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North Hills Monthly

Japanese Pop Culture Convention TEKKO Comes to Town

Apr 02, 2017 12:05PM ● By Shelly Tower Rushe

Photos courtesy of TEKKO

There are anime conventions and then there’s TEKKO. For the 15th year, the Pittsburgh Japanese Culture Society is bringing the best in Japanese pop culture—from music to fashion to games—to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center from April 6-9, 2017. 

What began in 2003 as Tekkoshocon with 600 attendees has morphed into an all-encompassing convention with an expected turnout of 9,000 people. “Japanese pop culture has been surging in popularity in the past 25 years, and not just in America—it’s a worldwide phenomenon,” explained Jack Varney, director of marketing/communications and a member of the board of directors for the Pittsburgh Japanese Culture Society, adding that he believes that people are drawn to the fantasy and virtual reality aspects that are the focal point for Japanese pop culture entertainment.

“When anime conventions first began, they tended to be just showing videos of anime,” he continued. “The Internet and services like Netflix, Crackle and Hulu have made these videos readily available.” 

As the genre evolved, so did TEKKO, and this year’s event is no exception. As with most conventions there will be vendors, but there will also be special panels, music, fashion and more. “There aren’t a lot of additional costs involved like you’ll find at other conventions,” said Varney, adding that the $50 entrance fee covers all four days of activities and events.   

Special guests include voice actors Brina Palencia, Jad Saxton, Cherami Leigh and Ian Sinclair as well as singer/songwriter Nancy Kepner and anime anthropologist Charles Dunbar. There are two opportunities to enjoy the music of Japan; MAGIC OF LiFE is a band from Japan making their U.S. debut, and the dance party on Saturday features four DJs from Pittsburgh playing the latest hits.

Fashion is a big part of TEKKO. Lolita fashion, which bases its designs on Victorian and Edwardian styles, originated in Japan. Lolita events include a fashion show featuring the latest trends in the genre, a competition for original creations and a tea party. Attendees are also welcome and encouraged to dress in cosplay. There will be a craftsmanship competition, masquerade competition and a free cosplay repair station.

Gaming options are plentiful. There will be Pokemon tournaments and Pokemon GO! Pokestops as well as role playing games, board games, live action role playing (LARP), card games, and of course both new and retro video games. One event that does require a small registration fee is an Escape Room event where participants are locked in a room and must use clues and puzzles to escape. More details on all of these events can be found on the TEKKO website at; note that some events do require participants to pre-register.

The events inside the convention center aren’t all that TEKKO offers. This year’s attendees can take advantage of the Show Your Badge program that provides discounts at local stores and restaurants like Toonseum, Ten Penny, Katie’s Kandy and River’s Casino during their stay.  

After years of consistent growth under Varney’s direction, his goal is to continue expanding the convention, which will in turn draw larger celebrities. Varney also notes that attendee feedback weighs heavily in everything they do. “We are trying to be sensitive to the needs and suggestions of our attendees,” he said. 

As a result, next year’s event will feature a job fair that will be free and open to the public, whether or not they have a TEKKO badge.

If you’re a fan of Japanese pop culture, Varney hopes that you’ll attend. While the event tends to draw older teens and young adults, Varney stresses that there is something for everyone. “It’s all ages for anyone who is an anime super fan,” he said. “It’s their Christmas.”