Naka-Kon 2022: A Japanese Celebration

Naka-Kon 2022 just finished up and it’s time to discuss what makes Naka-Kon great. This time last year, I was reporting about Naka-Kon, but it felt a bit sad. We had more of an uncertain world and there seemed to be less attendees. This year, Naka-Kon appeared to be back if full swing! Let’s talk about where the event needs to improve, what it does great year to year, and some new stuff. My walkthrough video will be at the end as the icing on the cake!

Naka-CONS:
Let’s just get the areas of improvement out of the way. I’ll list them in bullet points so that I can keep them fast!

  1. The Parking! Okay, so, there is a single-level parking garage that is very limited in terms of capacity. I almost never try to park in there because it for sure is always full. There is a second, primary parking lot out in the front of the convention center. This parking lot is the one where everyone spends their time in trying to park. Waiting for people to drive off to get food. They hunt and stalk and wait and pounce onto any spot that comes free.
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    There is was a parking lot across the street from the “backside” of the building. You can park there and cross over to the Sheraton which is connected to the convention center. Now you’ll have to park even further back than that as that parking lot (for a company that isn’t even open on weekends) now says “No Event Parking”. Making your long, hot walk, even longer.
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    This event is an event that has 100% outgrown its building just based on parking alone. They should work to find a location that has a parking lot twice the size or do the following. Have volunteers running the parking lot. There are 2 entrances/exits. Make one be entrance only and the other be exit only. That way you can have them hold walkie-talkies. Whenever someone approaches the exit, the person at the exit confirms that they’re leaving after just being parked. And then they walkie to the person at the entrance to let another one in. This only has to start happening once the lot is full, mind you.
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    This enables people who want to enter to see that the line to get into parking is longer and longer. Which, for level-headed people means, go find another spot. What we ran into was another inconvenience where it was right place, right time. People who got in after us found spots before us, which is an inconsiderate outcome indirectly put in place by Naka-Kon. It should be first come, first served instead. One last point that I want to make here is that the vendors should not be allowed to park their large, double space, moving trucks here. If they’re not using them anyhow all weekend, they should park in that distant parking lot or be able to park in employee parking.
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  2. Seating. They didn’t mark seats for the hard of hearing. Look, it’s great that you designated a row of 6 chairs to people in the community that are deaf or have hearing loss. The frontmost seats make the most amount of sense for people to be able to see an ASL interpreter as they speak with their hands. However, 3 rows worth of people had to be asked to leave those chairs. Which means then they had to find seats that are now no longer available. The row of seats ended up still being sat in by people that were not hard of hearing. Those people had to go get chairs and put them in place themselves. There’s no fixing the issue after the fact, it already happened to them. But they can be designated with a simple piece of printed paper that says “Reserved for the Deaf Community”

Naka-PROS:

Now that we got the naughty bits out of the way… I can get into all of the great things that Naka-Kon has consistently offered. We can even touch on things that I either didn’t know they did or that are entirely new.

