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Broadening your cultural horizons

In the interest of learning as much about the world as possible, I like to support any event that promotes cultural education. It’s important to understand how people live all over the world. There are, of course, many differences, but you might also be surprised at how similar we all truly are.

Local opportunities, however, are sometimes few and far between, but you can find more if you have the ability to travel a little farther.

One such event is Animazement, an annual weekend convention in Raleigh that celebrates Japanese culture. This year will be my ninth year attending the event always held on Memorial Day weekend.

Animazement is typically known as an “anime” convention—anime being the name for any sort of animation from Japan—but the event’s goal is a broader one. Their website says they are “celebrating popular Japanese culture in all of its forms.” A nonprofit organization, Educational Growth Across Oceans, manages the event.

Don’t get me wrong. Anime is still a huge part of the weekend. Many attendees dress up as their favorite characters and there are a variety of panels featuring guests involved in all aspects of the anime industry, including voice actors, directors, producers, and animators.

Last year I happened to casually pass by the producer for popular series “Sword Art Online” while on the escalator. I almost didn’t recognize him because, at the time, he was dressed up as the main character from the series.

Enthusiasm is never in short supply from anyone at Animazement.

But the thing that draws me back to the convention each year is the emphasis on other aspects of Japanese culture too. This year’s Japanese guests include a sword dancing comedy troupe, a rakugo performer, a JAXA astronaut, a Double Dutch team, an etiquette teacher, a shamisen musician, a rock band, and a famous singer/songwriter.

That’s certainly a large range of subjects to explore and learn more about. Even with things that aren’t specific to Japan itself, there’s an opportunity to view them through a Japanese perspective.

Some of these guests I’ve seen multiple times before while others will be first time attendees this year. The shamisen musician, for example, is a regular who always hosts a panel explaining the history of the instrument and gives people the opportunity to learn how to play a few notes on it.

Other informational sessions include workshops on how to do Japanese martial arts, how to wear traditional clothing, and how to speak the basics of the language.

I think it’s fun to be able to have the opportunity to experience another culture without having to hop on a plane and fly there. A drive to downtown Raleigh for the weekend is a bit more manageable.

It’s also really nice just to have the opportunity to meet other people interested in the same stuff. And it’s not just Japanese culture we have in common. I’ve met people there who like all my favorite nerdy things like superheroes and Star Trek.

And half the fun of going is getting to see people dressed up as different characters, showing off their months of hard work in putting their costumes together, and then we all try to guess who they’re supposed to be.

I’ve seen everything from Sailor Moon and Ash Ketchum to Disney Princesses and Marvel superheroes. Any character or person is fair game.

Probably the most obscure costume I’ve ever seen was a guy dressed up as Bob Ross, the famous painter. His costume came complete with an easel and his own painting.

Whatever you like, the family-friendly convention is a nice experience and a fun time. I learn something new every year.

Hosted at the Raleigh Convention Center, Animazement will be held this year starting on Thursday night, May 25 and runs through Sunday afternoon, May 28. You can check out their website, www.animazement.com, for more information on tickets, events, policies, and guests.

Holly Taylor is a staff writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or by phone at 252-332-7206.