Pop culture pops out in Japan
Summer is quite the eventful season in Japan. It’s a season of festivals, and we don’t just mean traditional ones with fireworks and Bon dances. If you like pop culture (be it anime, manga, games, cosplay, J-pop, steampunk, or even Western fandoms), have we got good news for you! This summer is shaping up to have a number of events for pop culture enthusiasts, and here are some of them. Note that we’ve limited the events to those in and near Tokyo, so we didn’t list the World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya.
1. Manga*Anime*Games from Japan (June 24-August 31)
Where: The National Art Center Tokyo, Gallery 1E (Nogizaka or Roppongi Station)
Admission: 1,000 yen (adults), 500 yen (college students with valid ID), 300 yen (students, faculty, and staff from affiliated schools), free for high school students and below
Hours: 10:00 am-6:00 pm
Note: the exhibit is closed on Tuesdays.
This exhibit pays tribute to notable manga, anime, and games from 1989 (the year when Osamu Tezuka, said to be the father of anime and manga, died) to the present. It’s divided into 8 sections, 7 out of which are themes such as Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, “Reality” as Depicted by Technology, and Games as “Places.” The last section is devoted to production techniques such as drawing and animation, as well as selected creators’ techniques. There are also a few interactive portions, as you can play some games (in Japanese, though). A word of caution, though: save for the titles and description of each section, most explanations are in Japanese. Also, those expecting this to be an exhibit with replica props and life-sized figures of famous characters might be disappointed, as it’s not that kind of exhibit. (Some production sketches, cels, and the occasional item or prop are on display, though.) Some may also be surprised to find some significantly popular series lacking a mention at all in the exhibit.
2.The Art of Gundam (July 18-September 27)
Where: Mori Arts Center Gallery (Roppongi Station)
Admission: 1,800 yen (advanced selling) / 2,000 yen. Discounted rates also available for children (1,300/1,500 yen for middle-schoolers, 600/800 yen for those aged 4 to elementary school age), 1 adult and 1 child (2,200 yen – advanced selling only), couples (3,000 yen – advanced selling only), and after-six entry (1,500 yen – only sold at the door).
Hours: 10:00 am-8:00 pm
Now on its second year, The Art of Gundam is an exhibit that showcases works from the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise from 36 years ago until the present. More than 1,000 items used in production will be displayed, and there will also be a virtual theater to show the latest Gundam film. Of course, collectors shouldn’t forget to check out the souvenir shop, where there are event-exclusive merchandise.
3. Wonder Festival (July 26)
Where: Makuhari Messe, Halls 1-8 (Kaihin-Makuhari Station)
Admission: 2,000 yen (free for those below elementary school age)
Hours: 10:00 am-5:00 pm
This is the most-anticipated event for figure collectors. A biannual event, this is the second to be held this year, the first being held in winter (February, to be precise). With amateur and professional makers debuting their creations here, as well as cosplayers ready to pose for photo ops, this event should be a treat not only for figure collectors, but also for photographers. While admission itself is not too pricey, many figure collectors find their wallets bleeding after the event, as they note which figures to pre-order!
4. Steam Garden (August 1)
Where: Daikanyama Unit (Daikanyama Station)
Admission: 4,000 yen + 1 drink / 2,000 yen + 1 drink (school-aged minors, valid ID required)
Hours: 2:00 pm-8:00 pm
Note: Children below school age are not allowed.
Now on its 9th “episode,” Steam Garden is organized by a group of artists and performers that call themselves the Tokyo Inventors Society. There’s no telling when their next event will be, so if you’re into steampunk, this is the soonest you can get to dressing up in your best steampunk attire. The theme for the 9th episode is The Lost Pyramid. The year is 1902, and, to quote their promotional materials, “A mad scientist brings a 4,000-year-old secret to life.” With food, drinks (including alcohol), a hookah booth, and performances, this event will be great fun for time travelers and explorers. Be sure to read the rules to make sure you’re dressed appropriately and to avoid causing trouble to other guests!
5. Tokyo Idol Festival 2015 (August 1-2)
Where: Odaiba/Aomi area
Admission: 6,600 yen per day / 10,780 yen for 2 days; free admission to some areas
Although the term “idol” is a blanket term for Japanese celebrities who are good-looking and wholesome (or at least have a well-manufactured public image), it’s often associated with cutesy female Japanese pop singers, often in groups. With 138 idol groups and over 41,000 attendees last year, Tokyo Idol Festival is even bigger this year, as its current lineup boasts of 151 groups. Many are not (yet?) popular outside of Japan, and might not even be mainstream popular within Japan. But just because idol fans may be a niche audience doesn’t mean that their devotion is to be underestimated. You’ll see them waving glow sticks, enthusiastically responding to call-and-response songs, and dancing in support of their idols. AKB48 isn’t part of the line-up, but their sister groups HKT48 and SKE48 will.
