Friday 25th July until Sunday 27th July 2014 saw London’s Earl’s Court One exhibition hall transformed into a colourful, cultural scene that was Hyper Japan. Running for its sixth successful year, Hyper Japan focuses upon Japanese culture, entertainment, food, fashion and technology. Renegade Revolution was out in force over this weekend; with writer Amy covering the first day of the event, editors Jojo (myself) and Scott covering the Saturday and photographer William snapping up photos on the Sunday. This article focuses upon the Saturday of the three-day event.
Typically, Saturdays will always be the busiest day of any convention or event. Hyper Japan was no exception. Having moved to the larger venue that was Earl’s Court One, the weekend saw tens of thousands of visitors attending the event over the three days – with the majority attending over the Saturday. Whilst Friday and Sunday entries lasted the entire day, public access for Saturday was split into two separate paying sessions; one for the morning and one for the afternoon. Attendees were also given the option of an all-day pass for both morning and afternoon sessions if they so desired.
It had been a while since Scott and I had attended a Hyper Japan event – a couple of years to say the least – so we were not really sure what to expect. And having attended an extremely crowded and hot London Film and Comic Con a fortnight before in the neighbouring Earl’s Court Two, we were both slightly apprehensive about the condition of the event once inside.
We could not have been more wrong.
There was ample space inside the exhibition hall, with air conditioning to complement the hot summer day. This, of course, pleased many of the attendees – in particular, the cosplayers, Lolitas, kimono-wearers and other costumed or uniformed attendees and exhibitioners. The aisles were spaced comfortably apart in order to avoid bottlenecks of human traffic and there were maps and timetables available for guests to navigate their way around the hall, as well as plan any performances or demonstrations that they wanted to see during their visit. Hyper Japan’s own staff always appeared energised, polite and willing to help with information and enquiries from event-goers. The three performing stages (the Main Stage, Fringe Stage and Martial Arts Stage) were also situated significantly apart from each other, which meant that there was minimal noise interference and distractions to both the performers as well as the witnessing attendees.
During our visit to Hyper Japan, it was clear that there were many things to see and do for people of all interests and ages. Stalls and displays were grouped together within the exhibition hall to make up five specific areas of interests for people to visit upon their own accord: Food and Drink, Culture, HYPER Game & Anime Park, HYPER Fringe Market and HYPER KAWAii!!
For the culinary-minded people out there, the Food and Drink section of the event proved to be an aromatic and mouth-watering experience. With a food court that sold a variety of hot foods, deserts and various drinks, visitors were spoilt for choice when it came to having a taste of Japanese food, most of which was also cooked on site. From ramen and takoyaki to sushi and bubble tea, there was just too much for people to choose from. Of course, for the people that decided to visit during the morning, by lunchtime, there were long queues at every single Japanese food vendor – and this is also despite the fact that the various cafes within Earls Court One were also open for the weekend. However, this was a good indication towards the standards and varieties of food available at Hyper Japan. There was also a dedicated area of benches, tables and chairs for people to enjoy their food once they had purchased it. Aside from the food court itself, there were also free talks and demonstrations (such as the ever-popular technique of making and rolling sushi) available for attendees that wanted a more hands-on approach when it came to Japanese cooking. A variety of Asian confectionary, ingredients and cooking utensils were also widely available from many of the stalls that were situated within the Food and Drink area. During our trip around the stalls, Scott and I did notice that there seemed to be an increase in interest for matcha green tea – a finely ground green tea powder – and hardly any stalls selling tea bags of green tea leaves. This seemed to be an intriguing change in preference from other Asian-themed events, which would see the trend in popularity reversed. We also discovered a stall that was selling green tea chocolate. An idea which some people found odd, however when tasted, was surprisingly delicious!
Hyper Japan was also the host for the Eat-Japan Sushi Awards 2014. Sponsored by food company giants KIKKOMAN, Yutaka and S&B, a limited amount of attendees to Hyper Japan were given the additional option of paying an extra £12-£15 (£12 for tickets booked in advanced and £15 at the door) to taste and vote for their favourite original sushi creation, brought to life by the five top sushi chefs – each from a leading Japanese restaurant in the UK. Needless to say, the maximum limit of 1,500 tickets was reached in no time at all. By the end of the weekend, it was confirmed that Wojciech Popow – a sushi chef from Roka Charlotte Street – had won the “Sushi of the Year” title for 2014 with his unique creation of an octopus-based sushi, which he had named “Seabed Shipwreck”. As well as providing the voter’s favourite flavour, he had also put thoughts into the aesthetics of his handiwork; with his sushi giving off the nautical feel of an octopus curled in a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea.
