Nan Desu Kan–What Is It?
The most common question when I mention Nan Desu Kan is always, “Oh, what is that?” I often laugh inside at the joke most don’t get. As with so much in the Japanese language, double, triple, and quadruple meanings can create true wordplay often impossible in the Romantic and Germanic languages. In Japanese, the phrase “nan desu ka” is a question asking specifically “what is it?” Still, I struggle to express the gist of Nan Desu Kan (NDK) to my uninitiated peers.
I find NDK somewhat hard to define because it’s so much more than meets the eye. Yes, it’s an anime convention, but it’s not just an anime convention. I tell people it’s a gathering of fans, but NDK is more than that for all who flock to this popular Denver convention. I tell folks it’s a convention where we all “nerd out,” but that hardly touches on the awesome nerd-dom expressed within the Tech Center Marriott each year. I tell people it’s just “some weird thing I do, kinda like going to the circus” or something. No matter my answer, I’ve not been able to put to words why I come back, why I plan all year to attend, and why I hold this gathering as dear to my heart.
However, after mulling it over this weekend as I dressed up and ran around with my friends, I realized why NDK has become a sacred and joyous occasion for me, despite all the stress involved in planning my cosplays, trying to make it to panels on time, and joining my creative energies to all others who attend. NDK is, for all attendees, a safe space for creative expression, for joyous fandom, and for coming together, once a year, to celebrate our common ties.
Whether we’re fans of Japanese or American anime, video games, Japanese culture, or just geek/nerd culture in general, the NDK convention brings us together to share our stories, our loves, and our woes. Using the convention as the medium, we all become artists interpreting and recreating the stories that bind us together, incorporating them into our lives and fashioning new memories as we add layers of meaning to our fandom and claim our favorite genres, series, and characters as our own. At NDK, we all actively create fan-fiction in realty, dressing as characters and incorporating them into our identities, claiming these characters, their creators, and their voice actors as necessary parts of our lives and our communities.
As well, folks can freely express themselves at NDK. Cross-dressing, crazy makeup, weird hair colors, and radical clothing is the norm. Many who gather may not be accepted in their regular lives if their co-workers and neighbors really knew their eccentricities, but NDK gives us all a space to be ourselves, to be seen as we wish, and to be proud of it. This year, to the horror of my parents and many of my friends, I dyed my hair pink for the convention, and as soon as I walked in the doors, I felt at home with it for the first time since the dyeing.
For the first time, I joined the massive group of volunteers and staff who make this most amazing convention possible. The movement as we worked together was art, and it was organic. The work of creating such a safe space fascinated me, and I would even call the experience enlightening. While I can’t really talk about volunteering–it’s all very hush-hush, and I signed an nondisclosure agreement–I will say that NDK volunteerism gave me the best experience I’ve ever had at a convention. To be part of that creation, a part of its beating heart, filled me with enthusiasm and happiness rarely felt.
However, the most beautiful part of NDK is the cultural sharing that takes place here. NDK acts as a celebration of Japanese and American culture as it melds and comes together in a way unseen in human history until recently. Unprecedented social sharing has occurred between our two countries, and just as many American characters have crossed the waves to Japan and infiltrated their cultural dialogues (like Elvis and Michael Jackson), Akira Kurosawa, Sailor Moon, and Speed Racer, among countless others, have crossed the oceans to become featured references in our American identities. As cultures, both America and Japan have been linked together since the end of WWII, and our nations’ symbiotic relationship and subsequent cultural trade has created a congruent sub-culture, a kind of fandom and admiration toward each other, of which, separate, we never dreamed.
Truly, though, the most amazing part of NDK is something ethereal and unfathomable, a sense of organic joining, something intuitive that humans create when we come together in great multitudes to generate positive intention. We who gather here each year know that we are among our peers, that we are among co-creators in this reality, and we know, most importantly, that here is home. My love goes out to all NDK attendees, guests, staff, and volunteers. May the years bring us always back to our home, and may we all realize that home is a creation, a generation that always takes more than just one being alone.