Going to Conventions in Japan

I went to London ComicCon recently (aka MCM Expo to anyone that’s been going for over 4 years) and it reminded me of the big differences between conventions in Japan compared to the UK and America.

You’d think that Japan being the “origin” of cosplay, and amazing technology and games, that they’d have a fantastic convention environment with a wide variety of cool stuff. But this debatably not the case. Or at least it’s very different to how we experience conventions in the UK.

So below I’ll discuss the differences between West and Japan, what to do and not do at cons, a list of conventions, how to find events and phrases you can use at events.

The difference between Western and Japanese conventions.

First of all conventions in Japan are called “events” エベント, when you say convention たいかい (大会) it literally means “big meeting” and makes people think of a official meeting with lots of people having formal seminars run by professionals about a topic, often business.

London ComicCon Basara Cosplay
Able to run up to strangers and take pics! Yay!

When I say “convention” in the West most people in the geek world think of anime/gaming/sci-fi themed conventions. These will be held in a large building with lots of stands selling official and unofficial merchandise (ranging from character themed tea to plushies, games, dvds etc), pannels run by fans who are passionate about a topic, or talks with famous people, and lots and lots of cosplay and people running around taking each others photos.

The big difference I’ve found with Japanese cons is they are normally dedicated to a single thing. Unlike in the UK and US where is a combination of anime, games, sci-fi, events in Japan are normally only game, only anime, only sci-fi etc. Sometimes there’s a little bit of cosplay too but this is only at doujinshi events (see below).

The most popular events are doujinshi events. Doujinshi (同人誌) means “self published work” and is something a fan has written (be it an original comic or art, or fanart or fanfiction) and then had it self published and sold at events. The biggest and most famous of these events is Comiket in Tokyo. It is a 3 day event spanning over 2 massive halls where people sell their self made works (about 70% is adult content just to warn you). It’s a pretty impressive site and fun to go to if you are interested in art and people’s creations. It’s like a Western convention that’s JUST the artists alley.

Tokyo Comiket Cosplay Japan
Cosplay at Comiket is restricted to a designated area

BUT there’s another big difference with Comiket. Cosplay is restricted to a single small space often outside. You cannot walk around the con in cosplay, you cannot turn up in cosplay (have to get dressed there) and you need to pay to cosplay at the site. This is the same for any cosplay event, which are often small scale events held every weekend in a specific location. What I found most strange about these cosplay events was you didn’t have many people running up to each other going “I love that character, can I have a photo?”, it’s more like a full day photoshoot with friends and a personal photographer and cosplayers mostly keep to themselves.

So Japanese cons are mostly focused on a single thing at a time (doujinshi, games, cosplay) and they don’t tend to have the wide variety or social intermingling that Western cons have.

I haven’t been to other conventions in Japan but I do know there’s a big gaming con in Tokyo where people can try out the new games, and there’s the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya. I can’t comment on what those are like, and I honestly don’t know how famous are delt with at cons, or if they even go to Japanese conventions. If you do please leave a comment below with your experiences and thoughts.

The do’s and don’ts of Japanese conventions

Don’t

Tokyo Comiket Japan Cosplay

Cosplayer being swarmed by photographdxs

Don’t cosplay on the way there (socially unacceptable to be dressed in public)
Don’t take peoples pics without asking
Don’t take pictures of people unless they’re in cosplay in a designated photography zone!
Don’t run up to people squeeeing (Japanese people are good with surprise gaijin running at them screaming)
Try not to block people’s stands (just be courteous of other people around you)

Do
Be polite
Talk to people about their work (at doujinshi events, especially if it’s something you’re interested in too)
Have fun and soak in the atmosphere

I feel that as a foreigner you can bend the rules and be a bit more friendly with strangers. I found it most interesting to talk to the vendors about their art and fandom and asking them about how they wrote their work (a bit awkward if it’s an 18+ item though).

I actually made friends with a woman who wrote BBS Sherlock BL (boys love) fanfiction at one Comiket and showed her around my home town when she was visiting England one time. So you can get some interesting experiences out of it.

What conventions are there in Japan?

Comiket – Comiket, or Comic Market, is a massive doujinshi event held twice a year (Dec and Aug) in Tokyo Big Site. Eng Website

Local Dounjinshi Events – There are thousands of small scale doujinshi events for general art or specific fandoms all over Japan. Article on them. Timetable of Events (JP)

World Cosplay Summit – Cosplay competitions are held all over the world and the winners all end here at a world wide cosplay convention in Nagoya in August. Eng Website

Cosplay in Japan
Local Cosplay Event in Osaka with our own photographer for the day

Local Cosplay Events – Small events all over Japan which give the space for cosplayers to meet up and have photoshoots. Often in a group of friends who are cosplaying from the same thing. These are normally arranged on Cosplay Archive. JP Website

Wonderfes – Figurine convention held twice a year (Feb and Aug) in Chiba. Eng Article. JP Website.

Tokyo Game Show – A big video games convention display upcoming games in Sep just outside of Tokyo. Eng Aricle (includes all info on costs, times and how to get there)

Anime Japan – A big anime trade show at Tokyo Big Site in March. Eng Article (includes all info on costs, times and how to get there)

CEA TEC – A big technology fair in March just outside of Tokyo. Eng Article (includes all info on costs, times and how to get there)

How do I find out about conventions in Japan?

In the above section you can see I’ve linked a number of essential websites for finding out information on some of the biggest conventions in Japan (I didn’t list information like dates and costs because these change over time and vary between events). You may have noticed that a number of these (mostly local events) are only in Japanese. If you know Japanese then great! Otherwise you may need a Japanese friend to help you out. I found the local events near me through a friend who goes to them. If you don’t know Japanese that well you can try and make friends in your area via My Language Exchange and see if there’s anyone interested in what you’re interested in and can help you. Ask around in general to see if anyone likes cosplay or anime, but try to be subtle. It’s often not something Japanese people talk about unless they know the people around them are interested in the same things.

Useful phrases for when you’re at a convention in Japan

Can I take your picture? – しゃしんをとってもいいんですか?

Can I look at this? – みてもいいんですか?

Excuse me – すみません

Do you like___? – ____がすきですか?

I like ____ to! – わたしも____がすきです。

I like ____ – _____がすきです。

That’s amazing! – すごい!

Any other phrases you can think of/would like to know? Do you have your own experiences of conventions in Japan? Or are there any you really want to go to?
Please leave your comments below! ^-^

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