A man of many hats the rest of the year, Matt Van Herwaarden is known as the man with the hat for the three days of Tsukino-Con.
Serving as vice-chair, he’s a longtime volunteer with the non-profit group that hosts the annual convention celebrating Japanese anime and culture.
“I like running a convention and I like being able to put something on for a bunch of people to enjoy. It’s definitely an interesting thing to be a part of,” he said.
Tsukino-Con has existed in some iteration for about two decades and Van Herwaarden credits that longevity to the fact it’s volunteer run.
The 2024 convention’s local experts on Japanese culture are Hitomi Harama, a specialist in the kimono who is deeply passionate about preserving traditional customs, traditions, and craftsmanship, and Chris Tooley who has been practising Iaido for around 25 years and teaches several classes in Greater Victoria.
Kyle McCarley and Ben Diskin – American voice actors famed for work in video games, anime and cartoons – are also set to appear. The actors are at times a draw that brings in guests from across North America and overseas because the local convention doesn’t charge to meet guests – attendees just have to get in line.
Each year Tsukino-Con draws about 2,000 people to the University of Victoria from as far afield as Japan.
Volunteers have also organized a cosplay repair station where professionals wield everything from sewing machines to glue guns.
“We get a lot of people who cosplay,” Van Herwaarden said. “We work with a group from Seattle. They set up a little booth to help people who need a stitch or somebody to fix a wig.”
The emergency repairs can be crucial as the convention also hosts a few popular competitions – including a cosplay contest and a late-night swimsuit showdown (age restricted) and a music video contest.
While the showdown is adult only, the rest of the event is family-friendly, and even encouraged, as is immersion into the event.
“We encourage cosplay. It’s not just for anime people (though), there’s video games, there’s Japanese culture,” Van Herwaarden said.
The three-day event fills three UVic buildings, including the Elliot Building where artists and vendors will be selling everything from mystery boxes and figures to clothes and manga.
That’s where Van Herwaarden’s hat comes in.
He has a tradition, started about a decade ago, where he peruses the vendors in search of one item.
“I like seeing something that catches my eye and permanently posting it to my hat,” he said. “It’s a recognizable thing. It’s full of pins and buttons and stuff.”
Tsukino-Con runs Feb. 23 to 25 at UVic. Find tickets and competition details online at tsukinocon.com.