London's Premier Celebration of Japanese Culture
It's that time of year again! the one & only Hyper Japan summer convention was once again held at Olympia one of London's largest & most popular venues for exhibitons.
All the typical highlights were there. The clothes, the video games, the food, the music, the awesome cosplay, and course the endless array of stuff to buy! Hyper Japan's main premise is to export Japanese culture by way of consumerism as much as exhibitionism. You'll see martial arts demostrations, sake tasting stands, 50-60 year old banzai collections, and various interative attractions, but more than anything, is the offer to own hundreds of products, memorabilia, keepsafes, jewellry, books, the list is endless and demonstrates repeadetly just how insanely current and forward thinking Japanese culture is. The only other rival culture that speaks to the spirit of youth pop-culture is Hip Hop with its fashion, dance, art-form, language, musicianship and sheer abundance of icons across 4 generations. O'l Dirty Bastard once said "Wu-Tang is for the kids!" Well Hyper Japan demostrates so is cosplay. Almost all attendees below the age of 20 are likely to emulate their favourite anime, manga or video game heroes. If not then theres the cute scene where girls typically dress in the cutest possible attire from head to toe. I've never really understood this trend, but its taken so serioulsy there are fashion shows soley dedicated to participants of the genre.
All manner of creative artists display their chosen mediums across hundreds of stands. Some for bargain prices, others may warrant a reach for the credit card. As most items commemorate some cult fictional icon, even the most fruggle of sorts can be easly swayed to part with coin simply because you don't see any of this stuff in UK outlets. Everything at Hyper Japan is boutique, one-off, collectable or limited edition. Although, this year seemed altogether smaller than previous year's. I can't recall which prior year it was, perhaps 2017, but it was one of the 1st times Hyper Japan had graced London Olympia & I can honestly say it was truly breathtaking. The momentum of previous events had built up and the whole place was ram packed with a palpable atmosphere. This year the upper level was lined with stands around the balcony with food and music in the large upper hall. But it just wasn't the same. It was scaled back, less people attending and less of the magic from prior events. I did speak with some of the usual vendors & they confirmed less of their fellow creatives had signed for it this time around. Why? No one could say for certain, I could speculate on the political climate at the time what with Brexit and apparent disdain the press & public had for all foreigners. Sadly 2019 saw the departure of two of my son's nursery friends whose parents where european and wanted to leave the country as felt unwanted and alienated by the discourse on immigration. Crap for many of the young people who seemed to embrace the world & peoples but unfortunately don't have a vote & probably won't have any economic or political leverage until these inter-cultural bridges have been dismantled and rebuilt in a far more conservative framework, and even more crappy for those adults who though the UK was a celebrated melting pot of culture & who've contributed positively to economic & cultural landscape only to have it thrown back in their faces by a public led by political skulldugery & misinformation. Anyway!! I shan't lament any further about it, but one can't help but imagine these choices must have an indelible impact on cultural events such as this.
Regardless of the above, there is one gripe I must vent, & thats about the venue. Olympia is central London and therefore should provide a great footfall of those in the city looking for something cool to do on any given day. Its also central for all parts of the capital to travel to. But the nature of Hyper Japan for those annual followers like myself who've attending both the summer and the christmas events for a few years now is the community of people across the capital & further afield who will go wherever the event is held. So the venue is probably more pivotal to the success of the event than the location. Perhaps the organisers don't realise this? Olympia is huge, almost too huge to fill consistently and to the point of creating an intimate & unique experience. Tobacco Docks however, has a very different asthetic altogether. As mentioned earlier, Hyper Japan happen's typically twice a year. A summer event and a Christmas Market. The Christmas market back in 2017 at Tobacco Docks was probably was of the greatest Hyper Japan atmospheres i've ever experienced. The friends I was with agreed. It wasn't due to the festive period either. I was simply the aesthetic the venue brought to the event. Tight spaces with stalls seperated by floor to ceiling class windows, an indoor outdoor feeling with only the artificial light from the stands and the odd ray of daylight coming in through gaps in the ceiling canopy. A kind of access only convention that almost mimic'd the streets of tokyo itself. what with its pagoda style wooden beams, staircases, balconies and large concrete paving in the central outdoor areas. Smaller walkways between stands and exhibtions that gave