The Lowdown on Japan’s Cosplay Industry
These days, cosplay functions as a 40 billion yen (US$390 million) industry and has a large impact on Japan’s economy. Now, before moving on, please allow me to clarify that ‘cosplay’ to Japan does not only refer to people dressing up as anime and video game characters, but includes all manner of live action, Western, original characters, nurses, maids, and so on. Virtually any costume worn for fun is considered cosplay over here. So what kinds of special services are available to avid cosplayers in Japan? And how are cosplayers themselves making the most out of this bountiful, infinitely tolerant environment?
The cosplay sub-culture has been steadily growing for years.
Before the year 2000, the only place you might find cosplay costumes was at general costume shops and adult video stores. But then something changed. In order to appeal to a new demographic of teenage girls, Tokyo’s great and nerdy shopping district, Akihabara, opened a series of specialty shops devoted to cosplay. If cosplay was meant to be fun, then this seemed like the best way to support those who might be interested in giving it a try.
Soon following that came the establishment of stores that sell mass-produced outfits and accessories for popular anime characters as well as some shops that offer order-made costumes. The former specializes in reasonably-priced cosplay that average out at less than 10,000 yen (US$98) per costume. The latter can cost as much as five times that, but for a high-class, made-to-order item. In addition to those, countless online cosplay shops have also come into being.
If there was ever a must-have item for Japanese cosplayers, it’s meishi.
Meishi is another word for business cards, and Japan is absolutely obsessed with them. For cosplayers, exchanging meishi is important to help them remember those they’ve interacted with. However, highly active cosplayers looking to order meishi can find themselves in a bit of a bind. Ordinary manufacturers do not usually accept orders of less than 50 to 100 cards, so if a cosplayer wishes to have a different version of their meishi for every character that they cosplay, this requirement poses a bit of a challenge.
Thankfully, cosplay meishi manufacturers, such as the online design service, Proof, have come up with special order sets containing five designs and 20 cards for each, bringing the total to 100 meishi for (in Proof’s case) 2,625 yen ($25.70). Proof allows its users to submit their own cosplay photos and edit them into a selection of beautiful border designs, allowing even the most inept designers to create their own fabulous meishi.
Japan also provides special ways for finding the most suitable photo backgrounds.
This may come as a surprise to some people, but in Japan it is very bad juju to cosplay in public unless it’s part of your job or you are on location at a cosplay event. It’s not even acceptable to arrive at an event in costume; everyone must change together in designated changing rooms. They do this out of respect for all the normal people going about their daily lives, so as not to cause a disturbance. However, this can make it difficult for cosplayers to find scenery which matches the series that they are cosplaying from.
In response to this need, a large number of photo studios catering to just cosplayers have been popping up across Japan. There are currently more than 300 of these studios in the metropolitan areas alone! One of the more recent establishments, cosplay studio Booty, has a number of rooms, each with a different theme. Cosplayers must reserve a time slot weeks in advance, but once there they are free to move between all of the different areas and take pictures of themselves.
Never backing down, cosplayers turn to the Internet.
An increasing number of anime, manga, and doujinshi (self-published comics) events are prohibiting cosplay. One of the most cited reasons for this is to eliminate indecent skin exposure by cosplayers, though compared to a lot of booth babes, that seems like a hard case to make. Nevertheless, cosplayers have found ways to interact with each other even outside of events, thanks to cosplay community websites such as Cure. Cure is especially nice in that there is an English version for international users, though it lacks many of the event planning features of its Japanese counterpart.
Cosplayers are going professional.
As cosplay becomes more widely recognized, its market scale also expands. There are many who pride themselves on donning only the finest brands of costumes and accessories. Of course, there are some who make cosplay for themselves and those who dedicate themselves to perfecting their craft, treating it like a profession. Some cosplayers even go so far as to mix cosplay with the entertainment industry by making videos and photobooks of themselves in costume to be sold at events, earning themselves some level of celebrity status within the cosplay community. And, let’s not forget that a new class of professional cosplay photographers is also emerging.
So, what do you think? How many of these cosplay-specific services are present where you live? And for those that aren’t, do you think they could stand a chance?
Opinions? Does anyone on Arama cosplay? I find it interesting that you can see so much scantily clad people at events and no one really cares how little clothes you wear (except the lonely men who take pictures). Have you been to a convention before? How do you feel about cosplaying at sakura viewing events? What are your cosplay pet peeves? Opinions on western cosplayers who have get a lot of flack (Yaya Han, Jessica Nigri)?
Tbh if I could get paid to cosplay I would do it in a heartbeat.