Exactly one week before today, I was standing in San Francisco’s Japantown, a six block weeaboo wonderland. It’s taken me this long to write about it because nothing I can say will ever live up to how I felt when I was there. There’s no way to do it justice, so I’m just going to give you the facts.
I was in San Francisco for business, more specifically, to attend the LiveJournal community leader summit. I Even though it meant missing out on Katsucon, I decided to extend my trip for one extra day so I could finally explore Japantown, a part of the city I’d been dying to visit since I saw it on America’s Greatest Otaku. As it turned out, I’d picked the perfect date to do it; Saturday also marked the first day of a local geek convention, Animation on Display.
In the morning, I met up at the convention hotel, Hotel Kabuki, with my host, Steven Savage. As I’ve written before, Steven is a geek career expert and the author of Fan to Pro, a book that changed the course of my career. We’ve been in touch online for more than a year, but this was our first time meeting in person. Here’s us standing in the courtyard pretending like we know each other.
Steven was busy; he presented three different panels that day. (I attended the two on geek careers, and will be recapping at least one.) But he still made sure that I experienced all the essentials of a trip to Japantown, namely, shopping and eating too much.
Here’s a diptych of photos I took inside the immense mall that connects to Hotel Kabuki and takes up half of Japantown from there. The bridge is usually packed with people, but Steven and I showed up just as the mall was opening up. To the right is a literal wall of figures. You should have seen their Gundam selection!
I’ve never seen shops as anime fan-targeted as those at the mall. For example, several stores were dedicated simply to manga, and there was a shop that sold cosplay off the rack. Animation on Display was a small convention with about 1,000 attendees, but it was almost as if it was attached to a three-block dealer’s room year-round. If we had a place like this on the east coast, I’m sure we’d hold all our conventions there.
There was no shortage of food options, either. Above is an okonomiyaki, a sweet potato pancake with savory chicken and shrimp, that Steven ordered. I had the less photogenic salmon-ikura donburi and beef curry. I couldn’t get over the availability of Japanese snacks either—you could buy onigiri and dango right from a food stand. For somebody who makes her own onigiri at home since she can’t buy it anywhere, it was unbelievable.
Probably the best part was being able to mingle with a completely new group of fans. Now that I’ve been attending east coast conventions for years, I always see familiar faces. At AOD, I was introduced to new people, new panels, and new projects I’d never heard of. I also got to meet some of the bronies interviewed in this Wall Street Journal article.
Anyone who’s tired of the same old stuff on the east coast should definitely check out what they’re doing out west. For example, I loved their idea of holding mixers, super-casual panels for meeting other bronies, for example, or other people with careers in geekdom. (And it goes without saying that west coasters should see what we’re doing over here.)
My visit caused me to realize the Internet hasn’t yet bridged the different forms fandom takes in different parts of the country and, no doubt, the world. It’s worth taking a trip to see the other coast, even if it’s not for a bigger con like Anime Expo or Otakon. (In fact, based on my experience, I’d encourage seeing a smaller con.) My physical visit helped me realize that the fans in my area make up just a small part of the global marketplace of ideas.
In conclusion, I certainly hope that wasn’t my last visit to Japantown. Until then, check out my photo gallery. I took hundreds of photos, but hardly any of them came out because my hands were literally shaking with excitement. It was an experience I won’t soon forget.
Thank you for an enjoyable and interesting blog post. I was following your experience there via your Twitter postings (and thank you for the food photos!), but glad you wrote this since Twitter is such a limited medium (though it’s immediacy is pretty neat).
I’m really going to need to plan a trip down the coast from Portland to SanFran now. I think I’ll really, really enjoy spending time in Japantown. Just need to decide if I should drive my car (it’s a standard and though I feel confident in my abilities to drive it those iconic steep streets have me a bit fazed), rent one or take the Amtrack down the coast.
Oh, and thank you for being so liberal with the hyperlinks. Glad to have found Steven’s site and book (about to go off and buy it for my Kindle) and your older posting about your kotatsu…Thinking one might be nice for the colder times here in Portland since I try to keep my electric bill down by not running the heat.
Oh, and very good points about visiting cons outside one’s general geographical area and attending both large and smaller cons.
Keep up the great posts! I really do need to explore your older posts.
How fun! Your comment about the food stalls particularly got my attention. My mom’s side of the family is from Korea, and during my only visit to the country, several years ago, I went to food stand after food stand. It’s maybe what I miss most about the country. I’d love to go to S.F. just to experience the Japanese ones.
@Charles, sounds like a great way to sample authentic Korean! The food stalls I visited in S.F. mostly sold snacks, but what a variety!
This was really cool to read :D I’d love to spend a weekend there sometime soon!
@Sarah, if you’re ever in San Francisco, don’t miss it! Next time, I want to stay at the manga-themed Hotel Tomo and geek out even more =)
If I ever go to San Francisco, Japantown is definitely on my destination list! Sounds like so much fun!
What an amazing post- looks like you had a blast :) I found myself in Japantown en route to New Zealand (we had a 7+ hour layover in San Francisco and a Heather had a friend who lived in the area) and it was amazing! If we weren’t flying abroad, I would have totally picked up a plush Miku and a couple of DVDs on the way out. As it was, it was the best Takoyaki I’ve had to date :)