From Japan: The Mysteries of Japanese Cosplay!

Japanese Cosplay

Having been to the Tokyo Game Show on “business days,” I can say that the experience is satisfying. No crowds, no pushing and shoving, no long lines to play a game. Unfortunately, that also meant no Japanese Cosplay.

So who are these Cosplayers?  What are they?  Why are they?  So many questions…

Japanese CosplayIn Japanese, kosupure is a hybrid of the English words “costume” and “play.”  In a nutshell, these are fans who enjoy dressing up as manga, anime and video game characters.  I like to think of it as a kind of Halloween-like sub-culture, as you don’t usually see Cosplayers on the train or buying Big Macs at McDonald’s.  Rather, they usually get together at specific events – such as the Tokyo Game Show.

While it’s possible to buy these outfits at shops in Akihabara and other places, most Cosplayers I spoke to during past TGSs said they made their costumes themselves.  There’s “mecha” Cosplayers who dress as robots made of cardboard, a billion Final Fantasy characters, I even saw a Sega Saturn running around.  Hair is either dyed and stylized, or they use wigs.  The outfits themselves are either hand-crafted, or put together using an assortment of clothing.

Makuhare Messe, where the Tokyo Game Show takes place, is made up of three ginormous rooms.  In between are these narrow, outdoor alleys – where the Cosplayers mainly hang-out.  They each find themselves an area near a wall, and a line is formed by the otaku anxiously waiting to take their pictures.  The Cosplayers make several poses, while the otaku click away on their cameras (sometimes requesting specific poses) until they’re satisfied, and the next person in line moves up for their turn.

Japanese CosplayI personally wouldn’t call this sub-culture a form of role-play, as the Cosplayers don’t usually “play their role.”  I’ve never seen a Solid Snake act out a battle with a Liquid Ocelot (maybe because there’s no room) and if you speak to a Cosplayer, they talk like a normal human being (usually) and not in character.

So why do they do it?  Maybe for the same reason Westerners have fun dressing up on Halloween.  Because it’s fun to dress up.  And having people line up to take their picture gives them a day of fame.

Though I did enjoy the lack of crowds visiting the TGS on a business day, I felt that without the Cosplayers, there was something missing.


written by Damon Finos