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Each Easter long weekend, the Washington State Convention Center — sorry, Seattle Convention Center — hosting tens of thousands of anime fans for Sakura-Con, one of the largest pop culture conventions in the Pacific northwest. Following two years on hiatus and in the midst of some nice spring weather, I was able to finally meet up with my partner for the first time in three years for our return to the Emerald City. Sakura-Con was held April 15th – 17th, 2022.
We had pre-purchased our admission on the final day of the 2019 convention, not realizing that we’d be sitting on the receipt for another three years. Thankfully, ANCEA — Asia-Northwest Cultural Education Association — the organizing body behind Sakura-Con, rolled these admissions over into 2022, so we were good to grab our badges on the Thursday afternoon before the convention. Due to capacity restrictions, badges were not being sold on-site as in previous years; in the weeks leading up, a goof on ANCEA’s part was to prematurely announce on social media that the venue reached capacity and pre-registration had closed, meaning no more badges would be sold. The announcement was quickly reversed saying that badges would continue to be available until the cutoff date of April 7th.
When the hotel block opened in mid-February of this year, I quickly booked a king-sized bed at my go-to place: the Sheraton Grand Seattle. It’s usually reasonably priced, conveniently located across the street from the convention center and the staff are always fantastic and accommodating (not that we ever have additional requirements). And, being on the corner of Pike Street, there’s plenty of dining options available within walking distance.
Thursday afternoon, we drove into downtown Seattle and pulled up into the Sheraton’s entrance on Sixth Avenue. Unloading our suitcases and bags, we left the car in the hands of the valet parking (swanky!) and checked in fairly quickly. We were delighted that the king-sized bed I reserved netted us a corner room in the newer Union tower, with two windows facing southeast towards the convention center (where we could see workers updating the signage to read “Seattle Convention Center”) and Union Square, with its parade of national flags. There even was a microwave on the table, not that we’d need it, unless we returned with leftovers.
After we had our luggage brought up, it was off to the third floor of the Conference Center to pick-up our badges. Conditions for entry to the event was wearing a mask and providing proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test (testing was available on the ground floor of the convention center). Since we both were fully vaccinated and boosted, this wasn’t an issue. What we didn’t expect, especially after two years of social distancing and limitations on crowds was how many people were waiting to get their badges. We arrived just before 3:00 pm and didn’t leave until well after 4:00 pm, fortunately my partner was able to let me use his Wi-Fi to keep myself somewhat entertained as we waited. Once we had our badges, program guide and wristband to enter late-night adult panels, we returned to our room to unpack and relax. Since nothing else really happens on Thursday, we called it a day and watched a few episodes of Ranking of Kings.
Friday morning began with our traditional pilgrimage to Pike Place Market. I only brought one-and-a-quarter cosplays with me this year, I donned Shoto Todoroki’s wig and painted his scar around my left eye and walked downhill towards the waterfront. In true spring fashion, the block before the market had some trees in full bloom which made for some great photos. Our standard breakfast is some Russian pastries from Piroshky Piroshky — a salmon paté piroshky for myself, beef and cheese piroshky for my partner, and a chocolate cream hazelnut roll as “dessert” — followed by a cup of coffee from Starbucks. Being early birds (both our jobs have us up at the crack of dawn so it’s hard to break the habit), we browsed a few stalls at the market, catching the legendary salmon toss in action.
Now full, we set off back up Pike Street towards the convention center. Donning our face masks, we entered and ascended the main escalators to the fourth floor, always a thrilling scene with cosplayers and those in regular clothes, eagerly waiting to explore panels, merchants, video games, or just chill and catch up with others. After two years without events like this, the halls were packed — a good sign of normalcy.
In mid-2019, my Nikon D5000 died in the middle of San Japan, so I upgraded to a Nikon D610 a few months later. With no conventions or the like in 2020 or 2021, I wasn’t sure of what to expect with the new camera; this was uncharted territory for me (again). So with a bit of practice, I got a hang for some of the settings using the 50mm prime lens, but found that the focus points provided a bit of a challenge as they are closer to the center of the frame unlike my previous camera, causing myself some grief when taking group shots. I like to think I did okay with most of my pictures.
Minus the attendees wearing masks, the exhibitors hall looked as it did in previous years. There were some open spaces, but given that lots of the vendors are small businesses, understandably some retailers weren’t able to participate considering high costs and lack of available staff. That said, there were plenty of booths offering manga, CDs/DVDs/Blu-ray (yes, those are still a thing), figures, posters, plushes, figures, wigs, outfits, apparel, video games, crafts, and all sorts of other goodies. I purchased a few figures — Shoto Todoroki in his fancy uniform from My Hero Academia: World Heroes’ Mission, and the boar-headed Inosuke Hashibira from Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, a plush Roy from Fire Emblem, and a Naruto shirt and replacement headband.
A few floors below the exhibitors hall was the artist’s alley where individuals can sell prints, posters, stickers and other handmade creations. The crush of crowds made it almost unnavigable most times we attempted to peruse the artists — imagine a tin of sardines, and then try and cram more into the container. I hope all this foot traffic proved beneficial to these smaller businesses. I always love seeing these artists because there’s always your favourite character available for purchase.
