Sometimes in this column I cover aspect of anime outside of the shows. For example I’ve written about conventions (Extra I) and the larger expos (Extra II). However, there is a third kind of event: those designed specifically for Japanese culture – J-culture for short – which includes anime but also other related aspects of the country. Not just J-culture, but J-fashion, J-music, J-everything.
The biggest of these events is Hyper Japan, which just held its latest event a few days ago. For the first time it was held at the O2 Arena, when in previously years it had been held at Earl’s Court. This was my first such event, but a very enjoyable one for many reasons. Admittedly one of those was the fact it happened to be my birthday over the weekend, but there are many more reasons too.
These cultural events feature many of the things that occur in the western expos and conventions. As it is a large event, many large companies turn up. Nintendo for example had a huge area almost to itself, but it was shared by other firms such as Kodansha, a company which publishes manga include the very popular Attack on Titan (No. 11). So popular this series is that there was a gigantic “Colossal Titan” bust that you could have your photo taken nearby. However, you also have lots of smaller companies too, from Japan, Britain and elsewhere. These companies range from artists, to travel companies, to people selling language courses. There was even a company selling kimonos made in France.
Speaking of which, one of the cultural aspects concerning this event was fashion. Traditional clothing such as kimonos is one aspect, and cosplaying that you find at all such conventions is also something that appears. Another J-fashion popular at this event is the Victorian-inspired Lolita fashion. It is one of the few events where you could find and buy such clothes and accessories. Even I commissioned an outfit, based on the more mature “Aristocrat” style.
From clothes, we move onto food and drink. There was a “Maid Café” and stalls selling all kinds of Japanese food including onigiri rice balls, veg-fried noodles, and tempura-fried prawns. They also served tempura-fried chicken, served on skewers, which was the best chicken I have ever tasted. On the drinks front, there was the a “sake experience”, which you had to pay extra for, but you got to sample and buy around 30 different sakes to choose from.
There was also a beer on offer called Kirin, but I must confess this was one of the less enjoyable experiences for two reasons: a), a 330ml bottle cost £5 which was way too expensive, and b), some of the bar staff were so annoying I just walked away from them in anger. Way too laddish for my liking. It felt like being served by the lovechild of Dapper Laughs and Quagmire from Family Guy. Indeed, looking at some of the comments attendees have posted on Facebook, there were several complaints about many of the O2 staff and poor customer service. Some have even accused Hyper Japan of possibly selling out.
The best thing for me however during the event was J-music. This relates to one of the most impressive things about Hyper Japan, which is that this is one of few times that big name singers and performers come over to Britain. For example there was a singer there named Eir Aoi who performed twice over the three days. Aoi has over the years become a very popular singer, whose songs have been used in several popular anime. One song, “Sirius”, was used as a theme for Kill la Kill (No. 80), and two songs, “Innocence” and “Ignite” were used as themes for Sword Art Online (No. 34).
But she was just one of the many stars there. There were even bigger names at Hyper Japan. Because of this, I can say that on my birthday the best experience I had was high- two members from arguably the biggest rock band in all of Japan, X (aka X Japan). The members, Yoshiki (the bandleader, drummer and pianist) and Toshi (the lead singer), where there mainly to promote their forthcoming gig at Wembley in March 2016, which will also mark the release of their first album in 20 years. X are probably most notable for being one of the earliest bands to pioneer the “visual kei”, a look that in the west is comparable to glam rock. However, X are more of a heavy metal band.
If you like anime, events such as this are good places to learn more about Japan itself, and therefore give you a greater context of understanding more of the background of many series. It is just a shame that there are not more such events like Hyper Japan around.
The next Hyper Japan event will be held between 27th-29th November at Tobacco Dock, London.