Arama They Didn't

9:36 pm - 05/16/2013

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.
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johnnypenn 17th-May-2013 02:31 am (UTC)
I love cosplay! This summer I am going to do Edward Elric from FMA and Kenshin from RK.
However, I have to buy them because I suck at sewing and my Mom can't do it because of arthritis.
I am also one of those weird people who aren't eletists who think that the only official cosplay is the cosplay a person makes.
I honestly don't care if someone makes their cosplay, buys it or pulls stuff out of their closet. As long as they're having fun it's all good to me!
chibi_hime 17th-May-2013 04:04 am (UTC)
I think it's hilarious when my cousin has that stuck up attitude about "real" cosplayers. The recent boom in mainstreaming cosplay is mainly thanks to stores that sell mass-produced costumes. So most of the cosplayers I know in Japan do that so that they can have time to add all the fine details like contact lens, perfecting the character's make up, etc.
molly_hime 17th-May-2013 02:36 am (UTC)
I've only cosplayed once but it really is a lot of fun. Mine was a quick handmade one as we decided we were going to the convention a month before it. But I find cosplayed really fascinating and it's really easy to see who puts effort in and who doesn't. I don't really like people who cosplay at Sakura events though. That's a cultural place not an anime convention. Unless you're asked to then I don't think you should. I think my biggest pet peeve is people who don't understand boundaries. Like yes people may be dressed up as a character but they aren't that character. At the convention I was at a guy was cosplaying a Death The Kid from Soul Eater and another guy was practically in his face screaming at him that he wasn't symmetrical. And I just... Common decency please.
myharu 17th-May-2013 02:38 am (UTC)
I wanna cosplay so badly uuuuuuuugggggghhhhh. And yes I've been to a con and no I don't like seeing cosplayers at festivals not meant for it.

If someone gives me money to cosplay I would do it

I died at that Ren cosplayer

I really want to see a good Shingeki no Kyoujin cosplay, three dimensional maneuver gear and all
liime_arix 17th-May-2013 02:50 am (UTC)
When I found out she is a girl, I was like damn, that's some high level crossplay.

Shingeki no Kyoujin cosplay:
and =3
milkshake 17th-May-2013 02:40 am (UTC)
I cosplay and I've been to a cosplay event here in Japan. It's a bit intimidating though, especially if you don't know anyone.
It's really interesting to see the difference though between famous cosplayers and regular cosplayers. Photographers will line up to take pics of the famous ones and then there will be cosplayer groups who just take pictures within their group.

I love cosplay, I think it's one of the funnest things there are. You get to be creative and use materials you would have never used before. You try to defy gravity and in the end you get to be someone else for a day. :) It's a blast.
mizakiwa 17th-May-2013 03:19 am (UTC)
I go to anime conventions in my area but I havent cosplayed yet, but I plan on cosplaying next year~ As Kaibutsu-kun and Ema Skye perhaps :D I just need to find the time to make my cosplay and put it together haha. I really like seeing the people that put a ton of effort into their cosplay. Like this year I saw this person inside a gundam mobile suit made out of all sorts of materials and it even had lights attached! It was crazy. The girls that cosplay as male characters are really nice to see too :D I personally dont like the people that are just like "You're Ichigo from Bleach! Let me hug you!" Like wut. I just want to tell them to calm down.... I think the most traumatizing happening for me to see at a convention was when I was eating by the escalators and this girl going down was wearing a skirt and SHE WAS NOT WEARING UNDERWEAR o__o I lost my appetite after seeing what I saw. Like c'mon. No one wants to see that. Well maybe except for lonely horny men.

I also dont like seeing cosplayers cosplay in an event not really appropriate for cosplaying. Like the Sakura Festival event in my area.

If I got paid to cosplay, that would surely be a plus.
liime_arix 17th-May-2013 03:31 am (UTC)
Last year I cosplayed as Misa from Death Note. I want to cosplay again this year but I'm stuck between: K-On, Tamako Market, Madoka, Hatsune Miku.

I'm buying (I don't have the time this past year to make anything) so I'm considering things like cost, what to do with the costume after I'm done cosplaying. Like a uniform can be altered and reworn same with a black wig that can be worn outside of cosplay (My blonde wig from last year is just collecting dust now, I'll probably dye it and remove the shine). However with Hatsune, she has a variation of costumes that can be worn with the single wig (and I could sell off the costumes too). Decisions, decisions...
johnnypenn 18th-May-2013 09:42 pm (UTC)
I totally know what you mean on cost; I am not going to a con. I got into cosplay a few years ago and have always wanted 'official' cosplay from stores online and it's only recently that I"ve been able to actually concider which store to buy from.

I'm lookin between Cosplay Sky and Cosplay Shopper and I think I'll get the wigs off Amazon.

I hope you find success in your cosplay.
chibi_hime 17th-May-2013 03:56 am (UTC)
I've cosplayed before at an anime convention and had a great time!
My pet peeve about it is when it's done at a sakura hanami event though... I think this is because some girl tried to convince me that the Japanese do the same. Ummm, no.

But anyway, I'm glad cosplay is getting more mainstream in Japan. I had a co-worker who does all her cosplay in secret because her family said they would disown her.

