So our AbbyShot crew (Julia and myself, Mark) arrived safely in Tokyo, had a bout of Metro-shock, were graciously welcomed by our Canadian Embassy, and showed off our AbbyShot gear to great reviews at a special reception for Canadian companies. All this before the Tokyo Anime Fair even started! The adventure continues…
Set-up Day: March 21, 2007
The main priority for the day was to set up our booth for the rapidly approaching Anime Fair, so after a quick breakfast we were back on the Tokyo Metro with luggage (yay!) heading to the Canadian Embassy. Thankfully, the lovely people at the Embassy had arranged a bus for companies exhibiting under the Canada Pavilion, so we had a much nicer ride to the Tokyo Big Sight, where the show was being held.
The Tokyo Big Sight really lives up to its name, with the operative word being BIG. It is an ultra-modern convention centre located in the bay area in the east of Tokyo with its most distinctive feature being the huge inverted pyramids of the “Conference Tower”. We didn’t set foot in there because we were afraid this architectural wonder would turn into a Transformer, plus the actual Fair was being held in the East Exhibition Hall down below.
After a pleasant bus ride, we could finally take our first look at our venue for the next 4 days: the Tokyo Anime Fair 2007 (TAF 2007) was taking shape before our eyes. We gazed around to see armies of construction workers putting together booths both large and small for all the biggest names in the anime world. Electricians were wiring up banks of screens, microphones, and sound systems. Booth workers practiced their routines in some of the more elaborate setups. Overhead, large balloons were being inflated in the shape of Japanese icons such as Pikachu and Pac-Man.
Luckily for us, AbbyShot doesn’t need a pile of fancy gizmos to make a great impression: our clothing speaks for itself!
After a whole lot of walking through the massive convention hall, we finally found the Canada Pavilion. It was quite the location, situated near the main entrance to the hall, with separate booth space enough for 8 Canadian companies, along with a Reception Desk on one corner and a meeting area in the center. They were even inflating a large balloon over the Pavilion printed with the word “Canada” and our flag. Immediately we were impressed with the effort our Embassy put into planning this venture, kudos to all involved for sure!
So Julia set up the booth while I snapped pictures (I’m kidding, I helped!) and we were already feeling excited about the first day of the TAF to come. Once we had everything set up, we were free to explore a bit of Tokyo. We knew where we had to go.
Akihabara! The center of otaku culture, the holy land for anime fans, and the mecca of manga. AbbyShot could not take a trip to Tokyo without checking this place out. It used to be known as “Electric Town” where you could get all the latest electronic gear, but the anime influence seems to be taking over. This particular Wednesday was a bit out of the ordinary because the Japanese have a national holiday for the first day of spring, the Vernal Equinox, which they call Shunbun no hi. It’s traditionally a holiday based around the admiration of nature and the love of living things, but the crowds in Akihabara were admiring the natural beauty of figurines and loving the latest manga. The main road was closed off and the crowd stretched as far as the eye could see.
We had a few hours to spare, so we checked out as many shops as we could to see what’s hot right now. The two main categories of collectibles seemed to be a) Robots or b) Scantily-clad women, with MANY shops devoted to one or the other. I was surprised by the abundance of merchandise for relatively older anime (such as the seemingly immortal Neon Genesis Evangelion – there were PLENTY of Asuka and Rei figurines around), and the apparent lack of merchandise for certain more recent anime (such as Fullmetal Alchemist – I ended up buying some small Elric and Mustang keychains).
Julia was very impressed by the great use of space in the various stores – in North America we think of our space horizontally, but in Japan everything is vertical. The ground floor of many shops had a simple layout of white vending machines stacked up all over the place with a great variety of toys from different anime. The Japanese take their vending machine toys VERY seriously! Every store had plenty of stairs to climb, and sometimes you don’t even know that you’re going from one shop to the next. We “accidentally” ended up in one of Akihabara’s famous Maid Cafés, where a lovely lady dressed like a French Maid with cat ears (don’t ask me!) beckoned me inside. Julia was not impressed and quickly snapped me back to reality and we moved on.
A completely different spectacle awaited us outside, as you can see in the picture above: Japanese Crossplay! We didn’t see as much costume play (cosplay) on the street as we had hoped, but those who were dressed up went ALL OUT! I later heard that Sunday is the big day for cosplay in Akihabara, so we know for next time. At 5:00pm on the button, the road opened again and cars were soon speeding down the road, honking their horns to get the crowds of pedestrians out of the way. It was a little scary. We ducked off the main road and followed the flow of human traffic until we stopped to gaze at the amazing place they were headed.
This was the biggest shrine to Electronics I’ve ever seen: the nine-floor monstrosity called Yodobashi! Click on the bigger version of the picture to see the cool Kingdom Hearts 2 ad! We walked in there for about 20 minutes because that was all that we could handle – the place was ridiculously packed. The amount of people on every floor was unbelievable! Any Mac-loving readers will be happy to know that iPods were moving like hotcakes. We took enough time to buy some funky computer mice and quickly made our exit.
In the evening of this busy day, the executive commitee of the Tokyo Anime Fair had arranged what they called a “Business Matching Party” before the start of the convention. It was a pleasant evening where MANY many business cards were exchanged in the very formal and respectful Japanese style (make sure to pass the card with two hands, that’s the key!). We met lots of interesting people, including Takayuki Matsutani, the President of Tezuka Productions (the studio behind Astro Boy!). Members of the very active Singapore Cosplay Club were present, as well as the organizer of the upcoming World Cosplay Summit in Japan. We also met a very friendly Australian by the name of Guill Bastias, who we found out was the brains behind Guilty Comix, a cool-looking interactive comics site. You really never know who you’re going to meet at receptions like these. Soon enough we had to call it a night – we knew we were going to need lots of energy for the first day of the Tokyo Anime Fair to come!
Tokyo Anime Fair, Day One: March 22, 2007
The moment we were waiting for had finally arrived: The Tokyo Anime Fair 2007 had finally begun! The Fair was arranged in two parts, where the first 2 days (Thursday and Friday) were considered Business Days, and the last 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) were open to the general public. The reason is that the Public Days are pure madness, so you need separate days to get any business done.
So the first Business Day was meant to ease us into the Fair, but it still just overwhelmed us! There’s actually not much I can write about this day because it went by like an absolute blur. The highlight was definitely seeing people try on AbbyShot clothing for the first time at the Anime Fair; the reactions of our new Japanese fans were amazing. One thing we noticed was that EVERYBODY wanted to be Edward Elric, and this was a recurring theme throughout the show. The first (but certainly not the last!) picture of someone performing an Elric “transmutation” in a new AbbyShot coat is below! A true Kodak moment.
We were certainly overwhelmed on this first day, but that didn’t stop us from making a few new friends. Julia got to know the scary Skull Man from the anime series of the same name who visited our booth for a few minutes.
Throughout the first day, we eased ourselves in to the way the Tokyo Anime Fair worked and became a lot more comfortable talking to people who only speak Japanese. As I said earlier: we’re lucky that AbbyShot clothing is amazing enough to speak for itself!
Tune in next time as AbbyShot delves deeper into TAF 2007! If you REALLY can’t wait for the next part of our epic story, we’ve uploaded ALL of our pictures from this awesome trip up on our new AbbyShot Picasa Web Album. Until next time!