As the October issue of the newsletter was so graphically intensive, I was unable to post the entire issue. I have; however, posted those articles I feel are most pertinent. [editor]

Cosplay: The Illegitimate Child of SF Masquerades

by Michael Bruno

The most enlightening panel of the entire convention turned out to be not what I was really expecting.

During the “Cosplay Roundtable” panel at Nan Desu Kan this last weekend, I was expecting a panel of costumers to be answering questions posed by the audience. However, this was not the case. The only people on the panel were the convention’s two guests from Japan. Mr. Susumu Sakurai and Mr. Nobuyuki (Nov) Takahashi. With the help of their translator, they discussed Cosplay in Japan, how it differed in America and most importantly, the origins of Cosplay.

Twenty years ago, the first fan costumers were seen in Japan at a small comic expo known as Comiket* or Comic Market. They were simply wearing t-shirts on which they’d drawn their favorite characters. The following year, 1983, the first actual costume was worn by someone dressed at Lum from Urusei Yatsura which was airing in Japan at the time. In 1984, Mr. Takahashi was sent to Worldcon in Los Angeles to cover the events for various magazines back in Japan.

Needless to say, he was amazed by what he saw. Many people dressed as their favorite characters from Star Trek, Star Wars and even in their own costumed creations. He was particularly impressed by the Masquerade. Things were definitely much different in America than he was expecting.
When he returned to Japan, he wanted to impress upon his readers the magnificence of what he had seen in hopes that that they could adapt American costuming practices into their own culture.

He struggled for a long time with what he could call this phenomenon. He could use the word “masquerade” as the direct translation to Japanese is essentially the same as the original meaning in English, “a costume party held by aristocrats.” Mr. Takahashi says that there are no people like that in Japan, so the word would not work. He therefore tried to come up with other variations on that idea. “Costume Acting”, “Costume Play” and many others [I can’t really remember what they were]. However, everything he came up with was too long and he wanted something short in hopes that people would remember the word and begin to use it. He also wanted something that was neither Japanese nor American, but a combination of both to show the blending of the American costuming tradition with Japanese culture. He finally settled on “Cosplay” by using the Japanese habit of shortening words into easier to say bits on “Costume Play.” Thus was born Cosplay. Created by Mr. Nov Takahashi, the founder of Cosplay.

So, the next time you see a cosplayer at a Convention, extend a helping hand and invite them into the Guild. They have the same pursuits as other Guild members, but in general, we have a whole lot more practice.

* Comiket started with a few hundred people and is now the largest comic expo in Japan, drawing over 500,000 people each year. For information about visiting Comiket

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 anywhere 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.

For more pictures of American cosplayers, check out A Fan’s View.
If you can read Japanese or would just like to check out some pictures from a Japanese Cosplay Shop, check out: