The history of Japan Expo
This page will lead you through the story of Japan Expo: from its beginning as the adventure of passionate people to its consecration as one of the European reference in the field of Japanese culture and entertainment.
Context: Japanese animation and manga in France
1978. On their televisions, French people discover a new cartoon on French channel Antenne 2: Grendizer, known in Japan as UFO Robo Grendizer. The program dominates the audiences, Japanese animation just got its first big hit on French television. Other series then follow in the same program: Candy Candy, Captain Harlock and a little later Space Cobra or Nobody’s Boy: Remi.
The 80s trigger the trend and the public is asking for more. From 1987 to 1997, the TV show Club Dorothée on channel TF1 broadcasts numerous Japanese anime which have become references today like Dragon Ball, Knights of Zodiac, City Hunter, Ai Shite Knight, Captain Tsubasa, Sailor Moon and a lot more.
At the beginning of the 90s, fans of Japanese animation and comic books discover manga in French, the first one being Akira by Katsuhiro OTOMO. The success is immediate and the releases grow in number: Dragon Ball by Akira TORIYAMA, Ranma ½ by Rumiko TAKAHASHI or Sailor Moon by Naoko TAKEUCHO. Manga begins to really develop in the second half of the 90s.
Their interest for anime and manga pushes fans to turn to Japan: its culture, traditions and daily life. The only thing missing was an event so they could gather together and celebrate their passions.
Passion, discovery and sharing: the creation of Japan Expo
The founders of Japan Expo, Jean-François Dufour, Sandrine Dufour and Thomas Sirdey grew up during the rise of Japanese animation in the 80s and 90s and were very enthusiastic about the series on TV,manga and their country of origin. In the middle of the 90s they are very active in associations contributing to spread and promote manga and Japanese animation. They grow fond of the fascinating country that is Japan and its cultural and historical wealth.
To share their interests with the many, they publish fanzines and organize small events in the form of animation conventions reuniting 1,000 to 2,000 persons that were the base for Japan Expo.
After a trip to Japan, Jean-François Dufour and Sandrine Dufour were won over and determined to share their passion, interests and discoveries. And that is how, in 2000, Japan Expo was created. An event dedicated to Japanese culture: from manga to fashion, from animation to traditions and music and video games.
Japan Expo was created as a window onto Japan and Japanese culture and put great effort to create bridges between the different representations of Japanese entertainment. So to target the youth audience, a pedagogic and ludic approach of this culture is the core of the program.
The first edition welcomes 3,200 attendees on a 2,500 sqm area, a great success for a first. In 2018, the 19th Impact counted no less than 243,864 attendees who came to celebrate Japanese culture and entertainment on a 140,000 sqm area. Since its very beginning, the festival kept evolving and it is still the case now.
On top of areas entirely dedicated to manga and animation, the first edition highlights culture and traditions with a photo exhibit about Japan and activities such as origami or the tea ceremony. Another edition is organized that same year.
The third edition is highlighting new themes which, like manga and animation, are part of Japanese pop culture: video games and J-music. If Japanese music artists are not attending the festival yet, the classical titles of the Japanese rock scene are, performed by French groups.
2002 is the first step of a major evolution for Japan Expo. The festival is now organized in a new venue at La Défense over 10,000 sqm and welcomes its first mangaka: Tsutomu NIHEI (BLAME!, Biomega…) and Nami AKIMOTO (Miracle Girls, Ultra Cute…).
As for video games, they also take a big step forward: Nintendo is attending Japan Expo and the attendees discover Dance Dance Revolution with delight and interest. And there are still more new features with an area entirely dedicated to martial arts: attendees have a go at kendo, iaidô, karate, and chanbara.
Like the festival, the public develops and become more varied: novices join the fans, full of curiosity for the festival.
The first Yu-Gi-Oh ! championship is taking place at Japan Expo, Le Royaume des chats (The Cat Returns), the new movie from Studio Ghibli, is previewed, the attendees can relax with shiatsu, and meet the tokusatsu actor Ryôsuke SAKAMOTO (Red One in Choudenshi Bioman), and kids have a whole dedicated space.
Japan Expo keeps on spreading Japanese culture while creating bridges between its varied aspects to allow manga fans to also discover J-music or traditional culture. The attendees taste their first sushi, and enter the world of Japanese food which is to be seen everywhere in manga and anime.
