Come On Over to Comic-Con

Chad Grover (Tokyo)

The second ever Tokyo Comic-Con took place from December 1st-3rd, 2017, at Chiba’s Makuhari Messe convention center. Japanese fans and expats alike from across the country arrived in droves to celebrate their love of Western comics, science-fiction, and fantasy series.

Stan Lee on the main stage at Tokyo Comic Con 2017

Special guest appearances included the legendary Stan Lee, creator of Marvel Comics’ X-Men and Spider-Man, who is largely credited for his role in helping bring Comic-Con to Japan in the first place. Not one to be outdone, DC Comics also arrived in full force to promote their newest film Justice League, released in Japan on November 20th last year. Both studios brought incredible exhibits for fans to gawk at as well (including the real Batman suit from The Dark Knight). The event was a rousing success, with staff proclaiming that the attendee list exceeded 50,000 people over the span of three days. While this is certainly an impressive turnout, the hall never felt overcrowded and navigation was a breeze, which was an added benefit.

To generate excitement for the latest Star Wars film, The Last Jedi,  which opened worldwide on December 15th, 2017, much of the show floor during the exhibition was dedicated to Star Wars memorabilia (including a life-size model of the famous Millennium Falcon). A wide variety of hobby shops and retailers also set up booths offering goods and merchandise that are unavailable elsewhere. Star Wars has been a global phenomenon since its inception in 1977 and Japan has always made up a significant chunk of its fandom. Creator George Lucas admitted that he was heavily inspired by Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai films when he first penned his story, helping the film evoke familiar themes and ideas a Japanese audience could easily relate to. Fans were also encouraged to dress up as their favorite characters for the Star Wars Cosplay Showcase held on the second day of the event.

Spiderman cosplay invasion!

Cosplay remained the central focus of the show throughout the weekend. While Japan’s other major fan conventions such as Comiket or Tokyo Game Show typically feature costumed characters from Japan-made anime, manga and video games, Tokyo Comic-Con was almost entirely dominated by cosplay from Western properties. In turn, this gave the event more of an international appeal. Attendees were also treated to a cosplay fashion show and group photo sessions, where they could witness the best and brightest costumes the venue had to offer.

Guests of honor from around the world

In addition to cosplay events, several guests of honor from overseas were invited to partake in the show’s programming on the main stage. Those who were patient enough to brave the long line also had the chance to meet each celebrity and receive their autograph. Special guests included actors Karl Urban, of Lord of the Rings and Star Trek fame, and Nathan Fillion from the cult-classic television series Firefly. Mads Mikkelsen, who garnered critical acclaim for his role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter in television’s Hannibal, was also present. Mikkelsen recently landed a lead role in legendary Japanese video game designer Hideo Kojima’s upcoming title Death Stranding, giving fans another reason to be excited. Actor Michael Rooker, who played Yondu in Marvel Studios’ Guardians of the Galaxy franchise, was greeted by a number of fans in attendance cosplaying as the colorful outlaw.

One slight drawback: most of the event’s programming was conducted in Japanese; in other words, if you weren’t proficient in the language, understanding what presenters were saying might have posed a challenge, dampening accessibility for foreigners somewhat. Also, compared to its Western counterparts, Tokyo Comic-Con is not as eventful a convention as the others. Most people who attend Comic-Con in San Diego, California have a variety of options for how to spend their time. Whether you enjoy a particular niche show or are looking forward to the next big summer blockbuster, you can attend a panel of your favorite celebrities to ask them funny questions, hear embarrassing stories and so on; however, this is not yet the case for Tokyo Comic-Con. A great way for the convention to address this next year would be to fly more special guests out to create panels filled with people who share a common thread, beyond autograph sessions and main stage programming.

Back to the Future’s famous Delorean on display in the exhibition room

Despite this, Tokyo Comic-Con enjoyed considerable success for a convention still in its infancy. The number of attendees increased by sixty percent over its inaugural year in 2016, and its celebrities list was similarly bolstered. Is it worth making a trip across the country to attend? Not yet — but given the show’s rapid growth in one year, there may come a time when it’s worth every penny. Tokyo Comic-Con 2018 is currently scheduled for November 30th through December 2nd. If you are a diehard fan of comics and science fiction (or just really enjoy cosplay), and are within the Greater Tokyo Area, you owe it to yourself to check out Tokyo Comic-Con when it returns at the end of the year.

Chad Grover is a 4th Year JET rockin’ the suburbs in Tokyo. He thought Star Wars: The Last Jedi was one of the best movies released in 2017. You can argue with him over this claim on his Twitter.










Are You a Dancer?

