Tome 2 (meaning the second edition) of Japan Expo Belgium, the Belgian chapter of the famous largest J-culture convention held annually near Paris, France was once again a three-day extravaganza of all kinds of things Japanese in Tour & Taxis.
Bert and I decided to visit on Friday, which is the not only the first but also the calmest day of the convention. Despite it being on a school holiday, not all college and university students had the day off, and most people were at work, making it a good day to visit because it meant less people and plenty of room to walk around and to browse the shops.
First let me start out by saying that Japan Expo Belgium is indeed a different convention than the other J-culture conventions held in Belgium. It’s the last one of the season, and while you can find all the typical things such as shops, cosplayers, a cosplay competition and concerts there, the focus lies a lot more on traditional Japanese things as well. Now I can’t compare it to the other editions of Japan Expo (Centre, Sud and Paris) as I never attended one of those, but I can compare to FACTS and MiA, both Belgian conventions which were awesome this year, but have once again been outdone by the bigger and in my opinion better Japan Expo Belgium.
Japan Expo is very well organized and divided into several themed rooms and side rooms of various sizes. The gamers are in one of the large rooms, where they can be as noisy as they like. There were games a plenty, including some truly vintage treasures such as an arcade Pac-Man, which were sure to warm the heart of pretty much any gamer.
A second room was filled with all things traditionally Japanese, focusing very hard on the interaction with guests that were interested in learning something new, such as basic Japanese, a traditional Japanese song or dance, playing games or even ikebana (flower arrangement) or have a look at the many little expos such as the bonsai, the Kyôto expo or watch the displays with kimono and samurai armor. There was also the stage with little performances, lectures and artist conferences.
Aside from that you had the little shops with typically Japanese things such as all kinds of statues depicting samurai, maneki neko, kokeshi dolls and more. In the side room you had the martial artists displaying their skill. I personally thought it was great to see more than just the traditional martial arts present, which was a nice change from just the traditional karate and aikido showcases. There were also the first restaurants popping up in these areas.
The third room you could find more food, again not all Japanese, and far more shops selling a wide range of things from the usual kawaii to clothing, CDs, fandom items and more. On the side there was the meet and greet area where you could go queue for autographs. I thought that this year the queue was far more organized and the set-up was much better than the previous year. There was also the video stage, where several series and other footage was playing through most of the day.
The fourth and final room had more shops, the cloak room, official festival shop and some more food, with a tuning room with several cars on display on the side and the resting room. It was awesome to see the convention dedicate a significant and actually quiet room just so people could sit for a moment, I would just like to suggest more seating space next year. On Friday it was already hard to find a spot, so I can’t even imagine how difficult it must have been on the busier Saturday and Sunday.
Aside from that variation on things on offer they also did their utmost to keep people informed. Pillars with the floor plan as well as the convention program were set up throughout the rooms on key points, and it was pretty easy to find a place where you could get your own foldable map. That definitely helped getting around in the convention as it was so large.
Foodies could also eat their heart out, provided their wallets could handle it of course. While some things were very reasonably priced, most food was simply overpriced to the point of ridiculous (€5 for a hot dog, €16 for a Japanese omelette, €5 for a Japanese beer, I could go on). Another thing that was really more expensive than it needed to be was the cloakroom. At €2 per piece in mid-autumn in bad weather people racked up a considerate bill there with only a couple of pieces to hand over, which is pretty hard on the wallet of everyone on a budget. As for the merchandise, some stalls carried the same things as others, and it was well worth checking the prices on all of them because that could end up saving you a fair amount. The variation was very good, and the prices ranged from reasonable to ridiculous, as is typical to events like these.
Steampunks were also well represented. As well all know: steampunk is well on the rise within Japan and that was obvious here too. Not only in the people present where a very visible minority was dressed in steampunk or dieselpunk, but all the presence of two actual steampunk shops. Aside from them, several other shops also sold wares suitable for all kinds of ‘punk styles. It’s still small, but it was significant enough to actually be noticeable. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see a lot more steampunks at the 2013 edition.
Ridiculous prices aside, the staff was generally super friendly and helpful and the crowd was a happy-go-lucky outgoing one that really seemed to take the convention’s rules of respect the installations and each other to heart, making Japan Expo a great convention to close this year’s Belgian season with.