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In NYC, Sakura Matsuri is an Otaku Event

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"Letters from the New York Otaku"

By David Cabrera


#32 – In NYC, Sakura Matsuri is an Otaku Event

This past weekend the Brooklyn Botanical Garden had Sakura Matsuri, which I likely don't need to explain to you. However, viewing the cherry blossoms is a bit of a different situation here. If you walked into the Garden this past weekend, you would have thought you were at an otaku event... and really, you would have been right. I can't say how it is elsewhere in America, but here in New York, the cherry blossom viewing looks like an anime convention that happens not to feature any anime.

This didn't exactly happen by choice. It's a matter of the audience. If you announce a “Japanese cultural event” in New York City, in my experience, at least five people will show up dressed as characters from Bleach.

It doesn't really matter what the event is about, so long as it's got something to do with Japan. Taiko drumming? Yeah, I bet you'll get a cosplayer or two. They played that videogame. If I invite my buddies out to Setagaya for some ramen, five people might just hear me talking on the phone and later show up dressed as characters from Bleach.

Anime/manga is Japanese culture, after all, right? And otaku are single-minded about their area of devotion, right? So otaku hear “Japanese culture” and they think “anime!” and they put the costume on.

So that's how it was with the cherry blossom viewing. Over the last few years, large numbers of people just started coming to this event in full cosplay, like they would for any anime convention. And just like an anime convention, friends called friends to hang out, and soon the garden was absolutely packed with otaku and cosplayers and so on. Anime fans collectively made the cherry blossom viewing an otaku event by their sheer numbers.

Think about this happening in Japan for a second. I just want you to get the image in your head.

Anyway, the garden smartly embraced the otaku, started selling overpriced Pocky (see our previous article on that), and gave them their space. One of the big events every year is an otaku stand-up comedy act, and some friends of mine have done idol-style dance routines at the event in the past.

But of course there are side effects to otaku overrunning an ordinary cultural event. The garden is so badly crowded that weekend that it's actually a terrible time to stop by and take in the spring weather and the natural beauty of the gardens. Locals who aren't otaku make sure to avoid the festival.

Finally, New Yorkers who want to see the cherry blossoms should try and show up a day or two before the festival weekend. A lot of the cosplayers are known to shake the trees so that they can pose for photos as the cherry blossoms fall. I apologize on behalf of all American otaku for these people.
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