I have recently returned from Japan BrickFest 2018. The fourth Kobe Fan Weekend took place on Rokko Island, in the port city of Kobe, near Osaka and Kyoto (Just as Geelong is near Melbourne, but with more frequent trains). Organised by Edwin Knight, and members of the Kansai LEGO Users Group (KLUG), this event is a LEGO® hub event for Asia. Exhibitor’s attended from all over the world – predominantly countries around Asia, but the USA and Australia were also represented.
I arrived on Friday afternoon and set up in one of the two gymnasiums used for the display, accompanied by the majority of builders visiting from overseas. We shared the space with the Great Ball Contraption, a brick built monorail and a train layout. LEGOLAND Japan had a display, and there was also an area to get your hands on some bricks and just build! The other gymnasium had many exhibitors from around Japan, and a theatre had larger scale models from members of the Kansai LEGO Users Group.
I had taken my NEXO Classic Spaceships. [imagine the 1978-79 Classic Space Sets built with NEXO Knights elements and colours] This was the third time I had displayed them this year, but the first time they had travelled more than 1000 km from home. ….I set about the task of discovering how my models had survived at the hands of international baggage handlers, as well as myself bouncing between multiple railway stations.
I set up my terrain and installed the lighting. Everyone I met was extremely friendly, offering words of encouragement as my various models were unwrapped in more pieces than I remembered them being in when I wrapped them up.
In the name of ergonomics, I would get up and walk around for a few minutes between rebuilds. In real life I would steal the chance to look around some of the other exhibits in the hall: Mechs were gathering next to me, tanks behind me and next to me, beside me, were some amazing bricks that opened and unfolded, and played air guitar. In between were an amazing array of characters.
Character builds dominated the exhibition halls: some were BrickHeadz, many were not. Unfortunately, I had no idea who many of them were. Some were from manga and anime, others from history and video games. Some I suspect were from real life. There was a remarkable level of attention to detail for relatively small models, and I think there are a number of factors which contribute to this.
I had the good fortune to be sharing a small compound with Mech Master Lu Sim and other members of PhLUG; and some exhibitors from Taiwan, including the amazing folding constructions of Will Ho and Chris Yu’s Neo Classic Space Moon Base.
Let me digress: at Australian shows that I have attended, it is common for an individual’s exhibits to spread out a little: it is not uncommon for one or two people to set up their own town display, spreading out over several tables. If you live in a three bedroom house, it is easy to give a large exhibit a trial run, with only occasional loss of major items of furniture such as the dining room table, or the living room floor. In many large Asian cities, I suspect space is a premium. You cannot spread your MOCs out over the house if you wish to carry out some of life’s essential activities such as eat, sleep and wash. And it became apparent that many models produced were more compact that those we might see at local shows. Speaking to William Wong, a LEGO train builder from Hong Kong, “My workshop is smaller, and so I am now working on trains which are three or four studs wide…sometimes the 4 stud wide trains have a proper interior and can take a minifigure”.
As well as smaller layouts, many MOCs I saw were character based – not necessarily in a BrickHeadz style, but perhaps a similar scale; mecha and giant robots were plentiful; and outstanding Bionicle creations – larger and more dynamic than I had ever seen before. Rather than spreading out, these were spreading up! The majority of landscapes or buildings were based over a baseplate or two, rather than a couple of tables, although there were a couple of models and latest on display that could certainly be described as ‘Just a little bit epic’.
One of the things that was a bit different to shows I had attended in Australia is the labelling of displays: We often have a MOC Card – a display card with such details as the name of the builder, the MOC and part count. There was no formal process for this at Japan BrickFest. Many builders brought their own, but they were just as likely to have a business card or postcard, with a photograph of their MOC on, and a link to high quality images of their MOCs in online galleries. As I go through my photos now, I might have missed actual information regarding the builder in my photos: however much of the information information about builders and their models is close at hand.The other advantage of this is that the visitor does not have to spend their time at the show taking lots of substandard, poorly lit ( and indeed, slightly green tinted) photos as they walk round: I have better quality images of many pictures than I could hope to take in the exhibition setting, and instead get to concentrate on talking to the model builders themselves.
Jacky Chen, a member of the AFOL Engagement team based in China, had a meeting with Ambassadors for the Recognised LEGO User Groups and Recognised LEGO Fan Media in attendance. It was a terrific opportunity to meet representatives of LUGs from around the world, as well as renew friendships with people I had met previously. We discussed the focus of some of the LUGs represented, as well as plans for the near future. A particular highlight for me was to catch up with You-Tubers Joshua and John Hanlon from Beyond the Brick, as well as Jun Weng from Brickfinder.net, to discuss life as LEGO Fan Media.
On Saturday morning, things got started!
During the weekend, a number of workshops were run for registered exhibitors: a great ball contraption workshop, run by Akiyuki; a ‘Cute Model’ workshop run by Sachiko Akinaga; Mecha Building, with Lu Sim (Messyworks) and Sculpture Building with Schneider Cheung.
There were also speakers from the LEGO Group: Stuart Harris, responsible for the design of the visitor experience the LEGO House in Billund, spoke about his work with the LEGO Group, and also presented the video about the development of the LEGO House, which is available on Netflix from June 15th, 2018.
