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Anime Key Player Interview #10
Ray Chiang, CEO of SPJA, organizers of an anime convention in USA, Anime Expo Part.1

2019.06.04


We had the honor of interviewing Mr. Ray Chiang, Chief Executive Officer of Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation (SPJA), which organizes Anime Expo, the largest anime convention in North America. Anime Expo has been getting bigger year by year since its birth in 1991, and it gathers over 110 thousand participants nowadays. We had a conversation with Mr. Chiang and talked about himself, the convention and the future.


Thank you for your valuable time.

Thank you for having us.


Please tell us about yourself.

My name is Ray Chiang and I’m the CEO of SPJA. I’ve been in the company for about almost ten years and it’s been an amazing ride, working with amazing staff that we have, and the industry. It’s been a very, very good ride.


Where were you born?

I was born in Taiwan. I went to the United States when I was about 7 years old and I’ve been there ever since.


Do you have any siblings?

Yes, I’m the youngest of the three. I have an older sister and an older brother. We all as a family immigrated to the US back in the mid ‘80s.


Is your family familiar with Japanese culture or Japanese contents?

Well, surprisingly my father actually speaks Japanese, but I don’t. They were native Taiwanese, but my father actually went to school and learned Japanese, but he never translated to the kids. (laughs)


Could you tell us about your career after school?

After college, I got into commercial real estate in the United States. I was in the commercial real estate in development and management for an international company called Westfield. After I resigned in 2009, I was brought into SPJA as a consultant, and that’s how this career, a new career started for me.


What made you choose SPJA?

It was my former mentor who I used to work with in Westfield who brought me in to help them. He was also the former CEO of SPJA. He brought me in and he worked there for a little bit and I just stayed at SPJA.
 

©SPJA


At the beginning of your career at SPJA, what were you in charge of?

Mainly the operation and the administration side of things. The operation side would be running the actual convention, the logistics, the pipe and drapes, working with exhibitors to get the booths set up, and administration side consisted of all the paperwork back in the office.


Going back to your childhood, when did you start getting interested in Japanese culture or anime?

When I was in Taiwan, I was about five or six, and my gateway to manga was Doraemon when I was a kid. Loved it. Since we moved to the United States, anime and manga were very hard to come by. In the States, it was the cartoons: GI Joe, Transformers, The Smurfs. There wasn’t a lot of Japanese animation or anime or manga or access to manga back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. After that I became more interested in manga. I borrowed manga from my friends, and Dragonball was my second gateway to the anime and manga world.


It’s the same for everyone in your generation.

I think so, too. (laughs)


Do you have any interesting memories of Japanese anime? Please tell us about your experience in childhood.

- Going back to Doraemon, it was so interesting to see these magical things and pulling out stuff from the pocket, it was quite an experience when I was a kid. Then when I got to the United States and started borrowing manga from friends, I got hooked on it because you got to wait until the next month or the next episode or the next subscription to come out. I was a little older, about eight or nine, so I was a little bit more interested in the Dragonball series. Going a little further than that, I think it was in junior high or high school when Slam Dunk came out, and growing up in the United States, basketball was a big thing so I read Slam Dunk and the characters correlated with the NBA players for that particular generation, like Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing. That’s how I really got hooked into Slam Dunk as well.


How old are you, by the way?

I just turned forty a few months ago. I still reread the manga.


Aside from anime, do you remember any Japanese content that you experienced during your childhood?

Games, yes. We were introduced to Nintendo as a kid and I was probably eight or nine when I got my first Nintendo console. My parents didn’t buy me any games so the only game that we got to play was Super Mario back in the days. As I got older, we were slowly introduced to other games: the different versions of Super Mario and then I got really hooked on Street Fighter of Capcom. It was a very big thing back then.


At present, is there any anime or anisong that you’re personally interested in?

Since our employees have been talking about Attack on Titan many years ago, I’ve been following that. I like it a lot. I use my free time at nighttime to catch up on my anime, after my daughter goes to sleep. That’s pretty much the only thing that I actually watch at nighttime right now.
 

Photo: Anisong World Matsuri


Next: Ray Ching Interview Part.2 will be published on 11 June, 2019!
 

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