Modern expo also offers traditional Japanese entertainment

Ellie Phillips

An estimated 4,000 people attended the 18th annual Japanese Art, Film, and Animation Expo, known as JAFAX, which took place June 22 – 23 on Grand Valley State University’s Allendale campus.

“The event is a function of the GVSU anime club, Otaku No Anime (ONA), in partnership with the GVSU tabletop gaming club, AltReal,” said Jonathan DeBoer, chair for the committee that organizes the event. “(JAFAX) is coordinated by a staff of 23 volunteers consisting not only of the ONA officers, and some of the club members, but other students and many alumni.”

The expo got its start in 1995 with Rob Grimes, who loved Japanese animation and wanted to share it with others in the West Michigan area. Though the first two years of the expo took place at Kendall College, the following ones have been held at GVSU.

JAFAX featured guests from the anime and manga industry, guest speakers, screenings of Japanese animation and films, game shows, contests and special rooms for video games. It also offered dance gaming and tabletop gaming where Jason Mey, a GVSU marketing senior, spent his time teaching the traditional Japanese tabletop strategy games Shogi and Go.

“Like chess and backgammon in the United States, shogi and go are not generally as popular with young people in Japan as video games and more modern forms of entertainment are,” Mey said. “At times (the festival) became hectic but overall it was a rewarding experience.”

Mey’s friend, Mike Knooihuisen, was also teaching the games and felt the same.

“These games are not exactly mainstream, so it was fun to see people get excited about them,” he said. “The biggest challenge then was constantly adjusting my play and teaching styles to match the skill level of the different people I was working with.”

Mey said trying to find space for everyone was a challenge, and that next year’s event coordinators will try to have multiple rooms for tabletop gaming. He also said that watching new players learn the games was the most enjoyable part of the weekend for him.

“About twenty wanted to come and learn it for the first time,” Mey said. “It’s always fun to see beginners playing strategy games because it brings you back to when you first learned it. You remember the kind of mistakes you used to make and how you didn’t used to notice certain moves.”

When the GVSU Go and Chess club was contacted by the festival staff asking for someone to come teach the games, Mey decided to sign up. Mey has played Go since middle school, where he joined the school’s Go Club on the recommendation of a friend. When he arrived at GVSU, he joined the GVSU club and learned Shogi earlier this year.

“I love that it is elegant and simple, but at the same time contains a great depth of strategy,” he said. “Whole books can be written on individual facets of the game, while it only took a few minutes to give a complete overview of the rules.”

Go is based on gaining territory and capturing stones, and is played with black and white stones placed on the intersections of lines on a grid-covered board. Shogi is a variant of chess, wherein each player has 20 pieces and the board has 81 squares.

“I really enjoy teaching others in general,” Mey said. “When it comes to teaching Go and Shogi, because not very many people play the game in the U.S., teaching people means there are more people I can play with.”

Mey recommends that anyone who enjoys anime, manga, cosplay or gaming attend the festival next year, which is always held the weekend after Father’s Day.

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