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The Marketplace of Fun and Imagination

Comic Market is the world’s largest marketplace for doujinshi, or fan comics. Held annually every winter and summer, the event draws over half a million attendees per session, and the international composition of its visitors is a testament to its mass success, and its status as a social phenomenon.

Launched in 1975, Comic Market (popularly known as “Comiket”) celebrated its fortieth anniversary last year. The three-day event currently draws over 500,000 visitors, approximately 35,000 participating “circles” (or groups of creators), and over 20,000 cosplayers. Comiket has grown into such a landmark event that additional trains are put into operation near the convention venue while Comiket is in session.

Comiket was originally designed to showcase doujinshi, which are comics self-published by fans that focus on manga, anime, video games and other genres of entertainment. As the manga and anime boom went global, the event began to draw participants from overseas, and ever-more-elaborately costumed cosplayers flocked to the convention floor. As Comiket grew in popularity, the number of companies sponsoring booths skyrocketed, with approximately 140 today. The enthusiasm and bustle at the Tokyo International Exhibition Center (Tokyo Big Sight), home to Comiket in recent years, has even drawn attention from TV news programs.

At the same time, the sight of tens of thousands of Comiket participants lining up calmly and neatly to enter the venue—thanks in part to the Comiket staff’s smooth management—inspires wonder in both domestic and overseas attendees as “one of those miracles you can only find in Japan.”

“No one is a guest at Comiket,” explains Comic Market Committee co-representative Koichi Ichikawa. “The core staff, our 3,200 volunteer staff members, the participants—we’re all doujinshi fans on the same level. Every one of us makes a personal commitment to mind our manners so that everyone can enjoy Comiket and help make it a success. Our volunteer staff carefully works out fine-tuned schedules for admitting attendees to the venue, and as a result I’m proud to say that Comiket has not experienced a single accident with major injuries to this day. Our skills at managing large-scale operations stem from our forty years of experience as doujinshi fans in Japan.”

As a prominent subculture event, Comiket now regularly receives requests for inspection and cooperation from government offices and universities. There have been, however, challenges to overcome during its four decades; Comiket officials have had to tackle safety issues that came along with the event’s dramatic expansion as well as questions over the presence of potentially “harmful” comics, for example. Despite that, “the event has become more popular and has grown so much as the years have gone by,” reflects public relations chief Naoki Satomi. “There have been huge booms in manga and anime, such as with Space Battleship Yamato, Mobile Suit Gundam, Captain Tsubasa and Sailor Moon, and with these booms come passionate fans who want to seek out other fans and a community—something that hasn’t changed to this day.”

In the nineties, the convention established an international team to support attendees from overseas. “We believe we get several thousand [overseas participants] per day now,” Satomi says.

“Doujinshi events in Thailand are really small in scale, so it was a dream of mine to someday participate in the real Comiket in Japan,” says Supavita Cherdchoovanit, a female fan from Thailand who has lived in Japan for a year and a half and has been participating since the 2015 summer Comiket. “The number of people here is way beyond what I imagined, and all the doujinshi I wanted were sold out. But I’ve discovered some other really interesting doujinshi. I’d like to participate in every Comiket held while I’m still in Japan.” Ichikawa smiles and comments, “When we hear from those living locally or abroad that ‘I’ve wanted to go to Comiket all my life,’ it just touches our hearts.”

Contrary to popular perception, a great number of female fans take part in the event.
“The Comiket ideal is a venue where all forms of expression are received with an open mind—where everyone, pros and amateurs alike—comes together to express themselves and constantly generate a wide variety of creations,” Satomi notes. “We’d like to use this kind of ‘soft power’ to instill an interest in and identification with Japan, and increase the number of people in other countries who are fond of our nation. Our goal is to strengthen our overseas relationships.”

In line with that goal, Comiket is promoting engagement with the activities of the International Otaku Expo Association to deepen its ties with overseas subculture events. “Our ultimate objective,” states Ichikawa, “is ‘world peace through comic fans’—to create good friends across national borders through manga, and perhaps eliminate conflict. This is our hobby, after all—so we’re serious about it!”