  • It’s 24 hours?! We noticed by looking at the schedule that the nights went very long and the mornings started early. They almost overlapped and that is an interesting approach to this event. Events like MAGFest do this because they have people in the adjacent hotel rooms that stay up late or nap during the day and need something to do at 3:23AM. I couldn’t tell you the turnout of these though, because I cherish my sleep. I hope that it was worth it for them to do such an endeavor going forward.
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  • Non-stop panels. I love that with panels that it isn’t just celebrity guests that come and talk. Naka-Kon is very keen on having panels that are experiences and teaching opportunities. They open up the application process and pick the panels accordingly. We generally have panels discussing cosplay, voice acting, Japenese culture, origami, and so much more. I’ve seen so many topics aside from simply having a celebrity tell stories and do Q&A. It’s incredibly refreshing to see people in our local community do what they love and share the information with us.
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  • Vendor hall. The vendor has continues to be a center point of the show for many people. Some attendees only show up to Naka-Kon to see what Japanese products that they may be missing.  There are, of course, non-Japanese booths as well. Such as the handcrafted goods and booths promoting their own upcoming events. One of the things that Naka-Kon does best compared to other events is that they actually define the hours of operation. Plenty of other events do this other ways. Some just leave it open the whole time and it isn’t defined anywhere, so you have a feeling of having to rush. Others announce it over an intercom in the vendor hall and if you’re not there, you don’t hear it and potentially miss out.
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  • Arcade room. I was uncertain what to refer to this room as, honestly. It does have arcade machines in it, of course. But it does have machines that are running via PC. But I suppose I’m splitting hairs. It had a few dozen arcade machines of varying types, which is no small feat. I saw rhythm games, fighting games, sports games, and even something I had not seen before. Scratch that, something that I had never heard of before! It was apparently made by Sega in the early 2000’s, which means you know it’s got to be good. This machine was called Flash Beats. If you’ve played it, you already know what it is. It’s like some mix between Pong, air hockey, and light bulbs. I think that this event really know what it’s doing by using Psychic Drive to supply most of their machines! I revel in the sheer amount of arcade goodness every year.
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  • Console room. This room, in effect, is the same thing. The room is equally as large and filled with tables and chairs for people to play at. There was a lot more room than the arcade room. This is useful for having versus gaming huddled up around a screen or having space for people to wait for their turn. They’ve finally been able to get a corner just dedicated to VR. I was wondering when I would start seeing that there. If it was there previously, I simply missed it. If it wasn’t there, then I’m glad that it is. The consoles range from NES to PS5, so color me impressed. I never would’ve thought that the first time I’d see a (giant) PS5 that it would be at Naka-Kon!
  • Tabletop room. There, naturally, was also a room for tabletop gaming. We were excited to see that tabletop games are still being loved after so much seclusion. People that didn’t know one another, gathering around a table and being near one another seems crazy. The last few years had trained so many of us to be smart and keep our distance. However, the tabletop room was consistently more populated than the console room was. Every time that we came by, we saw more people and they were laughing and enjoying themselves. Best of all, the games that they were playing were so varied. There was a great variety to choose from as well as the ability to play something that you brought with you!
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  • Inclusive bathrooms. There is not too much to say about this. It’s something that is sad for me to think about. I’m sad that this stands out and isn’t a normalcy. I’m sad that this has to be considered an amenity and not something that every single place does. I’m glad Naka-Kon has done it, but we need this trend to expand. They shouldn’t have to have had signs hung up for it, it should be the default signs.
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  • Signage. Speaking of signage, Naka-Kon does them in spades. Each and every single room that has something happening had some kind of signage outside of it. This could be the full schedule of everything happening in the room and at which times. This was my favorite as it was the most useful. Some would simply say what was currently happening and the times. Not my favorite, but still useful.
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    I think that if they had a small one-sentence explanation under the name of the panel/event happening in the room, that would be better. Some people like to roam and find fun or like to stand around in hallways. If they saw a sign saying what was happening in the room that they’re missing out on, I think that they’d be more inclined to enter. Or they would know what they are really about to walk into and wouldn’t bother if they didn’t care for it.
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  • Information. Thank goodness that this year Naka-Kon improved the online schedule and mobile side of things this year. I could not ever get the portal to load for me last year. Only when I first pulled it up the week before did it work. After that, it was consistently a black screen. This year it worked each time that I went into it. I would like them to be aware that it has one glaring bug to work on. When you scroll down the schedule and then tap into a panel (for example), and then want to go back, you can’t. You have to return to the main schedule at the top. This is tedious and needs to be remedied for next year.
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    Credit where credit is due, of course. They did also have a schedule you can print yourself and I believe I even saw that they had some that you could get from them. I saw some of them, but I’m unsure where they came from. I’m guessing it was badge pickup. I did not have to deal with badge pickup, because I was press, but I asked about it from other people.