Frédéric Roland Andre, a senior designer with the LEGO Group was also present. Fred has worked on NEXO Knights, Ninjago, Galaxy Squad and LEGO Star Wars themes, amongst others over the years. Having lived in Japan for a number of years, he has a reasonable working knowledge of Japanese Language, which was helpful in discussions with local builders.
During the Exhibition days, there were opportunities for members of the public to join in as well, with construction of a mosaic, a Stamp Rally and the Brickmaster Competition – a building competition, with a family stay at the recently opened LEGOLand Hotel in Nagoya up for grabs. Another highlight was a traditional Japanese Drumming Workshop, and the House Band, the Ofuromates, providing tunes for the public to enjoy as they wandered between exhibition halls.rWhile most of the visitors to the exhibition spoke limited English, I certainly met a few with whom I could have greater conversation about my MOC. The time is coming to level up and improve my use of languages that are not English. When a few children looked at my model with eyes wide open, and draged their parents over, I was reminded of what it was all about: sharing the joy of the brick, with people from around the world.
Specifically for the AFOL’s in attendance, there was a function on Saturday night: Dinner, Stop motion Movie festival, unveiling the event kit (which you can see at the top of this post) and a trivia quiz. With questions ranging from ‘name that minifigure’ – always exciting when the designer of the set in question is on one team, to ‘What colour is the sign on Fort Legorado?’ a great time was had by those participating. I had the good fortune to be on the winning team along with CK Tsang from HKLUG, Josh Hanlon from Beyond the Brick. I have been accused of being a little too trivial in the past. Occasionally it can pay off! Our next challenge was to work out the best way to transport this set back to out home countries.
[Fun Fact, half of the volume of the box for 31069 is in fact air. Contents may have settled during shipping, but it provided lots of useful space for transporting other purchases home, with a small degree of protection. But does this mean there has been a slight turnaround on the ‘package volume reduction policy’ announced a few years ago?]
Sunday provided another day of public attendance, workshops and great company. We would take the opportunity where we could to look at other exhibits around the event. There were so many fantastic MOCs to see at the event, that I will only post a few highlights now, and there shall be further posts in coming weeks highlighting specific build genres.
The lemur and rabbit here are from the collection of Machine Creature MOCs by Mitsuro Nikaido, The Red Whiskered Bulbul and Cormorant were made by Bryan To, as part of a series of the Wild Birds of Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I have not yet been able to identify the builder of the owl family, or the tiger. Can you help?
Building with Character
Did you ever wonder about what was inside a BrickHeadz Figure? Rokan Cheung shows us! That is not Samurai-Mech Snoopy, it is Yatter-Wan, a Mech from a 1970’s anime built by Tohru Shioda. Tinker bell in the lantern was a build by Jae Won Lee; Fry and Captain Picard were brought from the USA by Philip Thorne, Stitch by Will Ho; Olaf, Anna and Elsa Brickheadz by Samuel Ho, Green Alien by Herbert Lee (Hong Kong), Athena from the Anime Sait Seiya by Benjamin Fong.
Amidala, by Ian Wen, looks pretty serene sitting on her throne, but as you examine the plinth more closely, you can see some incredible detail built in!
But that’s not all!
There were lots of other great MOCs: Trains, Buildings, Spaceships and Mechs. I shall feature some of these over the next few weeks. If you can’t wait, you can find them on Flickr. I am still looking for some creator names: if you recognise a MOC, and know who built it, please feel free to name names, tag the picture or message me.
Finally, the weekend came to an end: we took the group shot – drone powered, packed up our models and said our final farewells. This was an amazing experience for me: cultural immersion, in close to the same timezone, surrounded by people from around the world with a love of the Brick. I must congratulate Edwin and Miki Knight, and other members of the Kansai LEGO Users group for putting on an amazing event which has been growing every year. Special thanks to Nathan as well as Edwin and Miki for their kind hospitality while I was attending JBF2018. To the new friends I made: I look forward to meeting you again in the future.
For those thinking of attending, next year’s Japan BrickFest will be held on June 8-9, 2019. Registration opens in December, maybe a little sooner: check out the Japan BrickFest Website for details. June is the rainy season in the Kobe/Osaka region. Umbrellas can be purchased for around 600 Yen, from most convenience stores. There are good hotels within an easy walk from the venue. If you are arriving or leaving by Shinkasen (Bullet train) there is a bus that runs from ShinKobe Station to the Sheraton Plaza, which is about five to ten minutes walk from the venue. There is also an elevated train line to Rokko Island – the venue is an easy walk.
If you live in Australia, we have seen cheap flights to Japan become available around February in recent years. This is not a guarantee that it will happen again in the future, but I certainly received a good deal.
Travelling to Japan with a case full of LEGO is not without its special challenges, but was immensely satisfying. The feedback I received from both the general public and fellow exhibitors was universally supportive. This is a fun event, demonstrating a diverse range of building styles, and many warm, friendly people. Being in a similar time zone to home (only one hour behind Melbourne), jet lag was not a significant problem. I would recommend it, especially if travelling from Asia, Australia or New Zealand.
Where would you love to be able to travel to to share your Love of the Brick? Denmark? Europe? One of the big US Conventions? Australia? Asia? Why not share your thoughts in the comments below.
Until Next time,