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Monday, July 25, 2016

Tales from the 2016 J-POP SUMMIT Festival: Space Toilets, Zombie Kitties, and the New Vocaloid in Town

Posted By on Mon, Jul 25, 2016 at 5:09 PM


The J-POP SUMMIT Festival is a celebration of all things related to Japanese pop culture – music, food, art, film, and many points between – and it's always my favorite weekend of the year. Held on July 23-24, this year's event was the second to be held at Fort Mason, largely because 2014 was crazy-busy, a teeming crowd of humanity congregated in a few square blocks thanks to the line of food Ramen Street. As I expressed in my writeup of last year's event, I was a little bummed about the relocation because I hate it when things change, but what hasn't changed is that J-POP was once again a fun and gratifying experience.

This year’s festivities kicked off on Friday night with a concert at the Regency Ballroom by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, whom I interviewed earlier in the week. Sadly, due to the practical realities of working in South San Francisco until 6 p.m. and the concert beginning at 7:00 – particularly during Friday rush hour — I was not able to attend. (But thank you putting me on the list, Erik!) I'm assuming that she opened with the first track from her compilation KPP BEST, which I would also like to have played whenever I enter a room.

When my dear friend KrOB and I arrived at Fort Mason on Saturday morning, we were greeted by the Go-Torch Characters, as is to be expected. They're mascots hailing from different areas of Japan; last year it was the Paper Bag Fairies from Saebo, and this time around it was Akkuma from Hokkaido.


Ramen Street was not present in 2015, but it was back this year, and signs were up to prevent the Ramenocapylpse from spreading into the Pavilion.


There may have been no ramen beyond that point, but there was plenty of other delicious things, such the Go-Torch characters of Zombear from Otaru.


And KrOB got a pimpin' solo shot with the Paper Bag Fairies.


Most familiar on the American intertubes as God's vessel of masturbation-related kitten-killing, the mascot known as Domo was present as a giant backlit plastic piñata...

sc_02_j-pop_09_domo.jpg well as in Saturday's opening act, Toyko Performance Domo – a supergroup consisting of Tokyo Performance Doll and Domo, obviously – leading the audience in Domobics.

One of the primary missions of the J-POP SUMMIT Festival is to spread not just Japanese pop culture, but also their culture-culture, such as the famous sleeping pods, in this case Capsule Hotels by RestUp.


These are new designs that aren't commercially available yet, and we both got to try one – not for sleeping, of course, but just to see how it feels ergonomically, and I gotta say, I liked it. I'm a tall drink of water, and they didn't feel as cramped as one might expect. I was told they're two meters in length, and since I was raised in California I have no idea how big that is, but I was perfectly comfortable.


It didn't take KrOB much time to get comfy, either.


How it looked from the inside, before they started enforcing the "no shoes" policy.

Also having a strong presence this year was the Toto Washlet, the space toilet that I wrote glowingly about a few years back, declaring the single-seater on level 2F at New People to be San Francisco's best public restroom.


It struck me that their primary ad image resembles the original teaser poster for Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, which is not wholly inappropriate.

click to enlarge star_trek_v_ver1.jpg

There were, of course, promotional shenanigans…


…which KrOB did wrong.


Speaking of gastrointestinal matters, my favorite Korean food truck wasn’t present this year because they were at Spark Social SF — right, like that's a thing — so we instead had a deep-fried lunch at the JapaCurry truck. From there, we headed from Fort Mason to Japantown to catch the most exciting movie playing in the concurrent Japan Film Festival at New People Cinema: IA First Concert Live in Japan – "Party a Go Go".

Created by 1st Place and pronounced [ee-uh], IA is the latest computer-generated avatar of Yamaha's Vocaloid voice synthesizer software. ("Latest" meaning her software was first released in 2012, but she's new to me, since I'm usually a few years behind the curve.) I've written before about my fondness for the most famous Vocaloid, Hatsune Miku, and I attended her concert at the Warfield earlier this year. As the title IA First Concert implies, this was not a concert but rather a film (and a fairly short one at that, only 45 minutes) of IA's first concert this past September. It was fun, but I still have mixed feelings about IA as Vocaloid. Whereas the cheerful Miku is designed to have a certain robotic-technological feeling to her — Miku's creator Kei was commissioned to draw her as an android, and some of her design elements are inspired by Yamaha keyboard models — IA is more of a standard sultry pop diva, with many costume changes and much more pixelized flesh revealed. So, as I say, mixed feelings. Also, as much as I like the burst of color surrounding the concert-related image on the right, that jellyfish-like skirt is just atrocious.


