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Costuming a World Apart: Cosplay in America and Japan

by Michael Bruno

Even though the art of Cosplay in Japan is based on SF costuming in America, there are only a few similarities and many differences. The inherent reserved nature of the Japanese has strongly asserted itself into their costumed activities; mainly in the realm of costume presentation. 
In America, cosplayers take their costumes on stage and sing, dance and perform skits; oftentimes inserting more of their own personality into their performance, than that of the character they are portraying. In Japan cosplayers still take their costumes on stage; however, there is no singing, dancing or fanciful skits. When they take the stage, they strike a pose, exactly as their character would.

In the words of Mr. Nov Takahashi, “Japanese people are good at copycat everything.” With the abundance of Anime publications available in Japan, they can easily pick up a book filled with pictures of their favorite characters in different poses and clothes. American cosplayers quite often have easier access to the animated adventures of their favorite characters. Also, American children go through their school years with different types of “theater” classes.

According to Mr. Takahashi, Japanese children do not get this sort of education. This difference is also evident if you take a look types of theater performances in both countries; the very reserved and somewhat operatic Noh Theater in Japan vs. American Musical Theater.

Mr. Sakarai, the organizer for the forthcoming Anime Expo-Tokyo 2004 and WorldCon Tokyo 2007, hopes that these events will draw more American cosplayers to Japan. As he prefers American cosplay practices over those of his native Japan, he hopes that after these events, Japanese cosplayers will be more inclined to follow in the American traditions. In an effort to prepare Japanese cosplayers for this American “invasion”, he has been showing cosplay videos from American conventions at various venues throughout Japan.

However, what happens on stage is not the only difference between American and Japanese Cosplay and by far, not the most important. In America, cosplayers will wear their costumes everywhere. But, in Japan, costumes are only allowed in certain areas of the convention. If you were to leave the convention in costume and venture forth to a restaurant, you would not be served. Says Mr. Takahashi, “if a group of cosplayers were to enter a restaurant in costume, the other patrons would surely leave for they would not want to be seen in the presence of “Otaku”. Restaurant owners would rather have their normal customers than a bunch of costumed Otaku, so they will make the Otaku leave.” Otaku is the Japanese equivalent to the American Fan. A rough translation is nerd or geek. However; in Japan, Otaku are held in very poor respect, probably close to being second or third class citizens. Therefore, obvious Otaku are confined to specific convention areas and kept away from the general public.

This confinement serves a dual purpose. It also keeps young girls in costume away from the prying cameras of lecherous photographers who would post their pictures, without consent, to adult websites and magazines. Mr. Takahashi says that with the advent of tighter restrictions on both cosplayers and photographers, those acts have been curtailed.

Here are some sample rules for cosplayers from a company that arranges trips to Comiket. Upon entering the event site, all COSPLAYERS must register at the Cosplay registration desk and pay the participation fee of 600YEN (approx. $6.00USD)/ day.

There will be a separate change room to put on your costume so do not wear it from your room. You can not leave your personal items in the dress room, you will either have to find a coin locker, or carry your stuff around.

Prohibited items:

From what Mr. Sakarai and Mr. Takahashi said in their panel, these rules are inline with many conventions in Japan. Cosplayers in America should truly enjoy the freedoms that they have when it comes to wearing their costumes. In Japan, you could never see a half naked girl carrying an 8’ sword into a restaurant. Mr. Sakarai is hoping that these rules can be loosened by Tokyo AX and WorldCon; however, they will surely not be anywNOTE : This article by Michael Bruno was posted on millenniumcg.tripod.com in 2002.here near the openness seen at American Conventions. Having looked at pictures of Japanese coplayers in Japan, I have seen a number of cases where these rules were not adhered to.

Though American cosplayers do enjoy more freedom when it comes to wearing their costumes, they do have a few restrictions to contend with at American conventions. Many conventions have banned large props and wings from the more crowded areas of the convention, particularly the dealers room. Depending on the convention, these items will either need to be checked at the door to the dealers room or left in your room before you plan to visit the dealers room. You will also need to consider how your costume is constructed and whether or not you will be able to remove your wings to be checked at the door. At the larger conventions, a trip to the dealers room will most likely take several hours; by the time you stand in line to get in, then do your shopping once you’re in there.

Japan has also seen the rise of Cosplay specific stores known as Cospa. These stores cater to cosplayers carrying character specific costumes and accessories. These are officially licensed items manufactured by the various Anime studios. However, due to this licensing, these items are quite expensive. Many Cospa will also carry fabric and other supplies for making your own costumes and often have a professional in-house who will do custom costume work. While American cosplayers, do not have access to these officially licensed cosplay products they do have easier and greater access to wider variety of costume making supplies.

So, while cosplayers in both America and Japan are engaging in the same hobby, the means in which they pursue that hobby varies greatly due to cultural and social values and mores. I for one, am glad that I cosplay in America.

If you would like to see more pictures of Japanese cosplayers, check out the Linus Lam News Network’s pictures of Comiket 60. http://www.usagichan.com/Comiket60/index.html

Original source :

NOTE : This article by Michael Bruno was posted on millenniumcg.tripod.com in 2002.

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