Japan Expo welcomes the first J-music guest, Mana (ex-guitarist with Malice Mizer and leader of Moi dix Mois): he attracts the attendees’ attention as well as the media’s, the latter getting more and more eager to cover the event.
Japan Expo skips 2005: after 2004’s success, the festival needs to find a bigger place to host the public. On top of a new place, Japan Expo is also seeking a new evolution, richer and more varied programming for the edition to come.
Japan Expo is taking up residence at Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Center. By developing J-music and visual kei, the festival opened the way to fashion. This trend gets more actual with a fashion show featuring 13 Japanese brands, and a performance by the J-rock singer Anna TSUCHIYA.
Puroresu, wrestling, is programmed for the first time at Japan Expo, with two Japanese wrestlers. 2006 is also the year of creation of the Japan Expo Awards which reward the best productions and artists in several categories belonging to the festival themes.
NHK, the Japanese TV channel, shoots the TV show Cool Japan at Japan Expo, to find out what the French think is cool about Japan!
Japan Expo welcomes more and more guests, more and more prestigious guests: Hironobu SAKAGUCHI, the director of the first Final Fantasy games, and YOSHIKI, the leader of X JAPAN, attend the festival in 2007.
The festival is now spread over 65,000 sqm and keeps on presenting new features: a Manga Café is created and the brand new cultural stage hosts panels about daily life in Japan, martial arts and ikebana demonstrations, and kimono presentations.
Following the first fashion show, Japan Expo present punk and gothic lolita trends from Laforet HARAJUKU.
The festival is now 4 days long. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of diplomatic relations between France and Japan, Japan Expo presents the major names of manga who made its History through an exhibit and with two guests, Kazuo KOIKE and Go NAGAI.
The first traditional music performances feature taiko, koto, and shamisen at the cultural stage. The J.E. Live House is created and proposes 12 free J-music showcases from visual kei to jazz, electro, and pop-rock music.
Japan Expo is celebrating its 10th anniversary and spreads over 100,000 sqm at Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Center. The range of attendees’ types is broader, in ages, geographic origins and interests.
Among the fifty something Japanese guests attending, the idol band AKB48 and the CLAMP studio mangaka are the Guests of Honor.
Japan Expo is hosting more than 80 guests, among whom 5 Guests of Honor, major names in manga, animation, J-music, or video game. Among the latter, Tsukasa HÔJÔ, the creator of City Hunter and Cat’s Eye, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his career, in the company of Kenji KODAMA, the anime director.
To give the place it deserves within the festival to video games, a special stage is set up to host tournaments, previews, and panels.
For the 12th Impact, Japan Expo highlights fashion with the creation of the Japan Fashion Days, an event entirely dedicated to the latest trends coming from Japan. They are an opportunity to welcome the festival first Fashion Guest of Honor: h.NAOTO.
A new cosplay event launched by Japan Expo is conquering Europe: the European Cosplay Gathering with its first finals taking place on the main stage of the festival in front of 15,000 people admiring the costumes and performances of cosplayers from 10 European countries.
Japan Expo keep on track and remains the meeting point Japanese culture and entertainment fans with ever more prestigious guests: Naoki URASAWA, the author of 20th Century Boys, Monster, and Pluto, is the Manga Guest of Honor, beside Haruhiko MIKIMOTO, a major chara-designer and Anime Guest of Honor celebrating the 30th anniversary of Macross, Keiji INAFUNE, the Video Game Guest of Honor and producer of Megaman or Street Fighter IV, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, a kawaii icon, singer and Fashion Guest of Honor, FLOW, the Music Guest of Honor who sing anime songs among which Naruto’s, and Kohei TANAKA, the composer of One Piece music and Anime Music Guest of Honor, come along with the seiyû Junko IWAO.
As for activities, Japan Expo proposes for the first time female puroresu, and the presence of a real armorer making a real samurai helmet during the festival.
The festival is still getting bigger and the surface is now 125 000 sqm. The Japan Expo stage is now set up in hall 4 of Paris-Nord Villepinte Exhibition Center to feature panels and other events in the best conditions. The Video Game stage changes too with the best facilities and big news: the live streaming of its programming.
More and more Japanese exhibitors attend Japan Expo and over 100 Japanese companies and cities take a booth to present their activities. The WABI-SABI area invites the attendees to a journey into traditional culture with many activities, a craft exhibit, and a stage featuring kabuki, dance shows, and ninja demonstrations.