This event has various stages and zones around Odaiba and Aomi, and some areas, such as the Festival Stage to be set up near the Gundam Statue in Diver City, are free.
6. An Outbreak of Dancing Pikachus (August 8-16)
Where: Minato Mirai area, Yokohama (Minatomirai Station)
The official name of this event is a mouthful: it’s called Odoru? Pikachu Tairyo Hassei Chuu!, which translates to “Dancing? An Outbreak of Pikachus!” Originally meant to be a one-time event to promote last summer’s Pokemon movie, this parade of dancing Pikachus was such a hit that it looks like it’ll be an annual event from now on. The parades take place from the 8th to 16th in various areas around Minato Mirai, such as Landmark Plaza, Mark IS, Queen’s Square, the Red Brick Warehouse, and Yokohama World Porters. However, some establishments, like Landmark Plaza and Yokohama Cosmo World, will continue having related events and attractions after the 16th. There will also be several exclusive commemorative merchandise sold during this time, and even JR Sakuragicho Station and the Minatomirai Line’s Minatomirai Station will sell merchandise!
7. W Hero Matsuri (August 8-23)
Where: Tokyo Dome (Korakuen Station)
Admission: 1,900-3,200 yen for adults (price varies depending on seating; advanced selling options also available) / 1,600-3,200 yen for children
Hours: 10:00 am-5:00 pm
If you’re a fan of tokusatsu shows such as the Super Sentai and Kamen Rider series (fun fact: the Power Rangers franchise was based on various Super Sentai series!), this is the event for you. You might feel a bit out of place, as the Japanese tokusatsu fan base is predominantly comprised of kids, but people of all ages are welcome at this event. The event features stage shows 4 times a day (3 times a day from August 17-21), although a ticket is only good for one show. Other than the main show, there will also be a mini-stage, kiddie play land, game corner, a themed food shop, and merchandise. It may not be a very large event, but it’s got enough to keep tokusatsu fans happy.
8. Summer Comiket (August 14-16)
Where: Tokyo Big Sight (Kokusai-Tenjijo Station)
Hours: 10:00 am-4:00 pm
Note: Cosplayers need to pay 800 yen to use the dressing room. Arriving at or leaving the venue in cosplay is strictly forbidden.
Comiket is the holy grail of events for many fans of Japanese popular media. It’s centered around doujinshi, or fan-made comics, but in recent years, companies have also started selling official merchandise at Comiket (expect them to be gone an hour or two after opening, though). Before authorities cracked down on the practice, many fans would even camp out at Tokyo Big Sight the night before opening just to get dibs on the merchandise! The event is so large that this is not a place for impulse buying. You have to know what you want, which is why buying the event catalog and carefully planning your day/s at Comiket is a must. Doujinshi aside, the cosplayers are also a huge crowd-drawer. Whether you’re attending to buy doujinshi and other merchandise, to cosplay, to take photos, or a bit of everything, know that the event will be very crowded. It might even be worse in summer, when the crowds are huge and the weather is hot and dry. (This is why this writer prefers attending in the winer!) But hey, it’s something that many fans would like to experience at least once in their lives!
9. Hollywood Collectors Convention (August 22-23)
Where: Hotel Grand Palace (Kudanshita Station)
Admission: Free to see dealers’ booths; separate charges apply for meet-and-greets
Hours: 10:00 am-6:00 pm
Now here’s an event for Western fandoms! Such events are few and far between in Tokyo, but Hollywood Collector’s Gallery, a movie memorabilia shop, organizes them every now and then, and even manages to fly some celebrities into Japan for meet-and-greet sessions. This year being the 30th anniversary of Back to the Future (and the year that Marty travels to in the sequel), the 7th Hollycon will have Christopher Lloyd and Lea Thompson, who played Doc Brown and Lorraine Baines McFly, respectively – as guests. They’re even bringing in a replica DeLorean time machine that makes an appearance at American events to raise money and awareness for research on Parkinson’s disease. Seeing them doesn’t come for free, though—there are different options, but at the very least, it’s 7,500 yen for an autograph of or photo with Lea Thompson, and 8,500 yen for an autograph or photo with Christopher Lloyd. The priciest option is the photo option with the two actors and the DeLorean, which costs 20,000 yen. If you just want to see the merchandise, though, admission to the dealers’ booths is free. In previous years, there have also been a few cosplayers. It’s no San Diego Comic-Con in terms of scale, but it’s still a step towards having more Western fandom events in Japan.
10. Akiba Daisuki Matsuri (August 23-24)
Where: Belle Salle Akihabara (Akihabara Station)
Admission: Free (charges may apply to some activities)
Hours: 11:00 am-6:00 pm
A two-day celebration of the things Akihabara is known for (all things geeky, basically), Akiba Daisuki Matsuri will feature maids and idols on stage, cosplayers, an earthquake simulation vehicle, model trains, and an entire zone devoted to virtual reality (where you can try some games that make use of the Oculus Rift). You can even build simple electronics with a maid!