Hello again, or indeed hello for the first time if this is the first time you’ve dropped by, and welcome to something a little different for me. This week, I want to talk a little bit about my experiences of trying out a new convention: Hyper Japan in the London Olympia.
Now, I am aware that Hyper Japan is not itself a new convention. What I mean by the statement is that I normally attend London MCM Expo at the Excel Centre. Expo is a good convention, I always tend to find some enjoyment there, but after last year I thought that it was time for a change. You see, two years ago, they did something that I thought was excellent: they spread the stalls over two halls and streamlined the queuing process. What this resulted in was a very short queuing time of under twenty minutes and plenty of room to move about and pose for photos. Then, last year, they changed the queuing system again and moved the majority of stalls back into one hall with the second hall containing nothing but a handful of food vendors. This was problematic for me because it meant that it was a major crush to get through anywhere. To make this worse, that was also the first time that my youngest child asked to come along. A small child in a cramped environment is not ideal.
So I did some research and, after discussing things with my partner, we decided to try Hyper Japan this time. A big part of this came down to nothing more than the videos of the event showing that there was more space to walk around. Of course, there was always the risk that things would explode in terms of numbers and we’d find ourselves in the same situation but hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
These are a handful of shots of my cosplay from the day. As you can see, I had to change up the clothing slightly comapred to the MAKING OF POST. The shot on the far right of the three is by Donald Manning. The second pic is the one from the shirt that I was wearing, and is one thatI built myself using things that I found on the net.
Now, most people know that Expo is a general anime, manga, gaming, TV etc. convention. But what is Hyper Japan? Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. It’s a convention dedicated to various parts of Japanese culture. This includes anime and manga, video games, music, traditional arts, food, travel, and so on. To accommodate this, they run a bunch of stalls based around each thing, present talks on everything from martial arts to origami, have live bands play, set up crafts for you to do, and run a maid café. Sounds awesome, right? But is it?
The short answer, is yes, and the reasons for this are numerous.
First, let’s look at the pricing. The event runs for three days, Friday through to Sunday. Friday is open from 12:00 until 20:00 and tickets are £15. Saturday runs two sessions, 09:00 to 15:00 for £15, and 15:30 to 21:00 for £17. Finally, Sunday is 09:00 until 18:00 for £17. There are package deals too, such as a Saturday dual ticket for £23 and a full weekend pass for £43. If you want to avoid queuing too much, you can also purchase priority entry add-ons for £5. In all, that’s pretty good value for money, even when you consider that some of the events (such as paint your own kokeshi doll or Kitsune mask) cost £5 to partake in. There are different events on each day too, so if you fancy going for more than one day, it’s not going to be a complete redo.
In terms of getting in to the place, there’s a train that stops right outside the exit. Once you arrive, you take a short, five-minute walk around the outside the of the building and you’re there. We purchased priority entry tickets but found that there was no queue whatsoever. This was due to a combination of arriving at 09:30 for the first Saturday session and the way that the entrance was laid out. There were plenty of staff on hand, they all knew what they were doing, and the different lines were clearly marked. What more could you want?
The venue itself is really nice. A little smaller than the Excel Centre, but it benefitted from having a glass roof that let in natural light rather than relying on large lighting rigs. If that sounds like an odd thing to praise, then I’m afraid you’ll just have to put it down to personal preference. I prefer natural light to artificial you see. The stalls were set out over two floors. The brunt first floor contains a healthy mix of shopping, small areas set aside for talks and displays, the gaming area (more on that later), and the live stage. There are a few really interesting things to take in there, including a stall set aside purely for those that want to discuss travelling to Japan on holiday. That’s right, they give advice and recommendations, and point you in the right direction if you need more information. As someone who wants to not only visit Japan, but retire there one day, this is a marvellous addition.
The live stage is in plain sight (though if you can’t get into the main area for it, it’s best viewed from upstairs), and really easy to find if you want to catch a particular performance. Around the outside of the hall are the usual things that you’d expect: toilets, a cloak room (charging a reasonable £1 per item), stairs and a smattering of general food places like coffee shops. Near the exit is a set aside room where the arts and crafts take place. This also has several floors to it where you can find, amongst other things, the maid café. Now, we only spotted this just as we were leaving, so we didn’t get to experience this. Next time though, we definitely want to try to make time for it.
The gaming area took up a fair bit of floor space. It was all Nintendo too, so if they aren’t your cup of tea, you may want to avoid the area. What was contained therein were some play testing areas containing some new releases such as the new Monster Hunter and Yokai Watch, complete with helpful staff who were on hand to give advice and tutorials. There was an official Nintendo store selling some limited edition items (think Monster Hunter plus a statue for the price of the game), and a small stage where people were playing competitive matches on things such as Super Smash brothers and Pokken Tournament. Right at the back were, of course, the Dance Dance Revolution machines, and hovering nearby were a pair of immersive virtual reality chairs. Sound fun? It was.
