Travel Report: Girls Love Festival 16, 17-23 February 2016

My first trip to Japan was largely centered around a single event, Girls Love Festival 16 on 21 February 2016, as well as for personal reasons that I cannot detail here. Planning began in September 2015, and after a train ride from Narita International Airport to Shinjuku and a 15 minute walk, my travel companion and I arrived in Shinjuku Granbell Hotel. Due to the limited duration of our stay, much of the time spent was divided between the interest of myself and my companion.

On the morning of 21 February, I traveled alone by train to Kamata and made my way to Ootaku Sangyou Plaza PiO shortly before the doors opened at 12:00. Courtesy of Kamibukuro Works, I was furnished with an exhibitor pass and a seat at their booth. Kuma Ichigo, a member of Kamibukuro Works, also planned to meet with me, but he was unfortunately unable to attend due to illness. Photography of the event was not permitted, so I do not have any to share.

The festival took place in an exhibition hall on the first floor and consisted of many amateur artists selling self-produced yuri works in various forms, largely doujinshi manga, written works, and artbooks. Roughly three-fourths of the hall was occupied by the festival, and activity was constant throughout that space. Several professional companies held panels at the outward-facing end of the hall, including Carnival, the parent company of St. Michael Girls’ School, though no announcements related to A Kiss For The Petals were made. Even so, Carnival’s presentation was partially drowned out by the adjacent company’s showing, which had access to better audio and video equipment.

Overall, the atmosphere is comparable to that of an American anime convention’s dealer hall, albeit with a very narrow focus on a single genre. Though the attendance was nearly entirely Japanese, there was at least one non-native, an American teacher I spoke with at the booth. There was also the familiar sight of large amounts of attendees along the wall, some of whom were playing on portable game systems, waiting for nothing in particular.

The event ran until 4:00, and in the final minutes, Mi Kara Deta Saba arrived to greet the staff of Kamibukuro Works and me. After the festival, I was invited to join them for an after-event dinner party at a nearby restaurant, joined by another individual who acted as my interpreter. It was truly an honor to meet the producer of A Kiss For The Petals face-to-face, as was hearing his words of gratitude and encouragement for my further works. It would be no exaggeration to say that the significant time and financial investments I made to take this trip were justified on this night.

Girls Love Festival was the most central event of my trip. The remainder was spent largely exploring commercial points of interest in and around Shinjuku, and there are a few other thoughts I’d like to recount here. I may write a second post on other minor events at a later date.

Suggestions to visit Akihabara were a constant as I informed my acquaintances of my travel plans. Though I had only six days total, no less than two of them were spent in the famous district. The first shop I visited there was a seller of electrical components and devices, and simply browsing it gave me a nostalgic feeling. I made only one purchase, a three-to-two prong electrical adapter for my laptop. I took the opportunity to sample fresh taiyaki—a fish-shaped pastry, in my case filled with strawberry cream—and I regret not buying more. There was the expected abundance of second-hand media markets, and a search for older A Kiss For The Petals works missing from my personal collection turned up the first Extras Roundup.

Visiting the game centers was a high priority, as traditional arcades in my area have long since shut down. Shinjuku had several within walking distance of my hotel, two Taito Stations and at least one Sega arcade. The game centers I visited were operated by large video game companies, namely Taito, Sega, and Namco, and all of them were at least three stories tall dividing the machines by type: standard action games, medal pushers, networked games local and nationwide, rhythm games, and UFO catchers, among others. I found my first few visits overwhelming, as it had been many years since I experienced the din of a busy arcade, but after about four visits, the sights and sounds became familiar again.

I spent the majority of my time on various rhythm games, and several aspects of them are worth mention. Newer games are equipped with headphone output, but some centers retrofit older machines with headphone output through a splitter box affixed to the side with independent volume control. I found that where available, headphone use improves accuracy. However, some centers showed signs of heavy use of these ports, with all ports on all machines in a single center malfunctioning in extreme cases. In one Club Sega in Akihabara, a Pump It Up Prime – Japanese Edition machine was decorated with a variety of convenience features, such as extension cables from its USB ports, a spray bottle and rag to clean the steps of dust before and after play, and a defibrillator next to the machine. Perhaps not coincidentally, the machine was placed in plain view of a service desk should the defibrillator become necessary, though it was vacant when I played. In the short time I had to explore the country, I was unable to seek out retro arcades to see older games that were not distributed out of Japan; the urban centers I visited had mostly newer and popular games in circulation with some having a floor dedicated to a selection of fighting games.

Shinjuku Granbell Hotel is located adjacent to the commercial district of the city, which is surprisingly tranquil before normal operating hours starting approximately 10:00 AM. Having visited New York City in September 2015, I would preemptively compare the character of this part of Shinjuku to the equivalent sector of Manhattan. After businesses open, foot traffic is constant in all parts of the district. A large department store is in view at almost all times, and there is also an underground shopping mall with entrances near Shinjuku Station with its own selection of small to medium stores. Much of these shopping areas were left unexplored by the end of my trip, and by the end of the trip, I had spent a total of $497 (approximately 55,000 yen) over six days, a fraction of the total amount of cash I brought from home and far less than I expected to spend. I do not have a reliable estimate for the amount of cash I spent in game centers, but I believe it to be in excess of 10,000 yen, and I would gladly do so again for the unique experiences they offer.

Girls Love Festival 17 is scheduled for 5 June, less than four months after the last. I am currently planning to return to Japan solo from 1-15 June, barring any circumstances that force me to cancel.

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