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all words and photos: Nick Balleza

As I headed over to the Freer Gallery for the first Asia After Dark event of 2011, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The event was supposed to raise relief funds for Japan and to showcase the art and fashion of Japan. Suggested attire was “Harajuku fashions or kimonos”.

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Well, with that said I obliged, and I put on an outfit that consisted of a pair of Hiroshi Fujiwara Fragment Design Nike SBs, semi-skinny Japanese selvedge denim, and accessorized with a Yoshida & Co. Porter wallet, and A Bathing Ape eyeglasses I bought from the Harajuku Busy Workshop store back in 2006, during my last trip to Japan. That was about as good as I could do it, I sure don’t own a proper kimono.

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I knew that with a Japanese themed event, it would probably attract a few cosplayers, lolitas and anime otakus… or, dare I say it, weeaboos. (Put the wooden paddles away please) When I got in the Freer Gallery, to my surprise it didn’t look like I stepped into the local anime convention. The crowd consisted of suits, hipsters, yuppies, some genuine adults and a handful of cosplayers.

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Those who were in costume absolutely stood out, but of course that was the point, right?

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I had arrived right at the end of DJ Cassidy Karakorn’s set, and Dim Mak Records CEO Steve Aoki was about to go on. The dance area was the whole marbled floor of the north entrance of the Freer Gallery, and Steve’s DJ booth was a table at the top of the stairway.

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As Aoki started his set, the crowd around the table grew to the point it was difficult to get around, the hall and stairway became a huge cholesterol-clogged artery. Fans of Aoki hung around, head nodding and fist pumping, and others took camera phone snaps while Smithsonian uniformed security guards stood around the table to make sure a comfortable distance was maintained.

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The dance floor crowd gradually increased over time. Towards the middle of Steve’s set, he played a version of the theme of “Legend of Zelda”, and the crowd showed their inner Nintendo Fanboy/Fangirl with nostalgic acknowledgment and cheers. I decided it was time to go around and check out what else the event had to offer.

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Maybe I had missed the Harajuku fashion presentation, but aside from the few gothic lolitas, sweet lolitas, and obscure cosplay I witnessed on the dance floor, I really didn’t see anything really related to harajuku fashion. I spied a few tables raffling Onitsuka Tigers… that was it. (Nope, Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Lovers brand does not count).

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Where were Ura-Harajuku streetwear brands I like? Fragment, Head Porter, Neighborhood, Bounty Hunter, Wtaps, Visvim… I guess I had overestimated the term “Harajuku fashion” a bit and had high expectations.

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It seemed like only some people were actually interested in viewing the art exhibits. Very few in comparison to the crowd that showed up for Steve Aoki, or the lines leading to the cash bars.

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The galleries were the place to be if you wanted to get away from crowds or noise. Food was available at the event but I had a huge meal at Toki Underground before arriving so I wasn’t hungry enough to try. I did notice that they were offering onigiri rice balls at the table in the courtyard, but with belly still full of ramen and gyoza, I didn’t give the stand a second glance.

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Steve Aoki was scheduled to be at Glow later that night, so it was no surprise that his set and the event ended at 10:30. It was a bit surreal to see him playing out in the middle of a Smithsonian gallery, while the entrance was turned into a makeshift nightclub. The museum atmosphere aspect probably had something to do with Aoki not spraying the audience with champagne. Maybe it was because he was drinking water.

Or maybe he was just saving it for his set at Glow. (Yeah, he did it there.) Cosplayers dancing with young and middle aged professionals with glowstick bracelets, necklaces and glowstick sunglasses in a Smithsonian gallery entrance was really bizarre to witness. All in all, it was a very strange event that I’m still not sure what to make of but hey, it was for a good cause.

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