The Ohayocon anime convention, playing off of the name "Ohio" and the Japanese word for "good morning," was held on January 30th, 2015. Image: Canvass.

Japanese Pop Culture Celebrated Across Ohio


Ohio’s robust cultural exchange with Japan is evident from things like sister cities and exchange programs, but now a less mainstream form of exchange is gaining popularity in the state – Japanese animation conventions. Ohio hosted its first anime convention of the year over three days in late January in Columbus. The event featured a series of discussions on recent anime and manga series, contests, and photo shoots. In the coming months, Ohio will host nine more anime conventions in the cities of Akron, Bowling Green, Columbus, Oregon, Sandusky, Toledo, and West Portsmouth.

Anime is a form of animation originating in Japan, covering themes of romance, fantasy, and action. The unique styles of characters and graphics set Japanese anime apart from American cartoons and animation. It has had a significant impact in the US in recent years, and is increasingly referenced in American popular culture.

The great number of anime conventions held in Ohio reflects the state’s strong cultural links with Japan. Ohio has a total of 15 sister cities with Japan, including a 37 year relationship between Cincinnati and Gifu, in Gifu Prefecture. These relationships have led to several bilateral visits and cultural exchanges between Japan and Ohio over the years. Worthington has a sister city with Sayama, Saitama Prefecture, and has sent multiple students on youth art exchanges to increase cultural awareness. Bilateral student exchanges have also occurred between Toledo and Toyohashi, in Achi Prefecture.

At the time of the last Census, there were 16,995 Ohioans of Japanese ancestry. The state also has 29 colleges with Japanese courses, and 2,689 Ohioan students study Japanese. Anime may have contributed to this large interest in the language, as many episodes contain common, untranslated terms that pique the curiosity of young viewers.

Ohio’s economic ties to Japan are also significant, as the state hosts several Japanese car manufacturing plants, including a major R&D Center for Honda. Honda has manufactured cars in Ohio since 1982, and currently has 11 plants in six cities across the state, employing a total of 13,700 people.

Between these growing cultural linkages and deep economic ties, the Ohio-Japan bond clearly runs deep.

Doris Xu is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney.