The K-On! Comiket: Report from Sakura High New Students’ Welcome Ceremony 2018

Originally published on the K-On subreddit on 6 May 2018. Original thread including comments here.

Hi /r/k_on!

I went to a K-On event here in Japan and felt the need to write a post on it since it seems pretty much unknown in the English-speaking community.

I’m assuming most of you already know about the ‘real-life K-On school,’ the former Toyosato Elementary School building in the rural town of Toyosato in Shiga Prefecture, Japan? You’re probably also aware of the birthday parties held for the various characters there. Our own /u/Salo06 did a report on a birthday event and even wrote a visitor’s guide. The group organizing those events – Toyosato Tea Time – has one other event besides the birthday parties: the Sakura High New Students’ Welcome Ceremony (桜高新入生歓迎会). In discussions with /u/Salo06, it became apparent that neither of us really knew what that is about.

I visited this event on Friday (4 May 2018) and was the only non-Asian person there, to the great surprise and amusement of many. Now, I may not be the only Westerner to have ever visited the event, but I still got the feeling that if I’m not going to write on it, who is? At least a cursory search yielded no English posts on this, so I guess the responsibility to do it falls upon me.

First, if you just want to know what the event is: the Sakura High New Students’ Welcome Ceremony, or the Shinkan (that’s the Japanese shorthand – 新歓) is a K-On exclusive doujinshi market (Japanese: 即売会 sokubaikai) with some related events going on during the day. You can picture it as a miniature Comiket specializing in K-On. It has been organized annually since 2011 around this time of the year. This year was the 8th event (8じかんめ, or 8th period – it’s becoming increasingly unbelievable that school days would be this long).

This year’s key visual/poster. Taken from the Toyosato Tea Time website; illustration by Kagiana from the circle Rakugaki Ippentō.

The following is some kind of a report/documentation hybrid. It might get a bit detailed, this is so that if someone wants to visit the event they’d have an idea of what’s waiting for them. There will be few images since you were not to take photos inside the marketplace, and in general out of courtesy for the other attendees. If you just want to see the building, there are lots of albums that have been posted on e.g. /r/anime; I believe the latest is this photoset by /u/corporal-troller.

The organization

Make no mistake, despite K-On being nine years old, there are still people coming and it’s not a small event. I’m really bad at estimates, but trying to figure numbers out based on how many people we had in different arrangements I’m coming up with at least 500 attendees. (On another thought, for Japan it might be small.)

To cope with these numbers in limited spaces, there were some organizational measures. To access the marketplace, you were required to buy the event’s ’catalogue’ (actually an info booklet) for 800 yen. These were even available in advance by mail order and locally in some bookstores in the area, but most people of course bought them in Toyosato. I got mine at Toyosato Station, since they were selling them there as well. Speaking of the railway, the local railway company, Ohmi Railway, ran two additional trains just because of the event.

On location, people were split in groups (most probably three?) with each group having a specific time window to shop at the marketplace area. Plus, since at doujinshi markets products tend to sell out, your place in line is important. I was pretty amazed by the level of organization going on at the event. A guy I met in Japan described Comiket as being actually very organized since people have almost army discipline there, and I got the same feeling here.

The system used to organize the groups and lines was a ’line lottery tournament’ held at one of the school building’s two parking lots. When arriving, you were to choose your favorite HTT member and line up in her line. In the tournament, supposed to start at 11.15 (am) but which started a bit late this time, the five lines competed over who would be let into the marketplace first. We were given a speech on how we should give it our best since we definitely wouldn’t want to embarrass the beloved character we’re representing. Then the actual competition was… rolling dice (yes, you heard right). Each line had a member of the organizing team go to voluntary dice-rollers among the people standing in line, they would roll three dice and the scores would be tallied up. So, nothing that spectacular in actuality. Except that this time there was a twist in the form of a bonus rock-paper-scissors round between line representatives for extra points. (Side note: apparently the Azusa line is legendary for winning the line lottery most of the time.)

This time, I believe it was the Yui and Azusa lines that got in first. They lined up to get ’Backstage Passes’ for accessing the marketplace (you had to show you catalogue and get it stamped in exchange, so you couldn’t get multiples). The first x number of people got numbered pink backstage passes that allowed them to enter first. The marketplace opened at 12. I got a blue pass, putting me in the second group:

As you can see, there is a time window for shopping, 13.15 to 14.15. Accordingly, I had to spend an hour waiting before assembling in the corridor for the blue pass line. I was one of the first people getting blue passes though, so thanks to my low number of 008 I was pretty far up in the blue pass line. We were let in at the specified time, and sure enough, the school bells rang at 14.15, signifying the end of our shopping time. Very organized. I only noticed now that there’s a time written on the back of the card for re-entry assembly, so I don’t know how that works. Looks like you’re going in after everyone in the next group’s line.