Emily Bisset (Tokyo)

I have had an on-off love affair with dance my whole life. After renouncing ballet at the age of four when asked to wear a pink tutu, I did a bit of jazz and Irish dancing as a kid. My family lived overseas while I was young, and I continued to dance in musical theatre and school shows. However, through those awkward growing years overseas where it felt like my body was trying to become a giraffe, I lacked the confidence to pursue dance in its own right.

When I returned to New Zealand I took up dance again and realised that those five years away had set me behind. I found myself in tap class with kids half my age and ballroom, contemporary, musical theatre, and urban dance classes where I was the oldest but the least skilled. In some ways, this was hugely beneficial. I will never forget preparing for a contemporary dance exam with a class full of people who had been doing ballet since they were six years old. Nothing had fired me up so much, and I found myself practicing every night till 11 the week before, and twitching through the dance moves as I tried to sleep. It taught me what impossible things I could achieve if I put the work in.

I couldn’t comprehend what was happening at the time. I had never worked very hard at school or in my pursuit of singing or acting. Everything that I had pursued before came naturally to me. Dancing was something else entirely. I knew I could ‘feel’ the music and show it on my face, but for some reason that never connected with my body. Although I compensated for my lack of technique with practice and the performance skills I had gained from musical theatre, it was hard always feeling behind. I loved the performances but watching them afterwards was difficult as I was that kid who was always just a little behind and off balance, never as flexible or sharp as the others.

When I got to university I truly felt too far behind compared to my peers and dropped dance altogether, proclaiming myself more of dance appreciator than participator. If anybody asked me whether I danced my standard answer was: “Yes, I love dance, but I’m not a dancer.”

After an unsuccessful year pursuing a classical singing degree I questioned myself. Why had I never felt inspired to stay up all night practicing singing as I had dance? I ended up pursuing directing in media rather than singing, which certainly excited me in the same way as directing and dance had previously, but dance was still on the back burner.

Heading into my final year at university something monumental happened. On a fateful afternoon as my best friend and I sat watching random YouTube videos, something new popped up. It was Mirotic by TVXQ. I didn’t know what was happening but suddenly very attractive men were dancing beautifully on my screen and I was hooked. It was K-pop! Dancing is a requirement in K-pop, and is linked to the music, videos, and culture in a way I had never seen before.

Directing music videos in the Asian market became my dream, and as I’d had a fascination with Japanese media since seeing the works of Hayao Miyazaki at a young age, naturally I decided to apply for JET!

I knew I wanted to make the most of my opportunities in Japan and continue to develop as a dancer. The first thing I searched for was a rock’n’roll dance club. It was like a breath of fresh air and a smack in the face. I loved it! I got to dance with other expats in Japan as well as Japanese people. Communication was never an issue: dance is a universal language!

A little later I found a dance studio closer to my home. Although the process was entirely in Japanese, through the wonders of google translate I managed to get there and get signed up for unlimited beginner classes.

I started going to as many classes as I could and immediately noticed something. These classes were different to the ones I had experienced at high school. Now that I was an ‘adult’, people of all ages were in the classes. People aged 18 to 60, all beginners. I felt like an idiot. To think that I had never given dance a fighting chance, just because I felt embarrassed by how low my level was compared to those around me. If I enjoy dance, that is enough. I noticed a change in myself too. Whenever I had dance class I would be on full energy at work all day looking forward to it, and I left every class feeling happy, carefree, and inspired to keep working hard.

Dance is such an excellent form of exercise that is stimulating both physically and mentally. It is undoubtedly one of the most challenging sports out there as it brings together physical and creative fields. If you are one of those people who really cannot just go to the gym and tell yourself what to do, or if you find yourself bored when exercising, then dance could be perfect. It comes in so many varieties too! From dance-aerobics classes like Zumba to all the different styles of dance out there to try.

Realising a passion for dance at age 21 is not ideal, as that is pretty old in dance terms, and my body has definitely been letting me know that over the past few weeks. However, ice works wonders and as they say, no pain, no gain! I have nicknamed my apartment “Shoe Box Studio” due to its tiny size and the challenges that brings to dance practice. Despite space issues and a more than likely future noise complaint as to why there is so much stomping going on at midnight (don’t worry, I am 99% sure no one lives below me), dance has undoubtedly found a place to stay in my home. I like to challenge myself by uploading dance covers or pieces of choreography from home. This also helps me get out of that ‘not good enough’ mindset that I’ve had with dance for so long.

Every new skill you try to learn in life is a new ladder to climb. Sometimes pride can get in your way if you want to start at the bottom of a ladder when everybody else seems to be halfway up. But for goodness sake, if you find something that truly fires you up, never be afraid or too proud to start climbing.