  • Badge Pickup. Fast, effective badge pickup has always been the goal of Naka-Kon. I remember years and years ago at this point when it wasn’t that smooth. But times are different now, 10 years later. The advent of technology like iPads and improved wifi likely helps keep things moving along. Having the ability to pre-register for the event is a useful tool for them to keep the party moving.
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    If you have pre-registered, they simply scan your phone and hand you the badge. This year they didn’t have a section to write your name, but they did offer something different. If you paid $2 more, you could get a different style of art on your badge. I would like to know the number of people that actually did that. I think a place that lets you write your name and pronouns would be better than charging for a different picture.
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  • COVID Care. One more aspect that I’m glad they focused on is having a set of COVID regulations. In this day, it’s hard to get an exact answer on if the virus is up or down. Instead of worrying about the actual numbers, they just said “Hey, let’s treat it like it could be rampant”. To make this “better safe than sorry” point of view truly work they had to implement policies. Policies that were probably tough at times.
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    For instance, upon visiting the registration area, you first had to prove your status. That means that they required everyone to show vaccine cards or a negative test within 72 hours of badge pickup. They did not accept home tests either. Naka-Kon also accepted vaccine cards for little kids too.
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    Furthermore, they required masks for everyone with no exceptions. And they really meant it too. There were volunteers at major entrances with masks (until they ran out). These volunteers were correcting attendees on how to wear masks, reminding them to put them on, or giving them one if they didn’t have one.
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    Finally, they put a cap on the convention. They made it so that only 6,000 people could attend. This was smart because it always felt like there was space for us and never entirely too cramped. Well, that was the intention anyway. But you can’t fix the vendor hall without removing a row of vendors and then separating the remaining more.
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  • Cosplay Competition. As always, the cosplay competition was a tremendous display of local talent. They had a beginners category that was awe-inspiring. At one point, I thought that they were done with the beginner category and had migrated into the intermediate category. Some time later, they said “Okay, let’s hear a round of applause for the beginners!” I was like “WHAT.”, I simply couldn’t believe it. That being said, some how the intermediate and master class further wowed us into the ground. I love seeing cosplay that really make the character look like it’s alive here in the real world. I ultimately agreed with the judges on their picks and think that the best truly did win! The cosplay competition is one of the main reasons I still go to conventions in general, but Naka-Kon’s is always the best. Hands down.
  • Concerts/Music/Dance Parties. Every single time Naka-Kon happens, they place a strong emphasis on making sure that there are music-based events. This year, truly, was no different. Even with regards to the cosplay competition, which started with a performance. It continued with a performance for the halftime show. They made sure to really give you the big, fully charged taiko performance in the halftime show. This juiced up the audience and had them ready for the second half of the competition.
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    The show had live performances throughout the weekend and late into the night. I was incredibly intrigued by the thought of late-night EDM dance party. It went from 10 PM-1 AM and I didn’t see it until it was too late! I’m not sure of the turnout of this, either. Not because of sleep, but because I’m unsure how many people want to dance with masks on and have to deal with breathing that fast in a mask. Either way, we’re glad that music performances are deeply rooted in Naka-Kon’s DNA!
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  • Ticketed Events. Finally, the best part of the event is the part that not everyone can take part in. There are ticketed events with limited capacity. We managed to get in to one of the Maid Cafe events and take some photos and video which are in the video below. I just wanted to take the time to outline what these ticketed events are.
    • Byakko’s Kimodameshi Naka-Kon welcomes you to test your courage at our kimodameshi event! Byakko is now part of Team Tomo, so why is he working with the Yokai to scare people? Tomo passed the test and made her way through the maze. Now let’s show our spirit and how courageous the Naka-Kon fam is!
    • Charity Ball Come join us at this year’s Charity Ball. This year’s ball theme is Koyo (leaves of change) so feel free to drift in with autumn colors! We will have waltz and swing (jitterbug) music to heat up the dance floor. Join us for an evening of formal-wear fun and support Naka-Kon.
    • Cos-lesque! (18+) A cosplay burlesque show inspired by Japanese pop culture! This is an 18+ event. [This one is interesting, you should read more about it here]
    • Maid Café Tomo’s Teahouse is back and better than ever for Naka-Kon 2022! Join our lovely maids and butlers for an afternoon of tea, coffee, treats, and games! All treats and beverages are complimentary with your ticket and entry into our raffle! Come kick up your feet and relax with the maids of Tomo’s Teahouse!

 

Walkthrough Video:

(if it says “video unavailable” just press the “Watch on Youtube” link or click here)

Thanks to Naka-Kon for allowing us to come out and cover their event again. We tried to be everywhere at once and collect pictures of everything. I think that the fact that we couldn’t isn’t a testament to how much stuff that is truly available! Our opinions, photos, and videos were collected and put together into one article for simplicity’s sake. Thanks to everyone for reading!

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