When I first heard of Japan Expo making plans to expand to the U.S., I didn't think much of it. That is, until I heard that the show was to be held at a very familiar location: The Santa Clara Convention Center. Knowing that the Paris-based show was to take place in the very city I live in, I was instantly on board with attending.
Not Your Typical American Convention
The Japan Expo as the world knows it is a show held in Paris every year, with over 233,000 registered attendees in 2013, making it one of Europe's largest conventions.
The transition to a U.S. branch presented many American attendees with many elements not typical of American conventions.
A few months ago, Japan Expo infamously unveiled their ticketing policy: Purchasing a badge would only allow the user one entry and one exit; if they wanted to get back in, they would either have to have a premium pass or purchase a new ticket. From what attendees of the European Japan Expo branches mentioned in Facebook comments, this is common practice at European conventions.However, American congoers are far more familiar with the practice of "one day badge = good for the entire day", so there was a lot of outrage over this policy, and understandably so: Attendees would have had to purchase second tickets if they had to leave for any reason, including leaving to go to their car to retrieve or store something, going out to get food (that wasn't the horrendously overpriced-and-undersized proportions at the convention center or connecting hotel), or emergencies. Fortunately, JXUSA staff was understanding enough to revise their ticketing policy, allowing tickets to be valid throughout the day.
There still remained two catches, however. The entirety of the convention center at JXUSA requires a badge for entry, much like JX's European counterparts and, apparently, many East Coast conventions. This does make it harder to no-badge the convention, since it limits the badge-free area to strictly ourdoor locations, although it means less badge checks at the exhibitior's hall and gaming room, allowing for more entrances and exits. Furthermore, badges had to be scanned in order to enter and exit the convention center. While still a step up from the "one ticket = one entry" policy, an attendee who was unaware of the policy (though unlikely given the abundance of warning signs posted at exits) or forgot about it (very possible for someone who frequently attends conventions where this is not the case) could easily find themselves locked out of the convention center for the remainder of the day. I feel that this is unnecessary work; while I'd be willing to put up with the "scan to exit" policy if I were a standard attendee and not press (which doesn't need to scan to exit or enter), it would be very easy for me to forget and end up shut out of the show, and I imagine that this policy creates inconvenience for staff as well since they would have to have the infrastructure to keep tabs on those who may be allowed to reenter.
On the plus side, JX had a few good things I normally don't see at conventions here. For one, JX had a coat check, allowing attendees to drop off coats, bags, and other such materials and then go about the rest of the day with less cargo to carry. It did cost $2 to drop off materials, but it was certainly better than nothing. While I had no need for it since I drove to the convention center (and presumably, those with hotel rooms didn't need it either), I imagine it would be useful for attendees who either took public transportation or were dropped off by someone who did not attend the conventio. Additionally, there were changing rooms, one big room for men and one big room for women, allowing cosplayers to change without having to use the bathrooms (which aren't exactly the most sanitary places for changing clothes) or leave the convention area. I very much took advantage of the men's changing room, since, as told many times before, I can't enter or exit my home in crossplay. I do wish there were vanity mirrors with lights provided; the poor lighting made it difficult for me to put on makeup without using the bathroom. Presumably, these features are a way to balance out the convention's original "one ticket = one badge policy", but they are still quite useful for a number of reasons.
Some of these differences are good, some bad; hopefuly JXUSA revises their policies to better fit American congoers by next year.
I didn't think too much of preparing for the convention. I sorta tried to find a hotel room so I could more easily slip in and out of my Reimu cosplay especially after the convention closes, but I couldn't find a room, and decided it would be more cost-efficient to not have one.
I got up around 7:30 AM and then headed for the convention center. Parking was free, but I was surprised the parking lot was far from full yet. Easily landing a spot near the con center entrance, I put on my wig and went off to figure out where press registration was.
I went down several hallways to get to press reg, and picked up my badge after presenting my info and business card. I made my way back to the main portion of the convention center, into the exhibitor's hall.
Around early afternoon, Samir, Ben, and I went out for lunch. We went out to a plaza about a mile away. While they got Iguana's, I went to House of Bagels instead, favoring less greasy options. Hilariously, I finished my bagel sandwich before Samir and Ben even got their orders, as the Iguana's line was particularly long--not because of the expo (there were very few cosplayers or individuals who otherwise were clearly attendees), but because of people at work taking lunch breaks.
The exhibitor's hall is pretty unique for a convention of this region. Part Artist's Alley, part run-of-the-mill dealer's stuff, part industry, and part traditional Japanese culture, the hall felt more like a cross between a minature Anime Expo and the sort of festival you would find at San Jose Japantown or San Francisco Japantown, minus the food tents.
As far as industry presence goes, Viz Media and Funimation were out on the floor with their booths; Crunchyroll had that plus a webcam area where we could show up on the Japan Expo stream and be subject to good ol' Niconico-style comments, some entertaning, some powered by GIFT (though you can't really do much about the latter). SEGA turned up to promote Hatsune Miku Project DIVA F, the latest Vocaloid-themed music game on PlayStation 3, where I spent a good chunk of time playing the more difficult songs, at least until more people began showing up.
Perhaps one of the more popular attractions was the booth giving free samples of Japanese snacks, such as "Ramen Crunch" chips and rice-based candy. The stuff they had samples for was pretty good, although unfortunately there wasn't a way to buy their goods from the booth. Yakult was on the floor as well, giving away free bottles of Yakult drinks, which were so popular that they exhausted their at-con supply by the next day.
One particular dealer's booth was selling a lot of doujinshi, notably four boxes of Touhou douijins sorted by circle. I decided on buying one of the doujins, despite my poor Japanese abilties, if only as a way to practice translating material into English.
Sadly, all of this was offset by one problem: Where was everyone? Attendance for this particular day was rather low, which had me worried and feeling bad for all the guests, industry, and Japanese culture booths that came out to this convention. Though then again, this was a Friday and a lot of people had just started school.
I surveyed the gaming room for a good chunk of time, where I spent a lot of time playing jubeat and Reflec Beat on the iPads.
Several of my friends and I noticed that although the convention center is supposed to entirely be a badged area, there were several entrances that were not guarded, allowing some people to sneak into the expo for free. Whoops.
Activities ended around 7 PM, so I wrapped up and went home to prepare for the next day.
Day 2 started off with my friend Alex picking me up and driving me to the convention. We went to the changing room and got dressed in Touhou cosplay.
I brought my large Touhou tote bag with me; the one I bought from AX at the ChinAnime booth. It proved to be invaluable throughout the day; I stored things like my gohei prop, Saturn controller, and the various flyers I would end up getting throughout the convention inside the bag.
I mentioned that the day before, there were a number of loopholes into the convention center. This time, more staff was present to guard the entrances, making it more difficult to sneak in.
Alex and I went to get lunch at a different shopping center from the one I went to yesterday. We originally planned on Taco Bell there, but ended up at Togo's instead.
Fortunately, there were more people present this time, presumably because it was now the weekend. Though not as crowded as Fanime or AX, I was just glad this convention was getting the turnout it needs to stay afloat, particularly at this venue.
There was supposed to be a Touhou gathering at 3 PM, but complications arose that prevented it from happening proper.
I tried to play Touhou in the gaming room. Unfortunately, I soon ran into a number of problems: games running with bursts of reduced speed, games displaying input lag (which, in a game about navigating intricare bullet patterns, is quite harmful), the laptops not being set to Japanese locale thereby making configuraton on some of the games impossible due to text showing up as boxes, games outright failing to start due to missing DirectX .dll files or other causes, etc. I got the attention of the staff, but the staff member who tried to assist me clearly had no idea what to do, as they were poking around in folders that were irrelevant to the problem. People who bring PCs to gaming rooms that they staff need to be aware of how to solve problems involving getting games to run, as well as making sure whatever hardware they have can run the games that they make available; PCs are not like consoles in that they'll simply handle anything available them with no problems. Not wanting to deal with this, I eventually left the laptops to play more Reflec Beat instead.
Since the changing room closed at 7 PM, I had to cut my time at the expo by 30 minutes to change back.
I came to the convention once again dressed as Reimu.
Someone recognized my cosplay and mentioned they were going to cosplay as Flandre, also from Touhou, but couldn't have their cosplay ready. So for a while I spent time with them, visiting some of the booths and getting to know each other before exchanging contact info and parting ways. Always nice to meet new friends at a convention, moreso because I rarely make new friends at conventions these days.
There was supposed to be a jubeat tournament at 2 PM, but it was cancelled because only two people signed up. So instead I played a bit of Dance Masters before taking off.
Not a whole lot else happened this day, really, or the past two days for that matter. Perhaps because it is competing with Sac-Anime, which was the following week, and people are more familiar with that so they skipped out on this convention. Me being tired from sleep deprivation probably compounded on my problems as well.
Afterwards, I picked up a few friends and we went to IHOP for our post-con dinner, then dropped one of them off at the Caltrain station before parting ways.
Japan Expo has some ideas unique to American conventions, and maybe it's because I chose to skimp out on events, but I had almost nothing to do but play games. Hopefully next year, the folks behind JXUSA can find a way to refine their problems, particularly things that worked at European branches but not here (having a later end time each day and dropping the badge scan policy would help), as well as pull in more attendees so that the convention can continue to thrive in its current location.
I do enjoy some of the services offered that I feel other cons should also provide. Being able to change on-site without using the bathroom is quite convenient, as is having a place to check bags in for those who do not drive to or get hotel rooms at conventions. I did enjoy the Japanese culture booths and how they show that there is more to Japanese culture than just animation, comics, and video games.
For next year I hope to have a hotel room so I can have a place to change that is open past 7 PM, and I hope to indulge in more events so I can feel like I'm getting my badge's worth. I may also only go on two days out of three because to be honest there isn't much else this convention offers and I could be saving up for Sac-Anime instead where more people I know go every half a year.
Who knows, JXUSA 2nd Impact is still a long ways away.