Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective


CosplayCosplay allows grown men and women to explore different identities by donning elaborate costumes.

Costumes are often based on popular anime characters, or visual-kei musicians. Usually, this has no sexual focus, but the tight outfits and element of fantasy have made cosplay a significant part of modern Japanese sexuality.

The idea of cosplay was brought to Japan from the US in the 1970s. At an annual Tokyo comic book convention, salesmen dressed up as Kirk and Spock as a gimmick to sell Star Trek magazines.

There are about 50,000 regular cosplayers in Japan. Every weekend, urban Japan sees a bizarre parade of colorful outfits. Tokyo’s Akihabara district has a number of cosplay cafes, where enthusiasts can meet like-minded people, show-off their costumes, and exchange ideas. With waitresses dressed in a variety of provocative outfits, these cafes have created a growing otaku community in the area.

Costumes have always been popular with anime and sci-fi fans in the West, where it’s sometimes referred to as Masquerade. However, the Japanese take it much more seriously, complementing their disguises by throwing themselves deeply into their roles. As long as they look like their hero, their every action, utterance, and thought comes from that character.

While US cosplayers generally only dress up for conventions, Japanese cosplay is a central part of a fan’s private life, filling their spare time and weekends. This dedication is starting to filter into cosplay culture in the US.

Cosplay has a number of subcultures. Cameko (“camera kozo”, or camera boys) are otaku who don’t dress up, but make a hobby of photographing cosplayers. A smaller niche group are “dollers”, who wear masks to fully immerse themselves in role.

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