November welcomes back Hyper Japan to Earls Court exhibition centre in London for its fourth outing since its launch.  Animetion has attended every event since the first one back in October 2010 and attended on the Friday of this Christmas Hyper Japan to see how it grown over time.

Earls Court's Brompton Hall is Hyper Japan's third venue, and is a much better location than the previously used Kensington Olympia (2011) and Truman Brewery (2010).  Earls Court is well connected to London's Underground rail system via several main lines, and is easy to get to even for those unfamiliar with London.  The event hall itself is large and open, and is a more modern venue than the dated Truman Brewery and more spacious than the Kensington Olympia, where the event had to be split across two floors.  Curiously this November's Hyper Japan seemed slightly smaller than the previous event held at the same venue back in February, but the organisers made good use of the available space with a host of stalls covering everything from Japanese culture and crafts to food and entertainment.

Upon entering the hall you were greeted by a huge inflatable Tony Tony Chopper (from the anime and manga series One Piece) which looked over the Toei and Namco Bandai stalls.  There you could have pictures taken with Luffy (also from One Piece) or have a go at one of the company's latest games, including Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch, Dragon Ball Z for Kinect, One Piece Pirate Warriors and Naruto Ultimate Ninja Storm.  Elsewhere there was a retro-gaming area featuring classic Japanese games like DrumMania, Bomberman, Taiko Drum Masters, Pac Man and Street Fighter 2.  There were also card gaming areas ran by Bushiroad and Konami, featuring games such as Cardfight!! Vanguard and Yu-Gi-Oh!.

For anime fans, retailers such as Gundam Nation, Japan Centre, Manga Entertainment, Neon Martian and United Publications offered plenty of delights to tempt you.  Furthermore, Manga as an exclusive were offering a number of titles such as Tales of Vesperia: The First Strike, Naruto Shippuden Part 11 and Ninja Scroll to buy prior to the release date.  Sadly there were also a couple of dealers that were selling bootleg merchandise.  While the numbers were small, we were surprised to see them at an event with such close ties to Japan and hope that at future events none of these companies will be attending.

  Anime and gaming are far from all that Hyper Japan has to offer though.  In terms of fashion there was plenty on offer from a variety of retailers such as Aoi Clothing, Cakes with Faces, Genki Gear and Something Kawaii.  In addition to this there were a number of stage shows held across the weekend presenting the latest Japanese fashion trends, including a Japanese street fashion show.  Cosplay was also well catered for, with qualifying events for no less than two international cosplay competitions - The World Cosplay Summit and The European Cosplay Gathering - as well as several cosplay parades.

For those planning a trip to Japan there was a wealth of information available.  This included information from companies offering organised trips to those offering information so that you can plan the trip yourself.  At this event there were also exhibitors from the different areas from Japan including Kyoto providing information about specific locations that maybe of interest.  A particular favourite of ours was a leaflet documenting all the locations from Hakone (near Tokyo) used in the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.

Hyper Japan was one of the first large events to offer Japanese food and alcoholic drinks within the venue to enjoy.  This trend continues with the Sake Tasting Experience now extended to offer up 23 different sakes from 10 different prefectures from around Japan, presented by the brewers themselves.  On the website this was advertised at a price of 36 per person, which is a high price for anyone who is interested in trying sake for the first time.  At the event itself though the price was lowered to 20 and then 15 after 6pm.  The price did include a free book and if any of the sakes were to your liking they were available to buy at around an average price of 30 a bottle.  Also returning once more was the Sushi Workshop, where for 20 you could learn to make sushi from experienced sushi chefs Tomokazu Matsuya and Atsuko Ikeda, and take away a goodie bag containing several key ingredients such as soy sauce and wasabi.  New to the event was the Tea Bar, which gave the opportunity to try traditional green tea and Japanese sweets which are often made with red or white bean paste.  These sweets though had a Christmas twist shaped into Santa or Rudolf shapes and combined with traditional Christmas ingredients such as brandy.  An attendee could buy one of the sweets and a one of a selection of green teas for 7.

Along with this there were a number of other food retailers offering a variety of different Japanese food from sushi to okonomiyaki (a Japanese savoury pancake) to takoyaki (fried octopus).  There were also a number of panels held at the main stage offering a range of different cooking demonstrations such as making sake cocktails, carving a whole tuna in order to make sashimi and sushi and making fusion foods such as chocolates with Japanese ingredients and Japanese-style tapas.  There was also the opportunity to try the dishes being made on stage. 

There were plenty of other interesting events on stage across the weekend too, ranging from music performances to question and answer panels and anime screenings.  Highlights included the spectacular sword artists Kamui, a talented sword performance troupe whose entertaining stage show blended fight choreography, dance and acting.  Kamui were led by Tetsuro Shimaguchi, a renowned fight choreographer who worked on Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill vol 1, and the Kill Bill connections continued with a surprise stage appearance on the Friday by rock guitarist Tomoyasu Hotei.  Hotei is best known in the West for the instrumental track Battle Without Honour or Humanity from Kill Bill (this one) and his brief appearance at Hyper Japan was a major coup for the event - especially considering he regularly sells out stadiums in Japan.  Other musicians appearing through the weekend included the visual kei acts Ninjaman Japan and The Micro Head 4'Ns and kimono-sporting pop artist Tomoca, who all did live performances alongside meet and greets or Q&A sessions.  However, from a purely anime 

fan point of view the highlight of the weekend had to be the Q&A with Mitsuhisa Ishikawa, president of acclaimed anime studio Production I.G. and producer of major anime titles such as Ghost in the Shell.  Ishikawa's discussion with veteran anime critic Ryusuke Hikawa was MC'd by leading anime columnist and author Helen McCarthy and featured clips from some of the studio's upcoming titles.  Unfortunately for us Ishikawa's appearance was on the Saturday, and prior engagements meant we were unable to attend which was a real shame.

There was a really good variety of stage events, but the stage was small with the seating area being completed packed during most events on the Friday, which was probably the quietest day of the entire weekend.  People were often left standing, and with quite major events such as the World Cosplay Summit qualifiers and performances from popular Japanese musicians taking place, a larger stage would seem essential for future events.

We enjoyed Hyper Japan as it does not just cover anime and manga, it also covers a good selection of Japanese culture such as fashion, food and travel.  These sections are often not covered in such depth at other events held within the UK.  The event though is an expensive one to attend (particularly if you live outside of London) as for your 12 entry fee (15 on the door) only the stage events are really included in the price.  Everything else was focused around buying the items available.  For those new to Japanese specialities in food and drink there were opportunities to try these for the first time.  However, the pricing level set was off-putting, and we would have liked to have seen more free or low-priced samples to entice people in.  The sake tasting in particular could have benefited from a kind of token system whereby people could buy a full ticket to try everything, or a cheaper token for one or two drinks.  36 was a lot to expect people to shell out in one go, especially for people who have never tried sake, and it seemed like the uptake was low on the day.  Overall, though you are going to find it hard pressed to find the number of Japanese retailers seen at Hyper Japan at any other event in the country.  It caters for a different audience than other large events such as the MCM Expo, and its focus on all aspects of Japanese culture and wealth of information about travel, crafts and food really sets it apart.  It may need to work on some things, and it would be nice to see it run at a set time of year (it ran in October in 2010, July in 2011 and February and November in 2012), but overall Hyper Japan is an enjoyable and unique event we hope to see go from strength to strength.