cultural tourism

Turning Japanese, Houston-Style

With Anime Matsuri and the Japan Festival on the horizon, this is the month for all things East Asian.

By Maggie Berardo March 31, 2015

Japan Festival

Image: Flickr

With the arrival of April come several Houston events celebrating Japanese and East Asian culture. Between the food, the performances and the merchandise—and with the Houston Museum of Natural Science's terrific Samurai show still in town—it’s the best time of year for Houstonians to romp through the cultural riches of the Far East.

Anime Matsuri (literal translation: “Anime Festival”), is Houston’s top anime convention. “Anime” is a term for Japanese or East Asian animated films and television shows. While some consider them to be ‘Japanese cartoons,’ most people who watch anime will argue that the genre is far from the Saturday-morning fare you remember. Ranging from classic Japanese shows that have made their way to America such as Sailor Moon and Pokemon to full-length features like Tokyo Godfathers and Spirited Away, anime cuts a wide swath.

Matsuri is a space to celebrate the industry, with a wide selection of merchandise dealers, as well as and panels with industry animators and actors. For seasoned anime fans, it’s a great place to mingle and discuss your favorite shows, games and movies. For those newer to anime, this event might seem a little overwhelming at first, but if you just ask some of the other attendees, they’ll be more than happy to introduce you to some of what Japanese animation has to offer.

Anime Matsuri

Image: Flickr

I’ve been attending Anime Matsuri since its first year, 2007. Back then I was just a geeky high schooler driving out to The Woodlands to indulge my love of anime and video games with my friends. Since then, Anime Matsuri has expanded to the George R. Brown Convention Center downtown and now features a masquerade ball, J-Pop musical performances, and panels with some of the industry’s leading figures.

The convention starts this Friday and carries on through Sunday, April 5. If you happen to have any lovers of Attack on Titan, Fullmetal Alchemist or Pokemon in your family, then it will be worth the trip. One guest I’m excited about at this year’s con is Luci Christian, a Houston-based voice actress who can be heard in animes like Fullmetal Panic, DN Angel and one of my personal favorites, Princess Tutu.

Anime conventions are notorious for long lines and limited food options, but the organizers of Matsuri have been conscientious about addressing fan concerns, and the fact that the festival has lasted this long testifies to their success. After complaints about last year’s lines, organizers have promised that things will run more smoothly this year. To combat bad con food, the convention has invited 10 local food trucks to park in front of the George R. Brown, including Houstonia favorite The Rice Box.

For a broader look at Japanese culture, check out the Houston Japan Festival on April 18 and 19 at Hermann Park. Now in its 22nd year, the free festival attracts about 25,000 attendees annually with its mix of food, vendors and live entertainment. At this year’s festival you can check out live Taiko drummers, watch professional martial artists display their skills, see the beauty of traditional Japanese dance or learn the subtle intricacies of teahouse etiquette.

For me, the most exciting part of the festival is the food. This year I’m looking forward to the Saturday Sushi Roll-Off—an Iron Chef–like competition among Houston’s top sushi chefs. While the organizers haven’t announced the full slate of contestants, the Yaki Snack Attack food truck has already announced that they’ll be fielding a challenger. And the festival has promised there will be plenty of popular Japanese snack foods like pocky and onigiri. Cloud 10 Creamery will feature special Japanese-inspired flavors, as will Moyen Japanese Market and Friohana Shaved Ice. Confirmed vendors include Nippon Kodo, Realms Anime and New Dynasty Department Store—even the Rice’s Chao Center for Asian Studies will have an information booth.

No matter what you go to this April, exposing yourself to Japanese culture will only make your month better. 

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