Sushi, J-Pop, Anime, Manga, and more at HyperJapan London

My body performed the miraculous trick of opening my eyes five minutes before the alarm this morning – at 5:55am. It was a good job it did, because I forgot the alarm is configured not to go off on the weekend. I wandered downstairs, knocking on Miss 16’s door en-route to the shower. We had a very long day ahead of us.
Three quarters of an hour later we found ourselves walking through the deserted back streets of town towards the railway station, still rubbing sleep from our eyes, and wondering what we might find at HyperJapan. My other half had bought the tickets some time ago, and somehow arranged for me to go with Miss 16 instead of her. I still don’t quite know how that happened.

After a long, quiet train journey into Paddington we descended into the Underground, and ticked off the stations as we did half a lap of the circle line towards the Tower of London. Along the way one of the passengers a little way further down the car started to lose the plot – obviously on drugs of some kind – talking to himself about Leyton Orient being full of pedophiles and necrophiles. Thankfully he got off the train before anything untoward happened.

After climbing back into the London morning air at Tower Hill station, I checked Google Maps, and we set off on foot for the Tobacco Docks, and Hyper Japan. Until this point we had seen no sign at all that anything was going on, but finally started to see some of the most unusual people you might ever imagine walking in the same direction as us. Men in billowing cloaks with crazy hair, girls in fishnet tights and platform running shoes, and some of the most unlikely props imaginable. As we turned the corner towards the venue, we spotted a huge bearded guy in his mid 40s waiting to cross the road – dressed in full female cosplay attire. I looked at Miss 16 a little wide eyed, and we both grinned. So this was going to be for everybody – no matter who you are, what you believe, your sexual orientation, your age, your size, or anything else.

We had arrived at HyperJapan.

It’s hard to describe the labyrinthine building that took most of the day to learn the layout of. It was like a rabbit warren, stuffed with stores selling everything from Japanese food, to drink, dresses, cult toys, music, art, books, movies, and everything in-between. While wandering aimlessly from store to store, we became aware that something very loud was going on upstairs (there were two levels) – we went to investigate.

Oh. My. God. For me, the band we walked in on mid-set in the “Live” area were the highlight of the day. A J-Pop punk band from Tokyo with their own fashion line called “Broken Doll”. They oozed confidence and swagger, sounded like they had been speeded up, and had chip-tune backing added to speaker busting electric guitars. Floating above the cacophony of sound was the prettiest Japanese girl I had seen in quite some time – immaculately made up as a living breathing Anime character. They were loud, they were fast, they were talented, and they were awesome. Later in the day we crossed paths with them again, and bought a CD. The lead guitarist leapt up and shook my hand, saying “Arigato” repeatedly, with the biggest toothy smile.

We left the Broken Doll show kind of shell-shocked, and decided we really needed to get something to eat. It was now mid-morning, we had been up for over four hours, and we hadn’t eaten. Ten minutes later we lucked into a free table in the food hall, and sat down to eat some sushi, and try out “Bubble Tea”, which neither of us had tried before. It’s kind of hard to describe if you’ve never seen it – two fruit juices mixed together in the same container – one trapped in bubbles that you suck up a giant straw while drinking the surrounding liquid. As you chew them they burst in your mouth. We threw half of the drinks away after finishing the sushi, and continued exploring.

The next musical discovery was a singer song-writer performing solo in the middle of the hall on a small stage. We watched her from a balcony above, and joined in with her animated attempts to involve the crowd with various gestures as she belted out original J-Pop songs. While listening to her, Miss 16 spotted a Manga artist doing commissions in the background.

“Can I have a Manga drawing done of me?”

“I suppose so”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen her so happy. After ten minutes walking round in circles we eventually managed to get back downstairs to the same place where the artist was working, and enquired. A mobile phone photo was taken, money changed hands, and we were invited to return in an hour. We amused ourselves for that hour with window shopping, listening to even more “original” music, and taking photos of the various people attending the event in Cosplay costumes.

I was bowled over by the cosplayers – not so much by how wonderful they all looked, but by the amount of work that must have gone into some of the costumes. Only it wasn’t just the costumes – it was hair, makeup, and in some cases an obvious campaign for perhaps months to change their body shape to suit a character, much as movie actors do. Miss 16 was too bashful to ask about photos (even though she had her SLR camera with her), so I stepped in and asked all sorts of people if they would mind us taking their photo – and without exception received huge smiles, and agreement. The result? A camera full of photos of stunning girls, costumes, makeup, hair, shoes, and whatever else that will almost certainly form the basis for a return to HyperJapan for Miss 16 next time in full costume. Yes, I said next time. She’s already making plans.

We returned to the manga artist an hour later, just in time to see the finishing touches being put to our commission. I saw it first, and exclaimed “Oh my GOD!” – then Miss 16 saw the picture and was lost for words. She had asked for a “Chibi” style drawing – a children’s character (I learned all sorts of new words today), and the resulting drawing had captured her perfectly. We also realised pretty quickly (having seen others) that we had lucked into choosing the best artist in the place.

After more window shopping, and more agonising over what to spend money on, we ended up back in the live music performance area, watching a J-Pop girl band called “Moso Calibration”. Normally I would have covered my ears and run from the place screaming, but there was something about their high speed, optimistic “in your face” music that was hard to dislike. While they smashed their way through perhaps the most ear-worm-worthy track of the day, we took hundreds of photos of their antics on-stage. I’m not sure I can draw a parallel between them and any western bands, because we really have nothing like them. I looked across at Miss 16 in the middle of their set, and her face said it all – I imagine we’ll be buying their albums too at some point.

The last couple of hours of our stay at HyperJapan were spent spending money – or rather, I walked around behind Miss 16 while she tried to figure out what to spend the money I gave her on. Who knew it would be so hard? I guess we had no idea that we would be visiting essentially a pop-up shopping mall full of all things Japan.

Before leaving we lucked into walking through the lecture theatre as a presentation about “Hatsune Miku” was starting. If you’ve not heard of her, she is an animated character that performs live shows – much as Gorillaz did in the UK some years ago. I guess where it gets interesting is the accompanying instruments are Japanese taiko drums – not the usual thing you might hear in a hybrid J-Pop fusion. I had seen her on YouTube a year or so ago, so already knew about her – but it was interesting to find out more about the musicians and artists behind it all.

By mid afternoon our feet (and my wallet) were shouting “enough” at us – so we made our way back to the railway station, a quick meal at Wagamama, and then home. We both struggled to stay awake, and spent the journey looking at photos taken during the day. I can’t remember seeing Miss 16 so happy for quite some time. It would be unfair to put the whole day on her though – although I was obviously chaperoning her for the day, I will admit to loving the music and cosplayers more than anticipated. The food was pretty spectacular too. If money had been no object, I imagine we might have bought an awful lot more things home with us than photographs and memories.

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