boxes, stationary goods, key chains, snacks, tools, and more, similar to what Ichiban Kan sells. There is also a Daiso Japan store located at the Serramonte mall in Colma, but that store has been there for a while already. It’s interesting looking at all the different stuff they sell, and it’s cheap too at $1.50 (unless price as marked). Don’t know if the $1.50 thing is to stay though, Ichiban Kan was having it’s grand opening so I don’t know if it is just a promotion.

There isn’t too much to say for my visit on April 10th, as it was just a quick look around of this year’s festivities and also because stayed for only a few hours.

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2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

On Saturday April 16th, I had to attend an Japanese cultural event that was about the Karuta Hyakunin Isshu for an extra credit assignment for my JAPN 102 class.

I didn’t know anything about it prior to attending the Karuta Hyakunin Isshu card games, so I was a bit nervous when it was time for guests to try it for themselves, even more so was that all the instructions, on the paper and spoken, was in Japanese. Of course I can understand somewhat what was being said, but for the main part I was confused about the whole objective of the game. While the game was going on the only thing I understood was that during the speaking of the poem, you have to listen carefully for the name of one of the cards. When you do so, you are to hit the card off the playing area before your opponent does. My opponent was a nice Japanese lady was seemed to be new to it as well, she mainly spoke to me in Japanese and in English at certain times. I was able to understand her for the most part and even made a bit of conversation at the end of the game which I think is some progress in my Japanese studies.

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2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

Sunday April 17th was the final day of the festival, which is always the most crowded day due to the parade that starts from SF Civic Center, goes through downtown streets to eventually reach Japantown about 7-10 blocks away. This was my second year going to the Civic Center for the Sakura Matsuri. At the Civic Center, cosplayers gather for the cosplay contest, and also to be a part of the parade. Last year was my first time taking pictures specifically for cosplay, but WAS not a cosplayer myself. (I made my debut here at the Civic Center this year, but was a cosplay fail in my opinion. To read more about my cosplay diasater, check out my Figure.fm post about the 2011 Sakura Matsuri.) I was quite excited that instead of just seeing pictures on the internet from my computer screen, I could actually be at a cosplay event and taking pictures on my own. I never went alone to Civic Center for the Sakura Matsuri, I met up with people from my AnimeFX club. This year’s cosplay for the Sakura Matsuri was great as usual, but I thought there were less people there than last year. Here is just a few of the best cosplay I saw at the Civic Center:

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

This Princess Peach cosplay was one of the winners of the cosplay contest.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I'm assuming this is from the series Panty & Stocking. Also was one of the winners of the cosplay contest.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

This Link was best of show, getting first place for her cosplay. Lots of detail went into creating the cosplay as you can see.

All three were winners in the cosplay contest. If you want to check out more of the cosplay from the Civic Center and festival, check out my Flickr, link near top of post/on the right sidebar.

While my failed cosplay brought me down a bit, what made up for it was my semi participation in the parade. I was not wearing my cosplay during the parade. I took it off before I left the Civic Center.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

I love how most of the cosplayers are looking at the camera.

The reason why I called my participation “semi” is because I kind of joined the parade on impulse. I know the one of the guys in charge of the cosplay masquerade, and he was telling me about the parade and how it works and such. I decided to join just as the parade was about to begin, but had to wait a bit at the Civic Center for a late friend. Once he arrived we both ran up to catch up to the cosplay parade group, and then photo ops ensued.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

Being a part of the parade means that I wasn’t deep in the crowd taking a picture behind someone’s back. Since I wasn’t in my cosplay at the time, I tried to blend in with the roaming photographers that were constantly circling the cosplay group. All I had that was costume-ish was a sword I was carrying around on my back. At one point while I was away from the cosplay group, one of the volunteer workers asked me if I was a part of the parade which I quickly replied yes and hid within the cosplay group crowd. Like I said before I joined impulsively but was still legit due to the guy in charge of the cosplay parade group giving me clearance. I’m thankful for knowing such great friends and acquaintances who work in these kind of events. Maybe I’ll find myself working in these someday (I like working backstage).

After a long walk from the Civic Center to Japantown, it’s time for some food. Didn’t even eat any breakfast so my first food of the day was some spam musubi and Hawaiian Sun Guava drink, same as last year.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

What was different this year than the other years of Sakura Matsuris was of course the Sendai Earthquake which has had a impact all around the world. While walking around, most of the stores had fliers and posters on their windows that were about helping Japan by sending part of their profit to Japan to support relief efforts there. Under the Sakura, people were writing messages on a big piece of cloth that I’m assuming is going to be sent to Japan along with other relief aid. This is really the only way we can help being so far away from Japan. I know that Japan will rise again, higher than it was before, ready for the future. I pray for the recovery of Japan, and hope that others will support Japan not only by sending money, but actually by going to Japan once most of the problems that the earthquakes caused have cleared. Tourism is part of their economy, so we can support them by visiting the land of the rising sun.

After eating, the only (important) events left was the anime talent show and cosplay contest. Took photos of it and you’ll find it on my Flickr set. I’m not going to post the link again as I’ve given it a few times already in this post.

2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival

Overall the festival was very enjoyable and I’ll always come back to see the Sakura bloom under the Peace Padoga every year. There may have been so ups and downs to my experiences with this year’s festival, such as my cosplay fail and my participation in the parade, but I’ll prefer coming to Japantown any day than just staying home. It’s also a nice opportunity to see Japantown with many people instead of the usual near ghost town that it becomes on normal days, though it can get annoyingly crowded, it’s good for the businesses there.

So far I’ve got through 2 out of 4 Japan/anime con events planned. The next event will definitely be another test in my abilities to handle anime cons, Fanime. It will be my first time going, but at least I’ve rooming with people I know who know Fanime inside and out. All I need to do is perfect my cosplay and I’ll be ready.

Please check out my post about the 2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival on Figure.fm. A lot of the stuff I’m referring to in this post is in there. Also if you don’t know yet, here is the link to my set of all my photos from the festival, about 380 photos in all: Photos from the 2011 San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival on Flickr

See you around next post. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean another month wait….)