The marketplace

The marketplace consisted of five classrooms (referred to as Class 1 through 5) with 12–14 spaces each. Spaces are the circles’ booths, or tables, where they sell their stuff. A few circles had two spaces, plus Class 1 had an exhibit space with miniature models:

Now, you may have in your mind an image that a doujinshi market is just about selling doujinshi books. Or even, due to how the word is used on /r/anime and the English community in general, you may think doujinshi means porn. However, there were lots of other self-made things being sold other than books: bookmarks, acrylic stands, decorative charms, posters, framed art, et cetera. One circle got creative and had a lineup of four gacha machines for keychains, badges, and even mechanical pencils and rulers. (They had the longest line.) No official merchandise was sold.

Doujinshi books still constituted the majority of the selection. Regarding the point on connotations noted above, there was no porn sold here, even if some (quite few) books were a bit risqué (or, as the English-speaking community would say, ecchi). A lot of the comics were shipping, some were general. There were crossovers with Getter Robo and JoJo. And not even all books were comics: there were cosplay and figure photo books, pilgrimage reports and guides, short stories, analyses, and a photo book of the school building from the air, filmed with a drone.

Anyway, as advertised, pretty much everything was K-On. Crossovers aside, the only exception I noticed was an independent voice actress who sold a CD + booklet titled ’A CD of being confessed to by cute girls,’ which is exactly what it says on the tin: she has recorded multiple confessions so that you can close your eyes, listen to them, and imagine being confessed to by girls with different personalities in different situations like in the train, at a fireworks show, and so on, and get the ”popular guy experience.” (Of course, it isn’t relevant to mention this in this much detail, but I just found the idea really… interesting and can’t help sharing.)

Side events and after event

While the first parking lot was for organizatory stuff including the lottery, the second was for presenting K-On themed itasha (cars with fabulous decals, usually showing off the owner’s love for their favorite girl). I wasn’t sure of the photography rules regarding them, so I don’t have a picture to show you here. There were around 10 cars, some really impressive. There was also a cosplay assembly and photo session at two times during the day, but I missed those so can’t report on them.

The school auditorium had a live event where bands who had arranged with the organizers could perform a show playing K-On music. According to the event website, the organizers were recruiting four bands, but I didn’t have time to go there so I cannot confirm how many there were.

The small event hall on the third floor (the room where the Mio Akiyama Fan Club’s tea party was held in S02E07) had a more communal, informal music program – a so-called open session. They had instruments on the stage, and asked for people from the audience (who mostly sat on the floor) to come play a song. There were lots of people who could play an instrument, and especially amateur bands or friend groups who would volunteer. There was even an actual high school light music club’s girl band. As a side note, when asked about what they usually play, they said they’re making original songs; also, currently they were unable to use their clubroom and the host asked if anyone in the audience had a rental studio to lend to them. This reminded me of a light music club we know well, the latter part especially about one season 2 episode.

The club room on the third floor had ’pop-ups,’ i.e. lifesize panels of the characters, on display, along with their instruments:

The HTT five
Nao, Sumire, Sawako, Ui, and Jun
Nodoka, Himeko, and Ichigo
Another Sumire

Of course, as is to be expected, the K-On cafe in the Kinenkan wing of the building was open on the day of the event.

All of these events were running at the same time as the marketplace was open, 12 to 16 (noon to 4 pm). After the market concluded, there was an ’after event’ in the auditorium. Entry was, again, very organized, with lines being formed and ushered to the benches so as to fill the auditorium efficiently. Everyone got a new pink backstage pass for this event:

Each circle participating in the marketplace had brought gifts ranging from official K-On merchandise such as figures to lots shikishi (a kind of quadratic art panel). These, along with some unsold merchandise (including many of those sweet, sweet framed panels that were priced a bit high) were raffled to the attendees by drawing lots from a box. You got the prize if the number drawn was the one on your backstage pass. There were also some decorations that were raffled not by drawing lots but by the infamous (at least among us who have been there) rock-paper-scissors tournaments. These included the pop-up panels that were displayed in the club room.

