Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What is Japan Expo?

Japanese animation has a strong place in many Americans hearts. This led to the creation of Anime Conventions, which was based off the models of earlier science fiction conventions like WorldCon and mutigenre conventions like Comic Con. The popularity of anime has led to many long running conventions in North America like Project A-Kon, Anime Expo, and Otakon. Across the seas, the people of France have a longstanding love of everything Japanese. The manga industry in France is decades old compared to the relatively young American manga industry. France is one of the biggest and most vibrant consumers of Japanese culture. Naturally, it is also home to one of the biggest conventions in the world, Japan Expo, held in France annually in the beginning of the month of July. I will explore the history of Japan Expo and its sibling conventions, and why Japan Expo is the gigantic convention it is in Europe.

Crowds at Japan Expo
©Japan Expo ©JTS Group
The history of the largest convention in Europe is a humble story of anime and manga fans who wanted to make a difference. Jean-François Dufour, Sandrine Dufour and Thomas Sirdey, huge fans of anime and manga, founded Japan Expo in 1999. They based Japan Expo on small European conventions with an average attendee size of 1,000 to 2,000 people. The company behind it, the JTS Group was originally a non-profit company in France. Due to a conflict with French tax laws; it was reclassified as a for-profit company. Since its inception, Japan Expo grew from a convention with 3,200 attendees to a record 235,000 attendees in 2013. With the popularity of the Japan Expo brand, they have expanded into several other events. Japan Expo Sud started in 2009 in Marseilles, France as the spring anime convention in Southern France. Japan Expo Centre is the Fall convention in Orléans, France founded in 2012. They expanded to Belgium and started Japan Expo Belgium, which is one month after Japan Expo Centre in Brussels, Belgium. Their first foray to the English speaking world is Japan Expo USA. Thomas Sirdey and Sean Chiochankitmun started this American convention through the company SEFA Entertainment, a subsidiary of JTS Group.

Why is Japan Expo so large in size compared to their North American counterparts? The first reason is the huge population density in Paris, France with over 55,140 people per square mile, with one of the densest metropolitan megacities in the western world. Paris also has one of the best mass transit systems in Europe, and the high-speed trains means that people from all across France can visit Japan Expo with a 2 hour ride. I alluded to it earlier, but France also has a very extensive history with Japanese Animation and comics, with it being part of the mainstream culture for over 40 years. Another defining reason is the lack of conventions in Europe. The biggest conventions in Germany are AnimagiC and Connichi with 12,000 and 18,000 attendees respectively. Spain has the gigantic Salón del Manga de Barcelona, with 112,000 attendees. Ultimately, the anime and manga convention scene is not as packed as it is as North America. The biggest reason is the strong leadership of the organization, with all the original founders still running the organization. This consistency has led to a strong network that shows in the incredible guest of honor lineups for their conventions.

The Legendary Catwalk at Japan
Expo ©Japan Expo ©JTS Group
Japan Expo has many quirks that many of us North American attendees may not be used to. The first is that each convention does not use the year to designate and separate conventions from the past. They call each convention by the years the events have been held. Japan Expo 2013 is known as the “14th Impact” because it is the 14th time Japan Expo was held in Paris, France. Interestingly, each Japan Expo uses a different subtitle, Japan Expo Centre is known with “# Editon,” Japan Expo Sud is known as “# Wave.” Only Japan Expo USA uses the “impact” subtitle for each event, like the main Paris Event. For the North American attendee, a Japan Expo is different because the Exhibition Hall (or Dealer’s Hall) does not just focus on vendors. The main hall has a variety of events happening, there are demonstrations, catwalks, and more interactive events on the show floor. In Europe, the convention is different because it also has a single ticket system, in which the attendee has to purchase a ticket every time they enter the event. To deal with cosplayer needs, they have a cosplay changing room and they also hold bags for the attendee. The conventions also have relatively cheap entrance costs compared to most badges in American conventions. They tried applying the Japan Expo formula to the California con, but the backlash forced them to use more conventional methods that the North American attendees are used to.

With Japan Expo USA coming up, here is a little insight into the convention and events that led to the creation of the North American convention. Passionate people who felt a need to express their love of the hobby by starting their own convention founded Japan Expo. A perfect storm led to the gigantic growth of the convention in France, which allowed them to expand to markets that need conventions. The convention themselves have some quirks that make them quite special in the convention world. So as you attend Japan Expo USA or its many sister conventions, keep in mind that they are a very different breed than the conventions that we are accustomed to, since the history and the situation led to a very different experience.

Kris Zoleta, B.A., M.B.A., is a staffer for Pacific Media Expo and Board Director for Asian Pacific Cultural Association. He started working in Anime Expo in 2005 and rose to management from 2007-2010. He was served on  Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation as Treasurer and Interim CFO for the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo, and he was Co-Chair of Anime Expo 2012. He is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast. 

Japan Expo History
Japan Expo Website
Japan Expo Centre
Japan Expo Sud
Japan Expo Belgium
Japan Expo USA

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