Convention Review

Nippon: the 2007 Worldcon - Japan

The 2007 Worldcon was Japan's first. Peter Tyers reports on the convention, associated events, Japanese SF fans and Yokohama.


The convention
"Nippon 2007" was both the 65th World Science Fiction Convention and Japan's 46th national Science Fiction Convention, running from Thursday 30th August - Monday 3rd September, 2007. It was held in city of Yokohama at the Pacifico Yokohama Conference Centre. The author Guests of Honour were Sakyo Komatsu and David Brin, while the artist GoHs were Yoshitaka Amano and Michael Whelan, the fan GoH was Takumi Shibano, and it attracted about two thousand Japanese fans together with another thousand from the rest of the World.

The Opening Ceremony started with a bang - a short but excellent anime of fans arriving - and not all from our planet! From there, though, it descended to the normal as dignitaries and guests trouped on and off the stage and speeches were given and everyone applauded and thanked each other. Later, the Closing Ceremony was to prove equally uninspired.

As with any Worldcon, the programme offered hundreds of items and so, as usual, I missed most of them - I can only be in one place at a time! It did not help that the range of rooms sizes was limited so many of the popular items were overcrowded (assuming you could even get in) but, having said that, there was a wide selection of interesting items and I enjoyed those I got to. To cater for both the locals and their international visitors, items were presented in Japanese only, English only, or Japanese but with translators into English.

There were a couple of excellent talks on the Japanese sword, the first being a whole hour simply on how to draw and sheath your sword; I had no idea there were SO many ways of doing so - and all whilst being sure to kill your enemy at the same time. Draw - Kill - Return, all in one smooth movement. The second was on sword making; again in Japanese but this time with three translators, which made for some interesting discussions between them and the audience. Some of the questions were so technical that you had to be a sword maker to understand them in either language, so the translators bravely smiled and did their very best, and learnt that the western approach of laughing at your own mistakes can work wonders with a friendly audience (or at least with a friendly, western, fanish audience).

George Takei's Q&A session proved most enjoyable, and for us trekkies there was a chance to see him in action during a showing of 'World Enough And Time' the latest from Star Trek - The New Voyages. If you have not come across these, they are new 'Classic Trek' stories filmed and acted by fans, and surprisingly good they are too. And if you wondered about the excellence of the special effects, well, a lot of SFX people are fans as well...

I seemed to spend quite a lot of time in the Exhibitions Hall as this also included the Art Show and the Dealers' Room. The Art Show in particular deserved and got several visits; it was just too difficult to do the artwork justice in one quick sweep. I was much impressed by the OpenSky Project, an attempt to build a real plane based on a design in a comic book; when the current glider version completes its tests, the next step is to fit a small jet engine! There was a fun display of Manoi, a brand of very small robots; they had one programmed to perform a popular keep-fit routine and the kids really loved it (and some of those kids weren't as young as they used to be). And, of course, the hall also had its social side - it was simply a good place to bump into people and stop for a chat. We had all looked forward to the Masquerade attracting both large numbers and excellent entries given the popularity of costuming in Japan - but sadly we were disappointed as there were not much over a dozen. The Australian entry distinguished himself particularly badly; he was supposed to be a booze-swilling Ozzy tourist though the amount of beer and whiskey he had actually consumed removed any need for acting - he ended up in the hands of the nice gentlemen from Security.

(See here for further summary details of the 2007 Worldcon.)

Associated events
One of the 'outside' events was a fan-run tour to the Ghibli Museum of animation (at Mitaka, a dormitory town to the west of Tokyo). A delayed departure and the cost-saving decision to avoid the motorway and its tolls found us having only half the expected time there, which was more than a little annoying. To add to my disappointment, the museum proved not to be the sort of place I had expected (a museum full of exhibits on animation) but a 3-dimensional indoor playground for children (with some animation odds and sods thrown in). Personally, given all else that Japan has to offer, I ended up regarding it as a waste of my day, but I would readily admit that an animation-minded family with young children would find themselves in an Aladdin's cave of fun.

Meanwhile, Steve Rogerson organised an excellent pub evening round Yokohama, utilising the railway from the close-by Minato Mirai station. Our first stop was the 'Pub Brewing Spring Valley' in the 'Kirin Yokohama Beer Village', a large, modern bar with both good beer and good food. Next was 'Cheers', a small but delightful cellar bar; this not only boasted a range of interesting Japanese beers (not all lagers) but Belgian ones as well! Our final port of call was the tiny, first floor 'Thrash Zone' where the fifteen or so of us joined the three local incumbents, leaving only the barman with enough room to stand comfortably. Once they had got over the shock of our inundation, one of the locals spoke enough English to try translating back and forth (aided by the copious amount of beer he'd already consumed). And, the icing on the cake, I had my first ever pint of hand-drawn Japanese Real Ale!

