Thursday, April 12, 2012

Feel Japan - level: over 9000

The Feel Japan Festival was held at Phoenix Mills, Mumbai, from 16-18 March 2012. The Mumbai Anime Club was involved with the event at a grassroots level, as participants, volunteers as well as part-organisers. However, members from other anime clubs were involved too. People came down from Kolkata, Chennai and Pune to participate in the event. This compilation post is by 3 people who participated in the event in slightly different ways:

Prateek, who is a Kolkatan currently studying in Pune. Lover of Japan and anime for over a decade now. He participated in the sketching competition (and was one of the winners), served as make up man and prop maker for the cosplayers, and went around taking pictures all through.

 Akshay, who is one of MAC's founder members, was involved with this event right from beginning to end. Coordinator, volunteer, cosplayer, he was one of the lynchpins from MAC who played a big role in the smooth running and success of the event.

I (Reetam) joined MAC in August 2011 when I moved to Mumbai. I claim 1st prize for raw enthusiasm.
I cosplayed all through the event, played the guitar, had a lot of ice cream soda, and landed myself goodies near the end. Rather epic, I'd say.

This post is not meant to be a chronicle of what happened. That can be found here. This is more of an expression of the afterglow of the event. :)

I have always had a fascination with Japanese culture. Growing up in Delhi, I was exposed to Japanese music and dance in the various culture festivals that happened in the capital throughout the year, and through the few Japanese programmes that aired on national TV.
Later on, I came to supplement this interest with books and magazines, and eventually the rapid spread of highspeed internet in the country allowed my to take my interest in Japan one step further.
From its language and arts to its history and mythology, to the customs and traditions that match pace with its rapid technological progress, the Land of the Rising Sun will forever hold a special place in my heart.
I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to learn of the Cool Japan festival that was to be organised at Phoenix Mills in Mumbai between the 16th and 18th of March 2012. To be able to visit a convention that claimed to showcase both traditional and popular Japanese culture, in India, sounded almost too good to be true. 

I got to know of the Feel Japan Festival around the same time I joined MAC in the autumn of 2011. It was of course one of the most exciting things I have ever been a part of. It was a dream come true opportunity to make people sit up and take notice... of how the anime culture has seeped into our generation so much so that we will jump at every chance we get to celebrate it, along with celebrating Japan, the country whose every aspect fascinates us to no end.

Preparations in earnest began early this year, when we started getting a concrete idea about how MAC members are supposed to be involved, about what can be expected from the fest and what is expected of us. We prepared extensively for performances... a lot of ideation was done, and there was going to be dance, there was going to be live music, and there was going to be extensive cosplay! There were also an anime sketching competition which was organised around the months leading up to the fest. Otakus from across the country participated in numbers, and a selected few were flown in for the Feel Japan Fest. It was all helter skelter; making arrangements for visiting friends, practising, finding and briefing volunteers. February went by in a blur, and suddenly, the ides of march were upon us (sans dread and filled with excitement instead).

Bird's eye view of Cool Japan on a hot March afternoon

The Feel Japan event sure did live up to its name when it chose to enthrall people by actually letting people immerse themselves in the Japanese atmosphere created by the cheerful group of volunteers and enthusiastic Japanese company reps. The build up to the event started off simple with a sketching competition organized by Mumbai Anime Club which gave budding and professional artists a chance to showcase their work on a much larger scale and show Japan that India is very well exposed to the Otaku culture. Not only did the competition succeed .. it blew them away. The Japanese Anime studios present had a very hard time deciding which entries they wanted shortlisted and gave away lucrative prizes to the winners.

Painting the live canvas

Entries at the competition
The stage events probably attracted the most attention at the festival, most notable of which was the performances by taiko group Tenko, based in Singapore. The taiko drum is almost synonymous with japanese festivals and music, and proved to be a huge hit with the visitors at Cool Japan. The members also staged the famous Shishi-mai or Lion dance, complete with a short festival parade, Their energy and enthusiasm proved to be infectious, especially when they had an interactive session where visitors were allowed to try their hand at playing the taiko themselves.

The awe inspiring Tenko

A Geisha dance performance was also part fo the proceedings, carried out by maiko ('dancer') Korin. This was among the first of such performances in India, and no doubt enthralled the audience.
At the same time, the enka (a popular form of song) performances by Mr. Sarbjit Singh Chadha- the first non-Japanese master of the art form- were also a memorable part of the festival. Mr. Chadha also translated some of his work into Hindi onstage, managing to keep the rhythm and pace of the song intact.
Equally exciting was the presentation by a Japanese robotics firm which demonstrated one of their robots, named TMSUK, live on stage, at the same time displaying some of the other advances in robotics through a short video documentary. TMSUK was later housed at one of the kiosks where visitors were allowed to operate it.

Other performances catered to more specialised subjects, such as an extensive workshop on Sudoku and a demonstration on how to make different varieties of sushi. An impromptu fashion show was also organised by Japanese brand “Satisfaction Guaranteed”, where the audience was allowed to vote for one of the different styles exhibited by the brand, all showcased onstage by volunteers.

I was also fortunate to be part of the live art event where artists proficient in the manga (Japanese comics) style were invited to paint a canvas arranged at the premises. It was absolutely fantastic to participate in such an event and meet fellow artists interested in drawing manga as well. The quality of the final display was breathtaking indeed.

