When I was in Japan, I went to a few cosplay events and a local comiket. I’ve been wanting to share my observations for a while because the Japanese cosplay scene is so different from the American cosplay scene. In the end, we’re all there for the same reasons: to dress up as our favorite characters. However, there are different venues, resources, and codes of conduct.
the cosplay that led to the creation of “Hibari-sensei” (photo by Dolly)
Popular opinion is that Japanese cosplayers are better, and I want to dispel that myth. A good cosplayer is someone who convincingly portrays a character through wearing a costumes that is well-made and a good fit and through adopting the mannerisms of the character. Nationality plays no role (though I will acknowledge that some countries do have the advantage of more resources). I’m putting some of the best cosplays I’ve encountered so that you can see it doesn’t matter which side of the Pacific Ocean you’re on.
Cosplay in Japan has a rather paradoxical existence. On one hand, most people know what it is; I didn’t have to explain what it was to any of my co-workers. On the other hand, they would be surprised that I, an American, engaged in such a hobby. You might see a person in costume walking down the street, and you can cosplay for a part-time job (at a cafe) in the big cities. However, events forbid you from arriving costume for fear of creating a disturbance in public.
KC3T and chisaiinekocat as Bridget and Jam Kuradoberi (Guilty Gear) at Anime Matsuri 2007
Conventions are the primary venue for cosplay in America. Groups can set up photoshoots at different public locations or even just spend a day wandering around in costume. In Japan, cosplaying in public generally isn’t seen except at concerts and in places like the Meiji Jingu bridge in Harajuku. Instead, cosplayers go to comikets or cosplay events, which are specifically dedicated to photoshoots. These events can either be indoors with different photo backdrops and lighting provided or outdoors at amusement parks and other picturesque locations. Cosplayers change inside a large blocked off area and leave their bags in an adjacent rooms (Japan is probably the only place where you can leave your bags unattended).
Japanese cosplay events have many rules to ensure safety and prevent anyone from being offended. You’re not allowed to show too much cleavage or butt or dress up in Japanese law enforcement uniform. You are also advised to not wear make-up that rubs off easily. Some events forbid men from crossplaying. Non-costumed photographers pay a higher fee, and you must ask for permission to take a picture (which sounds like common sense but I come across many candid shots from American conventions). It is considered good form to exchange contact info so that the cosplayers can see their photos and be credited. Many individuals will have cards with contact information.
unknown and ミオ (Mio) as Oshito Katsuragi and Kazahaya (Harukanaru Toki no Naka de 4) at Layers Eden Sendai 6/27
Earlier, I mentioned that Japan and some other countries have more resources. Such resources come in the form of stores, like Animate, that sell costumes and accessories. You can also purchase make-up, contacts, and chest binding equipment. There are also magazines that provide patterns and advice on make-up, hair, and posing.
This brings me to an often-debated subject in the U.S.: choosing characters who are your body type and age range. Japanese cosplayers do this without question, as they strive for accuracy. That is why cosplay stores are platform boots and shoe inserts to make yourself taller and magazine provide exercises for weight loss. The perfectionism in their culture pervades in even a hobby like cosplay. In contrast, American cosplayers enjoy the freedom of dressing up as whomever they want. They have a more DIY attitude and yet, in a twist of irony, are more competitive due to a greater number of cosplay contests.
J, Ao, and Musoka as Amano Terra Branford (Final Fantasy VI), Amano Leviathan (Final Fantasy series), and Amano Aerith Gainsborough (Final Fantasy VII) at Oni-con 2006 Yoshitaka Amano Cosplay Contest
Comikets resemble American anime conventions more, but even there, you have to change into your costume at the venue. The one I went to had an additional cosplaying fee. Photography is not allowed at the artists’ tables so there is a designated area for cosplayers to get their picture taken.
unknown and 古湖 (Papiko) as Empress Tianzi and Euphemia li Britannia (Code Geass) at Sendai Comiket 175
I experienced a lot of difficulty meeting new cosplayers in Japan. While part of that was due to language barriers, cosplay events are quieter and more private. Of course you are allowed to approach others and some meet-ups do get arranged, but the events seem to be more of a chance for friends to hang out. American cons are chaotic, and it’s difficult to set up photoshoots sometimes. However, in addition to taking pictures, you can enter contests and get tips from veterans at a panel. I enjoy both cosplaying in Japan and America; there’s just a different vibe… though at the end of day, it’s all about dressing up and having fun.
If my guide has got you interested in cosplaying, check out Sarcasm-hime’s site for great tips on how to make things and look your best. If you just want to appreciate the work of others, consider purchasing a calendar from Cosplay for a Cause. Proceeds go to Japanese Red Cross Society for tsunami relief so you can look at great costumes and help out a good cause.
Listening to: “Last Word” by High and Mighty Color