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I peek around the street corner and spot hundreds of anime characters outside the George R. Brown Convention Center, ranging from punk rock school girls to comic book heroes. As an outsider to Japanese culture (who also ate sushi for the first time this year), I walk into Anime Matsuri, the eighth largest anime convention in North America, wearing my attempt at cosplay—the practice of dressing up as a Japanese character from a movie, book or video game—as Lulu Bell from the D. Gray-Man comic series after an informative Google search.

Last weekend's event, which welcomed more than 30,000 visitors to Houston, filled all three floors of the convention center and covered everything from music, fashion and anime to art and collectibles. To say the least, I was overwhelmed, but determined to consume every bit of Japanese culture, one event at a time. 

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Admiring the intricate costumes—from Pokémon's Pikachu to Spider Man—was part of the fun. The main exhibition arena looked like the shopping concourse at the Houston Rodeo, trading saddle and cowboy boot dealers with all things anime and Japanese collectibles, including Samurai swords, Harajuku fashions and action figures.

Aside from exhibits and concerts, Anime Matsuri is known for its grand Japanese fashion show. It’s the first anime convention to host a large-scale Japanese fashion show outside of Japan. The clothes and styles, which were so foreign to me, were unique and gorgeous. 

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The Japanese fashion panel featured some of the most renowned J-fashion designers from Japan. While most needed an English translator, hearing their inspiring stories was heartwarming. It shows that no matter where we are from and what language we speak, passion and drive to pursue dreams remains a universal ideal. Afterward, I toured collections by designers influenced by Lolita, a Japanese fashion subculture that is based on Victorian and Edwardian clothing styles. In every direction, there were ruffles, puffy sleeves and bonnets along with pictures of cupcakes and cats, patterned stockings and hair bows. It looked like the anime world came to life. However, I learned that these outfits aren't costumes—they are typical party attire in Japan. The only store in the Greater Houston area where you can find similar J-fashions is the Bellaire boutique Shop in Wonderland.

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Besides anime vendors and Japanese fashions, the modified car show was stunning too. Just when I thought sports cars couldn’t look cooler, adding pictures of anime characters and spunky designs across the exterior was the perfect touch. From tree branches on one car to the entire cast of an anime show on another, I’ve never seen anything like it before.

Anime Matsuri hosted the hottest talents, anime creators, Japanese musicians and fashion designers from the other hemisphere, including legendary Masami Suda, a character designer and chief animator of countless prominent anime shows. Even Japanese media hopped on the plane just to cover the event. With everything from K-Pop dance battles and 3-D printer workshops to a night club and Hentaifest, there was something for everyone, even attendees like myself who were new to Japanese culture. Anime Matsuri surprised me in the best possible way, Lulu Bell costume and all.

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