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Editorial

J-Pop Summit: A Japanese Pop Culture Extravaganza

by Jean Schiffman

Annual Pop festival strives to bridge the cultural gap between Japan and the U.S.

Somewhere on the cultural spectrum between an anime convention and a cherry blossom festival, San Francisco’s trendy J-Pop Summit is unlike any other festival in the country, says executive director Manami Iibioshi.

In its seventh year this August, the annual summer showcase of Japanese pop culture has expanded beyond the borders of Japantown (where last year’s free festival attracted an overload crowd of 120,000) and will largely take place in Fort Mason.
“It’s almost like starting over for us,” confesses Iibioshi. The scheduled events are mostly ticketed this year.

An extravaganza of film, fashion, music, art, technology, a dance contest and games, featuring participating guests from Japan, J-Pop Summit is directed by Iibioshi (also founder of the three-year-old Japan Film Festival) and entertainment industry professional Takeshi Yoshida. Both are local residents who manage New People, a Japantown retail business, culture and entertainment complex, established by J-Pop Summit chair and businessman Seiji Horibuchi in 2009; the complex includes a 143-seat, state-of-the-art screening room.

The festivities begin with a Friday night screening, at the Castro Theatre, of the 2001 sci-fi fantasy “Electric Dragon 80.000 V,” in which electrical current shocks a boy as he‘s climbing a tall cable pylon. One of the film’s stars, Tadanabu Asano, appears in person. The evening also includes techno DJ Ken Ishii and animation by prolific anime filmmaker Koji Morimoto.

The rest of the Japan Film Festival’s approximately 20 films are to be screened at the New People cinema as a component of J-Pop Summit, including all of Morimoto’s shorts; the filmmaker will be in attendance and will put in an appearance at Fort Mason as well. Iibioshi says that about half of the films are anime and half documentary and live action features, some based on manga (Japanese comics).

Guest of honor this year is artist and musician Yusuke Nakamura, who has designed book covers, illustrated high school textbooks, created the CD jacket for the alt-rock band Asian Kung-Fu Generation and published several books of illustrations. He will be on hand at the Kinokuniya Bookstores of America booth, one among many vendor booths at J-Pop.

Japan-based musical groups, most of them new to Bay Area audiences, are likely to be a big draw. Among them are pop singer Eir Aoi, known in recent years for providing the vocals on many popular anime series; the all-girl hard-rock band Gacharic Spin, said to be flamboyant and aggressive; a female pop-rock duo, Faint*Star (Hina and Yuria); and JinnyOops!, an all-girl indie punk rock trio comprising guitar/vocals, bass and drums, who appeared at J-Pop several years ago. Also on the docket: JAM Project, an anime music supergroup that’s been around for 15 years.

“We chose artists that would be a good fit for our audience,” says Iibioshi. People in their 20s are expected to make up 40 percent of the attendees this year, thirtysomethings and children another 40 percent. J-Pop Summit normally attracts teenagers, college students into anime or Japanese fashion, families whose elders grew up with Japanese culture, those who love Japanese food and a crowd that prefers a traditional tea ceremony to manga. Iibioshi predicts that perhaps 30 to 35 percent will be Asian or Asian-American (of which a tiny percentage, reflecting San Francisco’s demographics, will be of Japanese background). Many come to discover the latest trends and products from Japan. For those who are interested in sake or sushi, there’s a Saturday “Sake Summit,” a tasting event at Union Square, with sake makers and distributors from Japan and the United States selling wine and cocktails, plus food and tea vendors and music.

Two fashion shows exhibit Lolita fashion (“It’s a niche market,” says Iibioshi, “inspired by the French rococo style, very baby doll, frills and ribbons”) and harajuku—“edgy, colorful street fashion.”

Since one of J-Pop’s goals is to pique interest in tourism to Japan, a travel pavilion will feature a pop-up ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn of the type that was popular from the 17th to the 19th centuries, catering to travelers on the highways; now the ryokan are mostly found in scenic areas of Japan and boast hot springs and other amenities. “The ryokan is a totally different experience,” says Iibioshi. This exhibit will give visitors a tiny taste of that culture.

The biggest new addition to J-Pop Summit is an interactive pavilion at Fort Mason. With the theme “Life @ Near Future,” it’s a showcase for the latest technology and products from Japan, presented mostly by Bay Area-based companies, including several startups. Iibioshi mentions one product, a particular hi-tech camera that was imagined by Spielberg in his 2002 sci-fi film “Minority Report.”

A dance contest pits finalists, chosen from among internet video submissions, against one another on the mainstage, hoofing it to popular Japanese dance music and choreography.

“1000 Treasure Hunters,” which sounds delightfully old-school, invented by SCRAP—a Kyoto-based company that also created the world’s first live action game, “Real Escape Game”—sends players, individually and in teams, on a mysterious, two- to four-hour journey through Fort Mason, equipped with clues, hints and maps.

Horibuchi has said that J-Pop Summit’s mission is to show people what is hip in Japan now. But even more than that, it’s about bridging the gap between the two cultures. Musing on the influence of Japan in the West, Iibioshi says, “The uniqueness of our culture is that it has multiple dimensions and a [broad] spectrum, from minimalism, such as Zen [which originated, as she points out, in China], to extreme pop-ness, such as color overdosed harajuku fashion.” Expect to see a large swath of that spectrum at J-Pop Summit.

Aug. 7 → 9

Fort Mason

http://www.j-pop.com/