The 8 inspiring and two not-so-nice lessons I got during J-Pop Summit 2014 weekend (July 19 – 20, 2014)

Instead of the annual J-Pop Summit reflection I used to do for the past three years, I’d like to list 10 things I learn during J-Pop Summit 2014 as the closing post of anything J-Pop Summit related. Perhaps you already heard that J-Pop Summit 2014 had the greatest attendance record ever, with 120,000 people attending the eventful weekend. I’m sure many people had a great time. For Chris and I, the J-Pop Summit 2014 weekend had been a great experience with many ups and a few downs. We got to do things we did not get to do on years prior, such as conducting interviews with well-known Japanese artists, meeting a Japanese style sub-culture group, and enjoying musical acts from emerging J-Pop groups. The fashion, music, and anime extravaganza was awesome, but that July 19-20 weekend was so much more than surface-level entertainment. Read more after the jump!
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1. Do your best all the time like May’n.

One thing May’n said during our interview before her Dots and Lines concert at Slim’s was “just do your best, all the time.” Seeing her vocal prowess, commanding stage presence, and sweet demeanor for both days, I’m wholeheartedly convinced that she is a true Japan icon who has outstanding work ethic, always giving it her all.
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2. You are never too young (or too old!) to develop your personal brand or life objective.

It’s really inspiring listening to Una talked about “my name is my job” or seeing how Ayumi Seto’s eyes gleamed with excitement when describing her plans for her fashion line Aymmy in the batty girls. I thoroughly enjoyed our interview with Ayumi, Una, and Misa Kimura and I adore these young women. They are genuinely serious about their life and want to make the most out of it. Ganbatte-ne!
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(clockwise from top left: Misa Kimura, Ayumi Seto, Una)

3. Have fun when performing like Akira, who never felt too cool to hold her pose a little bit longer.

Watching Akira performed during KAWAii!! fashion segment on Saturday was a true delight. She has a great personal and performing style, and she’s cool as heck. But she never felt too cool to warmly address the crowd and photographers on the press pit. She frequently worked the stage and paused long enough each times so we were able to capture great moments of her performance.
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4. Always be genuine and sincere like Yanakiku, the kimocos duo and the real ambassador for lettuce!

I don’t know how many new fans Yanakiku gained in San Francisco alone after performing live, but I’m sure it’s a lot. They’re talented, super adorable, fun, hilarious, and beautiful. They admitted it’s very difficult to emcee in English and they thought about giving up many times, but thank God they never did! Their sincerity and charm shone through, putting a smile on so many people’s faces on both days. I really, REALLY hope they are back next year.
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5. Always be professional and courteous no matter how tired / jet lagged you are, just like [insert name of any Japanese artists who came to J-Pop Summit 2014 here].

Tomomi Itano came straight from SFO to do a press conference on Saturday, July 19. She then went to do many interviews all day and performed at J-Pop Live at Union Square later that evening. The next day, she performed at Japantown in the morning and then returned back to Japan for her tour. Tokyo Girls’ Style also had a full schedule but they handled it as total pros.

After our interview with Ayumi, Misa, and Una on Sunday afternoon, Chris and I sat next to Una and her manager on a bench outside of the interview room. I asked her if she’s feeling tired and she said not at all, but then she (and her manager) went out like a light for 20 minutes. Jet lags are rough for any trips, but none of these Japanese artists let their tiredness prevented them from being complete professionals.
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(clockwise from top: Tokyo Girls’ Style, Daichi, Una, Misa Kimura, & Ayumi Seto, Tomomi Itano)

6. Dare to be different like the Black Diamond.

The kuro-gyaru is a non-traditional Japanese fashion style that evolved from manba and yamanba. While kuro-gyaru is getting more popular, it’s certainly still somewhat controversial. However, the Black Diamond group, which consists of 150 kuro-gyaru members (and the number is still growing) are confident about their wild, flashy, sexy looks regardless whether people get it or not. Black Diamond girls wants the world to know about them, be it from their music, fashion line, or event appearances. The kuro-gyaru trend is here to stay, so hair smiles for everyone!
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(From left to right) Mayuchibi, Pomitan, Harutamu, Rise, Yun, Erimokkori

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7. Don’t let one negative experience define who or what you are.

