The Orlando Japan Festival is an annual event held in the fall at the Village at Hunter’s Creek shopping/commercial center.  Mr. B. and I visited the festival to make contact with a performer whom we have our eye on for our 2011 event and to see how another festival is organized.

It soon became clear that we do not share a type of attendee with the Japan Festival.  The crowd at the Japan Festival was–surprise!–full of Japanese.  Our festival attracts few Japanese and Gainesville in general has a small Japanese population.

The Japan Festival crowd was also full of Caucasian teens who’d like to be Japanese but are not.  This is a mirror of present-day Japanese Cosplay culture and it seemed tremendously popular and not so out of place when Disney is just down the road.

Another difference was in type and style of vendor.  At the Japan Festival, vendors tore open boxes of “cute” merchandise that appeals to the anime/manga crowds and sold it nearly straight from the box, so quickly that the boxes were hurriedly tossed to the back of the stall.  They sold dolls, comic books, tea cups, and small paper fans.  At our festival, people sometimes have to be coaxed into purchasing, however that occurs, and we wouldn’t permit empty boxes to be stacked in the back of a booth.  Our top seller this year was a fellow from Tallahassee who had clever wooden puzzles that he encouraged people to play with before purchasing.  Some work, in other words, had to go into making the sale.  I saw this repeated with other of our vendors, whether it was tea-sampling or more hands-on activity.  At the Japan Festival, people crowded booths in a rush to purchase gizmos.  I’d not taken a look a Japanese pop culture in 15 or so years and I was reminded of the Sailor Moon craze of the mid-nineties.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if we were to bring a big anime/manga vendor into our show, but I still don’t think we have the right crowd to support it.

I think it is safe to say that there was nothing like Cosplay when I was growing up.  Alienated youth–or at least youth who were not satisfied with suburban culture–hung around at the bowling alley and smoked cigarettes.  They may have listened, a few years later, to the Ramones instead of to Hall and Oates.  As young working adults, they struggled to coexist alongside Yuppies.  At no time was there an adoption of another culture, or of the customs or fashions of another culture. 

The Cosplay kids can be contrasted to the adults who just hung out in a karate jacket, baring chest hair.  There were a few of those on hand, as there were people with huge expensive cameras strung around their necks.  I always wonder what happens to the pictures these people take.  Are they all blurry and out of focus? Do they end up, as do mine, on the Internet?  I now feel part of a camera subculture, even if I have the bare minimum equipment to participate.  It’s easy to talk to these people, especially if you stick within your own group (Nikon vs. Canon).  Eyes glaze over wildly with talk of the 20K spent on the latest rig, and yet none of these people has been a professional photographer.  I met one fellow whose flash housing looked like support for someone who had broken his back in several places.  I suppose it is analogous to a car or motorcycle hobby, although there seem to be an awful lot of Maseratis out there recently.  I like that people step up to the major leagues with such speed and confidence. I like that quite a lot, even if the results leave a lot to be desired.