Yokohama Future

Today is my first full day back in Ireland after my travels. So far I’m coping well with the shock of living in the past. This is only partly a joke, because there were moments during my stint in Japan where it felt like I was living in the future.

In this post I’ll concentrate on my experiences at Worldcon in Yokohama. Warning: it’s a long entry.

Martin and I arrived the day before the start of the convention, and resisted the tidal-pull of sleep, which was stronger due to the hot, muggy weather. Instead we navigated the subway system (not difficult), arrived at the Minato Mirai area, and from there we meandered into the convention centre. The grey grudging clouds promised rain. After registration we met friends and somehow allowed ourselves to be dragged onto the Yokohama Ferris Wheel (the largest in the world) despite the heat, torrential rain, and poor visibility. We sat in the air-conditioned cabin, on our Hello-Kitty-pink bench, and rose and fell in a stately 15-minute circuit. Afterwards we had dinner, a drink, and an abrupt descent into sleep.

The next day we visited the Studio Ghibli Museum, as part of a tour that Worldcon set up for its members. The two-hour bus trip to the museum indicated the extent of the urban sprawl in this part of Japan–the cityscape surrounded us for the entire journey.

The Museum is delightful. The structure is of fine design, with an extraordinary level of detail: from the stained-glass lamp shades that depict characters from the Studio Ghibli animated movies, to the old-fashioned brass handles on the doors. It’s a maze of rooms, and each one comprises a complete and enchanting world. Only children are allowed into the huge plush cat-bus, alas.

When we returned from the Museum we found my Clarion West classmates. After we chatted for a while we discovered an udon noodle place and slurped down slippery noodles before the Worldcon opening ceremony. The event was somewhat long for the travel-weary, but it served as a good introduction to the various Guests of Honour and the convention itself.

Later, through folly and adventure, our expanded group ended up in a traditional Japanese eatery. Thanks to gestures and limited Japanese phrases we were served beer in Viking-sized glass flagons, as well as large flasks of sake. The edemame were a big hit. “More beans!” chanted one of our compatriots.

The next day we went to panels. I attended a few about short fiction, and even though I found them interesting and useful, on occasion I detected certain weariness from the panellists that indicated the topic had been endlessly debated at conventions before.

In the late afternoon I participated in my first panel of the convention. The topic was “6 years (almost) and counting”, and the focus was if writers should tackle difficult subjects such as the September 11th attack in the USA six years ago. The panel comprised of an impressive line-up, including Joe Haldeman, Lawrence Person, Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Pat Cadigan, and Michael McMillan. The small room packed out fast. In his preface to The Picture of Dorian Grey Oscar Wilde wrote: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” Quite quickly the panel agreed that there were no topics barred to the writer, as long as they were tackled well. After that there was a lot of discussion about the September 11th attack itself, as well as international politics.

Afterwards Martin and I engaged in our usual hunt for food with a friend. Eating out was sometimes problematic in Japan because Martin and I are vegetarians, Japanese cuisine is heavily meat-based, and there is a language barrier in making one’s dietary needs understood. Despite the difficulties we never went hungry, partly because Martin put a concerted effort into learning key Japanese phrases before we arrived.

After food we heard about the Art Show reception, so we admired the work of the artists while enjoying beer and snacks. We met a talented young artist called Marc Robinson, and we talked about art, t-shirts, and animations that make us laugh.

That night we hit some of the convention parties. The designated floor was teeming with people, and the air conditioning couldn’t cope. Japanese-style, everyone had to remove their footware before entering any of the rooms, so shoes, sneakers, boots, and sandals lined the corridor. It was hot, sweaty, and pungent. Yet, most people were in good humour. I was not surprised that Montreal won the bid to host Worldcon 2009 since they threw a particularly good bash. We kept bumping (literally) into people. Eventually, to the echoing farewell shouts of “Khan!”, we headed back to our hotel in an attempt to slot into the new time zone.

The following day I contributed to a panel discussing the TV show Heroes with Paul Cornell, Perrianne Lurie, and Michele Ellington. There was a strong turnout, and the subject provoked a lively discussion about the show’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m looking forward to charting how the television series progresses in its second year.

The Hugo ceremony dominated the evening. The event was kicked off with a splendid live-action fight between the Japanese icon Ultraman and a selection of rubbery monsters. George Takei and Nozomi Ohmori, the Japanese translator, were humourous co-hosts, and kept the event ticking along. Initially I was concerned we’d be there all night, but once the Hugos were being given out the event continued at a brisk pace. I let out a yelp of joy when Ian McDonald‘s name was called for best novellette for “The Djinn’s Wife“. There was also a sad moment when I spotted Dave Stewart’s name among the list of deceased fans/authors.

Once the awards were handed out it was time to track down food and sake with friends. The conversation turned to writing for a period of time, which may have taxed the patience of the non-writers among us.

We started Sunday early since it was our last day at Worldcon. The first discussion I attended was a fascinating insight to small presses tackled by a knowledgeable group: Daniel Spector, Bob Eggleton, Charles Ardai, John D. Berry, and Kelly Link. They addressed technical and practical matters about how to establish a small press. I’ve long been a supporter of such endeavours, and the discussion reaffirmed my commitment. Small press projects rarely make money for their creators, and yet none of the panellists wished to give them up.

After that I participated on a panel on the influence of Celtic mythology in other cultures and languages. This ended up being my favourite panel of the convention. Not only were Celia Dart-Thornton and Dr. Kari Maund exceedingly pleasant, articulate, and well-informed on the subject, but we managed to get a good debate with the audience, along with exchanges with Japanese fans thanks to a Worldcon volunteer who offered translation on the spot.

I skipped lunch and slipped into another panel about the role of short stories in fantastic fiction, presided over by Larry Niven, Ellen Datlow, Kelly Link, and Pat Cadigan.

Then I was off to my last panel of the convention, which was on the subject of Anti-Americanism. I was joined by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Dave Luckett, and Gregory Benford. At the start of the panel it was decided that nobody wanted indiscriminate bashing of Americans, and while the debate was spirited at times it was always respectful and polite. There was a lot of audience participation. If only international politics were conducted in this manner. Yet, I found the panel incredibly depressing at times since the world situation is so grim at the moment. Several times I lapsed into silence out of despair.

The Donbura-Con Dinner Cruise around Yokohama harbour cheered me up. There was a buffet and booze, along with conversations about sf and conventions. We finished up the night at Montreal’s celebratory party for winning the 2009 Worldcon bid. Once again they proved they are the masters of hosting a good party. It was a nice space to catch up with friends again, and meet some new ones, before we made our last journey to our hotel through the quiet clean Yokohama streets.

We were sad to leave, but excited at the prospect of the next leg of our Japanese holiday.