Friday 24th to Sunday 26th February saw J-fever take over Brompton Hall in Earl’s Court, London. For the best part of three days, Hyper Japan Spring 2012 celebrated Japanese culture, both traditional and modern.
I have to admit, I had mixed feeling on the first day. The event was in a different location, and it had a different feel, but in the end I concluded that it was actually me who was different. When I went to Hyper Japan in July last year, I had not long been back from Japan and was desperate for a J-fix. Now, I’m settled in London and, although I miss Japan terribly, I am lucky enough to be surrounded by Japanese culture almost daily. I work with Japanese people, I go to a lot of Japanese events and exhibitions, I study Japanese, and often eat Japanese food. I definitely enjoyed Hyper Japan this year, but at times I felt like I didn’t need it as much as before.
Don’t get me wrong though, Hyper Japan was excellent! I think it’s especially good for people who have not spent much time in Japan or have never been at all, and provides excellent insights into a culture which most of the attendees clearly love. The event is heavily weighted towards popular culture, with street fashion and cosplay being the number one draws. The Sushi Awards and Sake Awards are also crowd-pleasers, although I didn’t have a chance to participate myself.
Last year I wrote a number of blog posts going into lots of detail about what I saw and did at Hyper Japan. This time I’ve decided to go for one large summary post instead, but I will also be writing something in more depth about street fashion soon. So, here are my highlights:
Lolita fashion panel discussion (Friday)
Rupert Faulkner, a senior curator in the East Asian department at the Victoria & Albert museum, spoke with a panel about an upcoming display at the V&A which will include lolita fashion. Kitty and the Bulldog will run from 23rd April 2012 – January 2013 in the Toshiba Gallery, Room 45. I’ll share some more information about that with you soon!
Natsuko Aso (Friday & Saturday)
Natsuko Aso, or “Na-chan” as she insisted on being called, is a sugary sweet J-pop singer and actress, famous for singing anime songs. It would be hard to dislike Natsuko Aso’s cheerful persona and bouncy pop songs, but I don’t think I could listen to more than a handful in one go. I do like J-pop, but this was the super saccharine kind.
As you can tell from the video, she was really popular, and seemed to have a few fans in the audience who knew all the moves!
Film Showcase with Satoshi Miki and Eri Fuse (Saturday)
Adam Torel of Third Window Films hosted a film showcase with writer and director Satoshi Miki and actress Eri Fuse. I confess, I didn’t know who either of them were before the showcase, but it was so interesting that I ran straight off to buy some of the movies after the session. Famous for films such as Instant Swamp, Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers and Adrift in Tokyo, Satoshi Miki admitted that he got a lot of his inspiration from Monty Python. His films tend to look at ordinary life, and how extraordinary it can be. He spoke about how transient a city Tokyo can be, and how it’s changing every day. He said that even some small thing in his daily life can make him laugh and feel interested, and that if we, the audience, have the chance to visit Tokyo we will definitely see what he means and understand where his movies are coming from. I really enjoyed the clips of the films that I saw at Hyper Japan, and I’ll let you know what I think of the whole films as soon as I’ve watched them. I have a feeling I’m going to like them…
Here’s a trailer for Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers:
Hibiki Ichikawa and Alika Mochida (Saturday)
I love watching Hibiki and Alika perform their classic folk songs, and this performance was no disappointment. Hibiki also got some of his students on stage, and I was really impressed with their shamisen playing.
Japanese Street Fashion (Saturday & Sunday)
As I said above, I’m going to write a separate post in more depth about Japanese street fashion soon. For me, the street fashion shows were the number one highlight at Hyper Japan, and I actually learnt a lot too. I knew some of the names of the different types of popular fashion in Japan, such as lolita, gothic lolita, and visual kei, but these fashion shows introduced some new styles to me and made me think a lot about why these fashions are popular. Watch this space for a lot more detail soon!
Cosplay (Saturday & Sunday)
As I’ve said here many times before, I don’t know anything about cosplay. I don’t play computer games now (although I used to) and I don’t watch much anime, so I usually don’t know who the characters are that people are playing. However, I can appreciate the art of a good costume, even if I don’t know how accurate it is. And cosplay is not just about the costumes, it’s about the characters too. There’s quite a bit of acting involved, and the more convincing that is, the better the whole thing comes off.
The cosplay shows at Hyper Japan were hugely popular, and it was hard to squeeze in and see what was going on. Over the weekend there were the World Cosplay Summit group and individual preliminaries and the European Cosplay Gathering group preliminaries. Some of the costumes were just outstanding!
