Day 6 - Convention Day 1

Thursday, August 30th, 2007

Our first full day of the convention and it appears to be already a bit of a disappointment. It is only the first day so perhaps I should not be jumping to conclusions but I am thinking that there are not really a lot of interesting panels and the number of those that are in both Japanese and English is quite small. I think I was hoping for a bit more communication between the two cultures but so far it appears as though the English panels are only for the English with little input from the Japanese. Early days yet.

Breakfast is getting to be a problem. The meals on offer at the hotel are all very European (the Italian restaurant serves English and American food for breakfast, it appears) and the shopping centre does not even open until 11:00. So, what to do?

View of Cosmoworld from Hotel Window (SW)

Our hotel is right on a small harbour with a small theme park immediately around it. On the opposite side of the thin harbour is a ferris wheel (yesterday we had a bit of an English lesson with the lady showing us into our room as we explained what it was called – “Ferris Wheel” is an odd term I suppose…She told us what it was in Japanese but of course it was in one ear and out the other…) and an interesting looking roller coaster but just beyond that there is a mall – “Yokohama World Porters”. This was a good a place as any to look for something for breakfast so shortly after rising at 8 we headed off in search of food. It very much a stark, boring building from the outside but it does have quite a good food court – Not large but a good range of food. Immediately upon passing through the doors there is a Starbucks with a French bakery beside it – not a promising start but it did get better with a shop selling udon (thick noodles in soup) beside it. Well, quite local so we decided to give it a go without going any further. We had just the specialty of the shop – Fresh, thick, white udon noodles in a fantastic broth. There are a number of side things we could have as well so we picked up some tempura (never have too much of that).

Udon Restaurant

The area is very much like a food court anywhere in the world and if it was not for the signs in Japanese it would be difficult to figure out where you are in the world. Looking around as we sat to eat there are a number of other shops that look interesting: Beside the udon shop there is a store selling what looks like a big mound of eggs with a white sauce on top on a black metal eating tray (what you might see a steak served on in the west), next to that (around the corner) is a shop selling ramen (another type of noodle in soup) then a shop doing stir-fries.

Another Restaurant

There is also a shop selling local specialities (with lots of signs indicating that), a shop selling fruit juices and desserts as well as another selling ice creams. Well, lots of choices and that is just the food court. Around the corner there is another shop selling Chinese food with a large assortment of moon cakes on offer (it is coming up to the lunar festival in China where one of the traditional meals of the time is moon cakes – small baked pastry cakes filled with bean paste and often the hard-boiled yoke of an egg).

The meal was delicious. A bit odd for us for breakfast but very good indeed. Putting our trays in the place indicated for cleaning we headed around to see what else was here. There is a small supermarket that we visited and picked up a few supplies for the week. It was interesting just looking around at what was on offer though not a lot of it was completely unexpected. If it is going to be difficult finding breakfast I really do need something to eat or I will fall asleep in the middle of the morning (and be very grumpy…need the energy!).

Heading up the escalators we wandered around looking at some rather cute kids clothing and toys (frogs and the like) but also managed to find a shop selling toys related to the “media” – such as both western and Japanese movies. Spent a long time wandering around the narrow aisles looking at the small figures evidently extracted from the capsule machines, DVDs, plastic figures, posters, cute small toys, cards and, interestingly, some rather risqué items as well…Mother and I were most interested in the Ghibli toys on offer. I finished early and waited for mother outside the shop watching an English-subtitled video shown through the display glass (simple animation telling an odd story with a lot of rude bits).

By this point time was getting short so we headed back for our first day of panels at the convention. For those of you reading this that have never been to such a convention it is basically comprised of a number of “panels” throughout the day. These are items where people are talking regarding a particular subject, making presentations or even displaying videos. In the case of this convention (and most “WorldCons”) what is on offer is particularly varied and there is an awful lot to choose from. Our guidebook for the 4 days is 98 pages long. Last night we spent a few minutes figuring out what we wanted to do today – A very worthwhile thing to do otherwise you wander around a lot and miss too much (in my opinion). We agreed that we will attend those items we want to attend rather than attending together all the time, meeting up whenever we can at the end of the day (or whatever).

