For A Handful of Nippon Hot

Anders Fager     
fatpika.jpgSpent a quiet afternoon last weekend in Uppsala, a small city some 70 kilometers north of Stockholm. The place is about three times as old as anything built by white folks in the US. In more recent years Uppsala is where the UppCon Manga & Anime-convention takes place. The BIG Manga & Anime Event in Sweden if you ask the local Nippophiles.


Question was: would this be a place where it would make sense to rent a booth and sell games? There are after all some very manga-ish games out there and a lot of the Nippophiles have other geeky interests.


The convention is held is an enormous glass and steel cube placed in the middle of huge slab of concrete. It looks a bit strange among the century-old buildings in downtown Uppsala. On the slab there are scores of kids running around. I felt very sorry for all the girls who, despite the cold, felt they had to runabout outside dressed up in so little. Monday morning must have seen a lot of colds. Anyhow. The convention has some 3000 attendants, mostly in nippo-costume and younger than twenty. One wonders where these fans go when they can’t hide that they are pushing thirty anymore. Perhaps they all take up live role-playing where you can be a wizard AND over nineteen.

japseven.jpgInside there are of arcade games everywhere.  And a dedicated video game hall where the racket is unbelievable. And dancemats. And there are people dressed up as big furry pets dancing on the dancemats. (Two out of place looking goth girls in SS-caps and matching leather outfits watches the rocking rodents. They probably got their Japanese sub-cultures mixed up.) Fashion-wise, the school-girl-vamp-from-space-look seems as popular as ever and I get a long lecture on Lolita Culture by a girl that looks like porcelain doll. There are lots of different Lolitas, you know.  Cute Lolitas, Sweet Lolitas, Punky Lolitas, Dirty Lolitas and so on. All the way to the False Lolita who is a shame and a disgrace to the whole of Lotlitahood. A curse on all of her petticoats. 

Some things grow on you after a couple of hours of mingling with the mangas. First of all.  A couple of fanzines aside there are no book/comic stores present. Or movie stores. I spot one booth selling Japanese music, but that is about it. A bit odd considering the whole culture is based on comics. There is actually not that much shopping going on at all, most likely because the audience is pretty young. Though there are a lot of stands. But most of them sell little cute things of one kind or another. Or promotes some little sub-sub-culture. There are PA announcements asking people to please take their seats for the concert that will start in 30 minutes. The band will only play a seated audience. No headbanging, please. We are Japanese. 

Come to think of it no one plays or sells CCGs. No Pokemon, no Yu-Gi-Oh, no nothing. Even weirder. Perhaps there is some geek-credibility-thing. Kids play Pokemon.  Pokemon is on regular TV. I used to play Pokemon, but now it has become so popular and commercial. Or perhaps not. The more I look at the crowds japtwo.jpgthe more I realize that people are mostly hanging out. Perhaps that is the point of the whole show. To socialize. To meet your online geek buddies. You are the only Punky Lolita in Scaryville and at last you can meet some other Lolitas (and a giant ferret and two SS-girls) and just hang out and talk about normal stuff.  Like all those incredibly cute things you can buy. You don’t want to buy card-games from some boring fart that is obviously over twenty. Like he’ll know shit about Baby Loilitas.

Lets go to the speed dating instead. The kids actually speed date, or speed chat. In three minute sessions along a very longtable. Eighty kids comparing notes on cosplay, favorite movies and the sufferings of Lolitas in horrible Swedish small towns. The noise-level is impressive and no one seems to need three drinks before to get going.   

I realize another thing after a while. It is the cute stuff that gets to you. Japanese style is either ultra-Spartan and meditative or obsessed with cuteness andtacky for tackiness own sake. And all the cute little monsters get quitetiresome. As does all the short skirts on giggling adolescent girls. A manga convention is a very un-sexy place, indeed, unless your thing is hordes of cute little monsters or giggling adolescent girls. All the creepy stuff with tentacles and that seem to happen at an instant in manga comics is very far away. Thankfully. 

In the end.  Coolest thing at the convention? Besides the wonder of cultural shock? The dolls.


I talk for japfive.jpgwhile with this girl who makes clothes for these fantastic 50cm high dolls. And, mind you, these dolls are not just any kind of overpriced porcelain dolls, these are JAPANESE overpriced porcelain dolls. Each one of them goes for 600 USD before you even get around to make their costumes and paint their faces. And price tags aside the costumes are indeed spectacular. The craftsmanship is stunning and the detail fantastic. Barbie has nothing on thesegirls. And Ken (Ed. Note:  Not me, the actual Ken Doll) would kill for one of those suits. 

In the end,so I don’t forget that this is Japan, I get informed of the doll hobby’s darker sides. There are other kinds of 600 USD Japanese dolls. Ones that don’t have bodies of sexless athletic twelve-year olds. These are more Kasumi-like, with chests so big they fall over. And with working “other parts”, to quote the girl in the booth. The boy dolls can even “get happier” if you want them to.  Doll-both-girl says it as if it is a pretty normal thing. Every sweet, artistic Japanese thing obviously has its dark kinky twin. Just like the Cute Lolita has its False Lolita. And there is a drunken Dark Pikachu to every, adorable, furry Pikachu. Perhaps there is some cosmic balance thing going here. Something very YingYang-oriental wisdom-ish. 

The final question is of course, what bearing does this insight have on sushi?


For A Handful of Nippon There Will Be Games
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