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(Beware, lots of links to Japanese-only sites in this one.) While I was in Japan last month, my Japanese advisor dragged me to Haru Comic City so I could chat with a former student of hers who is now active as a dojinka in Tokyo. This was my second time at a big dojinshi convention (sokubaikai), but since I was only there for about five minutes at the very end on that first occasion, that one probably doesn't count. The one-day Haru Comic City was held in the same building as the more famous Comiket (the one with over half a million attendees), but in the end I didn't even get to see the fabled big halls because there were so many damned people in the way. The number of attendees was staggering and I was afraid of losing sight of my advisor, so I stuck to the smaller (heh) west halls. It sounds very abstract to say that the dojinshi market is worth 50 billion yen, but this is suddenly much easier to imagine when you're standing in the midst of an ocean of dojinshi-toting women. (The total manga market, pockets and magazines but minus dojinshi, is estimated at 450 billion yen. That's only nine times the value of the fannish manga market. 50 billion isn't peanuts by any definition, and the dojinshi market is still growing, while the manga market for pockets and magazines appears to be shrinking. Interesting.)

I hadn't reviewed the catalog of participating dojinka before walking in and was thus flabbergasted to find myself suddenly in front of the table of Natch, one of my favourite JamesXSnape artists. I was a bit star-struck and mostly stammered my way through the conversation, but she was extremely nice and patient, and in the end gave me a piece of candy and her mail adress. After I was done repeating "I'm such a fan of your work" about twenty times, I nattered on about my research a bit. She hadn't read any non-Japanese Harry Potter fanwork and was very curious about the possible differences between that and Japanese dojinshi. James/Snape being such a rarepair in English seemed to surprise her quite a bit. In Japanese HP dojinshi, this pairing is immensely popular. Natch said that for her and many other Japanese fans, James' bullying of Snape in the HP canon indeed comes across as pigtail-pulling more than anything else (as we suspected earlier).

It was later pointed out to me by my friendly guide that standing in front of the table monopolizing the artist like that had been a bit rude. Ack. Fortunately I'd compensated by buying an issue of every dojinshi on the table. We had a talk on sokubaikai etiquette -what do do when you want to talk with the artist (move to the side of the table and buy something afterwards), rules for picture-taking (don't, basically), and so on. Most of it was very reminiscent of etiquette in English-language online fandom. One of the things I was very worried about was how dojinka would perceive the presence of a (foreign) researcher in their territory. According to my guide, dojinshi research in Japan is so rare that most people have never even heard of academics interested in their fannish activities, so they haven't had many bad experiences with "scholars" barging into fandom and attempting to do research in a clueless/rude manner à la SurveyFail.

All the same, sez Guide, it probably made a lot of difference that I admitted to being a fan myself. The pathologisation of anime/manga/Japanese pop culture fans inside and outside Japan is long-standing and not quite over yet, and people do tend to be wary of outsiders with no love for or understanding of dojinshi culture poking their noses in. Dojinka fear endangering themselves and by extension the whole dojinshi community by “inviting” legal problems; although Japanese companies are generally tolerant of dojinshi production, there have been several incidents of varying severity in which dojinshi creators clashed with rights holders. (Examples of these clashes between dojinka and rights holders include the well-known “Pokemon dojinshi case" and “Doraemon dojinshi incident”, as well as several minor incidents such as the “Harry Potter copyright problem”. The latter refers to a bogus online rumour started in December 2001 that the overseas and Japanese copyright holders of the HP franchise were about to crack down on HP-based dojinshi, prompting dojinka to lock down websites and cancel HP-specific sokubaikai for several months afterwards.)

Dojinka go to great lengths in order not to draw attention from others not involved in dojinshi culture who might not be understanding of its activities. Websites are routinely hidden from search engines so that only those who've purchased a dojinshi containing the URL can find an artist's site (which is why I'm not linking directly to Natch). In addition, dojinka often admonish their readers at the start or ending of a dojinshi not to show the work to anyone unconnected with dojinshi culture, or put the dojinshi up on general auction sites where anyone might find it. The differences in warnings in dojinshi and warnings on English-language fic are fascinating, by the way -I'll certainly be comparing them later.

Because I need some sort of conclusion to these musings, have a random book rec. Hiroki Azuma does some absolutely fascinating analysis of dojinshi culture in "Otaku: Japan's database animals", which was translated into English last year. I only just finished the book and am not nearly done with thinking it through, but it's marvelous. The review barely even touches upon most of the book's most interesting points. There are precious few good translations of Japanese scholarship, and this one is a gem. Oh, just go and snap it up, this not-Amazon has it for cheap and does free worldwide delivery :)

(Edit: While I was busy bothering Natch, my advisor did the rounds of the other Harry Potter tables and bought everything with Snape in it as a present for me. I adore that woman.)

(Edit 2: Here's a more useful review of Azuma's book.)
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