Interview: International Otaku Expo Association

by Daniel Briscoe,

We had the pleasure of chatting with three representatives from the International Otaku Expo Association, an organization established this year to "encourage new developments within the wider otaku culture by linking together otaku expos." Among them was IOEA executive office director Takamasa Sakurai, IOEA founding task force director Kazutaka Satoh, and founding contributor Dan Kanemitsu.

What motivated you to create this organization?

Kazutaka Satoh: I was organizing the Comic Market event in Japan, which is sort of like the otaku mecca. There was an occasion where I went overseas and I found out that there was an otaku event, and I was very surprised to learn about it. When I researched, I found out there were other such events all over the world. I thought of myself as one of the top otaku in Japan, and I was shocked to find out that I never knew about these other events. And I believe that we should be friends, otaku in Japan and otaku outside Japan, and I believe also that the comic market should become friends with others outside of Japan as well. And that's the reason I thought about creating an international organization for otaku events.

Dan Kanemitsu: I've been fortunate enough to see how fandom and doujinshi culture in Japan and America has developed over the years. And as a professional translator, I act as a mediator and a bridge to keep works going both ways. And my participation in IOEA, one of the reasons I'm motivated – there are not too many people that have been blessed such as myself to see both perspectives and it would be nice if there was an organization that could incorporate what people on both sides of the Pacific, and also, Mr. Sakurai has gone to many nations around the world, and we have a large body of knowledge. When Satou-san approached us about forming this organization, one of the things that we wanted to do was infuse our body of knowledge into this organization so that it could be shared, so that we could live in a more productive world so that certain individuals wouldn't be overburdened with taking care of too many different things.

What have been some of the challenges in bridging all of these different otaku cultures around the world?

Satoh: The first thing that gave me trouble was, for each event, I needed to know who was organizing it, and what was happening there, and getting a database of all that took a lot of time. But then Mr. Sakurai and I were fortunate enough that when we went over to other countries and spoke with other otaku – because really, we are all otaku – we were able to come together very nicely. And I think we made considerable progress in the two years that we've been building up the I.O.E.A.

Takamasa Sakurai: My profile is also on the Otakon pamphlet, so please take a look at that if you have time.

I've seen the list of some of the events and conventions around the world that are participating with I.O.E.A; can you could give us some insight into how you seek out organizations or conventions, and how that exchange of information goes, how they help you and how you help them bridge these different cultures?

Sakurai: Firstly, the events that came on first, were from me doing seven years of cultural work around the world. I have been accustom to several events outside of Japan too, and the first events were those that I had relationships with. And then it came up from those events kind of showing me to other events, and the list grew on. By now, the list is growing steadily, and I'm expecting by the end of next month we will have 40 events on the list.

With the number of participating events continuing to grow, what are your short term goals as far as the next 3-5 years – what are the milestones that you want to achieve?

Satoh: So in Japan in 2020, we're going to have the Olympics. There are no plans right now at this moment, but I would like to host an Otaku Olympics with the Olympics. And I think that starting line for realizing something like that maybe is when we have 100 names on our list. Ultimately, I would like to give the social standing of say, kimono, sushi, kabuki to cultures like otaku, anime, and manga too.

So you've been to a lot of places, you've seen a lot of different otaku cultures – what has been the most surprising difference that you've seen outside of Japan?

Sakurai: For me, it was in France, when 1000 people, one after the other, were singing Japanese anime songs, in Japanese.

Satoh: For me it was a song-related event too. It was an event here in the U.S., this person was walking in front of me and singing this Japanese song but it was something that I didn't really know. I asked him what that song was from, and he answered “I don't really know the meaning, but it's from an anime!”

Kanemitsu: 5 years ago, I was in the U.S. back in Minnesota to take care of my mother who just had open heart surgery. I was staying in the U.S. for about a month. And I took the opportunity to visit a small local comic book convention. You know, 60-70 booths or such, one of those small standard American comic book affairs. And I was astonished to realize that every single young artist that was trying to break into comic books was drawing in the manga style. Every single one of them. And I was not expecting that manga and anime art style to be such a commanding presence in the United State in such a short span of time, and to become so ubiquitous.

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