In the 11 years of its existence, San Japan has grown from a debut crowd of 3,500 to attracting more than 17,000 people last year. The homegrown celebration of all things manga, anime, and Japanese pop culture is now one of the most popular multi-day events in San Antonio.
San Japan has become a Labor Day weekend staple, with this year’s convention — themed “Magical Universe” — taking place August 31-September 2 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, and Grand Hyatt and Marriott River Walk hotels, where event organizers have provided packaged deals for festival-goers who want to stay where all the action is.
And what action there is indeed. The schedule features more than 200 events, some of which go well into late Friday and Saturday night.
Dozens of panel discussions, workshops and presentations this year cover a range of topics, from cosplay makeup for beginners and exploration of the kawaii concept to interactive gatherings for Steven Universe fans.
There will be a variety of games, such as anime bingo, cosplay battle chess (where cosplayers are the pieces), J-pop and K-pop quizzes, and dance tournaments.
Need to get your hands (and feet) on some electronic gaming, especially old school challenges? There will be more than 75 arcade cabinets, a wide array of Japanese music rhythm games, gaming tournaments on large projection screens, and about 100 consoles.
The arcades will be located in Exhibit Hall 4B of the convention center, while the console/PC section will be on the convention center’s third floor in the Hemisfair Ballroom. All arcade games are set to free play. Additionally, there will be a tabletop gaming section for individual and tournament play.
Some programming goes beyond anime and manga. San Japan designs a few panels and readings around Creepypasta, the Internet-driven collection of horror-related legends and images. Even MrCreepyPasta, the famed YouTuber and podcaster, will make an appearance. Other highlights include presentations on Japanese horror legends, and a history of Asian horror cinema.
San Japan includes a masquerade dance on Friday night and EDM sessions throughout Friday and Saturday night. Not well-versed in either masquerade or EDM? You’re in luck because your San Japan badge gets you into introduction presentations to get you ready.
There’s also the ever-popular Saturday night cosplay show, which like the masquerade dance is ticket-controlled, so get your seating ticket early.
The Hi-Dive video room in the convention center will offer more than 50 anime screenings throughout all three days of the convention as well as autograph sessions featuring renowned anime voice performers, musical performances, dealers, sessions and artist alley appearances with dozens of illustrators and authors, fan meetups (even one for pro wrestling!), and more.
Just a few scheduled guests are voice performers Kanae Ito, Jad Saxton and Kyle Jones; musicians Deadlift Lolita and GRIMECRAFT; professional cosplayer Frea Mai, and director/storyboard artist Kazuhiro Soeta.
While much of San Japan is designed to be for all ages, a few events are for ages 18 and up. The registration/exhibitors section will include help for disabled attendees and those needing to enter with a service dog, as well as a blood drive.
Programming like this has led to the explosive growth of San Japan, the largest anime convention in South Texas.
“It’s been 10 years since San Japan first started here in town and it’s grown along with the anime presence in San Antonio,” Seifer Alpha says on Twitter. “Makes me happy to see it grow the way it has.”
Years ago, organizers locked down Labor Day weekend at the convention through at least the rest of this decade.
“As the crowds grew, we grew in size, and kept making it bigger and better,” according to San Japan’s official Twitter. “We're fortunate to have moved to a venue that will allow us to keep growing to as big as we want to be.”