Despite having the wristband that indicated I am adult enough to handle some of the evening programming (hint: I’m not), we didn’t check out of any of the panels. Usually, we check out a few, but didn’t find anything enticing this year, sadly.
As we were on the ground floor with the artists, we used this as an excuse for lunch and made our way over to the NYC Deli Market on Seventh Avenue. The usual fare here is sandwiches (they taste amazing hot) and endless selection of drinks — both non-alcoholic and alcoholic. Prices are decent and the women working the counter are super friendly. It’s a nice break for a quick meal and to grab extra snacks or drinks.
We perused the rest of the venue, venturing outside into the Freeway Park. Absent from the plaza this year is the rowdy glomp circle, likely for a number of reasons, COVID-19 being one of them. Usually, most congoers just come to hang out, relax, take a smoke break, or partake in some photoshoots with the more skilled photographers. Usually wandering out here is a breath of fresh air from being inside stuffy rooms filled with a few who may have not showered that morning.
No trip to an anime convention is complete without some tasty ramen. After the exhibition floor closed for the day, we walked uphill to Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya on the corner of Pine Street and Bellevue Avenue for some dinner. This restaurant is the American branch of the Japanese noodle-house chain and we enjoyed some tasty pan-fried gyoza and steaming bowl of shoyu ramen. What a filling way to end day one! With not much else to do, and feeling a bit exhausted, it was back to the room to watch a few episodes of Jujutsu Kaisen and get some sleep.
Saturday is generally regarded as the biggest day of the convention — everything is in full swing, people are checked into their hotel rooms, friendships have been renewed, cameras fully charged, and those who work weekdays are able to spend their weekend surrounded by all things anime. For this day, I broke out my Naruto Uzumaki cosplay. Since gaining weight four years ago, I found it harder to fit in to some elements of the costume, so it stayed home in 2019. This year, I am happy to say I dropped a few pounds and could now comfortably fit into it without the fear of a seam popping or excessive thigh wear. With a new hokage’s cloak, I recreated Naruto’s appearance from the 2012 flick Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie and was on my way. Breakfast was a stop back again at the delightful NYC Deli Market for some sandwiches and Coke (I’m on vacation, I can eat healthy when I return home).
It was amazing just to see everyone in cosplay and the fun of taking pictures (with permission, of course). This year, it seems the two most popular series were Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Genshin Impact, followed by One Piece, My Hero Academia, Hunter x Hunter, Jujutsu Kaisen, Naruto, Fire Force, Inuyasha, Pokémon, Dragon Ball, Digimon, Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World, The Legend of Zelda, Tokyo Revengers, Kingdom Hearts, and many, many more. It’s an endless parade of everyone’s favourite anime or manga.
For dinner we made a trip to MOD Pizza. A half-block from our hotel, MOD Pizza is quick, fresh, tasty and relatively affordable. Between MOD and NYC Deli Market, these would be our two food hangouts that didn’t have any long waits during the weekend.
Back in the room, I changed out of Naruto and into something more comfortable, swapped out the 50mm prime lens for the 55-300mm zoom and we trudged our way back to the fourth floor to line-up for the ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D concert. Once inside, we grabbed a seat, but I didn’t sit still and was up with the crowd at the front to take pictures (the band is one of the few that allows open photography and videography).
Shortly after ROOKiEZ is PUNK’D performed at Sakura-Con in 2019, the band broke up. But that didn’t stop guitarist and vocalist SHiNNOSUKE from calling upon drummer ICCHAN to head back out on tour. Opening with their hit “In My World” the crowd went wild. Despite only two band members, they played on with backing tracks in place of the lead guitar, bass and keyboard. SHiNNOSUKE went on to talk about his new solo project SINOBROWN. Just the excitement of experiencing a live band and music from shows like Bleach, Durarara!!, and Yowamushi Pedal made for an amazing evening. It’s always an experience when the band does cover versions of songs, like “Imagination” by SPYAIR.
We we’re up early and had our bags packed in anticipation of check out. After our last breakfast at NYC Deli Market, we dropped our stuff off at the bell desk in the hotel lobby and made a final sweep of the convention. Together with a friend, we were able to make our way through a less crowded artist’s alley and get a peek at some of the beautiful works available for purchase.
Sunday is usually calmer of the three days as everyone prepares to return to the real world. While still lively, its nowhere near as hectic as a Saturday. Since my partner had an early flight back home on Monday morning, we made the difficult decision to leave the convention around 1:30 pm. There’s always a pang of sadness when you have to step away from something enjoyable to take care of other duties.
That’s a wrap Sakura-Con 2022! My first convention back after two years of doing nothing, it was a little overwhelming at times, but fun nonetheless. I have to improve my camera skills and maybe not be lazy and come up with a new cosplay for next year. I have a whole year to do that, which means I’m coming back again for 2023.
Looking for the pictures I took? They’re available on Gallery.
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