Our visiting Japanese reporter shares her thoughts on the Spanish capital’s tribute to Japanese culture in its various forms.

Our Japanese-language reporter Ikuna Kamezawa describes herself as someone who’s “not at home for half the year” due to her enthusiasm for travel. While the pandemic made that hobby difficult for a while, she recently secured her vaccine passport and subsequently jetted off to Spain. While it’s not her first time in the country, this time she’s been surprised by the number of Japanese-language shirts and other gear she’s spotted Spaniards wearing. Her heart has been continuously filled with gratitude for those who love her home country.

That feeling of gratitude was no better encapsulated than at the recent Japan Weekend event held from September 25-26 in Madrid that she attended. While the event itself happens fairly regularly in various regions throughout Spain, the Madrid one has been the largest so far in terms of attendance, with 10,000 attendees. In Ikuna’s own words, she “was able to experience a kind of chaos that she had never seen before in her whole life” and would now like to share her visit with the world.

On the morning of her visit, she had to take the metro to get there since the venue, IFEMA Madrid, is a bit outside of the city center. Ordinarily riding an unknown metro system would have made her nervous…

…if not for the throngs of cosplayers waiting to get on at every station along the way. She relaxed by realizing that she could simply follow the otaku all the way to her destination.

IFEMA Madrid has the capacity to hold multiple large and small events all at once on the same day, which is somewhat similar to Tokyo Big Sight, the home of summer and winter Comiket in Japan. She definitely noticed some similarities regarding the scale of the venues.

After a strict precautionary temperature check she was allowed inside.

And what sight greeted her but otaku upon otaku!

Otaku were everywhere!

There were seriously otaku coming out of otakus’ ears! She would have never guessed that so many lovers of Japanese popular culture would emerge from the corners of Madrid.

It’s hard to convey in photographs, but the overall event space was actually broken into smaller sections. Ikuna estimated that it would take nearly two hours to walk around to all of the booths, even at a brisk pace.

The first area she saw as she walked around was a designated T-shirt space, including mostly anime and manga-themed designs.

Some of them also gave off a distinctly non-Japanese vibe.

The vendors themselves didn’t particularly seem to be fellow fans of anime or manga.

There were even a few Titanic fashion models that we never thought would join the world of fine couture.

Here was a stall selling outfits that resembled sailor-style school uniforms or even specific getups seen in anime (is that green one Kagome Higurashi’s uniform in Inuyasha, for instance?).

Ikuna took a moment to appreciate some of the “profound” Japanese found on attenders’ apparel. She would never get tired of checking out clothing.

In other spots, Japanese snacks were being sold at some dubious prices.

One of her more intriguing finds she was the “Mysterious Bags” being sold for 10 euros (US$11.60) that resembled the lucky bags sold in Japan around New Year’s. They came in different themed packages including anime, Studio Ghibli, and even yaoi.

Also on full display were trading cards and retro games.

She mused that there was definitely a hidden treasure waiting for someone in all of that.

Surrounding the dealers room were a few itasha, including this one paying tribute to My Hero Academia and a motorcycle featuring Rei Ayanami.

In addition, there were plenty of discussion panels and seminars going on, but Ikuna unfortunately couldn’t understand anything that was being said in Spanish.

Japan weekend really had something for everyone. She also found an e-sports corner and drawing skills lessons.

In a somewhat confusing turn, a gaggle of guests was dancing to K-Pop music blasting from some speakers. Ikuna figured that there was probably some overlap between fans of Japanese and Korean pop culture because the booths selling Korean celebrity goods were also quite busy.

Even in other spots throughout the venue, the otaku would occasionally burst into song or dance. Ikuna didn’t think that Japanese otaku would be prone to do this kind of thing in public so she applauded their enthusiasm. In particular, a large crowd had gathered outside an anime song booth and broke into a chorus of anime songs in Japanese. It was at this point that Ikuna almost burst into tears–one of her weaknesses is foreigners who loved Japanese culture in all forms.

A sample of Attack on Titan‘s second opening theme song


After emotionally exhausting herself she decided that it was time to take a little break in the food corner. There was a long line stemming from a station selling Japanese food.

She was amused to find a cardboard cutout of a Japanese vending machine (sans actual drinks).

According to the menu, instant ramen cost 6 euro, takoyaki cost 5 euro, and taiyaki cost 2 euro, among other things. She decided to spring for the dorayaki endorsed by everyone’s favorite blue robot cat from the future, Doraemon.

Huh? Her first impression was that it more resembled a couple of stacked pancakes with filling more than anything else. Regardless of its name, she was super happy to be able to have anko [red bean paste] for the first time in a while.

…Sadly, it turned out to have chocolate on the inside.

As she left the dealers area she was hit more and more strongly by a sense of déjà vu. It really felt like being at Comiket in Japan.

Artists were selling their own products derived from their favorite works.

Rather than dojinshi, or fan-produced manga, as the main focus, however, there were other kinds of goods such as stuffed animals, accessories, and practical things for daily life. She was tickled to see some very young children making purchases of things with their favorite characters on them.

Everyone’s riding that Demon Slayer: Infinity Train

She was impressed by the high quality of the artwork and crafts she found at every booth…

…and the adorableness of some of the artists.

One last thing that Ikuna would like to highlight about Japan Weekend was its variety of cultural performances, including a karate demonstration by some Spanish attendees.

Her favorite turned out to be the taiko performance-she was spellbound. The audience was soon clapping along to the group’s short chants in Japanese such as “wasshoi!” and “so-re!” as they were drumming.

As she watched the performers, she noticed that one of them appeared to be distinctly Japanese. His mere presence gave off a sense of polished refinement, so she wondered if he were some big name in the world of taiko and had been invited as a special guest.

Eek! They made eye contact!

As it turned out, her hunch was indeed correct. However, Iwao Ikenoya wasn’t a special guest flown in from Japan but has been a resident of Madrid for roughly 40 years. He also works as a local actor at times, as seen in this following compilation video. That must be why he gave off such a professional presence.

Iwao was born in a small town in Saitama Prefecture. Sixty years ago, when neighboring houses in such mountainous villages were spread far apart, the only way to signal the start of a festival was by taiko. That’s when he fell in love with the instrument and began pursuing song composition as a hobby.

The Doukou Taiko group, which Iwao oversees, currently has about 16 members. He commented that sometimes Spaniards think that the traditional repetitive taiko rhythms are a bit noisy. Therefore, he’s always exploring ways to compose fun, interesting, and short routines that everyone will enjoy.

All in all, after experiencing some cultural aspects of her home country from a foreign perspective, Ikuna has gained a renewed appreciation of her culture. For her remaining time in Spain, she’ll continue checking out the Spanish ramen scene.

All images © SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!
[ Read in Japanese ]