NB: Some of my earliest blogs no longer have their accompanying images but enjoy the copy!
Geisha, shamisen, cosplay, video games – HYPER JAPAN had them all and more this year and it was the best one to date! HYPER JAPAN is a three-day exhibition of Japanese culture in London, encompassing both the traditional and modern. I kept hearing the phrase “the only UK event that truly reflects today’s Japan” used to describe the event, and think this was a fair description given its scale and diversity. There were people from all walks of life gathered at Earl’s Court Exhibition Centre last weekend; students, families, English, Belgian, Japanese. There was so much to do and see, and, of course, I learned plenty of new things about Japan.
I couldn’t pick one favourite thing about HYPER JAPAN because there was just so much to love. I managed to narrow it down to three, though: Siro-A, Geisha Sayuki and Minyo.
There are no photos that can do justice to Siro-A’s performance. It was mind-blowing stuff. This Japanese techno troupe gave an amazing performance complete with optical illusions and advanced technology, and as the guys moved their screens of various sizes the audience saw everything from ‘Guitar Hero’ to ‘Super Mario’ to bouncing balls! The audience were on its feet clapping at the end and, as soon as they announced they were selling discounted tickets for their London show at their stand, there was a mad surge for the desk. Given how Siro-A gave such an insane performance on a limited stage (the full performance includes lasers), I had to buy tickets and suggest you do too. You can buy tickets for Siro-A here and check out the video below for starters.
Geisha are one of the most iconic symbols of Japan, although the nature of their profession as traditional female entertainers is very mysterious and it is exceptionally rare for a Westerner to witness their skills and performances unless they are lucky enough to go Japan, and even then it’s pretty difficult. On stage was Australian born Sayuki, the first westerner to formally debut as a Geisha, who shared her knowledge of the Geisha world and her own story of becoming a Geisha. She also performed traditional music and dance with her Geisha sisters, complete in their traditional costume and makeup, which was a very unique experience. These performances are normally very private and intimate, with only a very small audience, so seeing it on a big stage in London was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Expect another blog post on Geisha Sayuki, as there’s so much more to say about her.
The traditional Minyo music performance on the main stage was an absolute treat, especially for people who had never had the chance to hear a live Japanese music performance before. Minyo means folk song and radiates nostalgic Japanese charm, and the audience were even joining in at one point. Showcasing were Hibiki Ichikawa (on the shamisen, the traditional Japanese guitar), Koji Kishida (on the shinobue, the traditional Japanese flute), Akari Mochizuki (vocal) and Tomoya Nose (percussion). There were both individual and group performances and the performances were so talented. I have already bought Hibiki Ishikawa’s album “Shamazing!”, which I highly recommend, and it won’t be long until I get Koji Kishida’s too!
Tokyo Fashion Story and Yun*Chi
My knowledge of Japanese fashion is limited to the basic ‘kawaii’ and ‘lolita’ variety, but the Tokyo Fashion Story fashion show did a fine job of showing off plenty of other quirky, glamorous and wacky fashions the country has to offer. The models were all fashion volunteers who were made up on the day, and they all looked fantastic. Judging them was the J-Pop icon Yun*Chi, who awarded her personal favourite outfit with a prize as well as picked out a best-dressed member of the audience for another prize. The show was then topped off with a performance from Yun*Chi herself, which got even me (serious blogger face) bopping in my seat. Also, can someone tell me where she bought her platform shoes from? I loved them!
Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies demo
Well, I wasn’t expecting to see a demo for this game when it had only just been released in Japan the day before. ‘Ace Attorney’ is my favourite video game series, as you might have guessed if you’ve been following this blog for a while, so I made sure I stopped by the stand to try out the demo. Without giving too much away, this game really does look amazing. There were two demos to play: ‘trial’ and ‘investigation’. The investigations have seriously been jazzed up for the 3DS with its panoramic crime scenes. There was constantly a queue for this demo… I hope Nintendo was taking note that a lot of people were asking for a physical release too, as it is currently only confirmed as a downloadable game.
Another interesting talk on the main stage came from Kuratas, a manufacturer of, quite literally, giant robots. The audience was joined by the creator Kurata himself via webcam over in Japan and were treated to a very flashy video of the kuratas robot. Kuratas robots measures approximately 4 meters tall and weigh 4 tonnes and can be controlled via a person in a cockpit. The purpose of them? Kurata wanted to create something fantastic and realise the dream of thousands of kids and adults alike, to pilot a giant robot. I did manage to get an audience question in, however, and asked whether there were any plans to design a robot that could be used in life-saving situations, the answer to which was a welcome ‘yes’. For now, Kuratas stands out so much simply because it exists and is an amazing piece of technology. You can even order and customise you own robot if you have the money to spare, and enter the Japan Open Heavy Robot Battle Tournament. I’m not even joking. The future is here!
