Dreamy Japanese Pop Culture Comes to Life at Waku Waku Festival

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The inaugural Waku Waku +NYC festival will be held this weekend in Brooklyn and is an extravaganza of Japanese pop culture from video games and art to food. (Photo courtesy Waku Waku)
The inaugural Waku Waku +NYC festival will be held this weekend in Brooklyn and is an extravaganza of Japanese pop culture from video games and art to food. (Photo courtesy Waku Waku)

There is a term in Japanese called waku waku which means “dream-like excitement.” That dreamy feeling is going to come to life this weekend at several locations in Brooklyn during the inaugural Waku Waku +NYC festival, a two-day extravaganza of Japanese pop culture.

Taking place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 29 and 30, Waku Waku will feature Japanese artists, video-game creators, cosplayers and musicians while also offering attendees a unique mix of food, educational opportunities and more.

“Our president [Chikako Ichihara] founded this because she wanted to make it a space to feel waku waku and bring together Japanese artists, Brooklyn industries and schools in Brooklyn, which is the hottest area in New York, to gather all the cultures,” Rina Sato of Azix Inc. told TheBlot Magazine last week.

Since 2007, Azix Inc. has been renown for presenting the Japan Pavilion at the annual International Restaurant & Foodservice Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan. It also presented Japan Week at the Grand Central Terminal in February, so the company’s endless sources and connections with cultural tastemakers in Japan gives Waku Waku an advantage over other pop culture events like New York Comic Con to go “beyond anime.”

“Waku Waku is very different than other events on the East Coast, as we are a Japanese profit company,” Sato explained. “We have connections, anime, games, food, local artists, schools, educational stuff happening — it’s very exciting for kids and family.”

Some of the notable happenings taking place at Waku Waku include the American debut of father and son animation screenwriters Takao Koyama (“Dragon Ball Z”) and Makoto Koyama (“Dragon Ball Super”), who will share their industry insights and stories about creating the popular anime series. Artist and “Kawaii culture ambassador” Sebastian Masuda will show his latest interactive exhibit, “Time After Time Capsule” in Transmitter Park. Festivalgoers will be able to place their very own creations in Masuda’s capsule, which will be showcased and opened at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Kawaii (pronounced ka-why-ee) is a huge global cultural movement that translated means “lovable,” “adorable” and “cute.” The movement, which is beloved mostly by females ranging from girlhood to adulthood, portrays an almost child-like innocence with its colorful clothing and happy icons (think Hello Kitty, Sailor Moon, Pikachu from “Pokemon”).

Waku Waku +NYC guest, Kawaii fashion model Haruka Kurebayashi. (Photo courtesy Waku Waku)
Waku Waku +NYC guest, Kawaii fashion model Haruka Kurebayashi. (Photo courtesy Waku Waku)

“I think it’s a unique part of Japanese culture,” Sato said. “People think Japanese culture is very conservative, but they care very much about how they express themselves through clothes. About 15 to 20 years ago, kawaii appeared in Harajuku area [of Tokyo], and it just happened to have global attention. It’s very unique and different from the world’s other fashions.”

Additionally, Keiji Inafune, the acclaimed designer of “Mighty No. 9,” the first video game to earn more than $4 million on Kickstarter, will also be on hand at Waku Waku to give a sneak peek of the game months before its projected release in early 2016.

“A lot of attendees are excited about the playable demo,” Sato shared. “There’s going to be a huge gaming area, and they’ll be able to play it with Keiji Inafune right by them. VIP passes are still available to meet him in person.”

Sato grew up in Tokyo and came to the U.S. for college five years ago. What she finds most exciting about this weekend’s Waku Waku festival is that it is being presented by Japanese people to showcase Japanese people and their culture.

“We’re doing something other Japanese organizations have never really been able to make happen,” she said. “Anime is a really big part of Japanese culture, and a lot of events here are organized by American organizations. The sad part is that we don’t have a lot of Japanese organizations to coordinate and work with local events and restaurants — there are no big events done by the Japanese, so it’s exciting because Japanese people are creating it and making it happen.”

If this inaugural event is successful, Soto expects Waku Waku to become an annual event, one that could take place in different cities, not just New York. “I hope the attendees will learn and feel the uniqueness from different conventions because it’s so much effort to put this and all the Japanese guests together, and we want to have people interact with them,” she said. “A lot of our Japanese guests want to interact with the guests one-on-one.”

And that may definitely make a dream a reality for many Japanese pop-culture enthusiasts.

Waku Waku +NYC will be held Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 29-30 in various locations in Brooklyn. 

Nikki M. Mascali is editor of TheBlot Magazine.

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