A while ago I attended the Kyoto International Manga and Anime Fair, which, as far as I can tell, is only international insofar as foreigners get in free. But hey, I’m not one to turn down a free anime convention. But, it turns out, the price of the convention was actually a two-hour wait in a line that extended all the way around the block and into the parking lot of a nearby museum (did I mention it was raining?). But honestly, it was pretty worth it. It was all the usual things you’d expect from an anime convention – shops, cosplay, live events onstage, fellow nerds getting way too excited about TV shows they like, etc.
There were, however, a number of interesting differences compared to American conventions. First, you actually had to pay additional money to cosplay, cosplay was limited exclusively to one room in the venue and cosplayers had to change in a changing room attached to the cosplay room. Moreover, they had a number of warnings posted stating that if cosplayers caused any trouble to “normal” people in/around the venue, the whole event might be shut down. That said, they also provided a variety of backdrops for cosplayers to use in photoshoots, so it’s not like the con was just trying to oppress the cosplayers or something.
I was quite surprised at how the convention regulated cosplay so heavily, considering that in America quite a few congoers cosplay (to varying degrees of complexity) and everyone just mills about the entire venue, showing off their costume as they please. You’d think that Japan would be more “used to” cosplayers, but in reality, society as a whole is much more conservative than America. Many people seem think of Japan as “that country with all the weird cartoon porn and used pany vending machines,” so I think this is a good reminder that the country as a whole is not defined by the parts of its subculture which are (in)famous in the west.
Another interesting difference was the gender ratio. I think there were at least twice as many women as there were men lined up for the convention – exactly the opposite of what I expected. The age range was also generally much broader than what I’ve seen in the states. The majority were still in their mid to lower twenties, but there were also quite a few high school aged fans, and more than a few fans with gray hair. I think that this speaks to the fact that anime and manga are much less of a subculture here than they are in the west. In Japan, the medium is much more normal and therefore much more accessible to a wider audience, whereas in the states any involvement in the fan community inevitably comes with a variety of unwanted stigmas. Not to say that those same stigmas don’t exist in Japan – it’s just easier to be a “casual fan” here.
I’m curious if any of my readers have been to conventions outside of the United States and Japan. If you have, leave a comment or send me an email about your experience. I’d love to know what similarities and differences anime fans have around the world.