I had been forewarned by the tales of other visitors to Comiket about the enormous queues and the extended wait to get in so I loaded up with a couple of litres of water before I left my hotel in Ueno and headed for the railway station.
A digression here -- if you visit Japan and stay in the Tokyo area don't bother hiring a car. There's nowhere (or at least hardly anywhere) to park. Well that's not strictly true; there are lots of tiny little coin-operated 4-car carparks that sprout up in niches between buildings here and there in the urban landscape as well as the rather oddball 8-storey vertical carousel carparks. The cost to park though is eyewatering and that assumes there are empty spaces to be found.
What you do in Tokyo is use the trains and subway like everybody else does. It's fast, convenient and clean and only crowded at peak times. There are some rules to riding the Tokyo trains, though -- you must never give up your seat to anyone and you must text your friends on your mobile phone while the train is in motion. If you don't have any friends you can buy dummy phones cheap in Akihabara and just pretend you're texting them. Talking on phones in the trains is forbidden to avoid disturbing other passengers, and since this is Japan everybody complies with that rule, pretty much.
My JR pass got me to Shimbashi station where I changed to the non-JR Yurikamome line for the run out to Big Sight where Comiket is held. This urban rail line consists of unmanned rubber-tyred railcars travelling in a concrete guideway. The overhead track shoots out over Tokyo bay where it turns in a complete descending circle along with a highway down towards the waterline then continues along the waterfront. I made a mistake and got off a couple of stations too early at a maritime museum (built in the shape of a cruiseliner) and its accompanying waterpark. I soon figured out what I had done wrong, took some pictures of notable landmarks such as the Fuji TV building, hopped back on the train and finally arrived at the Big Sight station at around 10:30, about 30 minutes after Comiket opened its doors.
The long queues at the entrance had evaporated so I just strolled in.
Meanwhile on *this* planet, what I actually did was stand in line. I stood in lines to join other lines. And more lines, and more...
I joined the mob streaming towards the Big Sight building only to be diverted off in the opposite direction by the Comiket marshals. I ended up walking past a long mob of people standing patiently, some carrying parasols, some with folding seats. I ended up at the back of the mob. I stood patiently. Comiket staffers marshalled us forward at intervals as lots more people joined in behind me. After about an hour in the company of 100,000 close friends I got to the point -- where I could join the real queue. This led slowly but inexorably to the famous Big Sight staircase. My feet hurt and there was no shade and the two litres of water I had started with ran out just as I got to the main doors around noon, ninety minutes or so after I got off the train.
The marshalling was exemplary, with the busy Comiket staff keeping the hundreds of thousands of attendees moving smoothly towards the Big Sight entrance without crushing or mobbing. Worldcon lift czars could take lessons from these guys.
Comiket wasn`t that interesting, in the end. It was as gigantic as I had been promised, with all of the exhibition halls in use, with something like 12,000 exhibitors holding down tables and selling their wares and that was just on the day I was there. But... There was a lot of bad manga art on show and very few good pieces, too few to make the effort to visit and browse really worthwhile if I had only been there for the doujinshi and not the experience. What I found more interesting was the odd slipstream stuff -- the game creators working with third-party game engines for stock machines like the PSP, the cyber-porn merchants using Poser and similar 3D-modelling packages, the train otakus who had fitted computer control to Z-class rail models. The best hack I saw was the Bluetooth controller, running the train from a mobile phone. The rest, bleh mostly.
I still wouldn`t have missed it for the world.
I gave up around three-ish after hitting all of the halls and giving most of the circle's tables a quick glance if nothing else. I had been prepared to buy buy buy but in the end I left empty-handed. I grabbed a plate of beef and rice and loaded up with more water from one of the concession stands, noting with some relief they were not price-gouging their captive market -- a 500ml bottle of water was only 120yen, what I would have paid from a vending machine anywhere in the Tokyo area.
The queues to get to the train station were smaller, but not by much. Again the Comiket staffers were on hand to prevent crushing and mobbing, making sure people had tickets before they got onto the train platforms and regulating the numbers getting onto the escalators to prevent crowding and accidents.
Back in Ueno (I nearly said back home -- I`d been there too long, methinks) there was a festival going on along the street in the courtyard of a local school, probably Obon-related. Ueno is a very urban built-up area but they were doing all the festival-type things the small towns traditionally do, with drumming and lanterns and folks dressed in summer yukatas and happi coats. It was a local Ueno thing and I foolishly assumed they wouldn't want strangers, gaijin muscling in so I didn't go, something I now rather regret. Next time, maybe...
Warning -- 4-year old girls in matsuri yukatas and goldfish obis are way too cute for words. Sadly in this modern witch-burning world taking photographs of them is verboten.
That was it for the day. I was truly exhausted and after grabbing something to eat I went back to my room, repacked my stuff and prepared to leave Ueno the next morning. It was time to boogie, Onomichi my destination. Shinkansen here I come!