San Japan is not about the vendors, the convention center, or even about the city. Don’t get me wrong, those are all fine and dandy, but when you go to San Japan, you go there for the people: the cosplayers, the DnD’ers, the panelists, the artists, the voice actors, and even the volunteers. It’s all about the atmosphere of the place and the sorts of people you’ll meet.
San Japan, at its core, is a Japanese culture and anime convention. That doesn’t mean that the rest of American pop culture hasn’t seeped in, but that’s how it began in 2008. San Japan was actually one of the first conventions to set up shop in the San Antonio area. In fact, many people credit this convention as the catalyst in opening the market for other pop-culture conventions in the Alamo City area.
The convention also puts on free community events during the rest of the year leading up to the main 3-day event. For example, in 2014, San Japan put on two mini-events: Mini-Mini Con and the Anime and Manga Art On The Museum Reach Summer Block Fest. San Antonio has wholeheartedly adopted this convention as part of the city’s landscape and even recommended it as one of the 100 Things To Do In San Antonio Before You Die. Over the course of 10 years, the convention has grown from a couple thousand attendees to upwards of 18,000. San Japan is a convention that has grown from a very rudimentary foundation but is now a haven for nerds across central Texas.
Almost every convention has a marketplace. An area that often is labeled the ‘dealer’s room’ and is a place where you can buy artwork, apparel, plushies, books, videos, just about all the con swag you could want. Here, the marketplace area is divided into two parts: an area for artists selling their craft and an area for larger companies to sell various paraphernalia. The former section is just as large as the latter section which is not something you’ll see many other conventions. It can be rather refreshing to be able to talk to a local artist about their art. Every artist I spoke to was wholesome and very grateful to be there selling their art at the con. Honestly, a lot of the other conventions I’ve visited don’t have such a huge emphasis on art or the artists, but this can probably be attributed to the fact that San Japan is an anime convention at heart.
It’s important to note that most of the people making the con run smoothly are the volunteers. They aren’t being paid to make the con a safe and fun experience, they’re doing this of their own volition and because they’re fellow nerds. This lends to the overall feel of the convention. Everyone around you, even those of authority, are at the convention because they choose to be.
Most of the panels are also volunteer run. Panels are created usually by an attendee and run by that attendee and any volunteers who decide to help. Some panels are more professional than others, but most are not hosted by companies or bigwigs. Panels can range anywhere from anime game shows, discussing an aspect of pop culture, or instructing people on how to make costumes. My favorite panels are always the crafting panels. The whole idea of these panels is to build people up; to show them how to become better at creating the things they love.
Cosplay has always been a large part of this convention. Everywhere you look, people are dressed in homemade or store-bought costumes. There is even a cosplay repair room stocked with thread, hot glue, and other tools to repair basic wear and tear. And, of course, there is a cosplay contest. But just about every other convention has one so it isn’t particularly astounding.
A swap meet is held on Sunday and which lasts for over 6 hours. People come early to grab a table and set up their goods. No money is supposed to be exchanged in this area. It’s all trading. Everyone is respectful and very open to what they’ll exchange.
The free play arcades were expansive in the titles they offered (from fighting games to old school pong) this time. Normally, you can jump right into a game. But, even if someone is playing a game you want to try out, you usually won’t be waiting long. In general, everyone was good about not hogging one game.
Dungeons & Dragons Adventures League was also available for play at the convention last weekend. The Adventures League is an official Dungeons & Dragons campaign. It is set in the Forgotten Realms and uses the fifth edition D&D rules. To get started, there were free character creation sheets available and a table set up where you could get help creating your character and learn how to use your character in an event. If you weren’t interested in taking the time to create a character, they also had a variety of pre-made characters available for play. Sign up was entirely free and very easy. Overall, it was fun to play with friends but also jump into a game with people you didn’t know and interact with diverse characters.
San Japan has a friendly and welcoming vibe that draws people back again and again. It’s a fun, stress-free convention that I’m sure is only going to grow bigger and better as it ages. If you want to make connections that are going to last you years, San Japan is a good convention to start at.
All in all, you go to San Japan for the convention, but you return because of the people. As an annual convention in San Antonio you can catch again this time next year.