I’d never heard of Rakugo before, so this was another ‘completely new’ thing for me at HYPER JAPAN! Rakugo is a special kind of Japanese comic story-telling, in which the story teller sits and acts out a story, playing all the characters, imitating walking and running by shuffling in their seat, and using only a fan and handkerchief as props. Performing on Saturday morning was the very animated and entertaining Diane Kichijitsu, who stumbled across Japan and Rakugo on a back-packing trip and has since become immersed in the world of Rakugo. The girls behind me genuinely were in stitches, and her performance was funny for both the kids and adults!
The Eat Japan Sushi Awards are something I always look forward to at HYPER JAPAN. Each year, 5 sushi chefs compete in the Sushi Awards to be crowned champion. The sushi is always prepared and displayed in an extravagant manner and, needless to say, is always delicious. These are the best five sushi chefs in the country, don’t forget. This year the finalists were:
- Darius Burdzinski, Feng Sushi – Sea bass Maki with Crispy and Spicy Twist
- Yoshihiro Motobashi, Eat Tokyo – Tokyo Special
- Tomokazu Matsuya, SO Restaurant – Samurai
- Sadayuki Okamoto, Ichi Sushi and Sashimi Bar – Wagyu Beef Teriyaki Roll
- Sandy Beltran, Tsunami – Emperor’s Feast
Each sushi tasted very different and they were all delicious. I think I need to head along to these restaurants for a proper dinner and get some more restaurant reviews done! The winner of the awards with Yoshihiro Motobashi’s Tokyo Special!
The cosplay parade was definitely the biggest crowd-drawer over the weekend, which isn’t surprising given both the sheer talent and time people put in to their costumes and the fact that a lot of young people seem to enter the Japan fandom initially through cosplay. Of course, there’s so much more to Japan than cosplay, but its popularity continues to grow in the west. Anyway, on to the costumes themselves. They were fantastic. I really can’t say anything more than that. We saw everything from ‘Vocaloid’ to what I think must be the world’s first Ruby Weapon from ‘Final Fantasy 7’ cosplay. HYPER JAPAN also played host to the UK preliminaries for the European Cosplay Gathering, which takes place at Japan Expo in Paris, and the standard of cosplay was on another level. Our UK representatives is CosPlex, who gave an amazing performance as Kraehe from ‘Princess Tutu’, and group entry an equally brilliant ‘Snow White and the Hunstman’ cosplays with ridiculously intricate detail. I took more footage of the parade than photos because I was suffering from non-professional camera flash envy, so expect a great video soon!
Tickets and Twitter
In case it’s not clear from this long blog post, I 100% loved HYPER JAPAN. I personally have no complaints about the event, although when I got home on Saturday and checked Twitter there was a lot of reports of extremely long queues and people who had pre-bought tickets queueing for up to three hours or not getting in at all. A couple of people contacted me personally and asked me to mention this on my blog, so I emailed Hyper Japan’s press team for more information and had the following response:
“We can assure you that we didn’t sell the advance tickets and what you heard about overselling should have been a rumour. We have warned on the HYPER JAPAN website that you should plan ahead and allow enough time as it may be necessary to wait to gain entry during busy time even though you have purchased tickets. On the day, as we feel for the people waiting in the queue under the sun, we offered free water to those people then. We are currently investigating the real cause of the queue issue.”
I hope this response will be useful to those of you affected. If you do have a complaint regarding the tickets you can contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time…
The next HYPER JAPAN will be in 25-27 July 2014 and I hope to see a lot of you there! The venue is yet to be announced, so keep checking the website and subscribe to the newsletter for the latest news. This was by far the best HYPER JAPAN I had been to date and there was such a wonderful range of things to see on stage and stalls to shop at. My full spoils list was as follows:
- Tai-yaki from the delicious Yaki stand
- Melon ice dessert from the Nice Ice stand
- Matcha latte!
- Siro-A tickets
- ‘Shamazing!’ CD by Hibiki Ichikawa
- A Vocaloid Gakupo paper doll for my BFF Laura (who was actually cosplaying Gakupo
You can see the rest of my photos from the weekend on the blog’s Facebook page.
Were you at HYPER JAPAN? Comment below and say what you liked the most! I’ll be working on my HYPER JAPAN video next, so if you fancy following this blog and keeping an eye out on it, you will be much loved ❤