Hyper Japan is the UK’s biggest Japanese culture event, held in London since 2010. It showcases a mixture of old culture and new: from traditional crafts & cuisine to contemporary fashion from the streets of Harajuku (Tokyo’s fashion district). From the 25th to the 27th of July in Earls court, it is a chance to dip into another country without leaving your own. As someone who is rather obsessed with anime, noodles and oriental craft it was an event I was keen to attend.
However, upon seeing the queue, it was a chance I feared I would need to wait an afternoon before indulging. After five minutes of following it around three sides of the complex I finally joined the end. Thankfully, there was something to see even before I entered, many people had dressed for the occasion in costumes. Some cosplayed as characters from games and anime; others wore doll-like Lolita dresses or stood-out in elaborate accessories. I talked to a few around me about what we might see inside; whilst we all had something different that attracted us we all agreed we couldn’t wait to get inside. At that point Hyper Japan hadn’t even opened the doors, when it did I was inside within ten minutes; eagerly rushing through the doors to claim my programme to plan my day ahead.
The first thing to catch my eye was the ‘kawaii’ area. Kawaii is the Japanese word for cute, and at Hyper Japan it certainly lives up to its meaning. Stalls selling fashions in cheerful pastel colours, with intricate lace adorning every hem, and shoes riddled with bows are everywhere. Stationery is on every stand too, with a seemingly endless variety of pencil toppers, stickers and erasers, all with cheeky faces. Somewhat confusing to me is the obsession with plushie alpacas (surely that’s South American?) and mini vegetables; I guess anything goes here in the name of cute. Whilst none of these things really appealed to me, it is a big part of what people think of when they imagine Japan.
Next, I sought out a more traditional aspect of Japanese life, and found the elegant bonsai tree garden. I have always found something about the way the miniature trees have been expertly grown into complex knots; the result of knowledge passed down over the centuries. Something I have not been entrusted with, if past experiences shows anything, I have attempted to grow three bonsai trees in the past – all of which died rather quickly. Instead I thought I would lend my hand to some of the things at the workshop tables. I attempted several traditional skills and pastimes; I made an origami cat, which I am rather proud of, before attempting to write my name in Japanese alphabet. Although, due to a slight mix up in translation, I almost ended up writing Jessica rather than Joshua; a good job I corrected my instructor quickly or there could have been some embarrassing situations ahead.
After all that, food was the next thing for me to seek out. I found a whole area named Eat-Japan, which houses the Sushi Awards. I watched skilled chefs presenting some of their finest pieces of sushi. However, as the mix raw fish and seaweed didn’t appeal to me for lunch I didn’t partake in the booth, instead I found the ever appealing Dorayaki stall instead. I had to admire the crafting skills of the sushi chefs, how their precise carvings left a fillet of Salmon looking like a rosebud – it would have been criminal of me to eat it.
As a gamer, one of Hyper Japan’s biggest appeal was in the technology department. Japanese game developers Nintendo and Capcom had brought some of their upcoming releases for people to test drive. I was very interested in some of the games shown, such as Super Smash Bros. and Tales of Xillia 2; and whilst I happily watched others play I didn’t try myself. I personally don’t enjoy demos at events, not only do you not get a taste of the finished product, but I am also very aware that there are several people eager to take my spot at the controls. Added to this is also the queue length for some of the titles, I don’t particularly relish the idea of waiting for forty-five minutes to get five minutes of gaming.
The highlight of Hyper Japan for me was also the biggest surprise. When in need of a brief sit down I took a seat in the audience of the main stage. At the time several men with white face paint on hurriedly readied their set. I watched in bewilderment and intrigue at what might follow. The act was Siro-A and quite frankly they were fantastic. A dance troupe, similar to Diversity, that utilises shadow puppetry, live dance and pre-filmed performances to create amazing feats of synchronised dancing. Their performance included mesmerizing optical illusions that seemed to create a never-ending army of a single performer all perfectly synchronised as one. They also had a virtual reality light game and a man boxing his own shadow. My eyes couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing and I frequently had trouble recognising what was on stage and what was projections. The climax was a creation of We Will Rock You using the cheers from the audience, starring moi. They were certainly mind-blowing and worth checking out if you get the opportunity.
To many people, Japan can be summed up by anime, robots and geishas. Hyper Japan made me realise that these are barely even the surface of this rich culture. Attending gave me the chance to discover a world far removed from my own, one bedded in tradition yet also refreshingly modern.