As well as the Eat-Japan Sushi Awards, Hyper Japan also held The Sake Experience. This was another additional event which guests could pay to partake in (providing they were above the legal drinking age!). The Sake Experience involved a chance to taste 25 types of sake from 11 of Japan’s breweries, with a chance to purchase a selection of the products available on the day at discounted prices. Guests were also given the option to sit through a sake seminar, presented by the Museum of Sake, which explained the history and making of sake, as well as what to look for when tasting the beverage. There was also a survey which paying attendees could take part in, where they could vote for their favourite sake to complement four set categories: The People’s Favourite, which was awarded to Sho Chiku Bai Shirakabegura MIO Sparkling Sake. The Perfect Sake for British Summer, awarded to Premium Sparkling Sake Suzune Wabi. The Best Match with British Food, given to the Rocky mountain “Gozenshu 9 Regular”. And last but not least, the Sake for that Special Someone, which was presented again to Premium Sparkling Sake Suzune Wabi. Just as a head’s up to anybody that would like to partake in The Sake Experience, should it present itself again at a future event, do make sure that you have something to eat beforehand. Remember that sake, whilst served in small portions, is actually quite a strong drink!
Moving on to the cultural section of Hyper Japan, this was an area that did what it said on the tin; focusing upon the things that are part of Japanese culture and society. There was a large, beautiful display of bonsai trees, provided by Chelsea Flower Show gold medallists; the Federation of British Bonsai Societies, with staff at hand to provide topical information and advice to visitors. There was also a demonstration available for visitors to gather tips on growing and caring for their own bonsai.
Smash hit entertainers SIRO-A also made a guest appearance at Hyper Japan this year. This group of musical and visual entertainers – often compared as Japan’s Blue Man Group – had their own booth where visitors could meet and interact with members of the band, as well as a store in which people could purchase merchandise and specially discounted tickets to their London performances in the late half of this year. SIRO-A also ran a performance for Hyper Japan guests on the main stage each day of the event. The Culture section of Hyper Japan also featured companies that offered flights to Japan, as well as specific key tours of the country for those that want to travel with set focuses such as anime and manga tours, temple tours or any other customisable visits. There were also stalls within this area that vended in Japanese books, figurines and confectionary.
HYPER Game & Anime Park proved to be extremely popular over the weekend. This section was not hard to locate at all – with giant gameplay screens and a huge inflatable Chopper figure from One Piece. With gaming giants Nintendo and Bandai Namco and Toei Animation premiering games like Tales of Xillia 2, Wii U Mario Kart 8 and Monster Hunter 4, there were some serious queues throughout the day for the avid gamers that decided to try their hands on some new software. There were also many stalls available, full of anime, manga and gaming merchandise for the fans to indulge in. For the more creative people out there, Nanoblock UK also had a stall set up with a variety of building kits and friendly staff for advice. For the props and weapons collectors out there, The Sword Stall provided a wide range of replica props – from Kingdom Hearts keyblades and Game of Thrones swords to a replica Link shield from the Legend of Zelda games and even Naruto-style kunai. Obviously, strict buying rules applied for people purchasing from this stall – as well as rigorous notes for buying customers not to unwrap and unsheathe any of their props until safely home (safety first, people!).
For the fashionistas out there, HYPER KAWAii!! was a popular area. Filled with all things cute, colourful and cuddly, as well as a variety of wigs, Lolita dresses, accessories and makeup, this area was extremely popular with the younger generation of Hyper Japan’s convention goers. HYPER KAWAii!! also played host to various fashion shows, including live catwalks. A live karaoke stage was also available – aided by a rather spritely Domo-kun who was keen on letting visitors have their photos taken with him. Artbox seemed to catch the attention of many a guest with their variety of merchandise – especially their range of super-cute fast food plush toys – which also seemed to cause a bit of a jam in their particular aisle. However, people still seemed to act more civilised than at some other events, which was somewhat of a relief.
Last but not least was the HYPER Fringe Market. With a total of 65 exhibitors, this area specialised primarily in upcoming artists and designers, selling a range of their own artworks, jewellery, and clothing. This was a great place to check out the new talent out there, as well as get to know designers and artists a little better, a lot of which were more than happy to have a chat with their customers. There was also a wall specifically for random members of the public to go forth and show off their own artistic prowess by drawing their own creations on said wall.
All in all, Hyper Japan was a refreshing experience. The atmosphere came across as more civilised as some of the other London-based conventions, whilst still being able to maintain its energetic charge. The concept of splitting the Saturday into a morning and afternoon session controlled the flow of human traffic and crowding considerably, giving more people a chance to experience a little piece of everything the event had to offer. Generally, we at Renegade Revolution found that Hyper Japan was a great cultural experience and quite frankly, we’re already excited about the Hyper Japan Christmas Market, which takes place between the 14th and 16th November 2014 at London’s Olympia exhibition centre. Hopefully, we’ll see you all there too!
For more information on Hyper Japan, visit their website at www.hyperjapan.co.uk
All photos © Jojo Yap and Scott Sanderson