Convention Centre

Our first panel (13:00 to 14:00) was the “Right rule (sic) of Japanese Hot Spring”. This was an introduction to the “onsen” or Japanese Hot Spring that was presented by some employees of a local facility (just across the street from the Ferris Wheel on the other side of the harbour – Manyo). For mother and myself none of the information was new to us as we had been reading up on it (amongst other things) before we got to Japan. The suggestion in the program was that this item was not just for foreigners but also the Japanese who do not always know how to properly use the facilities. It was amazing the number of people in the audience that did not know you had to be naked (for example) and that you had to wash before getting into the water…Ok, I will explain things to you a bit, this is how, basically, it works:

  1. You arrive at the “on-sen”, decide what you want and pick up your “yukata” (a light cotton kimono).
  2. You undress and put your clothing into a locker (put on the yukata).
  3. You wash yourself with a bucket and small towel provided (to protect your modesty, but it is a VERY small towel).
  4. You bathe in the pool. It can be very hot so you don't stay for long.
  5. You leave the pool and put on your yukata. At this onsen there are all sorts of things you can do as you are lounging around in your yukata. There are a series of restaurants on various floors and on the rooftop there is a large circular channel that you can sit on the edge of to soak your feet while you look out over this area of Yokohama (lots of tall buildings and lights).
  6. Eventually, you leave, returning whatever you have rented/borrowed and pay at the cashier at the door. Here the fees are basically based upon how long you are in the onsen.

After our talk mother was not interested in visiting particularly. I am a bit disappointed as I would like to have tried it – Yes you are naked but the male and female areas are completely separate and how often do we get to have such an experience?

From the more traditional delights of the onsen we moved onto a bit of science with a discussion on “Interstellar Travel” (14:00 to 16:00). This was presented by a rather friendly American working in Hawaii at the telescopes there (Mauna Kea). It was very good in that she spoke Japanese as well so kept the Japanese in the audience interested. She discussed the currently proposed methods of interstellar travel including solar sails and ion propulsion. There were a couple of what I took to be Japanese scientists in the audience which asked some very good questions which the presenter was very happy to answer and made the conversation particularly enthralling.

At this point mother and I split up with my attending the panel on the “Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis” (16:00 to 18:00) and her attending a couple of other items – “How to wear the Kimono” (16:00 to 17:00) and “Re-Discovering Japan: The Unknown SF Masterpieces in Anime/Managa” (17:00 to 18:00). “Sapir-Whorf” is that social activity is very much determined by the language that is used. This is an older hypothesis (1929) that has since been tempered somewhat. The panellists suggested that language does effect social activity it does not do this deterministically – Society also influences language. My panel ended a bit early so I had a few minutes to head across the courtyard outside of the conference area to the main convention centre building. It is in this main building that they have the “dealers room” set up – a room with a number of displays (art work, previous conventions, upcoming conventions, etc) as well as dealers selling various things (books, videos, art work, toys, etc.). I noticed that Ghibli actually has a small table set up where they are selling some of their DVDs. I am sure I will be spending money here…I also noticed they were setting up in the art display area a small exhibit of the paintings from their latest film, “Tales from Earthsea”. I will be back to visit this more thoroughly I am sure.

Mother had a good time with her Kimono panel – She was fascinated by the amount of work involved and the many different layers that must be traditionally worn. She was less impressed with her “Re-Discovering Japan” panel as they just gave lists of what they found interesting (not too interesting to listen to people just listing things) though she did give me the handout which has a number of things listed that I have not seen before so will certainly have a look at.

Opening Ceremony (Guests of Honour)

We both met up to attend the opening ceremonies (19:00) in the main hall. The room was pretty much packed as the traditional (WorldCon) event unfolded. The mayor of Yokohama came onto the stage in a traditional rickshaw and opened the ceremonies. The handing over to Yokohama from last year's convention in Anaheim (Southern California, home to the original DisneyLand) included the chairman for Yokohama being presented with a large Disney-esque red and white hat that looked a bit odd on the older gentleman wearing traditional Japanese clothing (beige yukata-like robe). The touching part of the ceremony was when the guests of honour were presented with a rather elderly Japanese gentleman expressing his gratitude (and the audience returning their compliments as well) as he was wheeled on and off the stage. The guests are split 50-50 with western people and Japanese people so it was good to see both represented. Well, now we are officially underway…

For dinner we left the mad throng around the convention and returned to the shopping mall under the hotel. We had a lovely Katsu dinner in a small but very busy restaurant there. This time I was able to order a different array of Katsu and use the grinder to grind the spices as mother had done in Akihabara. It was very good and we did notice a few other people from the convention actually eating there as well. A small walk outside afterwards rounded off a rather full day.

Hotel Room

Day 7 - Convention Day 2

Further Information

For further information, please see:

  • Nippon 2007 - Official site for the 2007 World Science Fiction Convention