On the plus side, in the concert film, she only wore that skirt at the end. Also, Toto Washlet was among the pre-show ads.


In addition to the fact that I just always like to go to Japantown, I was happy to see that that the fan artists who were absent at Fort Mason were set up outside the Kinokuniya Bookstore.


KrOB and I didn't return to Fort Mason after the IA movie at New People, even though I was very tempted to when I realized I'd accidentally left my water bottle outside the Festival Pavilion during lunch. Don't you hate when you do that?

I knew that between the wind from the Bay and people coming and going there was about a nil-percent chance that the bottle would still be there on Sunday, but I looked anyway when we arrived that morning. Lo and behold…


It's a J-POP miracle, y'all.

Sunday's lunch, it should be pointed out, was a much happier experience. We gave the JapaCurry truck a wide berth — though people who enjoy fried foods should definitely check it out — and instead hit the We Sushi truck, not to be confused with We Be Sushi. Sushi burritos have become a thing in recent years, and for my first, the Monster Burrito (salmon, lobster, spring mix, and vegetables) seemed like a good place to start. And it was indeed nommy.


There was very little Hatsune Miku presence at J-POP this year — I didn't even see anyone cosplaying as her — and it stood to reason that she would be overshadowed by the newer, shinier IA. But the teal-haired one did make a brief cameo appearance in the demo of the iDoll.

Meanwhile, KrOB crushed Fruit Ninja on his first try, let alone playing it on a hands-free system like the Exvision ZKOO.

Elsewhere in the Interactive area was the latest zombification app, ZombieBooth2, which was set to a zombified cat which I could not stop keep myself from feeding. I’m pretty sure my cat Hineni knows that this is how things will play out should a feline-specific zombie outbreak occur.

My colleague Alan Smithee wrote a preview piece for the Hear This! Section, and I'm told the original draft included this line: "This year’s shindig also draws from the more banal elements of our local culture with the first 'J-POP Queen' Drag Contest (yawn)." The editor removed the words "the more banal elements of" and "(yawn)" before the line was removed entirely.

And, I don't know. Hosted by D'Arcy Drollinger (read my editor Peter Kane's interview with her!) I'm sure it was a fine event, but efewffwfaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa

Apologies, I fell asleep on my keyboard. Anyway, Heklina (read Peter's interview with her as well!) was one of the judges, which made it all the more specooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo

So strange! Every time I try to even think about couzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Yeesh! It just keeps happening, possibly because I can't personally fathom anything more played out and less interesting than a drag show in 2016 San Francisco, which may explain this picture KrOB took during the contest.


Evidently, I wasn't the only queer woman with blond-and-pink hair who found the idea of yet another drag show too boring to stay awake through. I'll be happy if I never have to see one again for the rest of my life, but it's your thing, I'm sure it was perfectly fine. [NOTE: Sherilyn Connelly's "politically correct," feminazi opinions about drag does not reflect either the Weekly's editors or the San Francisco Media Company. She's the SJW, not us.]

Much more my thing was the hella-tight dance group World Order, founded and choreographed by former mixed martial arts champion Genki Sudo. (Smithee told me that one of the later drafts of his World Order preview included the line "Sudo also writes the catchy techno jams to which World Order dances, so while they'd probably get glared off the stage at Amnesia, they still pass the San Francisco authenticity test," but it was also removed by the editor. Go figure.) Seeing them do their moves in their videos is fun — seriously, watch "Have a Nice Day" right now — but they're  a whole 'nother level of amazing up close, such as in their self-titled song "World Order."

World Order is best known for their slo-mo robotic walking, which they busted out for the closer "Machine Civilization." And keep in mind that Sudo is also singing, as do other members during other songs, which is pretty high up there on the "walk and chew gum" scale.

My favorite act from 2014 and 2015, the all-female rock trio Akabane Vulgars on Strong Bypass, were not present this year, meaning I wouldn't get to revel in their cover of "House of the Rising Sun." Here's last year's performance, just because.

But the spirit was kept alive by the closing act, Silent Siren. They have a much poppier sound than the Vulgars, but they still brought the rock (and smoke and lights), including their original, not-a-Runaways-cover song "Cherry Bomb."

The show ran late, and in the end it was an exhausting two days, but in the best way possible — and next year's J-POP SUMMIT Festival is the best reason I can think of to look forward to 2017.
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Sherilyn Connelly

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