By Alice Guile
Hyper Japan is the UK’s largest Japanese cultural event, held in London twice a year. It is a relatively new event, having been started in 2010, and attracts an average of 80,000 visitors for the summer event, and 50,000 for the Christmas fair. I attended this year’s summer event, in order to get a feel for the enthusiasm of British people for all things Japanese.
This year’s event was located in East London’s Tobacco Dock for the first time. The smaller Christmas fair had previously been held there, but it was a first for the summer event, having been previously held at larger venues such as the Olympia in Kensington and Earl’s court. This building is not a traditional convention space, being on two floors, set around a courtyard open to the elements. Luckily the weather was good, but I imagine it would be a bit miserable if it were tipping it down with rain. The stall holders are placed around the edge of the courtyard, and also in lots of small rooms, each with a different theme. I liked the way that similar stalls were placed together in one room, it was like entering a little wonderland, and it was easy to compare similar items for quality and price. However, the stall holders I spoke to were less enthusiastic, telling me that they found their room ‘uncomfortable’ too small, that they had preferred the larger venues and that they felt that sales were down. Being in smaller rooms made many of them feel less visible. The Japanese food was sold on stalls in the open courtyard and it is with them that my largest criticism of the event lies; there was simply not enough catering for the amount of people who attended. There was also ordinary fast food sold outside near the exit, but most people wanted to buy Japanese food and this created incredibly long queues behind every stall. Queuing at the most popular stall, even much later than lunchtime, after 3pm, took around half an hour. I attended the London MCM Comicon at the end of May and I found that it was much better catered for in terms of the stall to attendee ratio. Part of the problem was that the ground floor of the courtyard where the food was sold, was simply not large enough to fit in many stalls. In defense of the venue however, the style of architecture did compliment the Japan theme, and the pots of bamboo scattered about was a nice touch.
Apart from that, there was a wide variety of interesting things to see and do. I enjoyed the contrast between rooms dedicated to traditional culture and those dedicated to modern Japanese pop culture and subculture. There was a kawaii themed room with a meet and greet area, with special guests such as Harajuku icon Haruka Kurebayashi. She has recently done a collaboration with Japanese fashion retailer Dreamy Bows, and it was great for fans to be able to buy some of the designs whilst waiting for the meet and greet.
For gaming fans, Nintendo had a large presence in the gaming and anime area, and were trialing the new Super Mario Odyssey game, which looked to be very popular as their area of the room was constantly very busy. Smaller and independent games companies were also represented, with a wide variety of new and imaginative games.
There was a tourism area, particularly useful for me as I’m currently in the middle of planning a month long trip to Japan, and am hoping to visit a few different cities, including Kyoto, Osaka, and Tokyo. There was a lot of helpful tourist information and also, in exchange for filling out a market research survey about how to better promote tourism to Japan, I was given a free, very cute memory stick in the shape of sushi! There was also a T.V company who were auditioning people for a program about a western tourist visiting Japan. I filled out another form and managed to get a slot. I had to tell them about how much I loved Japan, and why I wanted to be on Japanese TV. I’m not sure if I was any good and I have not heard back yet, but here’s to hoping. In any case it was a lot of fun, so it doesn’t matter either way.
All in all, despite huge problems with queuing and the food court I did have a good time, and enjoyed it more than the London MCM Comicon that I attended a few weeks previously as I loved Hyper Japan’s more intimate venue and themed room layout.
Take a look at the website to buy tickets for the Christmas event!