The 14th Impact brings together 232,876 attendees, along with Tetsuo HARA, Manga Guest of Honor who celebrated Hokuto no Ken’s 30th anniversary at Japan Expo, Shôji KAWAMORI, a mecha-design star and Anime Guest of Honor, °C-ute, Music Guest of Honor, and no less than 5 Video Game Guests of Honor from the Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts from Square Enix, including Shinji HASHIMOTO, Yoshinori KITASE, Tetsuya NOMURA, Motomu TORIYAMA, and Naoki YOSHIDA. The group NIGHTMARE, special guest, ended the festival with an explosive show.
In 2014, Japan Expo celebrates its 15th anniversary. On this occasion, it opens 5 days instead of 4, to allow the attendees to enjoy the themes, events, and activities which have been contributed to the festival’s success since 2000. A wonderful cosplay show brings together on stage the cosplayers who have been most rewarded at Japan Expo.
Nostalgic attendees meet Izumi MATSUMOTO, Manga Guest of Honor and the author of Kimagure Orange Road. Animation director for many Studio Ghibli movies, Kitarô KÔSAKA is the Anime Guest of Honor. As for Daigo IKENO, Street Fighter chara-designer, he is the Video Game Guest of Honor. J-music has pride of honor and a big concert is organized with no less than 12 idols from the groups Berryz Kobo and °C-ute, Music Guests of Honor.
Initiated by the artist Mamoru YOKOTA, the Mushae exhibit showed illustration of horseriders realized by illustrators and mangaka to support the Sôma Nomai festival from Minamisôma, a city stricken by the March 2011 disaster. The WABI-SABI area is now 840 sqm large and presents traditional culture in an area which looks very much like a matsuri. Welcomed by a torii at the entrance, the attendees can visit a tea house, and dozens of craftsmen and artists share their talent with them.
With more than 245,000 attendees who come to celebrate Japanese culture, Japan Expo keeps on developing. For the first time, the festival hosts a whole area dedicated to Japanese cuisine, listed as World Heritage by UNESCO: the Washoku corner proposes workshops by Japanese chefs.
Japan Expo is a springboard for young artists and brings the video maker Umi-kun to the fore. The festival also associates with the idol contest Tokyo Candoll to launch the winner’s career, Luce Twinkle Wink☆, and give them the opportunity to perform for the first time in Europe on the Karasu stage.
A masterclass room is set up in partnership with Wacom to invite manga and animation fans to improve their techniques with professionals, as well as mangaka and animator guests of the festival.
The 16th Impact offers a unique moment to all video game fans who attend the masterclass given by Shigeru MIYAMOTO, one of the major name of video game, the creator of Mario and Video Game Guest of Honor of the festival. Japan Expo also welcomes Ken AKAMATSU, the author of Love Hina and Manga Guest of Honor, Yoshiyuki SADAMOTO, Anime Guest of Honor on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Evangelion saga, and the J-rock band VAMPS, Music Guest of Honor.
The 17th Impact celebrated the French Touch, a whole generation of French artists passionate about manga, anime, and Japan, and who pursued their dream. On this occasion, the festival received French animators living in Japan, where they share their know-how in Japanese studios – like Stanislas BRUNET and Thomas ROMAIN at Satelight, or Eddie MEHONG who created Yapiko – and French mangaka – like Reno LEMAIRE, who celebrated the 10th anniversary of his series Dreamland, or Elsa BRANTS, the author of Save me Pythie. A great exhibit presented about 30 French artists, showing how their inspiration mixed with their knowledge. Beyond the world manga and animation, the French Touch also welcomed a metal band, Rise of the Northstar, whose influences are to be found in Japanese pop culture.
Beyond French Touch, Japan Expo keeps on giving a full insight on Japanese culture, popular and modern as well as traditional. 610 hours’ programming enabled 150 guests to go up on stage to hold panels or concerts. They also signed 6,000 autographs to the attendees who had rushed to meet them. A hundred traditional artists highlighted on the Sakura stage Japanese arts and traditional shows. Among the guests, 3 Guests of Honor attracted the crowds, starting with Hiro MASHIMA who came to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Fairy Tail, while Junichi MASUDA, GAME FREAK inc. director, gave an exceptional masterclass about Pokémon and while the band Psycho le Cému performed a crazy show for their fans.
