London's Premier Celebration of Japanese Culture
I'd Just touched down from a trip to the Seychelles (see post), my email syncs and bang! I get a reminder that its Hyper Japan weekend at the London Olympia. I book my last minute ticket & clear my schedule. Plus I got paid three days prior so spending money wouldn't be an issue either. Hyper Japan organisers send news updates of all the booked guests and stands that'll be at each year's show to help you decide which of the three days you may want to attend. Held over a weekend starting on friday you can attend a morning session, an afternoon session or both on any day of the weekend or for the die-hard fanboy/girl or they, you can book a full weekend pass & completely overdose on Japanese pop culture. I've not done so yet but plan to do so asap. One of the hardest things to do at Hyper Japan on a one session pass is decide what to see & do. If you have to queue you sacrifice precious time spent that could otherwise be put to good use scouring the tens of stands for those must have collectibles & pop-culture icon memorabilia. Yes, I'm quite the nerd when it comes to Japanese culture. Too many amazing childhood memories filled with anime, video games, martial arts, outstanding street food & dreams of visiting Neo-Tokyo's neon metropolis. This year didn't disappoint. The 2018 Hyper Japan turned to be one of the best yet.
Cosplay Comradery Ep1
As you approach the venue via road, bus or train you're likely to meet one of the above. The people that make Hyper-Japan such a spectacle. Dressed from head to toe emulating their favourite anime, manga or movie characters. The even offer cosplay catwalk competitions for not just cosplay, but also the cutesy subculture. I went along to a few to support a family heavily into the scene and its quite an experience. The hosts typically fly in icons from Japan & their fans queue for autographs, a chance to pose alongside them and some cases see them perform onstage themselves. My personal favorite was Monkey on account of this guy actually looking like the actor that played monkey. But I have to give props to the kid that showed up in a full Pikachu body suit. You see real dedication here, & it's a testament to just how deeply the community aspire to & celebrate a culture on the opposide of the planet. If the 20th century saw America lay the foundations in exporting it's culture across the globe, Japan isn't far behind and perhaps best placed to demostrate the same proliferance in the 21st century. Its plain to see the youth have whole-heartedly embraced the culture. That not to say young people have a total monopoly on this movement. You will catch the odd mature attendee dressed to the nines in Cosplay gear such as mr Monkey, but when you take a step back and look at the anime, video game & manga scene most of the heroes are young people. Funny, that never really occurred to me until writing this very post.
This year Hyper Japan pulled out all the stops for both retro and current titles. The retro games section featured Sega Dreamcasts with full arcade sticks, a Sega Mega CD, a Super NES, an N64 & consoles i'd never even heard of and vast arry of 90s & 00's nostalgia. I recall the Typing of the Dead, Streets of Rage 2, Virtua Fighter 3, Mario 64 and more. It's awesome to see younger generations with an appreciation for vintage gaming. It demonstrates the timeless playability retro titles provide. Long before the graphical complexity of 6th generation consoles like the Playstation 2 & original Xbox game designed focussed their time & energy on the re-playability of gameplay. No designation for in-game economies, DLC's & beta releases like modern releases. You can't help but notice the parallels between the games industry and movie business where recent years have seen visuals supersede screenplay.
However! what can't be overlooked is the innovation of companies like nintendo and their approach to the future possibilities of gaming. Bridging music, physical activity and an alternative kind of cognative engagement, Nintendo's LABO offers one of the most refreshing gaming experiences since the debut of the Oculus. Scores of people across all age groups queued throughout the day to get to grips with demonstrations. Large & small cardboard accessories mimicing pianos, fishing rods, bike handle bars and my personal favourite the mech-robot backpack immersed the user in a totally creative mindset that encourages parents to expose their children to gaming at a young age without the concern of potentially stiffling their imagination by substituting active play with passive entertainment. If this is the future of gaming, the possibilities are endless, as just like LEGO the child or adult are free to express their individuality in totally unique ways.
Aside from LABO the other title that spurred the imagination was the hotly anticipated release of JUMP FORCE. We've all watched anime like Dragonball Z & One Piece with their insane over the top fight sequences and probably wondered what it would look like if a games developer utilised current platforms to produce an accurate representation of said on-screen carnage. Well the wait is over. Not only does JUMP FORCE look outstanding, It plays even better. Admittedly these were demos so I wasn't able to delve into the settings of the games and understand the entire premise but the fight gameplay was insane. Set in the real world, which did seem a little strange at first, but moving past that and enjoying the onscreen spectacle for what it was left most gamers in awe. Being able to perform a fluid Gouku super saiyan combo, or Naruto Rasengan in New York's Times Square with no apparent frame rate drop presented in 4k UHD.
The gaming goodness doesn't stop there. If you're a retro collector then Hyper Japan never disappoints. Original XBOX, Playstation, Game Boy, Dreamcast & more. Even consoles are sale too. You see why reserving £200 for the event makes sense. For young kids and big kids like me this is toy central. All the stuff you always wanted and all the stuff you didn't know you always wanted at your finger tips. At reasonable prices too.
One of my favourite elements of previous Hyper Japan's has been the more mature elements on display. Sure I'm big kid who love video games, but who can't fall in love with Bonzai trees. Especially specimens like these. Some of these trees are 50-60 years old, meticulously manicured and majestic in design. If you're genuinely interested in Bonzai maintenance & care, the stand owners are on hand to discuss and educate on all things Bonzai.
