The Japanese Cosplay Craze

September 27, 2021 4 min read

japanese cosplay

Slipping into the shoes of your favorite character, adopting its appearance, its outfit and even its mimics... we're talking about the magic of cosplay.

Originating from the United States, this concept has attracted many addicts all over the world, but in Japan in particular, cosplay has become a real craze. As such, the Japanese became masters of the disguise. Moreover, events dedicated to cosplayers are very frequent in Tokyo where this phenomenon can also be found in the streets.

What is cosplay? Who is hiding behind these fictional characters? How to find a costume and what are the events not to be missed? Focus on this very popular hobby in the Land of the Rising Sun.

🤔 What exactly is Cosplay?

Cosplay is the short version of costume playing. It is a hobby that consists in transforming oneself into a fictional character from pop-culture, mangas, cartoons, video games or comics, by adopting their style from head to toe.

It's all about bringing your favorite superheroes to life by embodying them through elaborate costumes while imitating their gestures. Costumes can be created by hand or bought ready-made, as well as wigs, accessories and all that goes with it. In Japan, many stores sell ready-made costumes. In short, cosplay is like the art of transformation for geeks.

cosplayers Comic-con New York 2019

Cosplayers at New York Comic-Con in 2019: Mario, Borderlands style; Jane Foster & Loki; Princess Zelda. (credits : Ali Reza Malik)

🏆 The Japanese, masters of cosplay

The concept was born in 1939, when an American named Forrest J. Ackerman went to a science fiction convention dressed as a man from the future. Later, with the craze of Star Trek and Star Wars, cosplay became more and more practiced in the United States. The concept was exported in the 80's and became popular in Japan in the 90's, before arriving in France, Italy and Germany.

It must be said, the popularity of the Evangelion series and the Naruto or One Piece shonen is not for nothing. The cosplay trend actually exploded with the development of the otaku culture, in other words the video game and manga fanatics. Cosplay events have been multiplying in the geek world for the last 30 years. Some of them are reserved to a particular theme while others are focused on the whole manga universe.

cosplayer sakura matou

Cosplayer @Yukinozomi3 performing the character of Sakura Matou at Winter Comiket 2019 in Tokyo.

In Japan, cosplayers strive to look identical to their heroes by trying to achieve the exact same appearance through multiple tricks. They use makeup to perfection and decoys to copy their hero in detail. They also love to do photo shoots in a beautiful setting.

The choice of the character is important, because a certain natural resemblance is required in order to achieve a successful result. If that is not the case, Photoshop is mandatory.

In contrast to Europeans, Japanese people are more focused on the image than on cosplay contests. In conventions dedicated to Japanese culture, spaces are entirely reserved for photo shoots.

cosplay japan comiket

Cosplayer @fold_fgo interpreting the character of Sigurd at Winter Comiket 2019 in Tokyo.

As you may have understood, Japanese people are particularly skilled at not doing things only by halves. So, while walking in some parts of Tokyo during the weekend, you will certainly have the pleasure to watch Sakura, Naruto or Dragon Ball in real life. You are not dreaming! But it may be possible that, under his costume, Naruto is actually a woman... Yep, it's not uncommon for ladies to play male characters.

👯‍♀ Who are the cosplayers? 

Cosplayers are generally manga and anime enthusiasts who meet at events dedicated to their hobby in order to share their common interests.

In general, women are the ones who like to dress up, but anyone can become a cosplayer. It gives you the opportunity of becoming a star for a day and putting your shyness in the closet. Moreover, this activity sometimes has a therapeutic role by allowing to free oneself more easily. Cosplay is also a way to share a passion and to enjoy a party within a community.

In Japan, cosplayers cultivate their image on social networks and regularly post photos for their fans. The popularity of this activity is such that some people make their business out of it, sometimes by adding a little dose of eroticism too.

Japanese Enako cosplayer

Japanese cosplayer Enako.

A particularly famous professional cosplayer in Japan is called Enako. She has more than 1 million followers on Twitter (@enako_cos) and plays on her sexy image. Other cosplayers are true artists as the resemblance with the character is disturbing.

👘 The costume of the cosplayer

If you want to try cosplaying, you may go directly to Tokyo in the Akihabara or Ikebukuro districts and find ready to wear costume stores. Otherwise you will have to look for haberdashery and costume stores near your home. If you don't feel like putting together your own outfit, internet is your friend. Though, of course, a true cosplayer will make the effort to create their costume themselves, tailor-made. 😉

Before choosing the character you are going to play, you should look for a resemblance with the selected character.  Then, observe his or her behavior, expression, gestures and attitude, and practice poses. You will certainly bluff your friends and family!

💝 Cosplay events not to be missed

The World Cosplay Summit is the ultimate meeting place for cosplayers, with an international competition that brings together about thirty countries. A must for cosplay fanatics from all over the world.

world cosplay summit

World Cosplay Summit in Nagoya, Japan, 2017 edition.

However, you can also spot disguised people in the streets of Tokyo, especially in the Harajuku and Shinjuku districts where Japanese youth claim a quirky culture. In Japan, Halloween is the ideal occasion to immerse yourself in this fantastic universe. Lastly, all events related to manga and anime attract many cosplayers. We can mention the Comiket in Tokyo or the Japan Expo in Paris.

To give life to your favorite fictional characters, there is nothing like cosplay. Feel like a bit of fun during your trip to Japan? Immerse yourself in the popular culture of cosplay and enjoy a mind-blowing effect!


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