Skip directly to content

Tekkoshocon and Japanese Pop Culture

on Tue, 04/16/2013 - 11:35

Tekko Pittsburgh
Every year, hundreds of fans of Japanese pop culture descend upon the city of Pittsburgh for an annual convention that celebrates the art, fashion, music and aesthetics of Japan. Some of them dress as their favorite anime characters or in Japanese street attire, while others attend hands-on workshops that teach origami and Sashiko stitching, or even one of the many panel discussions centered on role-playing games and other aspects of fandom.

They listen to Japanese-style bands, watch anime videos, make friends and bond with likeminded individuals over the course of a three-day weekend. Tekkoshocon—shortened to Tekko in 2014—has something for anyone who is a fan of Japanese pop culture, and presents it in a community-like environment for all to enjoy.

“Anything that comes out of a culture, like a Disney movie or any film that comes out of the US, has hallmarks of American culture in it that are just ubiquitous,” 2013 event chair Jeanie Rabatsky explains in regards to the popularity of Japanese pop culture. “There are little behaviors that just scream, ‘This is America,’ especially if you’re not from around here. Likewise with anime and manga and Japanese video games—there’s a different philosophy toward life. There’s different cultural norms and those things, whether they’re really intended to or not, just show up as kind of a background, as part of the atmosphere in anime or manga. And I think that’s intriguing to a lot of people. I think it’s neat to look at the world through a slightly different lens.”

What one inevitably sees through those lenses, meanwhile, likewise adds to the fascination. “I also think the aesthetic is a very big part of the draw for a number of people,” Rabatsky continues. “We do have a lot of girls who like to dress up in Japanese street fashion, and some of it is very cute, much more feminine than you would see on the streets in the US today. We also have Hello Kitty and all of the Sanrio characters and even Pokémon. There’s a certain look and a certain attitude of ‘let’s make things cute and happy’ in certain avenues that I think people don’t get in the US. I think there’s sometimes more straightforwardness in feeling—and a more straightforward expression—in art, in music, in videos and manga.”

Jeanie Rabatsky is one of only a small handful of volunteers who have been a part of Tekko through the first eleven years of its existence. Originally from Ohio, she was a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh when she came across an e-mail looking for volunteers to help with the convention’s formation.

“I decided to go to the meeting, and at the meeting they announced, ‘We have someone who will print our program book, we just need someone to put it into Pagemaker,” Rabatsky remembers. “I had done a literary magazine in high school and worked with the program, so I kind of fell into volunteering that way.”

It was also a natural fit for Jeanie Rabatsky, as she had steadily become a fan herself of Japanese pop culture since her early days as a child. “As a kid, I played a lot of Nintendo and one of the big things I loved growing up was the Power Rangers,” she explains. “Then as I grew older, became a teenager, they started showing more Japanese animation on TV. Back in the mid-to-late 90s, they syndicated Sailor Moon and Dragon Ball Z for some time and then those went to cable. But you also had Pokémon, and there was a lot of Japanese animation that was really fun to watch being brought over at the time and that was really appealing. And that’s kind of when I started getting the idea, ‘Hey, this is all linked to this part of the world.’ So my senior year of high school, I started taking Japanese classes and then I continued that at Pitt.”

The connections between the various elements of Japanese pop culture that Jeanie Rabatsky recognized likewise play a role at Tekko and the numerous events that make up the convention each year.

“We have our musical acts, and sometimes people get into a style of music because they heard something similar in an anime once that they thought sounded pretty,” she offers as an overview of the convention experience. “Or maybe a video game had a TV series made about it and someone who comes to Tekkoshocon did a voice for one of those. Really all of these areas intersect. I don’t know if you can distill the art or the culture from it. They’re kind of just locked together. There’s no separating one from the other but I think art and culture is probably the best way to summarize it because no matter what part of the medium you’re looking at, both of those aspects are present.”

Just as the artistic and cultural elements merge together to form one tapestry, the same holds true for the hundreds of fans who attend Tekko. “On top of that background of art and culture, you now have fellowship, you have other people who enjoy the same things,” Rabatsky continues. “Some of the costuming hobbies in particular, or the Japanese street fashion hobbies, are pretty difficult to engage in when you’re on your own because one person can’t really tell a whole story about themselves. One person can’t necessarily go downtown and take photos by themselves. But now you’re networking. You’re finding friends who live within the region, and sometimes who live beyond the region, who share an interest with you, or can teach you how to do something that you would like to do better. Or maybe you can share something with them they didn’t know. So you’re building relationships, and I think that’s why it’s really rewarding.”

The majority of the attendees at Tekko are from the Pittsburgh area, and the convention itself has formed partnerships with many local organizations and establishments. Both the Japan-America Society and Pittsburgh Taiko were part of the 2013 event, for instance, and the opening night activities were held at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont.

Jeanie Rabatsky believes that the aesthetics of downtown Pittsburgh likewise makes it the perfect place to hold a Japanese pop culture convention, especially when it comes to cosplay and photography

“If you’re making costumes, part of the draw of that is being able to kind of create this fantasy image and become this fantasy image yourself,” she explains. “Just create that alternate reality in a sense. The roof of that David L. Lawrence Convention Center has beautiful views of the city, and if you move throughout the city—Point State Park, even throughout downtown—there are so many different types of architecture in the area that it’s really fantastic to see, and I think it has a lot of appeal for people.”

The best Pittsburgh aspect of Tekko, however, is that the convention itself is annually staged by Pittsburghers for Pittsburghers. “There are many cities throughout the country that have their own anime conventions,” Jeanie Rabatsky says. “The reason Tekkoshocon came about is because a Pittsburgher—her name’s Rebecca Roach, she grew up in Oakmont—she had heard of a convention that was trying to start in Pittsburgh and it failed and she thought, ‘Well, this city needs something like that. I think the kids in this city deserve something like that. I’d like to see something like that.’ So she got together with a group of people who had the same thoughts and they all kind of came to the same conclusion.”

Thanks to the likes of Rebecca Roach, Jeanie Rabatsky and countless others, Tekko is now part of Pittsburgh culture as much as it is a celebration of Japanese pop culture, and will no doubt continue to be so for many more years to come.

Anthony Letizia

Follow Geek Pittsburgh: Facebook - Twitter - RSS Feed