Artists from across the country in action
The magic of the event lies in the preparations of it and the work done by fellow otakus from MAC backstage. An odd group of 60 random people of which barely 30 people knew each other and what they were getting into , transformed into professionals who made the event a big success on all the days. The cosplayers put the cherry on the cake by creating a storm right in the center of the event. It made the press and the people stand up and take notice of how enthusiastic Otakus from India are about the Anime and Manga culture. The cosplays were done to perfection and the Japanese press was extremely surprised to find out Anime characters popping out from the crowd and walking the ramp on stage.

Behind the scenes

A stranger canvas to work on
MAC was involved in every aspect of the event. From manning each stall alongside the Japanese, taking care of the stage arrangements and the performers' needs, distributing brochures and answering questions for visitors, managing the audience, being the audience (whenever we got a chance) to being performers on stage - MAC was involved in full capacity. 50 odd MAC members in red tees volunteered on all days, relentlessly from 11 in the morning to 10 at night. And on the side, MAC members (who were not volunteering) kept dropping by on all days to have their share of fun.We went around the stalls and chatted with the Japanese (who were ever so nice to all of us), tried out the cosplay clothes, helped kids try out the robot, took and posed for pictures and got tanned by at least 2 shades while we basked in all the awesomeness around us.
The festival had a wide variety of booths and stalls, from pop-culture icons like Bandai to clothing brand Buden Shouten, as well as the Japan Publishing Trading Company, Tatsunoko Productions, Bushiroad publishing, alongside better known names such as Sony and  Toshiba. Traditional Japanese art and crafts were not neglected either, with stalls displaying origami and lacquerwork, along with an interactive demonstration of the Japanese form of water-and-ink painting known as sumi-e. The origami stall in particular drew a lot of visitors, owing both to the universal popularity of the  art as well as the stall manager, the elderly Mr. Yoshio Sato, who left a lasting impression on visitors thanks to his cheer and enthusiasm. Yet another stall allowed visitors to try on various traditional Japanese outfits as well as costumes depicting popular Japanese mascots.

Bandai Banzai!
The Vanguard stall~ the game remains a craze amongst members even now

Sato-san at the Origami stall won everyone's love and respect. Easily one of the most amazing people present

Another first at the Cool Japan festival was the 'cosplay'- short for costume play- carried out by the members of the Mumbai Anime Club (MAC). Club members, despite being occupied with their volunteer duties at the festival, took time to put together some amazing costumes and props – all the more so considering the availability of material for such attempts in India – depicting popular characters from various anime and manga franchises. I was quite surprised to note how many of the audience were able to recognise the characters portrayed by the MAC members, given the niche audience anime and manga currently enjoy in the country.

Crossing swords
Bad is awesome

Trained to kill

The MAC members also put together a 'kawaii' (Japanese for 'cute') dance performance  as well as renditions of popular J-Pop music fused with Indian instruments, performed by the band 'Wasabi Vibes'. Both performances drew unanimous approval from the assembled visitors.

MAC's dancers being awesome
Wasabi Vibes, the dance band and the cosplay were the big MAC attractions on all the three days, and the adrenaline rush of taking the stage in front of hundreds of members was an exhilarating experience. It was, in a way, the culmination and the vindication of all the effort MAC as well as members from other anime clubs (PAC, ARC, and of course KAC) had pitched in with.

Wasabi Vibes in performance
A special mention should be made of the cosplay. We cosplayed in numbers. Cosplayed characters included (but were not limited to) ALL of akatsuki, Uchiha Madara, Gaara and Kakashi, Ichigo, Urahara, Yoruichi and Rukia (two each of the last 2 of them), Edward Elric, Monkey D. Dragon and Monkey D. Luffy (again, 2 of them), Erza, Kenshin, Mello, L, Cowboy Bebop and Afro Samurai. All of them did an excellent job. While it did take us time to get used to the stares whenever we stepped out of the CJ area, the feeling of strangers walking up to us and asking for a photo with us was one of the awesomest things ever.

Battle mode ON!
Mad scientists - you are doing it right
Cosplayers taking a bow

The Cool Japan festival was indeed an unforgettable experience, having catered to a long-standing desire for more exposure to Japanese culture for people like me; at the same time, I'm sure it introduced the same to a whole new demographic of old and young alike. Judging from the footfall at Phoenix Mills during the festival – which I'm told exceeded 26,000 on the final day- I'd say the festival accomplished its goal of exposing Mumbai- and on a larger scale India- to the many nuances of Japanese culture. Congratulations to the organisers, and to the volunteers from the Mumbai Anime Club, on a job truly well done.

Doppelgangers galore

The best thing so far has always gone unnoticed amidst all the hoorah for the event, cosplay and MAC... its the bonds people formed in just 4 days. The group of volunteers who were strangers to each other till a day before the event started, acted like a family and worked their buttocks off to turn those 4 days into something India, Mumbai and MAC can never thank them enough for. As the event drew to a close on the last day, people were in high spirits albeit a bit sad that they won't be able to meet their newly made friends till the next time they meet at MAC. What I treasure from the event is the memories I took home thanks to the people involved in the event. The event could not have been the same had any single person been absent. I can speak on behalf of the entire volunteer group when I say Banzai for anime and the people from MAC. Also for the otakus who took time off and flew / drove down to the city to participate in the event.

Awesome people being awesome

what kind of sorcery is this?
There are these moments in life which are so awesome they leave you dizzy for weeks afterwards. And then whenever you talk about it later, months or years down the line, you are starry eyed. MAC was one such event. And like Akshay mentioned, the bonds we formed are the most precious thing we'll take away from Feel Japan.


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