Another evening saw us at the nearby funfair. Whilst most of our party opted for the thrill rides, I went for the more genteel Ferris Wheel with its slow climb into the sky and its night-time views. After our thrillbuds, it was time to satisfy our taste buds and Steve (again to the rescue) lead us to the 'Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse' and its 'Beer Next' bar. Again good food (Japanese, of course) and some interesting lagers.

Mixing with the Japanese Fans
Apart from the chance to see something of Japan, the main reason for attending the Japanese World con was to meet Japanese fans - and here I think many of us were most disappointed.

Having arrived a couple of days before the con started, we (the Westerners) really expected that, as at other Worldcons, the hosts would be much in evidence, mixing with everyone, and getting all the earlybirds on-board with the tasks they'd volunteered for. It transpired, however, that we had all reckoned without the inscrutable Japanese having said "Yes, please help us" when what they really meant was "No, actually we'll do it all ourselves, but thanks for the offer".

Furthermore, it did not 'seem' to have occurred to them that we would be there so they had made no attempt to meet us, and thus we found ourselves milling around on our own, trying to find a really good hotel bar to hang out in (there wasn't one!), and even wondering where the con itself was going to be?

Although we saw many Japanese fans in the programme items, where did they go afterwards? Where did they all come from in the morning? Where did they all go in the evening? Whereas we tend to arrive before the con, stay in nearby hotels, hang around in the evenings, and so on, the typical Japanese fans seem to arrive when the con starts in the morning and leave at 6pm, to return to their homes or distant hotels. Throughout the con, I found nothing specifically intended to get East to meet West: indeed, there it was almost the opposite - things were either for the Japanese or for the 'visitors', which I really thought was a crying shame. This is not to say that the Japanese were anything other than friendly and polite, and they are wonderfully friendly and polite, it was just that there was no scope for common ground to be established. It was a golden opportunity wasted.

The exception to this was the Montreal in '09 celebration party on the last evening. Not only did this prove to be a Very Good Party - but there were Japanese there! I finally got to meet and talk to Japanese fans, and it was well, well worth it. Admittedly, the conversation was slow at times, there being translation involved, but it worked. And I think it proved the point - if only this sort of event had been designed-in from the beginning of the con it could have been so much better. Still, it was good to finish on a high!

Being summer, the weather was very hot and sticky, though often overcast, and when it rained it really rained. As for 'see sunny Japan', it just didn't happen - but buying an umbrella was no problem.

When not at the convention, much of our time was spent wandering in the very impressive Queen's Square, a couple of minutes walk from the Conference Centre. This square is not a square at all, it is really a half-mile long shopping corridor above which are three large towers, all amalgamated into the one complex. It boasts three floors of shops, cafes, and restaurants - and these catered for many of our needs. At the far end, the square, slab-like Landmark Tower reaches higher into the sky than any other building in Japan, and the 'Sky Garden' on the 69th floor affords fantastic views in every direction (rumour had it we could have seen Mount Fuji had it not been for all the clouds).

An escalator leads down to the railway station and it is just a one stop, five minute ride to Yokohama's central station and a whole load more shopping. Just press the Union Flag symbol on the ticket machine's screen and the instructions change to English, plus the station signs are subtitled in English, so it was dead easy. However, it was more fun to take the Sea Bass ferry from the Conference Centre right into the centre of the city; about fifteen minutes of cruising - and a delight.

Like many of the more techy minded, I visited Yodobashi Camera, a vast department store specialising in floor after floor of electrical goodies - and what an experience! It was not just computers, phones, and cameras, you should have seen the dental section - I have never seen such a plethora of electric toothbrushes! And then there was the travel section; the lines of suitcases disappeared into the distance like a Hollywood special effect! And a whole section dedicated to electric toilet seats!!! This really was an Aladdin's Cave - even Abanazar would have been dumfounded.

One of the great things I found in all the shops, restaurants, and so on, was the friendliness, willingness, and out-and-out helpfulness of the people. If a shop assistant did not speak any English, they would find one that did. If you were confused in the railway station, a guard would rush up to help (and I mean rush!). If you needed to know something, they would go and find it out for you - and not let you go until they had done so! Sigh - if only it was like that at home...

And then...
After the con I got to see something of Japan and I would recommend anyone to do that - it is a fascinating place and, with suitable research and preparation, easier to explore than some would have you believe. I joined the 7-day post-con tour of central Japan organised by Ken Smookler - and that was fun. It was also another story.

Peter Tyers


See here for details of China's 2007 pre-Worldcon conference.

See here for details of our news page reporting at the time. (This is the same link as that given within the above article.)

See here for details of the Hugo Awards presented in Japan.

For details of future major SF conventions check out the SF convention diary page which is updated each New Year.

For details of current and future Worldcon news see the 'Eurocon/Worldcon' section within our latest seasonal Science Fiction News page.

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