2017 was the 100th anniversary of Japanese animation: a unique opportunity for Japan Expo to celebrate this aspect of Japanese pop culture that is at the heart of the festival, with a major project named Animé 100. The 18th Impact brought together 13 leading figures of Japanese animation. A stage dedicated to Animé 100 hosted their panels while an exhibit featured a selection of 100 anime chosen among the flourishing production of the past 100 years, to offer an insight through time and universes. Screenings, meetings, showcases and more achieved this program: in all, 82 events celebrated this anniversary that meant so much for the festival.
The 18th Impact also launched its first screening evenings, to keep the party going after hours, with one screening dedicated to Animé 100, the premiere of Pokémon the Movie: I Choose You!, and the documentary We Are X, in the presence of Yoshiki, founder of X Japan. For the first time, the festival featured musicals: Touken Ranbu et Yowamushi Pedal. Three prestigious guests from The Legend of Zelda series attended the festival: Eiji AONUMA, producer of many games of the series, Satoru TAKIZAWA, the artistic director of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Yusuke NAKANO, the illustrator of the "Ganon Fight". Alongside them, our manga Guest of Honor, Jun MOCHIZUKI, creator of Pandora Hearts, unveiled her new title, The Case Study of Vanitas. Traditional culture invited the attendees to discover some of its most beautiful aspects, with over a hundred performing artists and 50 arts and crafts artists exhibiting their creations at the WABI SABI area.
France and Japan were celebrating an important event: the 160th Anniversary of the establishment of their diplomatic relations. Japan Expo, which highlights every year the French passion for Japan and its culture, put this anniversary in the spotlight by honoring traditional culture more than ever and associating with the Japonismes 2018 project in partnership with Japan Fundation. The festival hosted in a taiko and shamisen concert by the musicians Kenji FURUTATE and Keisho OHNO. In all, the festival proposed 48 traditional shows performed by 210 artists, which 70 artisans come from Japan exhibited their creations at the WABI SABI area.
Another theme had pride of honor, for manga and anime fans: Space Opera. And there was much to celebrate, with the 40th anniversary of Cobra – Buichi TERASAWA’s cult manga –, the 20th anniversary of Cowboy Bebop – an anime as unique as it is inevitable –, and the reboot of Space Battleship Yamato – the first Japanese anime of the Space Opera genre –, STAR BLAZERS 2202 (Yamato). 9 guests came to meet the fans, among whom part of the team of Cowboy Bebop for an exceptional reunion.
Beyond these two themes, the 19th Impact remained faithful to its mission of sharing the most varied aspects of Japanese culture. As the festival was getting bigger by settling in the whole of hall 4, rising to 140,000 sqm, new areas were created. The Indie Video Game Village unveiled to the attendees about 30 unknown games while favoring meetings and exchanges, including thanks to its very first job forum. The tourism area welcomed about twenty booths where the attendees could discover
Japan Expo celebrated its 20th Anniversary: 20 years of passion and celebration of Japanese culture! On this occasion, the festival showed many improvements and 4 new stages on its 140,000sqm spread in 4 halls. The 20th Impact featured the brand new Tsubamé Stage, another concert stage on top of the Karasu Stage; a second Sora Stage with games, karaoke…; the Lumica Stage, dedicated to dance; and the Mikan Room, a screening room.
The Ichigo Stage got larger to offer a better visibility to the audience, was added three landings for more inventive scenography, and three screens to allow everyone to see everything. All to better enjoy the cosplay shows or the Dragon Quest Ballet with its 45 dancers on stage.
The Yuzu Stage became a real cinema theatre with a 14 meter-large screen, perfect for the premieres of the animation film Saga of Tanya the Evil –the Movie–, of the anime Vinland Saga, or of the feature film Tokyo Ghoul ’S’.
Last but not least, the Také Stage was also transformed altogether, becoming an esport stage, a new theme featured in the programming and cheered by the attendees, highlighting League of Legends, Overwatch, and SoulCalibur VI.
More than 300 guests met up to celebrate this 20th Anniversary and among them, three iconic figures of manga, anime, and J-music which were the festival Guests of Honor: Gô NAGAI, the author of Grendizer; Yoshiyuki TOMINO, the creator of Gundam, come to celebrate the 40th of the anime; and Ai OTSUKA who performed on a European Stage for the first time for the 15th anniversary of her career.