The International Otaku Expo Association (IOEA) was established on March 27, with 30 expos for enthusiasts of otaku culture across the world as its members.
I assumed the post of its executive office director, and its representative is Kazutaka Sato, who has been busy traveling across the world with me to set up the IOEA.
Its inaugural meeting was attended by organizers of 19 of the 30 expos, who unanimously brought the IOEA into being.
The 19 include Comic Market and Niconico Chokaigi, both renowned in Japan; Ani-Com & Games Hong Kong; Anime Friends in Sao Paulo; Otakon in Baltimore; Sakura-Con in Seattle; Romics in Rome; and Salon del Manga in Barcelona. The eight expos invited the others.
Later that night, a gathering was held at an izakaya pub near the meeting's venue in Chiba, with about 60 participants, who were the organizers of overseas expos and the IOEA executive office staff.
Over a shared meal and drinks, we celebrated the IOEA's inauguration. Looking at my fellow participants, I was overwhelmed with emotion. They come from different parts of the world and speak different languages, but it was obvious to everybody there that there were no national boundaries among us.
I found it interesting that the person I had known the longest among the people there was not Japanese. Her name is Sabrina, and she has organised Romics.
I was introduced to her by a diplomat at the Japanese Embassy in Rome in December 2007, when I visited the city as a lecturer sent by the Foreign Ministry.
There, I first learned about Romics, which was attracting tens of thousands of young people who love Japanese anime and manga. Today, Romics attracts more than 100,000 people.
After meeting her, I started my full-fledged pop culture diplomacy. On overseas trips for that purpose, I've met organizers of countless otaku expos and events for Japanese pop culture, which attract from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of young people.
Soon afterward, I came to have a dream of building a global network of otaku events, hoping that it may be able to help move the world in a better direction. I have a reason for the dream - I often saw people with shared values and sensibilities instantly linked with each other beyond borders at otaku events.
The Japanese pop culture boom, which can be dubbed a "second Japonism," has been expanding more and more worldwide, but the level of coordination among international otaku events or between these events and the Japanese entertainment industry was far from sufficient.
When I was thinking about what to do to improve the situation, I got acquainted with Sato. He is a core member of the Comic Market organising committee. Like me, Sato had been moved by the large number and great enthusiasm of participants in an otaku event he happened to attend overseas.
Sato and I vowed to set up an organisation to serve as a network of otaku events worldwide. With that aim, beginning in 2013, he and I began visiting the expos that eventually became the IOEA members.
"I was surprised organizers of overseas otaku events were more sympathetic to the goal of the IOEA than I had expected," Sato said. I well understand what he meant. We can't fully grasp how serious organizers of overseas events and visitors there are unless we actually are there.
Ultimately, the goal came to be supported by many otaku events across the world, leading to the IOEA's inauguration. In a word, the gathering at the pub after the inaugural meeting was an outcome of my eight years of cultural diplomacy.
When I met Sabrina in Rome, I never imagined I would eventually visit 25 countries and territories on my diplomacy missions. But this probably helped me naturally get into various otaku events around the world.
Now that the IOEA has been launched, we have to start making efforts for its fulfillment. First, I hope many more expos will become members.
Our executive office has already received many inquiries. I won't lose my initial enthusiasm toward my activity and want to steadily go forward with the IOEA.