J-Pop Summit Festival 2014: the biggest one yet!
San Francisco’s J-Pop Summit Festival (July 19-20, 2014) may have been more than two months ago, but the memories will live on!
An annual fixture in San Francisco’s Japantown since 2009, I’ve been a regular attendee since 2010, and I was able to witness the event evolve from a single day exhibition into an extravagant star-driven party encompassing two different parts of the city! Last year already featured an impressive guest lineup that included the likes of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and LovendoЯ, so expectations for this year were set high, and thankfully it did not disappoint.
Day 1 started off with an opening ceremony on the Peace Pagoda Stage featuring two of the Festival’s musical guests, human beatbox phenom Daichi (making his second consecutive appearance) and idol group Tokyo Girls’ Style, partaking in a ceremonial opening of a sake barrel to start things off for an eventful day. This was shortly followed by the “ODOTTEMITA” Dance Contest, judged by none other than TGS themselves!
After a brief appearance by singer May’n, we were treated to a memorable performance by the duo known as Yanakiku; playing on the similarity between their name and the word “yakiniku”, they appealed to the audience by refering to themselves as the “meat” and the fans as the “lettuce”, even bringing out a head of lettuce to give away to a lucky fan!
Also appearing was film director Mitsutoshi Tanaka, who was promoting his latest work, Ask This of Rikyu, ahead of its Bay Area premiere at the New People Cinema to kick off the annual Japan Film Festival of San Francisco. This was shortly followed by performances from a couple of rock-flavored artists who have become somewhat of a fixture at J-Pop Summit: solo singer Kylee graced the crowd with a mixture of her own songs and covers of some well-known American hits, and punk band Akabane Vulgars brought their own unique energy to the stage; unfortunately we had a scheduled interview at this time, so we couldn’t enjoy the latter half of these shows.
Closing out the Peace Pagoda Stage festivities were the Cosplay Masquerade and a brief music set from DJ Amaya…but as the Festival wrapped up its first day in Japantown, the show continued on several blocks away at Union Square!
Solo singer Una opened things up for us with her unique style of pop, followed by a spectacular show by Daichi, who utilized his beatboxing skills to amp up and wow the Downtown San Francisco crowd. After a brief presentation by the Merry Project, a charity dedicated to the recovery of Japanese areas affected by the 2011 Fukushima disaster, the music continued with Tokyo Girls’ Style performing several of their well-known funk-driven numbers, as well as an English version of their song “Himawari to Hoshikuzu”; TGS fans commemorated the show with fan-made sunflower rings they wore to show their support. Former AKB48 member Tomomi “Tomochin” Itano made her solo US debut, promoting her SWAG album and performing a mix of old and new songs, and wrapping up the Saturday night show was May’n, who initially just showed up to leave a message but ended up surprising everyone with an impromptu performance!
Day 2 in Japantown began with a bang, with Itano coming to the Peace Pagoda Stage to perform another brief set for her fans, who showed their excitement with deafening “swag” chants. The J-Pop Idol singing contest followed right after; last year’s winner, Gino Lucas, opened the show with a performance of Morning Musume’s “Ai no Gundan” before taking to the judge’s table with a few Festival guests in order to crown a new winner for this year. Afterwards, ganguro group Black Diamond took to the stage to show off their own brand of music and fashion, followed by a brief appearance by actor Yuki Furukawa, and Una giving another music performance for the Festival.
We took a break from the Peace Pagoda Stage for another interview, but came back in time for the annual Pocky Eating Contest; as the stage was being prepared, DJ Coco kept the Peace Plaza crowd involved by playing some music for everyone to jam to, and she even ran through the crowds to high-five and dance along with people as well! We left again for another interview, but made sure to come back in time to see Tokyo Girls’ Style taking to the stage for one last hurrah in front of a huge anticipating crowd. Pinky Doodle Poodle closed things out for the Festival, but yet another interview kept us occupied for that time.
Of course, the Peace Pagoda Stage wasn’t the only thing going on at J-Pop Summit. All throughout Post Street were various booths selling goods and memorabilia, as well as the usual barrage of unique food trucks for patrons to enjoy. But perhaps the biggest driver of foot traffic for this year’s event was the Ramen Street Festival, a series of booths providing fresh dishes of ramen for hungry souls. We would have loved to give this a try ourselves, but with such a huge turnout featuring multiple-hour-long waits, we just couldn’t squeeze it into our schedule; nevertheless, judging by such a turnout, one could easily deduce how immensely successful it was.
In conclusion, the 2014 J-Pop Summit Festival was certainly an enlightening experience. I knew this event had potential for big things when I first discovered it four years ago, but seeing it blow up the way it did last year and especially this year was definitely a pleasant surprise. You can definitely count on us coming back next year!
Stay tuned for Tomomi Itano press conference coverage, as well as musical guest interviews by our very own Tris-chan!
Special thanks to Erik Jansen of MediaLab for providing us with this great opportunity!