BROKEN ARROW — Tokyo in Tulsa isn’t “only” moving to Broken Arrow. It’s spreading to locations all over Broken Arrow.
A celebration of Japanese culture and pop culture, Tokyo in Tulsa is a 12th-year convention that, in past years, has drawn thousands of visitors to downtown Tulsa. Instead of re-enlisting with Cox Business Center, Tokyo in Tulsa’s decision-makers took their Far East fest about 13 miles east.
Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center, 200 W. Albany St., will be the central venue for the convention, which begins Friday and continues through Sunday, but four additional Broken Arrow venues will be used for Tokyo in Tulsa activities.
“It’s a completely different format,” convention founder James Fowler said during a recent Tokyo in Tulsa tour.
“It is a format that, actually, for our type of convention, has never been done, and we are kind of liking that. We have never been known for doing the normal. While we have not been the largest anime convention in the United States, we have been very, very well-regarded, and a lot of our old programs that we have done over the years have been picked up by other events just because we decided to try something new and figured out all the logistics and then it has been copied around to other events.”
Fowler said tabletop gaming will take place at the Hilton Garden Inn, 420 W. Albany St., and console gaming will take place at XTreme Racing & Entertainment, 708 W. Kenosha St.
Main stage events like the opening ceremony, cosplay contest and fashion show will be hosted by the Broken Arrow Performing Arts Center, 701 S. Main St.
Vendors and artists? They’ll set up inside what once was a Hobby Lobby store at 720 W. New Orleans St. Fowler said a “big room” is exactly what Tokyo in Tulsa needed for a vendor hall, and the vacant store will provide 50,000 square feet of vendor/artist turf.
Tokyo in Tulsa is providing free shuttles — three regular shuttles and one wheelchair-accessible vehicle — that will run continuously between venues and an additional hotel, according to Fowler. The shuttles will run for a total of 36 hours during the course of the show.
“It’s a pretty big new expense, but I think it’s going to be well worth it,” he said.
Attendees can park for free at any of the convention venues and catch the shuttle. It is 4.3 miles from Stoney Creek to the far point (the former Hobby Lobby) of the shuttle route. Fowler estimated a shuttle will arrive at locations every 10-15 minutes but said the wait could be longer for the wheelchair-accessible shuttle.
The shuttle trips will be the start of what could be a long Tokyo in Tulsa voyage in Broken Arrow. Fowler said nothing is set in stone, but Tokyo in Tulsa is working on a five-year contract to stay in Broken Arrow. He talked about how a street festival could be part of Tokyo in Tulsa in 2020. Other new ideas could be implemented in future years, but the urgent priority was working out details for this year’s con.
“It has been kind of amazing to watch them put it all together,” said Krista Mooney-Shea, Stoney Creek Hotel & Conference Center’s director of sales.
After the move to Broken Arrow was announced, social media commenters said Tokyo in Tulsa was no longer Tokyo in Tulsa. They joked that Tokyo in Tulsa was “Tokyo Near Tulsa” or “Tokyo in Tulsa County.”
Fowler can laugh along with them. He wore a “Tokyo Near Tulsa” shirt to the site tour and said the shirts will be for sale at the convention.
But, seriously, he’s aware that some people don’t like change, whether it’s the menu at a favorite restaurant or a tweak in prime-time TV programming or the relocation of a popular convention. For those who don’t like the Tokyo in Tulsa change, Fowler urges a test drive.
“That is literally what we have been telling everybody is come check it out,” he said. “Come see it. It doesn’t cost anything just to wander from venue to venue and just see what’s going on at each of them. It just costs to get into the door.”
Anyone who buys a day pass can upgrade to a weekend pass if they want to pay the difference. And because of multiple venues, attendees can tailor a ticket to whatever venue they prefer to visit. Registration will be available at four of the five venues.
In the past, Fowler said people have wanted to buy a cosplay contest-only ticket. For the first time, that will be an option. People who want to see the cosplay contest without experiencing other parts of the show can pay $15 at the door.
The original goal when seeking a new home was to find one venue that could handle all the convention’s needs. Fowler said the idea of using multiple venues came up in talks with the Broken Arrow Convention & Visitors Bureau. He said Stoney Creek and the Hilton Garden Inn sold out within minutes after it was announced they would be Tokyo in Tulsa sites.
“I think it is going to be great for the Broken Arrow economy,” Fowler said, referencing the number of hotel rooms sold citywide and the number of people who are traveling from other states and other countries for Tokyo in Tulsa.
In addition to previously mentioned venues, Fowler said stores in Broken Arrow’s Rose District are hosting special events during the convention weekend. Panels and primary events will be at Stoney Creek because it’s Tokyo in Tulsa's ground zero.
“Broken Arrow is very excited,” Mooney-Shea said. “Stoney Creek is excited. This is literally why we were built, for this kind of event and a citywide event.”
Unveiled late in 2017, Stoney Creek is near Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow. A tour of hotel amenities included the Blind Buffalo, a 1920s-style pub equipped with a patio that could soon be populated with cosplayers. Fowler said every square inch of Stoney Creek will be used for Tokyo in Tulsa.
“And then some,” Mooney-Shea said.
People unfamiliar with Tokyo in Tulsa won’t be able to fathom what it is like until they see it, according to Fowler.
“We flooded downtown Tulsa,” he said. “There was rarely a corner you could wander around without seeing a pretty good-sized group of cosplayers. I think Broken Arrow is in for an experience. It will be a good experience.”