As I am in Japan for contracted work as an English ALT, my days have been filled with constant singalong songs and flashcard games with elementary school children, and then plopping down into bed once the workday is over. Summer vacation came as a relief and I was filled with a newfound sense of freedom and independence on how I would spend it.I could go sightseeing! I could go visit Tokyo! I could binge-watch tv shows and go to the movies and watch the anime I used to really like in high school and college!
And as I walked through the aisles of Animate in Ikebukuro, knee-deep in geek swag and manga, the thought struck me as I made for the checkout line with an armful of books and CDs in tow that this was like being in a convention hall buying up fan-made merchandise and imports.
Another thought also occurred to me: doesn’t Japan have anime conventions? Being the very source of all anime conventions where hundreds of thousands of people cosplay and mingle with their kind?
And like leaving an air-conditioned department store into the sweltering summer heat, the answer came to me immediately. Comiket awaits.
Thus began my very brief and hasty planning to go attend the biggest comic convention in Japan.
Fan conventions have been a time-honored pastime for people who have a common interest. Probably the most famous example is San Diego Comic-Con, which began as a comic book convention that now expands to include other media types like film and video games, and for anime fans, the largest anime convention in the United States is Anime Expo, whose attendance rate in 2016 had over 100,000 people going through the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That number is but a fraction compared to the 2016 Summer Comiket held at Tokyo Big Sight, which had over 530,000 attendees over a three-day period, which is among the first anime conventions established since 1975.
Comiket began in 1975 as a doujinshi fair called Comic Market, which is where artists self-produce their own comics known as doujinshi. Currently, Comiket is held biannually at the Tokyo Big Sight during the summer and winter seasons in the middle of August and at the end of December, and admission is completely free. The exact dates tend to be different, but normally summer Comiket falls around the weekend of August 15, and winter Comiket is held between December 28 and 31. Each Comiket title has a numerical standing; for example, the 2016 summer Comiket is known as Comiket 90 and the following winter Comiket is known as Comiket 91. This is handy to know since many doujinshi groups and artists who announce onto the internet what day they will attend Comiket to peddle their works, with the hashtag #C91 as a working example on Twitter for attendees and artists going to Comiket 91 back in December 29, 2016.
What NOT to do it Once Inside:
One would think that having years of anime convention experience would be sufficient enough to prepare for a trip to Comiket, and it would definitely be a leg up from having no experience at all, but thinking that Comiket would be a similar experience to Anime Expo would be going in slightly wrongheaded.1. Dress Poorly for the Weather
Summer Comiket takes place in the middle of August. This can mean either a lot of rain or a lot of sun, but it will always be hot. The real gauntlet is the humidity that is omnipresent in Japan’s summertime, and that can feel like swimming in a shower room full of steam when outside. Now, I dressed as comfortably as I could when I went to Summer Comiket 2016, wearing shorts and a t-shirt and a hat, but I never really learned to bring sweat towels or handkerchiefs around like many sensible people here. Nor an umbrella, which thankfully didn’t rain on the day I went but it is definitely something to consider.
Get comfortable shoes, as there will be lots of walking. Got nice sandals? Think again. You’ll be trudging along like cattle to the next watering hole when moving from point A to point B with the hundreds of others going to the same direction. Also think about standing in line for a table for longer than half an hour, because that will happen for really well-known artists and guests.
Also something to consider is the fact that whether inside or outside, you will be moving elbow-to-elbow with about 500,000 other attendees who move in and out of Tokyo Big Sight freely. One can be stripped down to the most socially acceptable of summer attires, but dressing comfortably will be in vain when it comes to mingling with the human masses who are feeling the summer heat as you are. Even worse than wading through a well-organized packed convention hall is being crammed into a crowded train car with everyone plus their large purchases and cosplay. Kudos to the train staff because they yell themselves hoarse in shepherding people from the gate to the train on crowded platforms that don’t have guard rails at the edges to prevent people from falling in.
Winter Comiket was more bearable in the sense that all one needed is to pile on enough clothes to withstand frigid weather, and the 500,000 attendants can work in everyone’s favor by providing enough body heat to make standing in long lines not too terrible an experience.
2. Not Keeping Your Strength Up
Do you eat regularly, get lots of sleep, and stay hydrated throughout the day? I don’t, and the consequences of that showed when going to the Summer Comiket. I skip breakfast a lot, and that’s not a great thing when rushing to the convention hall while on a crowded commute, and neither for when waiting in another line to get some convenience store pastries. Also not recommendable is skipping on sleeping hours, because the summer heat plus the constant walking are going to deplete your energy really quickly.
Hydration is also a huge thing to consider, both summer and winter. Extreme weather can really tax the body, and thinking you can go without water for an hour or more can create a thin line between a headache and heatstroke. So bring a water bottle and a snack to keep your strength up before the forthcoming food run at a convenience store. Tokyo Big Sight also has cafes and a small convenience store inside, but keep in mind that those rest areas are going to be shared with thousands of people daily so plan ahead by looking for other food and rest locations that are located outside the building to have a meal and get hydrated. Near the Kokusai-Tenjijo JR Station where the buses and taxis are located, there are some street food being sold alongside drinks and seasonal foods like shaved ice and grilled corn.
