Cosplay in Japan

The term alone is a broad overview of a much wider and more diverse culture, where these cosplayers or reiyas devote time and effort into perfecting their roles. It is not uncommon to see these individuals in public places like Tokyo’s Harajuku district for it is considered a popular meeting ground. Attention to detail from simple to elaborate wigs, make-up and costumes – many of which are hand-crafted – are the highlights of observing cosplayers as a first time visitor to the city. However, even though there are a wide range of characters, the most popular ones, and fan favorites, are maid and high-school girl uniforms.

Another popular trend amongst reiyas is the smoky-eyed look; most commonly seen with those who prefer the Lolita fashion. Although Western culture attributes the role of Lolitas to underage girls, in Japan, it is not regarded that way. Those engaged in Lolita fashion do not see themselves as cosplayers, but distinct trendsetters who take great pride in their craft, ranging from Gothic to Punk. However, the inspiration for their look comes from the Victorian era, and the ensemble is mostly composed of a dress or skirt of knee-length, a headdress, petticoat, blouse, knee-high socks and platform shoes. Lolita fashion, in Japan, was believed to have started in the 1960s, and today many high-end boutiques have devoted sections to this growing trend.

Another instance where one might see ‘costumes’ on the streets of Japan, is during the Coming-of-Age Day festivities. This is held annually on the second Monday of January, and it is a time when young people who have reached the age of 20, are officially recognized as adult members of society. Young women can be seen wearing brightly-colored furisode (a style of kimono with long sleeves) and zori sandals. Since these outfits are considered expensive, and a little difficult to wear, the women either borrow them from relatives, rent them and prefer to get prepared in local beauty salons. For the men, the traditional dark kimono with hakama is sometimes seen, although many now prefer to wear Western suits.

Cosplay in Japanese Culture

Cosplay is not limited to dressing up in costumes from popular TV shows. Cosplay is also seen in traditional Japanese culture and fashion.

Coming of age ceremonies have been held in Japan since at least AD 714, when a young prince got new clothes and a hairstyle to mark their passage into adulthood. The official holiday was first established in 1948, to be held each year on 15 January. In 2000, as a result of the successful system, the Monday on which the Day Of Coming of Age was celebrated on was changed to the second Monday in January.

Many women celebrate this day with the use of Furisode (a kimono with long sleeves that hang) and zori sandals. Since most are unable to put on a kimono by themselves due to the complexities involved in dressing in one, many choose to visit a beauty salon to dress and have their hair done. A complete set of formal clothing is quite expensive, so it is usually taken from a relative or rented rather than bought for the occasion. Men sometimes wear traditional costumes (for example a dark kimono with hakama), but in modern times many men wear formal western clothes, like a suit and a tie, more often than a traditional dress.

The latest street fashion among Japanese women is the smokey eye look. It is a sultry and sexy look that is easy to achieve and which creates stunning results. The smokey eye look has been called the little black dress of make up as it is always stylish. Smokey eyes are perfect anywhere and anytime because the make up needed is not overdone and adds a little bit of mystery and allure to a woman’s look. The smokey eye make up is also useful for vampire Cosplay.

Fantasy and science fiction characters have became very popular Cosplay costumes. Characters from the Star Wars, Star Trek and the Harry Potter series are some of the most popular non-manga characters to be featured in Cosplay events. Anime cartoons such as Naruto, Bleach and Final Fantasy as well as video and computer games are also popular characters to be made into Cosplay costumes. Akatsuki And Organization XIII costumes as well as the ever popular ShinRa were the most common costumes at conventions. Outside of conventions, the most popular Cosplay costumes are school girl outfits and maid uniforms.

Comic books, graphic novels and fantasy movies are also a source of inspiration for Cosplayers.

Cosplay Subculture

Cosplay is a youth subculture originating in Japan. The moniker is derived from the words “costume” and “play”, and is believed to have been first thought up in 1984 by a Japanese studio executive named Nov Takahashi. When he wrote for Japanese science fiction magazines about the impressive costumes worn by attendees at the Los Angeles World Science Fiction Convention, he gradually adopted the portmanteau term cosplay, which is used to describe the trend today.

The main feature of cosplay is that participants enjoy dressing up as their favorite characters from anime, comic books, and video games. It has developed to include, particularly when adopted in the west, people dressing up as characters from popular non-Asian fantasy and science fiction movies and games, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Doctor Who and World of Warcraft.

As a fashion concept, cosplay has also been seen to extend towards a style of dressing up not only as established, famous characters, but as characters that the enthusiast has developed themselves. This is often a crossover into the Japanese Lolita style of dress, where girls wear a distinctive, cute style. This allows girls who like the look but do not want to fully adopt the Lolita style as street dress to enjoy the less serious “Cosplay Lolita” style at cosplay events and venues.

Additional trends and sub-genres in cosplay include “crossplay”, which involves wearing the costume of a character of the opposite sex, and participants called “dollars”, who wear full body suits and masks to play characters without their own faces on show, rather like sports mascots.

Cosplay is usually something that takes place at parties, concerts, conventions and venues where likeminded people meet to show off their (often hand crafted) costumes, socialize, and photograph other enthusiasts. The most popular area for these kind of activities is the fashionable Harajuku area of Tokyo. In the district of Akihabara, a number of cosplay themed cafes have been opened during the last decade to cater to the cosplayers, and the staff all wear anime themed costumes themselves.

Twice a year, hundreds of thousands of cosplayers flock to Tokyo to visit the Comiket convention and market – the largest event in the world for cosplay enthusiasts.

The concept of dressing up and of taking part in role play based around popular characters also exists in the west, where cosplay style outfits are worn to attend science fiction and comic book conventions. The largest of these is held annually in San Diego.