This was one of the judges, but he deserves a mentioned because this costume cost him $10,000 to make!!
Taste Discovery Zone: Japanese Desserts (Saturday)
One part of Hyper Japan that I was particularly impressed with this time was the Taste Discovery Zone where wannabe chefs could pick up free tickets for cooking sessions. The only one I managed to get to was “Japanese Desserts”, but I think that was the best one on the list anyway.
Franco-Japanese chef Elsa Gleeson, of the company Washoku, prepared two desserts:
Matcha and White Chocolate Truffles
Dorayaki – Mini Bean Paste Pancakes
Yes, that pancake is in the shape of a bear. Kawaii!
Elsa made it all look so easy and fun. Oh, and they tasted amazing! I was especially interested in the pancakes as I had tried these myself recently. Her’s were much nicer, and I picked up a few tips to improve on my recipe next time. As for the truffles – watch this space! They were so delicious, I simply have to make some. And wouldn’t they make lovely gifts?
Beckii Cruel Live (Sunday)
YouTube sensation Beckii Cruel played live on Sunday morning to a fairly large and relatively keen audience. I made a special effort to make it to her show, because I just had to see what she was like.
I first heard of Beckii Cruel (real name Rebecca Anne Flint) when I was living in Japan and the BBC picked up on her and made a documentary called “Beckii: Schoolgirl Superstar At 14“. Beckii, from the Isle of Mann, is crazy about Japan and became famous for making YouTube videos of herself dancing to famous J-pop songs. From 2009-2010 Beckii had a taste of fame in Japan when her YouTube videos made her a success and she visited Japan to perform with her then group, the Cruel Angels. As well as dancing to other people’s songs, she has recorded her own music, and has even made an idol DVD and some English language learning books. After the launch of her website in 2011, Beckii recorded a single, “You Can’t Kiss Me” as a digital release, and is hoping to find chart success.
Beckii’s performance at Hyper Japan was hesitant and she didn’t have quite the same confidence that she appears to have on YouTube. She only performed dances, and didn’t sing her new song, which was a bit of a shame. After each dance she paused to catch her breath, and filled the time awkwardly. She did well, but performing live was clearly not something she was used to.
I can see the appeal of what Beckii is doing for young people who like Japanese pop music and enjoy dressing up and dancing to it themselves. But, for me, it was rather like watching a teenager dance around in their bedroom.
Judo Demo by Olympic & World Champion, Maki Tsukada (Sunday)
Although I like to watch martial arts being performed, I don’t know much about the different kinds of martial arts, and I’m not sure I would know a good martial artist from a bad one. However, there was something unmistakably special about Maki Tsukada. She held the stage as if it were her own, and there was certainly no messing with her.
Despite her strength and skill, Maki seemed like a really nice and humble person, and was kind and smiley when helping to dress up some kids in judo outfits on stage. The judo-dress-up bit felt a little bit like a time filler, but Maki’s assistant made it interesting, and they explained about how to treat a judo uniform correctly.
Naturally, one of the main reasons I enjoy attending Hyper Japan is the food. I guess I ate quite a lot over the weekend, but I was keen to have some old favourites, and try some new things too. All the classics were there:
Kakigori, from Nice Ice Shave-Ice
Some interesting new takes on old classics, like “Stick Okonomiyaki“:
(Which was surprisingly good, and very practical to eat.)
And the launch of a delicious new menu from the ICN Cafe (launching in-store early April):
(I’ll be sharing more information about the ICN Cafe soon, so just think of the picture above as a tasty teaser!)
I tried not to do too much shopping at Hyper Japan, but it was hard! There were so many stalls there, and many offering fantastic stuff that you can’t always find in the shops. Living in London, I felt a little less pressure to buy things though, as a lot of kawaii goods and other Japanese stuff can be bought quite easily here. Here are some interesting things I didn’t buy:
And one lovely item I treated myself to – a new kokeshi doll!
Isn’t she cute? I love the hair!
All in all, Hyper Japan was everything I expected, and a little bit more. Only one complaint – what happened to the haiku we were promised? Maybe next time…
I took a lot of photos over the weekend, and they can all be found on Flickr as usual. If you see a photo of yourself and would like a copy, please contact me and I will email it to you. I also took a few videos, and they’re on YouTube.
As I said above, I will be writing in more depth soon about street fashion at Hyper Japan, and also about a couple of other things, so please watch this space! For more information about Hyper Japan Spring 2012 and any future events, please visit: hyperjapan.co.uk.