gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Hyper Japan 2023

It’s hard not to have a passing fascination with Japan. I’ve consumed my fair share of Anime, though I’ll admit that mostly starts and finishes with Studio Ghibli. I’ve watched Chris Broad’s Abroad in Japan and Adventure Archives march their way into the Japanese wilderness. Sushi? I love the stuff. Thankfully there’s a counter in our local Tesco! This enigmatic country reaches across the world and makes its culture and cuisine a part of British life- so why not celebrate that with an event? I’m game.

Well… somewhat.

I’m extremely out of practice with being social. I can barely mutter out coherent small talk with a Tesco checkout clerk or a UPS delivery driver, so going to an event took a lot of willpower. I think the last time I went to anything of a similar scale, I was on the other side of the market stall- selling Pimoroni goodies. Maker events involve a lot of market stalls, after all it’s selling our craft that lets us pursue creativity and also still eat. My kind of maker events usually have their fair share of YouTube personalities or enthusiastic hobbyists attending for no other reason than to show off their cool projects.

So how does Hyper Japan compare? Everyone I know who’s been to hyper Japan has said the same thing- “it’s a lot of market stalls” and, more recently, “it’s not as good as pre-Covid”. So with a tempered curiosity, low expectations I set off to London with my slightly more enthusiastic Gen Z daughter to see what it was all about.

The short answer- it’s a lot of stalls. There was basically nothing on show that wasn’t for sale- at least outside of some excellent Cosplay which is – I suppose – the scene’s equivalent to our enthusiastic hobbyists. In fact they are quite often the same people- you may not be surprised to learn that hobby electronics are the thing that makes costumes go beep boop or flash lights.

Anyway, a sizable chunk of the event was given over to general Japan-adjacent retail, which in turn gave way to arts and crafts and then yet smaller arts and crafts stalls dubbed “Fringe”. This isn’t such a bad thing, but if you don’t catch any of the events at the modest main stage you might be forgiven for wondering why your ticket purchase just bought the opportunity for more buying. There was also- and I can’t remember the name now- what looked like a very out of place Camden Market vendor, selling an eclectic mix of accessories that had… some crossover with the scene?

As someone who loves Japan but hates spending money, this hit particularly hard. But daughter to the rescue- we looped around the stalls three or four times, driven by a quest for the most traditionally Japanese of all trinkets: Genshin Impact merchandise. We actually came up trumps with an expensive printed keychain (most certainly not in the least bit official) and a slightly more reasonably priced tiny replica metal weapon (which may have possibly been official.)

The vast majority of market stalls were of this ilk – very tenuously remixed artists’ impressions of various videogame, manga and Anime properties. Posters. Stickers. Keyrings. These were of varying quantity and in various styles, but were all very thoroughly uninteresting to me, a man within grasping distance of his forties for whom the pinnacle of accessories is a watch that will tell him if his heart is going to explode.

But, nonetheless, there were a handful of market vendors and artists who really stood out – to me. Amidst the sea of pink kawaii, titillating plastic figurines and grossly malproportioned mass-produced trash sold as collectables (I hate vinyl pops so much) there were things that, for all my misanthropy, I couldn’t help but love.

Regrettably I came away from Hyper Japan with not enough photos, not enough notes and having not spoken to any of these creators. I really meant it when I said I was out of practice.

But in no particular order, the things that really caught my eye were –

Jon Turner Illustration – A collection of beautiful intricately detailed black and white illustrations. I never got a chance to get close to the stall, but even from across the hallway it called out to me. Crisp, monochrome art standing in stubborn and stark contrast to the miasma of bright colours that surrounded it.

Partrick’s Art Room – Illuminated Pokeball terrariums. The only way these could have been cooler is if they contained real plants, but they were beautifully presented and a brilliant idea. They also qualify as technology, making the whole trip worthwhile.

Skin Pixel – as one of the few video gaming related vendors, I couldn’t help but check them out from afar.

Ukiyo-e Heroes – I get the distinct impression that these artisan print creators need no introduction, but their painstakingly produced woodblock prints represent a skillful modern revival of an historic artform. They very much stood out in a good way.

byMiicha – Though the subjects of Miicha’s art weren’t exactly my cup of tea, their striking use of colour and strong visual style really set them apart. The colourful space backdrops are a particular favourite of mine.

Sonoeha – I was rocking a Koi teeshirt from Leeds-based clothing brand Tomoto – and Sonoeha’s teeshirts – complete with Japanese text and labelled with translations – looked right up my street. Not to mention they’re Japanese styled shoelaces which could have looked fantastic in some solid colour Vans.

Hanabee – the little tiny spark inside me that’s slightly prepared for Christmas had a keen eye on this stall as we passed. The traditional Japanese wrapping cloths – Furoshiki – and tote bags had the most adorable designs. Due to my heinous level of unpreparedness I had no idea where they were located or what they were called, but a couple of hours sleuthing in a YouTube videos of Hyper Japan and cross referencing the venue map and vendor list finally got me there. Effort well spent.

As we walked around there were definitely a lot of eyebrow raising things for sale, with one or two choice items being – as my attempts to Google them and finding even the packaging censored confirmed – basically porn. There were also some cosplay costumes that just barely qualified as being clothing. As a terminally online millennial I am utterly unphased by this, but if you’re a touch prude you might want to take a few deep breaths, clutch your Bible and psyche yourself up before attending a Hyper Japan.

Alongside the market vendors was the main event. The big headline vendors, food stalls and Japan-related brands. We did a quick sweep of these, with plenty of opportunities for Sake tasting – even outside of the official tasting event – and an intriguing selection of food. We grabbed bubble tea from YiFang, which was quick and efficient thanks to a small menu of pre-prepared drinks. We gave the food a miss though, despite plenty of floor space in the venue there was a significant lack of seating and tables. There were some, for sure, but they were all quickly occupied and visitors resorted to sitting on the floor around the periphery of the building. Both of us were hungry – we’re both quite big foodies when out and about – but neither of us had the appetite to fight with street food without a table to contain the inevitable mess.

Bandai Namco were there with their Gachapon machines, which will make a more permanent appearance at their Bandai Namco Cross Store – in Camden later this month (August 2023).

I sampled some Sake from the Niigata, Nagano, Ishikawa Sake association and some Sparkling Sake from MIO. All of these were great, I’ve got all the time in the world for Sake (and plum wine).

As we grew tired of walking around the market stalls and hungry we decided to make our way out. On the way past I looked in on Hado UK – where some people were unenthusiastically exchanging AR projectiles in a convoluted virtual game that could have just involved nerf darts. I’m sorry, the pinnacle of Japanese video gaming right now is Hello Kitty Island Adventure. I am deadly serious.

There was also the UK Bonsai Association. Their trees blew my mind. What else can I really say?

If you want a better idea of what to expect, I found this whirlwind tour YouTube video by far the best of all the event overviews, though they sadly whizz past some of the gems in the marketplace –

Overall I found Hyper Japan a little underwhelming, and if others are to be believed this is because they’re slowly working to return to their former glory prior to the COVID-sized hole that was blown in all public events.

Organising events is a tricky business and there was definitely a latent potential in Hyper Japan that needs that extra push to unlock. I wanted to see more… raw Japan?… and less of our existing imports and the surrounding subculture. It almost felt like a celebration of the British obsession with Japan, rather than of the country and its culture itself. That’s fine. I don’t think HyperJapan should kowtow to my every whim. But, if you’re tangentially interested in Japanese culture but not into… that anime stuff, you might find it’s not quite what you were hoping for.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2023, Blog.