Nosh, Sake & Soy
Food is good, period. Japanese is awesome. Most would agree, and come lunch time some serious smell waft througout the venue luring most like the pied piper to any one of the delicious offerings on display. Not the cheapest food mind you. Many meals will set you back £6-7 at least and these aren't always the largest portions either. The spice & salt typically leaves you craving more which of course leads to parting with another £6-7 and an unfortunately long wait as the queues are notoriously long for the more popular stalls. I do hope each time I attend the organisers may have thought of a solution to this issue, but alas, no such reprieve from punishment.
The samples on the other hand aren't so painful. You can wait a few minutes and pig out of gyozas, beer & Sake samples to your hearts content. You can even purchase some for later enjoyment. Although buying frozen goods isn't something i'd image people would come to a convention to buy, but then again most are taken by the fact its there and you'll not find it in your local supermarket so carpe diem I guess.
I bagged some surprisingly refreshing sparkling sake. A new product brought to market to encourage the consumption of a less potent more casual form of the Japanese staple. I also grabbed some traditional sake for storage too. What wasn't on offer was the whisky stan/bar i'd seen at the last Tabacco Docks staged Hyper Japan. Now that was a cool place to see & be seen. Japanese whiskey is considered among the best in the world. If there's scope to bring this back next time round I for one would be extremely grateful!
Don't worry we'll come back to the big kid stuff shortly, but whilst we're 'adulting' it makes sense to mention how Hyper Japan can elevate your level of home sophistication above average. Dress screens for your other-half with vintage japanese art, vintage style sake drinkware for evenings you're hosting, exotic cast iron and cermic decoratively adorned tea sets for afternoon entertaining, and a few other random modern conveniences to make you're life that little bit more efficient. They're all here for reasonable prices.
Of course no Japanese culture convention would be complete without a vast array of collectables. There's always far too many to cover sensibly so this time I zeroed in on the three of my favourites. Video Game, anime & art collectables. Coffe table books detailing the creative process behind some of your favourite animated films. Artwork signed by aspiring artists likely to appreciate in value & video game special editions with artwork, production notes and extra game content. One of the benefits of the convention is being able to inspect these items in the flesh. Namely 'The Art of Of My Neighbor Totoro'. This was a pivotal part of my son's early years. So many sentiments are demonstrated in these movies that help a child to make sense of the world around them whilst stoking the imagination. Learning some of the intricacies and thought process of the creators brought me closer to the film and re-affirmed their genius.
Clothing is always a cornerstone of culture, name any place, region or movement and sure enough there's likely to be a dresscode or style that complements & identifies affiliates. Hyper Japan always features opportunities to purchase traditional Japanese dress. Whether its a Kimono, a souvenir varity, pop-culture t-shirt & hoodie or an independant designer, they're all here. Some of my favourite designs featured heavy use of monochromatic imagery and a completey off the wall aesthetic that may seem a little garish upon first look, but the sentiment and message of 'being who you are on the inside' is quite personal to me as I personally strive to attempt to find out who I am inside and also find balance across all things life. The Monochromatic designs of P6P9 make think of the Ying/Yang premise, even it's not ment to. There were of course dozens more clothing designer stands with totally unique apparel, all off which I would love to own. Hopefully they'll keep attending Hyper Japan and I'll keep working my way through purchasing their fine wares.
Stuff You Never New You Always Wanted
Anytime you walk into a retail environment full of things you're into you're likely to have a surge in exitement. The term kid in a candy store springs to mind. Hyper Japan provides this stimuli 10 fold. Mech models, sexual suggestive mouse pads, rows upon rows of den, desk and shelf fodder to make you're gaming station, mancave or bedroom multiples times cooler, badges for your letterman jacket or backpack, you name it, its all here. One of the things about that neo-tokyo, future-punk aesthetic is the collection of, well, stuff. Cool stuff at that. Watch Steven Spielberg's 'Ready Player One' and observe the character 'H' garage/place & excitement the story's protagonist Wade Watts demonstrates when introducing 'H' collection of Stuff to love interest Artemis. Hyper Japan could've easily filled that scene with an endless supply of cool sh$*. I picked up a pair of megadrive cufflinks to add a retro touch to my corporate armour.
To be totally honest I've never really paid too much attention to the musical performances at Hyper Japan. I've observed the pull to main performance stage and understood the huge global following for J-Pop, it just doesn't resonate with me yet. To offer any tangible feedback on the quality or calibre of the performances would be a lie. However given my respect for the culture and the obvious obessession I have for the event I pledge to make a honest attempt to reserve a part of my attendance to the live performance stage. Even if the Language barrier represents a obstacle for me the reaction of the crowds are usually an accurate indicator of the approval of the acts. Plus i'd like to think I know competent musicianship when I hear it.
Every year I leave Hyper Japan with a sense of satisfaction. The stuff i've bought, the games i've played, the food i've eaten and the pictures i've taken to document the event. In future events i'll look to move towards videography as a means of documentary & provide an You Tube posts to better convey the live energy of the event. I was apprehensive when I hear Olympia would host this years summer event, simply because of the size. But I can honestly say this was an epic convention that massively complemented the momentum Hyper Japan has achieved over recent years. Hopefully 2019 will be just as good if not better.
Roll on 2019