Ohayocon Talks About Their 2022 Return (Interview)

Photo courtesy of Jared Hightower, photo by Katie May Bae

Anime conventions, following many cancelations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, started slowly returning in 2021. And as we head into 2022, one convention that is making its return is Ohayocon, a convention based in Columbus, Ohio.

The event was last held in January 2020,  just a few months before large events like conventions started being canceled and postponed. 

So, in the lead-up to Ohayocon’s return, I got the chance to speak with Jared Hightower, Ohayocon’s director for external relations, about expectations for the event and what attendees will have to look forward to.

For those who might not know, what’s the basic history of Ohayocon? How did the convention get started?

Ohayocon started in 2001 in Cleveland, Ohio. We moved to Columbus around 2006. At one point in our early history, about half of the organization split off and formed Matsuricon. We’re good friends with them today. 

After that, ownership changed to a partnership of two people, and it has been that way since. We’ve grown a lot over the last 21 years, though I have noticed in my nine years here that our programming has diversified over time. In 2013, we had a much larger representation of anime-related programming than now. 

Today, we have a wider variety of subjects at our event, and that tracks with how our audience has changed over time. There’s something for everyone here!

As this is the first Ohayocon post-quarantine [not post-pandemic], what is the general outlook for the con? Are there any new expectations as you come back for the first time?

Well, I would definitely say we’re still in the throes of the pandemic. It is not over. But as far as Covid time goes, we’re happy we can have an event in person. It’s going to be a lot less intense, though. We don’t have the “dancing with glowsticks” events this year, and we have minimized events that require being close to others. (Though of course I have to caution that attending any large public event carries some risk.) 

I have been positively surprised that so many people still want to come out and support us even after so many event-cancelation announcements. It really is encouraging for the staff to know that our customers have our back.

As far as expectations go, please expect to wear a mask. That is a requirement.

With planning Ohayocon, there has to be a lot of excitement for the return of the convention! Does the team behind Ohayocon have anything specific that they’re most excited to see?

This year we are most excited to see our customers and each other, of course. We’ve been apart for two years now, and I can’t wait to see my old friends in person again.

The list of guests, from voice actors to cosplay guests, is quite full! What kind of panels and guest events are planned? Anything that you’d like to highlight specifically?

We have 15 special guests this year, and all of them have some great programs lined up. I recommend the Q&A sessions. Many of our guests have them, and they’re always entertaining. I think it’s great to sit and listen to them speak and tell jokes about what goes on behind the scenes and inside their minds as they work. And there’s always one attendee who asks just an out-of-left-field question that gets the whole room laughing. It’s really a good time!

I’m also excited for Oriana Perón to return. I highly recommend making time to go to her show on Saturday afternoon before the Cosplay Expo.

For attendees that might be making their first return to conventions at Ohayocon, what can they expect to see in terms of events and precautions in regard to COVID-19?

We require everyone to wear an appropriate face covering such as a mask, and everyone has to show either proof of full vaccination or a negative Covid test in order to gain admission. 

We also recommend that everyone maintain a distance of at least six feet from others. We’ve also canceled many events that involve being too close to strangers or people not part of your group.

I believe that our customers understand that some things will be different this year because of the pandemic, and that we want to go back to the better way of doing things as soon as it becomes possible to do so.

With conventions starting to come back now, what do you think the future looks like for Ohayocon?

I think the future for Ohayocon looks the same as we projected in November 2019. Our customers have impressed us with their dedication to Ohayocon even through cancelations and new Covid policies, and we’re very happy they’re continuing to spend a weekend with us every winter. We look forward to the end of the pandemic and a return to regular programming.

Any final thoughts or details that you’d be willing to share that I didn’t cover?

I would just like to thank all of the customers and volunteer staff who make this a reality. Their dedication makes this possible.

Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Ohayocon 2022 will take place from February 10 – 13, 2022.

For more information about Ohayocon, you can visit their website here. To read Ohayocon’s COVID-19 policy, see it in full here.

Are you planning to attend Ohayocon this year? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter!