Having arrived in Japan fresh from Dublin, Ireland – a city that exists in a seasonal vacuum perpetually stuck between spring and winter – my time here has taught me a lot more about the country than I expected to learn. Japan, for example, takes the four seasons very seriously, possibly because of how typical their seasonal weather cycle is. It’s cool in spring and autumn, bitterly cold in winter and, as I’m discovering at this very moment, hotter than the surface of tatooine’s twin suns in summer.
In keeping with Japan’s obsession with routine, each season brings with it events and past-times that are as enjoyable as they are short-lived. Attending hanami (cherry blossom viewing) parties is lots of fun for the two weeks before they wither and die, and we’re currently in the middle of the August holiday known as Obon, which is apparently celebrated by dressing in Yukata to watch fireworks and get drunk in public. Summer also means the same thing for geeks here as it does back home – convention season, and the first of the big ones is one of the biggest; the bi-annual figurine showcase known as Wonder Festival.
Wonder Festival takes place in Makuhari Messe, a massive warehouse-style arena housed in what appears to be some kind of seaside industrial park, and runs twice a year, once in summer and once in winter. It’s got everything you’d expect from a geek con; traders, cosplay, independent artists, performances, games etc. but is set apart by the fact that Japan’s figurine designers and manufacturers use Wonder Festival – known colloquially as wonfes – to whet the appetites of their rabid money-throwing resin-hoarding followers by showing off their products for the upcoming year. Being a card-carrying resin-hoarder, I can confirm that they do this very successfully.
It’s remarkable just how seriously the Japanese take geekery. Within the usual con-chaos, orderly queues snake around showcase units where amateur photographers with not-so-amateur cameras were ushered past velvet ropes two at a time to get the best pictures of whatever was being showcased. Cosplayers, rather than merely roaming the hall, lined up in the corridors where the same snap-happy crowd were glad to get in line and wait for the chance to get their perfect shot. When I tried to take a picture of a particularly impressive Tifa Lockhart, she broke pose to politely usher me into her queue. Once it was my turn, she posed like a pro and I walked away a strangely happy geek. This country really has a system for everything.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Neon Genesis Evangelion, potentially the biggest and most influential anime in the history of Japan’s infamous animation industry, and wonfes had an entire area devoted to it in kind. A huge collection of Evangelion figurines, as well as incredibly detailed dioramas outlining some of the more famous scenes from the franchise, were clearly the highlight for many of the attendees. There was even a strange alcove where you could pay the price of a figurine to play a crane game to potentially WIN the figurine, except that it was impossible to lose, so the whole crane game thing was less a heart-racing game of chance and more an interactive, slightly inconvenient delivery system for something I’d just purchased. It was all very Japanese.
It’s too hot here at the moment to understand how anyone can realistically do anything, but wonfes consistently draws huge crowds. That alone, in addition to the behavior of the attendees inside, is a real testament to the indomitable, co-operative spirit of the Japanese people. When they like something, they will do just about anything to get to it. Well, anything except breaking the rules.