At the end of the after event, as is tradition at all Toyosato Tea Time events, we sang the school anthem and did a ”Keion! Saikou!” shout.

The school at the end of the day, when I was leaving

As a last side note, Toyosato has K-On themed ‘tobidashi boys,’ well, ‘tobidashi high school girls,’ on the way to the school. Something had happened and the Yui one was split in half. Maybe someone had accidentally hit it?

My personal experience

With the documentation about done, I think I could tell a little bit about my day there, that might even make for more entertaining, even if less informative, reading.

I support Mio, so I went to her line in the line lottery tournament, and that’s why I wasn’t among the first people getting in. I spent the hour I had to wait for my time window by going to have lunch at the K-On cafeteria in the Kinenkan wing of the school. Since this was an event, and the biggest one (attendance is said to be over double any birthday event), I went to sit with some people I didn’t know who had a free seat at their table (asking if it’s okay, of course). They were unsure of their English, but tried speaking it, and I also assured I knew Japanese so that wouldn’t be a problem anyway. The guy sitting next to me asked me in English, “Who’s your favorite character?” Upon my reply, “Mio,” his face lit up again. “Me too!” he exclaimed, and his friends sitting across from us wanted to take a commemorative photo. We ended up talking (in Japanese) about the basic personal details, favorite K-On characters, what scenes the food available in the cafeteria references, and so on.

After we were done eating we went our separate ways. I had still some time left, so I went to look at the Kinenkan shelves filled with K-On memorabilia again, and then outside to look at the itasha. In line for the marketplace the organizer at the top, seeing me, said “Wow! A foreigner!” and asked me where I’m from.

This is my haul from the marketplace:

On the top, the catalogue (top left) and four doujinshi books. Then a framed art panel of Azusa that I won from the aforementioned gacha (they had the panels as special prizes with lower probability of getting them). Next, some Mio character goods: a pick-form decorative charm, a mechanical pencil (from the gacha – I had luck here, since I got a voucher for a pen that they had run out of, so they let me name which one I wanted), a badge as what I assume was just a foreigner bonus gift. The postcard was for getting the doujinshi above it; below, a clear file, and between it and the Azusa panel, some bookmarks.

After my marketplace time was up, I filled out the survey (‘the,’ not ‘a,’ because it’s expected that everywhere in Japan has a survey that you’re supposed to fill out) and got a poster for that. Then I went to visit the clubroom and to the open session in the room next to it. When entering the open session room, one of the Japanese who I had talked to in the cafeteria noticed me and came up to me, suggesting that I’d go on stage with them when they’re doing Gohan wa okazu soon. I agreed, and after some songs Gohan wa okazu came up, our group volunteered and I sang it together with two newfound K-On buddies. Was pretty fun, technically performing on an anime-famous stage.

Conclusion

If you wish to participate in the future, participation only requires the catalogue purchase, and unlike birthday events, there is no need to register online in advance. Knowing Japanese is highly recommended, but maybe not an absolute requirement. You would miss the explanations of the line lottery tournament and the raffles, and there would be little point to most doujinshi books since they are in Japanese. That being said, if you adamantly wanted to go there to purchase some character goods and picture books and look at the side events, that should be possible. Just prepare to ask if something is unclear and do as the others do.

Since next year is the 10th anniversary of the K-On anime, there might be something special and different organized by Toyosato Tea Time. Any announcement would come later, but the chairman said that we can ”think of [him] as dead” if nothing special happens.

For the record, Japan has lots of doujinshi markets like this besides the famous Comiket, and they are little known in the English-speaking community. It’s also difficult to find a good listing. If you’re in Japan or visiting Japan and want to go to some, you can google a place name or month + 即売会, or for exclusive events you can google show name + 即売会. Off the top of my head there’s a a Tamako Market one in Kyoto, a big Hibike! Euphonium one in Tokyo* – both in June – and a huge general one in Osaka in September coming up.

That’s all, I’ll consider my duty done. Besides people reading this out of interest, I hope this post is able to also help someone in some way, either if planning to go to the Shinkan or some other doujinshi market.


*I actually went to this one, organized after this report was originally published. It was part of a bigger doujinshi market event that bundled different one-show-exclusive or one-theme-exclusive mini-markets into one exhibition hall in Tokyo Big Sight. Some of the sections, say, Girls und Panzer or Kantai Collection, were quite big, but Eupho was just a handful of circles in total, so “big” here was a bit of a misnomer in the end.

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