And so my last day in Anime USA was probably my most annoying. Having slept through my alarm, I missed out on a panel, and then with the various annoyances involving check-out and luggage storage, I missed another panel and ended up being late for a third. And the fourth panel I wanted to see, I had probably drank too much ginger ale and ate too much poptarts that I had grown sick and once it was over I choose a particularly less traveled bathroom to, um, ease the queasiness.
Regardless, the last two panels as well as my thoughts on the whole convention.
Folk Culture in Modern Japan
Presenter: Charles Dunbar (1100HRS – 1200HRS @ Oct. 23)
A few minutes late is still a few minutes late, and Mr. Dunbar was already in the midst of his very rousing lecture. While not always a good indicator of how well versed a person is on a subject, when one is presenting or teaching in such a passion, it usually means to me that the person knows his stuff. That said, I felt confident that it is true with what he’s said.
The panel in question was of the folk culture in modern Japan, and the description he gave doesn’t exactly have such an easily comparable counterpart in Japan, but would be more noticeable in Catholic countries. The notion of festivals and spirituality is more at home with my Philippine/Pacific Islander upbringing than American. Not to say that other nations or cultures don’t have it, but from a personal experience, I’m more used to such things due to it.
Mr. Dunbar’s panel was informative slides interspersed with his observations and experiences while going through Japan. He details his time helping to carry around a Mikoshi, which is a sort of mobile shrine carried throughout the neighborhood in order to reconnect the neighborhood to the gods and nature. It is considered a sacrifice of one’s own day to carry it around and it is forbidden to touch the ground. That said, he says a Mikoshi weighs half a ton and the only way to really get used to carrying it would be to wear padded footwear, and booze. He described every major stop as being handed a food item and booze, so one is quite ‘lit’ by the end of the journey.
He also talks about the town of Tono, which is the home of Japanese folklore. The town’s claim to fame is its preservation of traditional culture and folktales as well as the town mascot, the Japanese water-demon the Kappa. This is due in part to author Yanagita Kunio, who gathered Japanese folk legends into his work Tono Monogatari. He also talked about Nikko, which he describes as the “Akiba for those who love Japanese history”.
A place where he talked about extensively in the panel was Aokihagara, a volcanic forest in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. Due to the volcanic ash, it is perpetually fertile, and eerily quiet due to the lack of small wildlife and bugs. This forest though isn’t recently famous for its haunting natural beauty, but because of a particular novel, it is known as the suicide forest. Something the park isn’t too happy about and there are signs at the trailheads urging those with the intent to take their life to reconsider in several languages including but limited to Japanese, English, Korean, Arabic, etc.
In the end, he started to talk about the various youkai prevalent in Japanese myth and their real world counterpart, and recounted an incident in which a foreign tourist ignored all warnings not to take meat outside of temple grounds being attacked by a bird and making off with it. I should’ve noted if it were a Japanese Crow or Kite but regardless it was the real-life equivalent to the Tengu.
This isn’t going to be the last of the panels I’ll be attending that Mr. Dunbar gives, but I’m honestly loving his enthusiasm for the subject and the fact that he can give such personal experiences excites me. If I would ever need a tour guide in Japan, I’d probably have him on my short-list for one.
Reusing picture because I forgot to grab a picture of him from this panel.
Miko: Japan’s Magical Girls
Presenter: Patrick Drazen (1300HRS – 1430HRS @ Oct. 23)
I have been looking forward to attending the only panel I could attend that was being given by Mr. Patrick Drazen. For those who think the name sounds familiar, Mr. Drazen is known for, among other things, his examination of the anime and manga phenomena in his book “Anime Explosion” as well as being on the editorial board of the Mechademia journal.
Regardless, the obstacle in the way was the worsening headache that I had, but still wasn’t enough to really have me avoid the panel. Mr. Drazen started off talking about the various magical girl series before moving on to describing the Miko, or Shinto Priestess. He goes on to explain that the dress is pretty much standardized and how Miko were first introduced in Kojiki, the ancient chronicle in Japan. Also noted that there were sixty-nine noted euphemisms and synonyms in Japanese for Miko, and gave a few examples of prominent historical Miko. Another thing of note was the practice of archery, especially Shinto kyudo, with its emphasis on ceremony and meditation.
Moving on, he would start listing out characters who were Miko. Some would be actual magical girls much like Hino Rei from Sailor Moon, as Sailor Mars. Others, like Tokiko Mima from Key the Metal Idol and Nami Yamigumo from Silent Moebius, are just girls who are embued with special powers. It was at this point that my headache got really bad that I had to end actual typing to relax a bit, but stayed long enough to finish his panel.
His last Miko was actually one who just had an anime finish this year, Kuma Miko. One thing he noted was the extra ornamentation that the titual character and rural village Miko, Machi Ayamadori, wears in addition to the traditional Miko outfit. The extra ornamentation apparently is connected to the native Japanese, the Ainu. Other than that, he goes on to explain the story of the manga, and was also informed that the anime had ended with the author had a very bad disagreement with the ending by a member of the audience.
Sadly, with his panel ended, I had to rush to a secluded restroom to evacuate the contents of my stomach the most unpleasant way and couldn’t take a picture of Mr. Drazen in his rather nice looking taichi shirt. But I’ve always enjoyed his panels, especially last year with his Christianity in Anime from last year. I’m just sorry that it had to end this way.
Due to the headache and needing to find a bathroom to regurgitate whatever it is that would relieve my headache, I left without taking a picture.
Overall, many different people come to anime conventions for many different reasons. Some come for friends. Others the dealers and game rooms. Others slave over long days and nights to produce a cosplay worthy of adoration on stage. It’s a social gathering of like-minded people to profess our love for the genre, medium, and culture.
I attended anime conventions before this, but the first few times I’ve felt lost and had deemed it a waste of money. But after gaining a steady source of income, I found that I enjoy conventions for the panels. The meeting of minds to discuss interesting ideas, to explore any significance or trivia in the shows and games and culture we’re in. To meet others in real life that share my particular interests. It’s probably why I decided to work on this, other than practicing my own writing and note taking to keep the skills fresh, as one would say. That is, I do need an editor, or at least stretches of time before I press ‘publish’.