Upstairs there is a little less room as everything is essentially on a massive square balcony. Up here we found a mix of stalls that mixed the expected anime and manga merchandise with independent artists, and all the traditional Japanese food (including hot food, sushi, desserts and drinks). As I mentioned earlier, you get an awesome vie of the live stage from up there too, which gives you a chance to take everything in while taking a breather.
So what of the atmosphere? This was a pleasant surprise for me. While Expo has always been a bit busy and pushy at times, everything seemed to be a lot more relaxed at Hyper Japan. I’m not sure why this was exactly. It could have been the extra space, or it could have been that both events just attract different types of people, but the main thing is, there was a clear difference. As someone visiting with kids, the atmosphere at Hyper Japan was far more enjoyable. I noticed a much larger variety in the age of visitors too. While Expo does have a mix, the vast majority I see there tend to fit the mid-teen to mid-twenties grouping. Hyper Japan a much more prominent mix ranging from kids in prams, right up to the elderly. That was interesting to me, and in some ways made a refreshing change.
The people in attendance mostly seemed pretty nice. Our fellow convention goers were polite and friendly, and the staff were the same. It’s the staff that really stood out to me in that respect as the security in particular I find can be a bit overbearing at Expo, while here, everyone was pretty chatty laid back.
Gushing aside, Hyper Japan was not perfect, but there was nothing wrong that I could pin on the event itself. For example, the pricing in some places was pretty steep. While it tasted great, £8 for what amounted to a single piece of salmon in breadcrumbs on a soggy bun with a dollop of potato salad on the side was not the best value for money. You also had the normal disparity between stalls, such as Digimon blind boxes being £7 in one place and £9 in another. This is all pretty standard for conventions though.
Oh, and there were my own little mishaps. For one, I’ve lost a little weight since buying the short shorts. The result of this was that they fell down. Twice. Once at the train station and once at the convention. I improvised and safety pinned them to my underwear to keep them up. Seriously. That was a weird experience, that. Oh, and my costume broke a few days before the event, so I had to make some changes. The short shorts, sonic leggings, boots and custom print shirt were all added as replacements for the catsuit and corset.
So would I recommend Hyper Japan to others? Absolutely! The key is, of course, what you want from a con though. If you’re looking for more stalls based around pop culture in general, then something like Expo is going to be far better for you. If you want something a little more laid back though, and your focus is not just on anime, manga and gaming, but Japanese culture as a whole, then Hyper Japan is a great event.
The Bonus Material
This is the bit where I talk a little about my favourite moments and my shopping haul. As you can probably tell from the bits above, I had a great time, so the good times came pretty thick and fast. If I were to narrow it down to two things though, I’d say it was these:
- Playing Peek-A-Boo: Dressing as Rouge the Bat meant wearing a big, furry mask. While waiting outside the gaming area, a family came by with their young son in a pram. He was absolutely enamoured with the mask. The result? Giggles, mirthful screams, high fives, and rip-roaring game of peek-a-boo. Good times.
- Furry Fun: While talking to a stall vendor, a lady approached me and asked if she could get a photograph after I’d paid. I agreed of course, and she introduced me to her daughter. They had seen me downstairs and were impressed with my mask. As it transpired, the daughter was busy building her first fursuit, and the three of us had a brief conversation about different build styles and showed off a few photos. In the end, I advised where they may be able to source some decent fur cheaper than the imports that they had been going for. What made me happy here was not only the chat in general, but seeing a parent supporting their child in their furry pursuits. With all the bad press that the fandom gets, that was good to see.
Now … shopping. I bought a fair bit. This was quite unusual as I don’t normally pick up too much. Let’s do a run-down:
Durarara X2 limited edition Blu-ray. I only recently finished this particular part of the season on Crunchyroll, and was impressed with the overall package on offer here. As you can see, as well as the two discs, there’s a selection of postcards, some stickers, and an art book. Excellent value in my opinion.
Digimon figurines. These were in blind boxes, so what I ended up with was pretty random. I was hoping for Gatomon/Tailmon, Veemon and DemiVeemon. I ended up with two Tailmon, Patomon, two Terriermon and a Leafmon and Minomon combo. The figures come with some mild assembly required (Tailmon’s tail, Patomon’s ears and so on) and are really good quality. Dead chuffed.
Mayamada merchandise. The man himself was selling his comic series at the event and, having seen a little of it in Neo magazine, I figured I’d give it a look-in. I managed to pick up all three books for a discount, and added a tote bag to the purchase to bring the price up and save him having to hunt around for change. I haven’t gotten around to reading the books yet, but hey, it’s anthros. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.
Traditional Japanese lamp and kokeshi doll. I picked these up in the traditional crafts section. The kokeshi doll is handmade and is really quite beautiful. The little imperfections like the slight bleed on the paint just make it all the more pretty to me. The lamp meanwhile takes a standard bulb. The green covering is paper with a black design painted on, and looks really nice when lit up.
The rainbow alpaca. This was a gift from my partner, and is absolutely adorable.
And that, as they say, is that. I hope you enjoyed my Hyper Japan 2016 report, and I’m keeping fingers crossed that the Christmas market will be just as fun.