Merry Project might have just a short presentation during J-Pop Live at Union Square, but Koji Mizutani had a profound message: not to let the word “Fukushima” be synonymous with “nuclear tragedy”. When he held up a simple piece of paper with “Fukushima = Smile!” written on it, the audience cheered with enthusiastic applause. A straightforward and effective positive lesson to remind us all.
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8. You have to REALLY love ramen to get one bowl of ramen at the first ever San Francisco Ramen Festival. $8/bowl and 3-hour waiting time absolutely required.

One word: RIDICULOUS. I didn’t like the fact that SF Ramen Festival was held as part of J-Pop Summit Festival, and I hope next year both festivals are separated. From what I gathered and experienced, it made Japantown too crowded with two different sets of people that rarely overlapped: those who are Japan anime/music/fashion enthusiasts, and the ramen maniacs. Walking along Post St. on Saturday, July 19 was an absolute nightmare with echoes of people saying “where’s the ramen?” “let’s get ramen!” “maybe there’s no ramen around here” “ramen!” “ramen?” endlessly. Plus, it was a complete standstill the closer we got to Ramen Street, where all 8 ramen booths had separate queue lines as monstrous as an 8-headed Tiamat from Final Fantasy. And that monster was resting very close to Pagoda Peace Plaza, where many J-Pop Summit events were held. Good lord, have mercy.

Yes, this year’s attendance was record-breaking. But many people who came to enjoy J-Pop Summit 2014 were really annoyed by the sheer number of people. On the other hand, waiting 3 hours for a bowl of ramen was simply not worth it, in my opinion (I did not get any ramen). Moreover, all ramen restaurants that are in Japantown and its vicinity were full. Many gave up getting ramen altogether. Out of all my friends who wanted to go to Japantown for SF Ramen Festival, all of them ended up bailing out. The ramen fever was too crazy. Not to mention there were many summer constructions happening near Japantown, making parking space searching nearly impossible if you arrived after 11am.
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9. The only use for a police report is to file it to your insurance company. / We are stronger than we thought.

Speaking about parking space, we got a rude reminder that SF Downtown can be VERY unsafe on Saturday night. If you followed Fafafoom on Facebook, you’ve probably heard that our car (parked at a garage close to Union Square) was broken into, leaving THREE broken windows and valuables missing during J-Pop Live at Union Square. The SFPD was not exactly helpful and did not want to do much beyond telling us how to file a police report for insurance purposes. So how about the security camera recording of the van speeding away from the garage, its license plate recorded? No luck, as apparently so many auto burglaries cases happened every single day. So I guess congrats burglars since the police won’t even lift a hand to try tracking you. By the way, good luck with karma.

Not only our car, out mental states were also in complete wreck at the end of that evening. It was very tempting to give up and to cancel our planned interviews the day after. It was a tough deliberation and we almost did not make it, but we did our best and ended up not only going to Japantown to enjoy the last day of J-Pop Summit 2014, but also did all of our interviews, thanks to New People staff Hiromi-san who was our savior that day. Looking back, I was really happy we made the decision to finish what we started, and we just proved to ourselves that we got just a little bit stronger by doing so.

10. It pays to have cool business cards, especially when networking with Japanese people.

Networking with other press members and making friends with strangers are so much fun, especially during J-Pop Summit 2014 where you’re sure to exchange business cards with Japanese people. My handmade Fafafoom business cards are made of recycled papers, interior fabric and leather scraps, glue, and personally written with a good ol’ sharpie. The act of exchanging / giving Fafafoom cards to fellow media folks and Japanese artists were such a delight, it’s an instant ice-breaker. When May’n said, “Sugoi!” when receiving my card, or Ayumi-san asking politely whether it’s alright for her to take one of my cards, I know I’m going to continue making my Fafafoom cards for a long time. Let’s exchange cards when we meet!
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So there you go, folks. What an eventful J-Pop Summit Festival, it’s definitely the most memorable yet. I will patiently wait to see what next year’s festival will bring, and I hope I will get to see you there too. Please say hi if you see either Chris or I – we’d love to give you a high five!

Thank you for reading, until next time,

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