Last month (from 10th to 12th July) the O2 Arena played host to Hyper Japan, a weekend-long celebration of all aspects of Japanese culture including fashion, music, entertainment, literature and cuisine. The event enjoys sponsorship from big brand names including “Japan Airlines”, “NHK World”, “Bandai Namco Entertainment” and of course “Nintendo”.
Hyper Japan Festival Trailer
This year’s event virtually sold out through advanced purchases with queues of attendees waiting to enter stretching all the way back to North Greenwich station. Hyper Japan has something for everyone whether it’s tantalising your palate with authentic cuisine, the chance to engage in a bit of Cosplay as your favourite anime character, or even book a holiday to the land of the rising sun.
For avid gamers the makeshift Nintendo arcade centre provides ample gaming fun and stages regularly feature a bizarre array of song and dance acts. There is even a Japanese garden where guests can sit on comfortable futons to have a quiet chat and a drink, or just recharge before heading back into the arena with its visual and aural not-too-unpleasant assault on the senses. The J-Culture section is where you would find the biggest variety of all things Japanese including a sake stall, various food vendors, books and clothing and travel agents.
In amongst the sea of colourfully dressed guests and tantalising stalls is the matted area for some musical acts to entertain the passing crowds but is also the centre for some incredible martial arts displays. This year the organisers invited representatives from leading martial arts schools to give audiences a taste of contemporary and traditional Japanese fighting forms.
Shinboku Kai Karate
The team from this London based school with dojos at Elephant & Castle and Russell Square, led by Kimon Frousios (3rd Dan) provided a varied and contemporary display of Shotokan karate. This featured some basic form and movement followed by self-defence techniques (with both armed and unarmed attackers), health and fitness training with target mitts and kicking shields, and a traditional 24 step kata. Sensei Frousios then illustrated how the kata is applied in training and defence scenarios. The team did their school proud showing off the best of this well-known Karate style.
Katanaya – Ichi
Bringing an engaging and entertaining performance element to martial arts is this Japanese sword fighting troupe led by television, stage and film actor Dai Mizuno. Across the world Mizuno and his team of performers bring his own self-created “Tate” style or Japanese sword fighting combining elements from Aikido and traditional dance. After the players gave a crowd pleasing performance featuring some impressive lightning-fast swordsmanship and visceral drama, volunteers from the audience, including Marvel’s own “merc with the mouth” Deadpool, were invited onto the mat to learn some sword techniques for a little show of their own.
Kenseikai East London
The fencing art of Kendo is as synonymous with Japanese martial arts as Karate. The team from Kenseikai East London led by Jonathan Wilson (in place of Sensei Philippe Negri sei) stepped onto the mat adorned in the traditional blue and black Kendogi. Following a warm-up featuring some slow and carefully executed swings and counters with the Bokutō, the familiar sight of head protection (men), breastplate (Dō) and other vital protection & shinai were added and the competition (tai-kai) began.
Okinawa Kydokan Shorinryu
Led by Sensei Tomasz Tomczak, the team from this traditional Okinawan Karate School based in St Agnes London, wowed audiences with a broad and varied display of form, strength and intricate techniques. There was the usual mix of katas and combat application before Sensei Tomczak unveiled an arsenal of classical weapons including the Bo staff, Sai, Tonfa (nightstick), and Nunchaku. There was also a display of strength and concentration with Sensei and some students standing firm as they were struck with sticks across their arms, legs, and stomach.
Mizu Ryu Ju Jitsu
Ju Jitsu is more associated with the Brazilian form devised by the Gracie brothers (and popularly used by MMA fighters) so to see the range of techniques performed by Sensei Tony Bailey more akin to Aiki-Jitsu and Aikido may be a surprise to some people. Sensei Bailey and his team from the Mizu Ryu Basingstoke School showed off a variety of locks, throws and holds that are the hallmarks of classical Ju Jitsu. The demonstration was followed by the opportunity for audience members to learn a technique or two (such as the O Soto Gari) and have fun throwing some instructors around the mat!
Hyper Japan is a fun and likeably garish event showcasing the wonder of all things Japanese, very well organised with everything laid out and easy to find. The staff were efficient and helpful adding to the enjoyment of the event and everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives wandering around in awe of the exhibitions, enjoying the food and drink, and spending far too much money. The highlights of course were the martial arts demonstrations with some impressive skills and fun audience participation, all adding to a highly enjoyable event, to which I look forward to attending again next year.