Emily Bisset is a 22 year old media studies graduate. This is her first year on JET and her first time in Japan. She is a Kiwi who loves K-pop, cameras, and creating. Although she misses New Zealand she is loving life in Japan and all it has to offer. Her work can be seen on YouTube and on Vimeo.

From well-educated to functionally illiterate in 14 hours

In the time it takes to fly from Atlanta to Tokyo

Sabrina Hassanali (Tokyo)

While I know that moving to a new country can be intimidating, I felt pretty confident before arriving in Japan. I have traveled a great deal and speak a couple of languages. I was sure Japan would be no more difficult than say, Morocco, for example. I didn’t know any Japanese and I requested to be placed in a small town. I hoped to be immersed in the Japanese language by force. This would suit me; I like chatting with locals in remote, off-the-beaten-track types of places. When I learned of my JET placement in Tokyo, I imagined an even smoother transition. Tokyo is, after all, an international city. It hosted the Summer Olympics in 1964 and plans to hold an even larger affair in 2020. Little did I know, Japan’s biggest town would set me straight. Two months into my Japanese adventure, I had revised my plan for learning Japanese.

I was not prepared for the surprises of this metropolis. I read somewhere that about 10% of Japan’s population is from abroad.  This made me falsely comfortable in my lack of language ability. I imagined an international city cloaked with signs in the world’s international language: English. I hoped to hear or see the names of the train stations as I approached them. Alas, I was too ambitious. From dining to basic logistics, the challenges of illiteracy abound.

Without knowing a single other JET participant, I jumped into the JET experience hoping to have immersion head on. I found myself incapable of even that. I reflect, now, on how I studied Spanish. It was pretty easy for me as the script is the same as English. Simply add a couple of accents and a few letters, and you’ve got a good basic start. For now, I’ve relegated learning the three Japanese scripts to an in-depth cram course in the unforeseen future. In the meantime, I find joy in the adventures of the unknown.

For the last two months, I have rarely known the specifics of exactly that which I am eating. Often, the English menu has fewer options than the Japanese menu. Other times, the combination or preparation seems suspect. I have put off my desire to eat less meat. I usually point and choose something unusual. Fortunately, though, I am a foodie, and my dining demands are easy to meet. Of course this leads to its own problem. I often find that I cannot effectively explain what I have eaten before, nor order it again!

The logistical challenges are the toughest for a new-illiterate. In late September, I found myself unable to comprehend the choices at the ATM. I certainly wanted to pay my rent, and there was sufficient yen in my account. However, I agonized over the choices of letters several times over the course of a week. Fortunately, my Japanese supervisor at school is perfect. She escorted me to the closest JP Post ATM and we sorted my rent out in the nick of time. She has also helped me sort through the barge of mail slipped through the slot in my door. We joke now that she is my Japanese mother and I am her fourth daughter. The utility bills with barcodes are easy enough. They usually have a logo in English and this way, my Japanese supervisor does not have to have every intimate detail of my Japanese life!

Though some of my language issues were easy to resolve, I had a really difficult time securing a phone plan. Although I sought the advice of my fellow JETs, I was deeply disappointed with the customer service at BIC Camera. Though I can never know for sure, I suspect that in addition to the language barrier, the agent at BIC Camera did not like the fact that a brown-faced American needed a phone plan. My subcontinental tan did not get me any tech advantages. In this particular case, I actually felt that my race was a disadvantage. Reflecting now, I have lived the majority of my life in the racially charged South without perceiving slights based on race. Though BIC Camera won’t be my preferred electronics outlet, the JET community pages were a lifeline. My incident at BIC Camera has helped me to grow more sympathetic toward American immigrants. In my American life, I worked as an immigration attorney. Though I saw how nationality impacted immigration issues were, I never sensed the pain of just looking different. Here, again, the language barrier helped me gain respect for my fellow JETs. I was able to make sense of my purchase and eventually able to operate my smartphone here in Japan.

Ultimately, the two most important things I have needed in Japan, no one told me to pack.  Without my healthy sense of humor, I would have been crying tears instead of reeling in laughter.  My sometimes untimely and awkward smile is a universal ‘hello’. I still believe it is good to speak the language of where you travel: in most instances the effort of just trying is rewarded with human kindness. With the help of a phrase book and a few beers, I am finding the izakaya to be my language school. I am content with this style of intercultural exchange. As a result of my misadventures, I have connected with many people despite the language barrier. Hiragana, katakana, and kanji, I’ll catch you in another world.

Sabrina Hassanali loves traveling. She has had a passport since infancy. She studied abroad in college, law school, and on her own. Sabrina decided to take a long leave of absence from America after Trump won the election. When she is not planning her next trip, she likes to hike, camp, and swim. Sabrina is also writing a blogpost for Verge Magazine.