It’s no secret that Japan loves animation. Despite being a marginalized medium in most global markets, animation in Japan regularly tops the domestic box office, earning billions of yen for films made without movie stars and on relatively low budgets. Of Japan’s 10 highest-grossing movies ever, seven are animated.

But there’s a hitch: six of those top seven titles are homegrown. Animation produced elsewhere, aside from the occasional old-school Disney blockbuster like “Frozen,” rarely gets seen in Japan, let alone embraced by moviegoers. Like short-grain white rice and unagi (freshwater eels), when it comes to animation, most Japanese prefer their own — and there’s plenty of it.

So when I got my invitation to the inaugural Niigata International Animation Film Festival (NIAFF) in the mail last month, I was confused. Was it a showcase of Japan-produced anime for an international audience? And instead of Niigata, did they mean to write Nagoya, where attendees could sample the wonders of animation genius Hayao Miyazaki at Ghibli Park, less than an hour from town? Or did they mean Nagano, with its tourist-ready snow monkeys and ski resorts?