When Hakone Gardens--a tranquil Japanese garden isolated in Saratoga--gets harassed by tourists and photographers while ignored by local law enforcement, the caretakers decided to hire a ragtag band of seven samurai to defend the peace and tranquility of the garden. Unfortunately, this is the 21st century and the closest thing resembling samurai nowadays is a bunch of people playing in costumes (or cosplayers for short) easily mistaken as samurai. Learning about this NorCal cosplay spring gathering from Cosplay.com, I opted to join as one of the seven samurai from "Bleach." Okay, none of the "Bleach" characters are samurai and more than seven "Bleach" cosplayers attended this gathering, but shut up. I'm titling this report based on a classic Japanese movie, and Japan has yet to release "Dozens of Shinigami."

Pro tip: I'm just throwing these here because I've been reading a few too many game guides and have picked up this habit.

On March 14th, I grabbed my "Bleach" costume and ran a few errands before arriving at Hakone Gardens. My wig lacked a wig cap and I needed cake to celebrate the birthdays of mine (3/4) and Charie (3/13). Upon arrival, I changed into Gin Ichimaru, realized how much I hate wearing costumes resembling fancy bathrobes, and congregated with the rest of the cosplayers and photographers.

With only two hours in the gardens due to a larger and more pretentious invasion force scheduled to use the gardens after us, the photographers divided into two groups (group A and group B), divided the cosplayers into two groups ("Bleach and feudal Japan type costumes" and "other costumes"), and split up between two halves of Hakone Gardens (Bamboo Gardens and the place with the ponds, bridges, and shelters). The cosplayers would switch locations and photographers after the first hour. "Bleach" and company first took to the Bamboo Gardens, making use of the natural green cover to snipe any cosplayers who arrived late to this gathering. Naturally, we also shot ourselves among the skinny green trees.

Pro tip: To get a cosplayer to display fear, have the subject think of Michael Jackson.
Pro tip: To get a cosplayer to display a blank stare, give the subject a math problem harder than "1+1."

Having only read a few chapters of "Bleach," not having a television to watch "Bleach," and not giving enough of a damn to watch "Bleach," my portrayal of Gin Ichimaru was less about Gin's fox-like look bringing distrust and more about my personal inclination towards cute little things, "House" grumpiness, and bragging in a grandiose manner that would rival Excalibur from "Soul Eater." I have got to get someone to record the random stuff I say.

Pro tip: To best overstate accomplishments even though the list of them is shorter than a midget with his legs cut off, frequently change topics and yell out "BAKA!" when someone accuses you of changing topics frequently.

Pro tip: To avoid future wardrobe malfunctions while wearing Gin, I'm not going to bother wearing a shirt underneath like for Shigure. I already don't wear trousers underneath it anyway.

Pro tip: One advantage of cosplaying Gin is never having to open your eyes and therefore never having to worry about blinking during a shot. One disadvantage is having no idea where to look when photographed. And don't even think about driving while looking through Gin's closed eyes.

Adiane the Elegant attempted to bond with one of the civilian children present, but that child was prematurely scared off before Adiane could ask her to look scared. Standing in for the creeped out child: Gin.

After the first hour, we reunited with the cosplayers that we didn't get to hang with during the first hour for a group shot in front of the main gate.

The time with the other cosplayers was short-lived since we switched photographers and relocated to the garden interior with ponds, bridges, and shelters while the other group took to the Bamboo Gardens. By now the rest of the "Bleach" cosplayers arrived and we had a large group consisting of the pink drunk, the guy who never opens his eyes, the redhead with a saw blade, Grimlock, the token black, and one of those little footballs that I usually end up punting.

I wound up spending most of the day with the "Bleach" cosplayers partially because I was one of them and partially because most of the other cosplayers had photographers shooting them and my leg was suffering from a case of "No chance in hell am I walking that far through stairs and stones to join in the firing squad." So I was unable to shoot everyone individually. This is one small price of dual-wielding the duties of a cosplayer and photographer. Eventually one duty grows dominant while the other takes a nap. Eventually I may have to select one side of the fence to join and stick to it. But for now, it's back to making the most of my dual-wielding.

Pro tip: With most anime color schemes resembling a coloring book, I like to mix things up with the sepia filter.

Most of the shoot trudged in the way photo shoots trudge. First photographers selected a location, then selected the cosplayers to be in the location, and then they shoot while the rest mill around trying not to contemplate jumping into the pond to kill time. Luckily, fishing for koi and hunting Pokemon kept me entertained.

Pro tip: I'm probably the poster child of why Hakone Gardens has an anti-gun policy.

As our time wore down, we had one last group shot before dispersing. After a day of photography, several rewarded themselves and others with cookies and sandwiches. I got around to sharing my birthday cake with Charie and her group. But lo and behold, the cake was a lie. Actually, it was a pie. Somehow my subconscious remembered that 3/14 was Pi Day for all the math geeks. Many thanks to the people who shot me for me. Let me say to the guys that it takes a secure guy to have no trouble shooting with a pink camera. In my case, it's not just me being secure in my manliness, it's also me being too cheap to pay another $20 for the black one.

Pro tip: The best Pi Day that I will live to see will take place March 14th, 2015.

After our time at Hakone Gardens, the participants split off to go about their post-Hakone plans. Some went to the movies and some went to anime club meetings. After stripping off Gin and converting to House, I followed several people on their way to Mitsuwa. After exploring an absurdly cosplayer-free Mitsuwa and wondering where the hell everyone was, I found everyone standing outside in front of the store. We all charged in, grabbed lunch (the same old curry for me), and ended the day talking about anime, planning future cosplay, arguing why commercials should have more porn in them, eating ridiculously hot wasabi, marveling at how much of an anime cliche some girls can be, getting envious over how close some live to cosplay events, mentioning accidental brushes with pedophilia, getting tempted to rip off some idiot who forgot to log out from the ATM, and chewing out the recent trend of turning an entire anime series into 30-minute infomercials for its merchandise ("Transformers" being an exception because it is freaking awesome). And if you wish to continue the other discussions, you can find me on Facebook under Tom Tonthat. Just don't mention "Mafia Wars" so that I don't filter you into that game's friend list.

Pro tip: When someone claims he/she can burp louder than you, just take his/her word.
Pro tip: Calpico Aloe tastes like skin moisturizer. Don't ask how I know what skin moisturizer tastes like.
Pro tip: If commercials had more implied porn (see NSFW example here), people would probably buy more crap.

Pictures are copyright by Traveling Valentine. If we took your picture, feel free to use it on your site or cosplay gallery. While you're here, do sign the guestbook. This site was brought to you by a font Katakana. Many thanks to Chaz Boston Baden for the image resizing and watermarking program.