While the Henry B. González Convention Center has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, a virtual version was recreated to host part of San Japan, San Antonio’s annual anime and gaming convention. 

The convention center was built on the world-building video game Minecraft by the San Antonio Phantoms, a local Minecraft building organization, so virtual attendees can experience some of the event panels and contests “in person.”

Last year, San Japan had around 20,000 attendees, so hosting the event in-person wasn’t viable, said S. David Ramirez, who has been coordinating the event since its inception in 2007.

“San Antonio is a phenomenal scene for anime and Japanese culture, so we have a really strong local community that came together to make this year’s event happen.”

Hundreds meander through the Artist's Alley section of San Japan.
Hundreds meander through the Artist’s Alley section of San Japan in 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Ramirez said he was approached by the San Antonio Phantoms Minecraft building group about building the entire convention center and parts of Hemisfair and the River Walk, so he connected with the City of San Antonio to get blueprints, 360-degree views of the area, and the data needed to help them create an accurate model. 

Nearly 90 percent of San Japan happens in this fashion when it’s held in person, Ramirez said. Attendees and volunteers connect with the organizers and pitch ideas for contests and panels which they then host, resulting in an event that is driven by the community, as opposed to the industry like similar events such as Comic Con. 

In addition to Minecraft, the event is also using Facebook Live and livestream platform Twitch, to host its events, which will include a cosplay contest, electronic dance parties, and interactive panels. 

A three-day ticket to San Japan would normally set attendees back just under $80, but this year’s events are free, save for the cost of Minecraft, which can run from $10 to $30 depending on which version you get, Ramirez said. 

This year’s San Japan will also be extended throughout the entire month of September because there are a lot of virtual anime conventions going on at the same time in California and Georgia, and the San Antonio community didn’t want make people choose between which events to attend. 

“When it’s an in-person event you have to choose because you can’t be three places at the same time, but when we’re doing virtual technology, why not have your cake and eat it, too?” Ramirez said.

San Japan organizers are also hosting the convention’s charity auction and fundraiser virtually this year, with proceeds going to the San Antonio Food Bank, organizer Mark Adams said. Donations will be accepted online via the livestream platforms and every hour, a prize from animation company Funimation will be auctioned off.

Each year San Japan tries to pick the charity most in need at the time, which is why the Food Bank was chosen, Adams said. “Looking at the landscape and what people are going through right now, it seemed like the best option.”

Find more information on how to attend this year’s convention and a schedule of events here.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.