And the guy who's dressed as a Tenga should get ALL THE AWARDS!

Edited at 2013-05-17 04:08 am (UTC)
katzsong 17th-May-2013 04:22 am (UTC)
I accidentally went to a con last weekend. I was going to my office on a Saturday for a meeting (the meeting on 3rd floor) and found out that there was a local cosplay con on the 1rst floor! Well, my university has been hosting quite a number of youth-cultural events lately. The costumes were nice. I think there was one who's cosplaying as Oda Nobunaga from a video game. There's no scantily clad clothing, coz I think it would never happen in my country :P
I would love to cosplay, but probably I would prefer a suit or school jackets. Maybe some characters from Kuroshitsuji or Ouran.
asaphira_sachi 17th-May-2013 04:39 am (UTC)
I've gone to cons for 10 years now, cosplayed once in a while, most of the time ppl don't know who I am tho cuz I do obscure 'characters' lol.
testvvw 17th-May-2013 03:49 pm (UTC)
Me too!
emiichan 17th-May-2013 04:51 am (UTC)
It's fun to see the cosplayers tbh. It's like, you are looking at the actual anime (if the cosplayer is good) and it brings lot of feels. I do wish to cosplay but it's hard to find cosplay shop in my country; the only option is the online shop which I have bad experience with. Anyway, cosplaying could be a culture in the future, who knows so I'm excited to see more :)

That Gareki and Yogi cosplayer is UHMMMMN~! :3
ichigohaatsu 17th-May-2013 04:54 am (UTC)
Amazing! I'm glad that Reika-sama's Ren cosplay was a part of this post!
helios_spade 17th-May-2013 05:26 am (UTC)
Sakura and Syaoran!*nose bleeds
kachuusha 17th-May-2013 05:58 am (UTC)
I would love to cosplay but have not done it yet. I might for next Halloween because I would like to do it but I don't have the sewing skill, time or money to do.
kinari_pamyu 17th-May-2013 07:14 am (UTC)
I'd recommend choosing an easily thrift shoppable cosplay if you're tight on budget :D There are plenty out there, and it keeps the cost way down.
serria 17th-May-2013 05:59 am (UTC)
I've cosplayed in both Japan and America, and I have to say, cosplay in Japan is.... not as fun as cosplay in America. There is much less of a sense of community and a bunch of fans having geeky fun. You can't really wander around a convention in cosplay in Japan, at least you can't get your photo taken anywhere except the "cosplay" area, which is often packed and sweaty. The rules are a lot more strict, too - you have to pay to get into cosplay, and you get into cosplay in a giant room stuffed with people and you look for a free spot to change. And you can't come or leave the convention in cosplay, either. People are friendly, of course, and overall polite - except for the perverts, but I guess you get that anywhere - but in my experience people don't flock around to make new friends as much. The atmosphere is a bit more serious. If I'm in the cosplay area I basically stand there posing for long periods because people line up to take pictures, and honestly it gets a bit boring.

Of course, it's a giant myth that cosplay is "better" in Japan - at a convention, you see all sorts of levels ability. I also heard from a Japanese cosplayer that most cosplayers here don't make their costumes but buy them, WITH EXCEPTIONS of course. Still, as I said, it feels a bit more serious... like, I don't often see people take derpy photos, or photos with friends from different series, even photos with non-cosplayers are rare. And cosplayers often have "business" cards with aliases - it's really not socially acceptable to admit you cosplay, which I guess is true in America, but it feels more severe here. So this sentence in the article, "And how are cosplayers themselves making the most out of this bountiful, infinitely tolerant environment?" confuses me, because I don't think it's tolerant at all, unless of course you're using an alias and no one but your close friends knows you do it.

What I REALLY don't like about cosplaying in Japan, too, is that some photographers compile the pictures they've taken and sell them in "cosplay" books. I'm not comfortable with anyone selling my photos without my permission, and the fact that it's cosplay and not even "my" character really rubs me the wrong way.

But still, not to put Japan down because cosplay culture is fun. Going to shops dedicated to cosplay, wigs, etc. and going to official cosplay studios... that's awesome! On the other hand, though, as far as going to conventions for a relaxing, geeky, silly getaway, I'd rather go to America.
dearmisterecho 18th-May-2013 10:06 am (UTC)
not really into cosplaying but this was an interesting read, thanks!
kinari_pamyu 17th-May-2013 07:13 am (UTC)
I cosplay/crossplay on and off, but I'm getting a bit old for it now sadly. I think it's fine to show off skin provided it's at an age appropriate convention or event, and both the cosplayers and those photographing them behave appropriately according to law and the wishes of the cosplayer themselves. I guess it completely depends upon the individual/situation imo.

I envy the resources Japanese (and to a lesser extent Korean/other East Asian) cosplayers have. There's nothing like this in England despite a quite healthy cosplay culture, and since it's a lesser known style of showing your fandom then it's more likely to net you abuse on the street etc. (This is why I go to events out of cosplay and change at the venue.)

I love reading cosplay magazines too ♥ Seeing the creativity of cosplayers (even those who pre-buy their outfits) is really interesting.
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