Steampunk at Japan Expo

The J-culture expo of Europe has something for everyone.

Japan Expo Paris France
Steampunk enthusiasts at Japan Expo, Paris, France, July 5 (Hilde Heyvaert)

Japan Expo is known as the J-culture convention of Europe, and with it’s 15th edition they proved once again why.

For the first time in years the convention was operating without it’s twin Comic Con Paris, and while several people had expressed some worry about this, the event held up fabulously on it’s own.

All the great big stands of Comic Con had returned, some in full force, some obviously reduced in size compared to last year, but the people that came for properly geeky things rather than Japanese culture in all it’s aspects were not left disappointed.

And that brings us to the best point of Japan Expo: it literally has something for everything, going as far as a children’s area so parents have a space where their offspring can have a good time in a spot devoted to them.

There was gaming, both vintage and contemporary; shopping of both the Japanese (inspired) and geeky persuasion, all kinds of art, exhibits, manga, anime showings (including global premieres), concerts of many different musical genres, introduction to traditional Japanese arts, travel, martial arts, plenty of different kinds of food to keep the foodies happy, and of course for the J-fashionista: the Kawaii Area, and much, MUCH more. If someone didn’t find something to do at Japan Expo, they simply put in the effort to not have a good time.

The Parc des Expositions Paris-Nord-Villepinte once again was an excellent setting for this event with it’s aforementioned facilities but it has two major downsides.

The ridiculously overpriced parking lot. Free shuttle bus up or down (some drivers really could do with the concept of courtesy too actually), charging nearly €20 for a day of parking is ridiculous.

And the state of the public toilets leaves, to put it very tactfully, a lot to be desired. A handy tip: bring your own toilet paper.

But enough about the venue, back to the convention itself!

Even though Japan Expo is huge, and the weekend is notoriously hectic, the organization handled this well by spreading out the food stands and adding plenty of seating space throughout. Even on the Saturday, the busiest day of the event, there were areas with plenty of open space for those that wanted to flee the crowds for a bit. Squares in between the halls were opened up, so smokers as well as those wanting some air could easily step outside without leaving the convention and people that wanted to get from one hall to another could use a less crowded shortcut.

There was no shortage of food stands, you could find food of all kinds, ranging from sandwiches to pastries to all kinds of Japanese food over all three halls in use. Both from the concession food stands that are fixed in Expo Paris-Nord-Villepinte as from the restaurants and eateries that had set up shop for the event as well as several speciality shops such as the Japan Centre London that sold Japanese snacks. There even was a stand selling froyo and bubble tea. While food was for the most part, by convention standards at least, reasonably priced, drinks were sadly ridiculously expensive. Especially considering people really do need to drink.

But at least the offer was varied enough, and we even spotted a few places offering vegan dishes.

Generally Japan Expo is pretty well organized. They have several lists online of artists and vendors as well as all kinds of useful on their website in both French and English. Each day they distribute a program of that day in dispensers throughout the convention, where people can also find a handy map of the event.

Even with both the map and the program, it’s best to carefully plan ahead and keep a mindful eye on the websites of stands you want to visit. Because not everyone has everything listed on the Japan Expo site or program. Large areas, such as the Kawaii Area, Nintendo Village or Ankama stand, also organize competitions, signing sessions and what nots, and will list timings in their own particular area. The same goes for special things happening at shops such as the J-fashion meet up in front of the stand which happened on Saturday and Sunday. If you don’t keep a mindful eye on these things beforehand, you risk missing out on a lot of awesome things that are organized at the event, but not by the event organization itself.

What makes Japan Expo truly unique though, other than it’s great diversity and sheer, nearly overwhelming size, is it’s particular blend of traditional Japan with the modern things we all know so well. On one side you have KERA, NHK World and Spinns Harajuku, to name but three, while on the other you have all kinds of traditional arts that have lived on for generations and have a proper historical value right there for everyone to be introduced to. This is probably the only convention where you can properly emerge yourself in traditional Japan as it really focuses on _all_ aspects of Japanese culture, not just one the ones that will draw the most people and generate the most revenue. And that, in our opinion is the true strength of this convention: not only the diversity and the fact that there is something for everyone, even those not really into all things Japanese, but their respect for the tradition and original culture of Japan.

Last but definitely not least, the thing that readers of this blog have no doubt been waiting for: the steampunk.

As I have said countless times before on this blog, and will no doubt repeat many more: steampunk is pretty big in the land of the rising sun. Aside from that, steampunk is somewhat a thing of national pride for the French, after all they are the country of Jules Verne.

And it showed abundantly clear. So much in fact that on the Wednesday, the first day of the convention, I thought myself having wandered into a steampunk con with Japanese influences rather than the other way around.

Ankama had brought City Hall (a French steampunk manga you may have seen pass byon this blog before), the stand was smaller than last year, but no less steamy.

They also had brought their Neo-Versailles stand. There was a huge stand of a steampunk video game and a serious amount of stores were catering to the steampunks aficionados visiting the convention.

On both days we were there we saw plenty of steampunks, wearing plenty of different styles, as well as a few dieselpunks and ‘punk cosplay versions wandering around, and it’s clear that every year; even this year with the loss of Comic Con Paris, which was notorious for it’s steampunk visitors; their numbers keep on rising.

So if you’re looking for a place to do some steampunk shopping as well as emerge in Japanese culture and meeting up with steamers from all over Europe, Japan Expo is probably the place to be!

For those interested in more photos of the event, click here.

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