you feel a closeness to the other attendees all clad in cosplay & pop-culture streetwear. It just felt cosy and even more atmospheric when the sun went down and the lights came on. Such a unique venue that complimented the uniqueness of Japanese culture perfectly. Not to mention the distinctive smell of Japanese food funnelled through those tight corridors of the docks. Unfortunately Olympia just hasn't delivered that aesthetic yet. It would need more 'stuff' and people provide that special atmosphere, but then again more people means longer cues for food & drink, which is most definitley the most annoying part of the day. The food is breathtaking but just takes so long to get! So much so that you end up skipping it altogether. It's not cheap either! Gripes aside I still love the event and always leave with a sizable staff of booty to adorn my man cave with. This year saw some new eye-candy prompted me to start my return to Tokyo fund! See the travel section for a full acount of my 1st trip to the land of rising sun
Walking past the stands you at Hyper Japan really brings out the inner magpie. Artwork you know'll spark dinner guest interest when they come across your wall mounted collection of Edo Japan inspired western movie interpretations such as the above. Or the Totoro sculptures & wall mounted samurai masks below. If you're a lucky enough to have a partner who shares your facination with bright & colour commic/animation style artwork then your home is sure to welcome more bespoke and one-off pieces like the illustrations of a one Anna Hollinrake. Hyper Japan brings you face to face with the artists, a perfect opportunity to have your purchase signed and thus transformed into an investment piece should the artist continue to hone their skills over the next decade. These 20 something's may not realise it now, but those who don't give up and stay the course become masters of their trade as their competitors fall off, grow fat and forget their talents.
No Celebration of Japanese culture would be complete without video games. For those unaware Nintendo, SEGA, Sony, SNK, KONAMI to name a few are all Japanese companies, so celebrating present day and retro games is a staple of the festival. For retro collectors like me this is a treat! most retro collecting these is done via Ebay bids so its nice to take things back a decade or two to when you could buy Dreamcast, Saturn, Game Boy, Neo-Geo and Megadrive games via scrolling through physical boxes and scowering shelves for those titles you always wanted. Now with disposable income & a credit card instead of a pocket full of shrapnel and a collection of five pound notes from a few month's pocket money savings you can actully afford sh@*. Here you'll find hundreds titles, some have even appreciated in value. I guess nostalgia truly is expensive after all.
As mentioned before there's new tech & games too! Nintendo almost always feature a stand with rows of consoles and forthcoming titles. Hyper Japan is always an excellent place to get fist dibs on newly developed(ing) inde and triple A titles. The game that stole the show for me was DAEMON X MACHINA, a title produced by Kenichiro Tsukuda the man behind the by developers responsible for cult mech titles Armored Core. Its a mech battle sim with all the classic Armored Core features i.e. huge building size mechs with missiles, lazers, plasma swords only this time the developers utilised the Nintendo Switch's stunning graphics engine to produce vivid neon pastel high contrast visuals running a high frame rate with super smooth frame rates.
I mentioned earlier Hyper Japan provides for the innate consumer a lethal dose of retail therapy. There's just so much stuff to buy. With so much clobber you're going to want to take home it's work arriving at Hyper with an empty rucksack and at least couple of hundred pounds spending money. Of course you could come with a lot less, but when you total the cost of food & drink for the day (£30.00) and the likelyhood you're going to want to by a piece of clothing (£40.00) and a couple of models (£40.00o each) for yourself & perhaps a package deal or item for a loved one's birthday (£30.00o). After haggling a with sellers at the end of the day perhaps you can see how quickly the spending spree totals up, plus the cost of admission and travel. Unfortunatley this time round Hyper Japan came around a week before payday so I was flat broke. Typically I'd bank some cash the month before in preparation, unfortunately it didn't pan out that way this time around. These images barely scratch the surface of the vast array available but you get the idea.
OMG! I couldn't believe it when I saw this bad boy. A full size real replication of the Conan the Barbarian Father Sword. Along with a whole bunch of other movie replicas. The sword guys is almost always there. Note these are real swords as lethal as they appear and probably not the sort of memorabilia you'll want to be caught or seen on the tube with. Other worthy mentions are the performances by K-Pop artist of famous cosplay personalities who almost always make the journey overseas to meet UK fans and enthusiasts. I don't typically go for that but they certainly attract a crowd. There also the odd martial arts demostrations and other random stuff thats current within the culture. Roll on 2020!