How Do Japanese Guests Get Invited To Conventions?

by Justin Sevakis,

Joey asked:

Anime fans in America tend to complain that there are not enough Japanese guests being invited to conventions. I understand that it is very costly to bring Japanese guests to American conventions, so I was wondering what other barriers are considered before a convention can decide to invite someone from Japan.

While Japan actually makes the anime and manga, and Japanese guests are obviously the people that would be ideal anime convention guests, they're also the hardest and most expensive to get. Not only does the convention have to pay for their flight and hotel, but also getting them the appropriate visas, on-site interpreters and Japanese-speaking handlers, and also usually a per diem paid directly to the guest. Many times they'll also have to pay for a small entourage, including agents and managers, and also representatives from whatever company is producing their project. It's a lot of very expensive hoops to jump through, and often times those guests won't even attract as many fans as a local social media influencer or dub voice actor who would cost a fraction of the amount.

That said, for many guests, it's worth sparing no expense to get them to attend. And sometimes a bigger convention can work with a distribution company to get them to pay some or most of the expenses, especially if it's good marketing for their products. But more frequently, it's the convention that's on the hook for these costs, as well as working out the logistics of flying them and their people over and keeping them properly chaperoned.

Every convention staffer who deals with international guest relations has a wish list of people they think would be a good guest. There's usually no real science behind this list -- it's a hodgepodge of talent that are currently hot or have hot series going on or recently concluded, long-time fan favorites (like, say, Yoko Kanno or Katsuhiro Otomo), existing talent that would be a decent guest and that the convention has a good relationship with, and maybe some out-of-left-field choices that might draw a niche crowd. (Event programming is more of an art than a science.) Other factors, such as whether the guest is known to be difficult or demanding, are also taken into account.

Once the wish list is fleshed out and given some order of priority, it's time to start reaching out. Cold emailing usually doesn't work; often an established convention will have some connection in Japan that will try to make a proper introduction to the person they're trying to invite (or their management).

From there, the mating dance begins. There are any number of reasons why a potential guest may or may not want to attend a convention. Some are always too busy with work. Others are scared of flying overseas. In other cases, the potential guest may be friends with someone who went to this convention, and had a good or a bad experience, and that will likely color their decision to go.

Some guests are easier to deal with than others. Many have conditions or riders in their contracts. Some insist on having the convention invite a friend of theirs as a guest as well, and that could be someone the convention really doesn't want or have the budget for. Musical guests usually insist on some minimum level of accommodations (sound checks, certain important instruments like grand pianos being provided, etc.) if they are to perform. Some of these demands are reasonable, some are not. There was one group of manga artists one year that nearly refused to get on their plane because their assigned seats weren't together!

Some demands are diva-like, but others are just the guests protecting themselves. Conventions have screwed up so royally in the past that it's hard to blame a guest for wanting a few contractual safeguards in place. Guests have showed up to conventions in the past only to be stranded at airports, or told that they weren't booked hotel rooms. Some guests might be excited at getting to see a far-away city, only to be informed that they'll need to spend every waking moment in the convention center. Many poorly run conventions have turned into nightmares for guests. Smart potential guests ask up front, and get in writing the exact amount that will be asked of them (how many panels, interviews, etc?) and how much down time they'll have.

There are other considerations too. Places that are easier to fly to from Japan will always have an advantage. The West Coast of the US and other parts of Asia will always be easier to travel to for Japanese people than the East Coast of the US or Europe. Those few hours of additional flight time really have an impact on whether guests say yes or no to an invitation. Finally, a guest wanting to promote a specific project overseas can really give them the nudge (or a nudge from their management) to commit to an overseas trip.

So you see, getting any guests from Japan to come to a convention is quite an undertaking on both sides. Now, can you imagine what you have to deal with to get musical guests everything they need to perform? The logistics of running an anime convention of any size are truly mind-boggling.

Thank you for reading Answerman!

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Anime News Network founder Justin Sevakis wrote Answerman between July 2013 and August 2019, and had over 20 years of experience in the anime business at the time. These days, he's the owner of the video production company MediaOCD, where he produces many anime Blu-rays. You can follow him on Twitter at @worldofcrap.

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