August 16, 2008
When you die, if you've been a bad person, your soul get banished to a place where you stand in an endless line full of damp, sweaty people under a 100F sun, and you can't speak the language, and there's no guarantee of relief. 

But if you've been good, you get to pick up some great manga at the end of it. 

It's hard to describe Comikket in words. I went there looking for doujinshi and found some great stuff, despite having arrived late and getting slim pickings. You can't have your mochi and eat it, too, at Comikket: if you arrive early, you stand in line for hours under a merciless August sun with 80% humidity, but if you arrive late, you deal with hordes of people streaming out and you're little better than a tiny minnow swimming against a mighty current, with only the hope of nearly-empty tables to keep you going. In the end, you have to decide which is more important: waiting until the end and grabbing what looks interesting, or making  list (checking it twice!) and letting the crowd shuffle you along at its own pace. 

There are merits to waiting until the end of the day, however. The doujin-ka are ready to talk, generous with their time, and they really want to move some units. There's also room to move around, which is at a premium in the Tokyo Big Sight. But we also missed out on some of that special fervor that only crowded cons in full swing can generate. 

Things to Remember When You Go:

  • The stop you want is Kokusai-Tenjijo Station, on the Rinkai line. The line merges with the Saikyo (kelly green) line, which passes through major stops like Ikebukuro, Shinjuku, and Shibuya. However, it does a little loop around Ikebukuro, so it's easy to get confused. We got lost by getting on the proper line, but the wrong track. Some tracks are express, others make every stop on the local line (much like in NYC). Be careful, watch for signs, and when in doubt, ask. Train attendants are willing to help, and everyday citizens are very helpful too. (Some helpful Tokyoites sensed our confusion and helped us out without our asking.) When in doubt, look for fellow otaku by surreptitiously examining keitai (mobile phone) charms and looking for giant backpacks or rolling luggage (the better to lug massive amounts of doujinshi with).
  • Go to Cosplay Square to take pictures. Thereafter, ask the cosplayers first. (Seeing a secondary cosplay area, I thought it was okay to snap away and grabbed an awesome picture of Yoko Littner, but her friend asked me to delete it because I had not asked first. (Naturally, I complied.)
  • Take cash. Tokyo in general prefers cash to credit cards, although you can load your Suica (subway pass) card with cash and use it at specially-designated kiosks along the rail lines and in participating kombini (convenience stores) like the ubiquitous Family Mart. Either way, you'll be paying for doujinshi in cash, and most likely everything else, too. 
  • If possible, carry snacks with you. You will be hot, frustrated, and sore, and the last thing you want is low blood sugar. Load up elsewhere unless you want to spend all your time waiting in line at the am/pm in the West Hall or in front of a vending machine. Onigiri (riceballs) can be purchased almost anywhere in a variety of flavours, and they have handy plastic wrapping.
  • Bring a face cloth or a fan. Trust me.
  • Prioritize. Make a plan. Decide what you want to see first, then slog through the crowds until you can make it there. Choose a location on the Big Sight map where you will meet your friends if you get lost or separated. 
  • The other gaijin (foreigners) are not there to help you. Since I've been in Tokyo, I've heard German, French, and Spanish in addition to Japanese and Korean, with fewer Western English speakers than I would have expected. If you see foreigners at Comikket, you are equally likely to experience a language barrier. Develop a roster of useful phrases in Japanese, and toggle through them as necessary. WikiTravel has an excellent Japanese phrasebook to help you start.
I'd like to close with a special memory of Comikket 74: We were exhausted, hungry, and our feet throbbed. We hadn't brought a bag to carry all our new manga. We dreaded the long train ride back to our hotel, knowing that would be standing most of the way. Bells were chiming throughout the Big Sight. At ten minutes to closing, J-rock started blaring on the intercom system. (I recalled that the same technique had once been used on Noriega and his troops.) Stubbornly, we stuck around, determined to wring the last little bit of content out of our final minutes. Then the closing bell rang...

...and everyone clapped. 

All around us, tired-but-happy applause rose through the air. Doujin-ka, hard-working men and women of all ages, genres, and artistic abilities, lauded each other for their endurance and dedication. Some punched the air. Others cheered. 

"How did they know to do this?" my husband asked.

"I don't know," I said, "but they sure as hell deserve it."

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Comiket is one of those industrry events that truly and honestly terrify me.

Whenever I see an overhed or bird's-eye photo of the busy floorspace, I too ponder the mettle it takes (on the part of the artists) to weather something so massive.

To me, Comiket is like a myth. It's some far away land, shrouded in a cloudy mist, made famous perhaps by the legend of its very existence.

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