Oniko's Travel Diary:
The Three Mountains

(August 5-31, 1998)

Return to Oniko Goes To Japan


Friday August 14th, 1998
I didn't get up quite as early as I hoped, but I did get to Ikebukuro by about 9:30am (it's about a half-hour trip, all told). Lucky me, the ATM was working. It only allows me up to 50,000 yen a day, which is fine for now; but I'm going to have to spend a few days building up a cash supply before I travel away from Tokyo because I don't know if I'll find anywhere to get cash after I leave. Of course, I could just stay in Tokyo, but where's the fun in that?
Because I was running late and I needed to cover new ground to find the Comic Market convention, I decided to give Tokyo ward a miss today -- I'll check it out tomorrow morning instead. I did pick up a couple of comics I wanted at a comic shop called Toranoana before I left Ikebukuro. Yeah, yeah, I know... I'm buying comics before heading to a comic convention; I'm incurable.
There appeared to be a couple of ways to get to the area the convention was at... the route I choose took me back onto the JR rail line I'd just been on, and past Tokyo Ward to Shimbashi ward. I've never been in Shimbashi, and I really didn't get to see much of it other than a city area that looks like every other city area I've seen, with the exception of what appears to be a gigantic green park; I'll definitely take time to visit that Sunday morning on the way back to the convention.

The monorail station at Kokusaitenjijouseimon.

The other interesting thing about Shimbashi, and the reason I chose this route, was that it was the terminal end for one of Tokyo's few monorail systems, and this one in particular heads straight for the Tokyo Big Sight, the location of the convention. The monorail was crowded;
very crowded. I could barely see out the window for most of the short trip... but what I saw was strange.
The Tokyo Big Sight is located on a man-made island in the middle of Tokyo Bay, and this whole island appears to be for tourists only -- both foreign and native. There are many BIG, BIG buildings of such a strange variety, that the place looks a bit like an architect's acid trip come to life... and most of these buildings were separated by huge empty plains that, undoubtedly, will be turned into more of the same weird construction at some point. The Tokyo Big Sight itself is at Kokusaitenjijouseimon station -- which was a mouthful even for the monorail driver who goes there daily. The convention center was in walking distance from the station and sports statues of a gigantic saw and hammer. [UPDATE 1999: for those of you who were watching the Digimon cartoon series recently translated to English, the Big Sight convention center, complete with its saw and hammer, is the location of the major end fight between the heroes and a bad guy called "Myotismon"... just so you know.]

Tokyo Big Sight convention center.

The Big Sight convention center is terrifyingly gigantic... just looking at it was intimidating. And a quick question confirmed my fears; the line in front of me -- at least a couple thousand people -- was indeed the line entering the convention center. I got in line, certain that it would be a half-hour wait at least, only to discover that the line was moving pretty fast; the convention center was nowhere near its limits. Towards the front, the line split into two sections... those who either didn't need or already had a guidebook (which I did, having bought it earlier in the week at a comic shop), and those who wanted to buy one. My section of line continued into the center... and that was it. I was in. No entry fees! I can only guess they make more than enough money on the guidebooks, which are practically a necessity for finding anything within the gargantuan halls of the center; the guide book cost 2,000 yen (about $16.00 with the current exchange rates), and is the size of a phone book -- about 1,300 pages -- and most of that is just the list of the different manga creators selling their books at the convention. Starting to get a feel for how big this place is?

To see more costumes,
click here!
Well, it was big enough that I had no idea where to go... so I obeyed the first rule of thumb in Japan, follow the crowd. And what a crowd... about a third were dressed as their favorite comic book and/or animated characters; it was pretty colorful. I asked a trio of girls if I could take their picture, and thereby innocently opened up a large can of worms. In the ensueing verbal confusion -- into which entered one guy who thought he knew English, and another hapless victim that the afore mentioned guy chose to snag to ask a question -- the problem finally became clear; there was a particular place in the convention center where you were allowed to take all of your pictures of people in costumes. I'm guessing the purpose of this is to prevent exactly what we were doing... obstructing traffic.
By this time, I really didn't want the picture anymore... I just wanted this annoying guy to go away. No matter how many times I said "wakarimashita" ("I understand"), he was pretty convinced I didn't. When he finally left, all three girls were convinced that I must have wanted this picture pretty bad, so they dragged me off towards the picture area... back in the direction we'd just come from. It was a long walk; I got the picture, but you'll note that one of them wasn't smiling (I took some other pictures while as long as I was there; they're in the Manga! Manga! section).
The costume area was next to one of the four sales areas with tables full of products, so, naturally, this is where I started. This area was about half the size of the largest American comic convention I'd ever gone to, and I discovered later that this was the smallest room by far. But for the moment, I could handle what was here. This area was mainly computer and game system related merchandise... either games based on comics, or comics, dolls, posters, etc., based on games. The only thing of interest (and I plan to buy it tomorrow) is an artpad for a computer which tracks the drawing pen over the pad... so you don't have to touch the pad to move the pointer on your computer's screen, a simple thing that makes doing computer art 100% easier. If these guys accepted my credit card, I'd probably send a couple of these home to friends who I know would appreciate it; however, they'll only take cash at the convention.
From here I headed back the way I was headed before I got sidetracked; the direction the biggest crowd was headed. When I got there, I was dumbfounded.
The sales floor I walked into was a room that was about two football fields in size, and it was packed with shoppers and tables. And there were two more sales areas equally large! I wandered from table to table buying odds and ends that caught my eye for four hours, and I wasn't even halfway through the first hall! And if that wasn't discouraging enough, many of the creators had signed up for single day tables... both tomorrow and the day after, there would be entirely different creators at the same tables! AAA! I CAN'T BUY IT ALL! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
Aside from the general frustration of being right where I wanted to be, I did find out some things I didn't know. There is a bunch of badly drawn and cheaply produced Japanese comics; so, despite popular belief in American comic shops, Japanese people are not born inheirently able to create good comics. Also, for those of you who get upset by the sexist nature of many Japanese comics, it's interesting to note that fully half the writers and artists at the show were female -- even in the porn section, which tends to produce some blatently female abusive comics -- and there were also a lot of comics featuring male couples, generally drawn by females... but these are never seen in American comic shops, so it looks like the sexism is more in the choice of what's imported.
Also, the general tendency was to not create new characters for stories, but rather to write new stories useing previously established comic book, game, and animation characters. This sort of thing would get you sued big-time in America, but it's the norm in Japan. Perhaps the studios that own the characters are constantly in need of new talent, and allow the blatent use of the characters so they can recruit the best of the resulting crop... but this is just a guess. The most popular characters at this point in time (August 1998), judging from the number of books I saw using them, would be any character from the PlayStation game Final Fantasy VII.
The convention closed for the day at 4:00pm... I spent the last 1/2 hour running through the remaining rooms just to get an idea of what was there for tomorrow. I went in with 55,000 yen and, despite what you're thinking, I didn't spend even half of that. I was just too overwhelmed by the sheer number of things to see. Just think... if I finish shopping tomorrow, I could still see the costume contest, watch four movies (at different locations), or attend a variety of sales seminars (which I wouldn't understand). I'm stunned. That's all.
Of course, the real size of the convention only hit when it was over; mainly because I had to wait in line for over an hour just to get back onto the very crowded monorail to get home. By this point I was so burned out that I headed straight for the hotel, soaked in the tub for an hour, sorted the stuff I purchased, and sat down to write this as I watched the Friday night J-Pop specials on TV... so now I'm done. Good night.

On to August 15th, 1998

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