3. Not Enough Money
Fan Doujinshi weren’t the only things being sold in Comiket. Many booths also sold game demos of various genres, which included not only visual novels but also side scroller games and shoot-em-up games, and even demos for 3D action games. There are also musicians selling music demos of all genres, professional cosplayers selling photo books, digital illustrators selling stunning landscapes and character art, anthologies of fan illustrations dedicated to a singular video game or anime, and even self-published literature from many genres with whole rows of tables dedicated to historical literature and LGBT media. Many tables also sold cell phone charms, washi tapes, bookmarks, and even glass tumblers.
But all of these cost money, and most are sold using small bills and coins, so don’t think you can just saunter through the aisles with a 10,000 yen bill thinking that some artist can break it for a 300 yen booklet. Come prepared with enough money budgeted for buying your swag at Comiket, but also be mindful of taking 1000 yen bills alongside 100 and 500 yen coins. Make life easier for both you and the doujinshi artist by giving as close to exact change as possible, as you might face competition from people who also want doujinshi from an artist you like who are more prepared to snatch it away from you with a quick exchange of yen.
4. Don't Forget a Map
More accurately, know where the artists are.
Tokyo Big Sight can be divided into two sections: the expansive East Halls and the slightly small West Halls. There are also designated waiting areas for lines delegated for specific tables and booths within these halls, and it is equally important to know where they are so you can be in line for the one day when someone big, like animator Takafumi Hori of “Little Witch Academia” fame, would be selling artbooks.
One of the most important things to obtain in Comiket is the official Comiket catalogue. A gargantuan text the size of a phone book, the Comiket Catalogue lists the convention policies and rules and a map of the building. Its main purpose is to serve as a list of which doujinshi circle or individual are tabling on which day, which is often categorized by the Japanese kana writing system and a number, and by the day in which that artist is tabling during the three-day convention. The catalogue book typically cost around 2000 yen or more, depending on where one buys it. You can obtain it at bookstores, specialty stores, and directly at Comiket, but can be sold out quickly due to its limited printing.
Comiket also has company booths selling official merchandise for franchises and multimedia products, typically located in the West Halls. Why typically? Because I read it on the official Comiket webpage and that was also how I knew such a thing existed months after I attended both Summer and Winter Comikets. That’s right, like a chump I didn’t do my research properly and made a memo to myself that there are actual neat events and stuff being sold in another part of the building.
Which brings me to…
Find a way to secure an internet connection. You’re not going to get a free wi-fi spot in that building unless you got a Japanese phone carrier, and even then there’s going to be log-in pages that would confound someone who just wants a simple checkbox to get access (like me). Getting online means having access to the official Comic Market webpage for basic information like a building map where events are posted, as well as finding out which day your desired doujinshi circle artist is tabling and where they are located. There aren’t going to be maps handy, and if you missed out on getting the limited stockpile of the Comiket catalogue, you’re not going to get very far without an internet connection either.
Know the Rules
It’s always best to check what common courtesy entails in a public space such as a convention center, especially when in a foreign country. What may work for you in other anime conventions like in Anime Expo may not apply for Comic Market, and especially when misunderstandings can occur due to language barriers and what constitutes polite behavior. The most obvious rule to follow is to follow Japanese law as well as policies outlined by the Comiket Committee. These rules can be accessed in detail in the official Comiket website.
Now, it’s very tempting to take pictures of everything and every person at the convention, but always ask for permission when taking pictures of cosplay and of other attendees who may be tabling or selling merchandise. Even in designated cosplay areas where there are many people taking pictures of that really awesome cosplay or gathering, it’s always better to ask or make your intentions known in some way. Privacy issues regarding being documented via photography or video are stricter in Japan, and some individuals may take issue in being photographed even in public events like Comiket, especially when the photos could be shared online. So err on the side of caution and ask someone if they can be photographed or if they are okay in having their products being photographed as well.
Plan an Escape Route
If you think getting to Comiket is a journey, wait until you try to go home. If you go by train, as many others are doing, you’re going to be packed in as tight as the proverbial sardines in a can.
Which won’t feel very good with arms and bags full of doujinshi and art books. A very different kind of buyer’s remorse will set in on that Rinkai Line, while that excellent view of Odaiba on the Yurikamome line will be obscured by many a weary face.
The Miscellaneous Stuff
All in all, Comiket was an experience I really enjoyed. I was able to buy the doujinshi and fanart I wanted from fan domains I liked, and I was able to chat a little with the artists and bond over similar interests, proving that some things can cross the boundaries of language and country if the right catalyst is there.
Most importantly, be respectful of the patrons and vendors within the convention, including cosplayers and staff members. As it is a very large creative space, there are going to be some things you may find confusing and may be offensive to certain audiences. Just as some things are very familiar to anime conventions in the west, there are going to be a lot of different things that may be very unfamiliar. So keep an open mind and remember to find enjoyment for yourself as others do for theirs.
Further information about Comiket itself can be found on their official website
Information about this and other events Tokyo Big Sight can also be found on its official website.