Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

Nippon 2007: Summing Up

Some thoughts on the overall Nippon 2007 experience, written yesterday on the plane (and now with HTML, since I'm home with a proper keyboad and text/HTML editor! Yes, we're home; exhausted, very happy to be home, and quailing at unpacking and laundry and food-shopping and all that. Really, three weeks is the very limit of how long I ever want to be away.).

The first thing I should say is that my "home" cons are Boskone and Readercon, and my first Worldcon was Noreascon 4. So my default expectations are really high—I'm used to extremely-well organized cons with excellently diverse and advanced programming. Nippon 2007 did not live up to those standards, but what does?

Judged as objectively as I can, and based on secondhand information from other people with more diverse experiences, it seems to have been a pretty well-organized con. There were problems like mismatches in room size and audience size, or AV equipment not working, but every con has those. There seemed to be longish lines for Registration on Friday, and I think the stuff in the Exhibit Hall opened a bit later than planned, but if those were problems, I didn't hear that they were serious. I can only think of one organizational thing that really annoyed me: the length of program items was apparently specified on the website (the details of which I partly remembered), but was nowhere on the pocket program. As this was a bit complicated [*], it would have been really good to have that in the pocket program. I suspect this is a cultural default thing that got overlooked. But overall, there wasn't much on the organizational end that jumps out at me as having affected my experience.

[*] Items starting on even-numbered hours ran for 90 minutes in 2-hour blocks, though the actual length varied a lot; items starting on odd-numbered hours were only one hour.

(Oh, and it took a couple of days before the wireless internet was working, which was a source of vexation to me but didn't really surprise me.)

Some of the peculiarities of the con can be attributed to the venue. I have been told that it was rented by the hour (!), so things tended to wrap up very early at the convention center itself. As far as I could tell, fans didn't adopt any ground-level space in the attached hotel as a gathering zone; though I saw some possible conversational spaces there, they were small and I don't think they were part of a bar, which limits their potential. (One of the things I like about Boskone's current and past hotel is that there is a lobby bar which lends itself to big amorphous groups that suck in random passers-by.) Instead, again as best I could tell, the social scene was focused on room and/or bid parties to a much greater extent than I am used to. I had a lovely time at the Australia 2010 party, and I understand that the Scandinavian room party and the 2009 bid parties went well too; it just lent this con a different flavor for me.

Another part of that flavor was the membership. The non-Japanese members were those people who were dedicated enough to come to Japan and also able to afford it. I felt that the result was a non-Japanese membership that skewed older and more conversative, in the Heinlein-and-Ackerman-are-the-high-points-of-everything! sense. This also gave the social scene a different feel for me, and it wasn't until the Aussie party on the second day that I recovered from my worries that it would be a really asocial con.

(I also broke my essential con-socializing rule by not making arrangements with people I wanted to see ahead of time. We left so early and I thought it was going to be a small con . . . but I should still've done it.)

And of course there were younger people among the Japanese fans, and I feel very guilty that I didn't make more of an effort to talk with them—or any Japanese fans, for that matter. All I can say is that I went into this con really exhausted and just listening to the bilingual panels was hard work, to the point that the thought of trying to hold a conversation made me want to cry out of sheer fatigue. (A couple people tried to talk with me, under the mistated assumption that I was Japanese, and then when I wasn't things stalled a bit; I did try then, but we didn't get very far.) But I still really regret it.

Especially since I'd hoped to make this a cross-cultural understanding con, that being the programming that most interested me. (My reaction to the English-only stuff was colored by my home cons, as mentioned above, though I'd forgotten that some of those unpromising descriptions would be redeemed by their panelists.) This didn't work as well as I hoped either, but that's mostly because of the description-content mismatch that I experienced. I'm fully aware, of course, that panelists often take a description as a suggestion as most, but these didn't feel like the panelists had decided to do something different when they showed up. Instead, it felt like the Japanese panelists had a very definite idea of what the panel was about, which was only partly related to what was in the program. I don't know if this was a translation issue, but it was persistent enough that it made me suspect some wider issue in the background.

Other comments on the programming, bilingual or otherwise:

  • I sympathize with the desire to get a really good translation, but as an audience member, it is absolutely deadly to listen to people reading previously-written and -translated remarks. The on-the-fly translating seemed to work pretty well, as far as I could tell.
    • The longer panels (90 min+) worked well for bilingual panels because it gave time to translate, and I think Anticipation should adopt something similar.
    • Relatedly, it is apparently very hard to teach presenters and the audience to wait for translators, at least judging by the Hugos, and I think Anticipation should really rehearse that.
  • Japanese fans apparently think that it is appropriate to put many more people on panels than I'm used to. Some of the panels I was interested in had 7-9 people listed. I suspect this is because they ran more formally, with questions down the row, rather than a lot of free-flow conversation.
  • The name signs for panelists were not very useful. The ones for non-Japanese people were bilingual, but in such a way that you couldn't fold the signs into self-standing tents and have everything visible. (Tape was not available in most rooms.) And the signs for Japanese panelists were not bilingual, which made it really hard for me to identify people.
  • Finally, two things about the content of the programming.
    • I was surprised at the relative lack of bilingual programming about SF anime and manga. I don't know if this is because anime & manga fandoms are separate communities in Japan the way they are in the U.S., or if the relatively conversative bent of the non-Japanese crowd discouraged such programming. But I was interested in what anime & manga are doing with SF, and I would have liked to hear more about it—and think it's at least as on-topic as SF TV series, which get panels (and Hugos, even).

      (There was an article about the con in the Saturday Sept. 8 Asahi Shinbun, an English-language Japanese paper that gets incorporated into the International Herald Tribune. It gave the impression that this focus was a deliberate decision on principle, but I don't know how accurate this is.)

    • I was surprised and disappointed at reports that some of the English-language panels did very little to acknowledge the existence of non-Western, well, anything. At one of the religion in SF panels, it was apparently an uphill struggle to get the discussion to move away from Christianity—at a con in a country with thousands of years of non-Christian heritage to draw on! And as Chad noted, there were English-speaking people available for programming who are aware of at least some SF anime & manga and could have brought in those examples on general panels—rachelmanija is the first one that comes to my mind, and I specifically volunteered to be on programming about anime & manga and give the perspective of an SF fan new to them. But, at least judging by the few panels I went to or heard about, there doesn't seem to have been much effort by the con or the panelists to draw on the fact that we were in Japan when it came to the English-language stuff.

      (Only one Japanese person came to my panel on metafiction, and he did not say anything. I used the anime Princess Tutu as an example a couple of times—though it just occured to me that I should've mentioned the manga Saiyuki as well, so I'm certainly not holding myself up as a paragon.)

So that was the con that was: a very different experience for me, but most of that was intrinsic in the setup, and I have few complaints about the actual running of the con itself. I'm not at all sorry I voted for Nippon 2007, and if this group bid again I would be very likely to support them, because I think it's interesting, useful, and important to get more cross-cultural and bilingual SF cons.

Tags: cons, nippon 2007, worldcon

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