The ninth annual gathering for local anime and manga fans will continue through Sunday and is expected to draw more than 20,000 people this year, said San Japan Community Relations Director David Ramirez. Over the years, the event has grown dramatically. At its 2008 debut, the three-day event drew a crowd of 3,500 and attracted more than 18,000 people last year.
“Every single year, before we plan with the hotels, we’re looking far out with the convention center to see which dates work best,” Ramirez said.
Turns out this year, Labor Day weekend was the best time for San Japan. The event is tentatively scheduled to take place at the convention center every Labor Day weekend through 2020.
This year also marks San Japan’s first foray into the newly expanded part of the convention center. The $325 million expansion, unveiled last January, increased the convention center’s total physical footprint to 1.6 million sq. ft.
San Japan organizers are using the new, flexible space to their advantage. There will even be programming along the River Walk, at the street level, and on the second and third floors of the convention center.
“We’re having more gaming arcades, more machines, and more fashion with three Japanese designers using different runways to display their fashions,” Ramirez said. “We’ve got more voice actors and artists coming. We’re growing with the growth of the convention center.”
San Japan 009 the first anime convention for Kristina Elle, who was standing in front of a display not far from the registration booths. She will be modeling in Japanese brand Galaxxxy’s fashion show on Saturday.
“I’m excited about that,” Elle said. “I love everybody’s cosplay, and everyone has been really nice.”
In order to ensure a smooth flow of pedestrian traffic among the convention center and the two hotels, organizers erected additional event signage.
Attendees such as Steven Ratliff said they did not mind the new look or feel of the convention center. Their focus is on enjoying the event.
“This is my third San Japan,” he said. “Every year it gets better and cooler. I’m looking forward to next year.”
Ramirez did not immediately have early attendance figures or numbers outlining San Japan’s economic impact on San Antonio, but described the event organization as “an altruistic LLC,” with admission and exhibition fees that go back into producing future shows.
(Read more: San Japan: Big Business for San Antonio)
“But because of the show, we’re looking at the booking of 2,000 to 3,000 room nights at the two hotels and Marriott Rivercenter, and another 1,000 room nights at other downtown hotels,” Ramirez said. “Then you factor in people going to restaurants, shopping, and taking taxis.”
Ramirez said that a big reason for San Japan’s success is that it stays true to its roots.
“The event is really sincere about itself,” Ramirez said. “We’re part of the fan community. All of us are essentially from Texas. This is our hobby and passion.”
Top image: Steven Ratliff cosplays at San Japan 009 at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center on Friday, Sept. 2, 2016. Photo by Edmond Ortiz