Cosplay in Japan is very different from cosplay in America, but there are similarities as well. Japan does not have as many conventions as the United States, so places to cosplay are somewhat limited. Japan also has different social rules than the United States. Over the summer, I went to Comiket in Tokyo.
Conventions in Japan
Comiket is short for Comic Market and it is held two times a year; once in the summer and once in the winter. I thought it was going to be a normal anime convention, but good thing I looked at the website first. That particular convention is free to attend, but if you want to buy anything specific, you are recommended to buy the very large catalog which is a little on the pricy side. Also, you can cosplay, but you have to obey the rules.
1.Never come in your costume: there are specific areas for changing and applying make-up. Some conventions don’t let you put on certain make-up. Also, most conventions do not allow hairspray and other sprays in the convention areas.
2.Photos are not allowed to be taken outside of the 3 areas on site: if you see someone walking in the hallway or working at a booth, you can not take their picture.
3.You always have to ask before taking a picture (unless there is already a group taking pictures, just join in). When you are done taking the picture, people typically bow and say thank you.
4.No inappropriate costumes: for example, no cleavage or super short or tight costumes allowed. This is for obvious reasons like harassment.
5.No pointy or sharp objects: to make sure no one gets hurt.
6.On top of these rules, there is usually a fee just for the cosplayers (about $10, which is not bad if you have been to Otakon or other large scale convention in America). Comiket is mainly a doujinshi (fan made comic) convention, so there is little to no official merchandise. Because of that, no photographs allowed at tables unless by the people running them. Also, they can sell whatever they want, and a lot of them were selling 18+ material and there were not covers or warnings (I saw way too much, that I can not un-see). That is totally different from conventions in America.
Conventions in America
I laid the groundwork for Comiket, so for those who have never attended an anime convention in America, here is how it’s similar and different.
American conventions have similar rules such as the weapons policy. Actually, some conventions have a weapons check where you have to get a certain tie put around your item to ensure that you are allowed to carry it. Metals like steal are not allowed in, guns have to have a painted tip to show that is is not able to be fired and some conventions don’t let you in if your weapon is bigger than you, so people have to scale them down. Some major differences are: American conventions only have a one time admission fee (either a 1 day, a weekend and some have 2 days if it’s a 3+ day event). You don’t have to pay extra money to cosplay and you don’t have to buy a book to navigate your way around. There are no special places to take photos, you can take them anywhere, but you should ask permission to take photos (not all do, I have found pictures where I was drinking water or sitting down). As for the costume content, there are no specific rules, but it has to be appropriate.
Many conventions have 2 places to shop: an artist alley (all fan made items like pictures and plushies) and a dealers room (people sell official merchandise).
Costume Process in Japan vs America:
In general, Japanese people don’t make their costumes from scratch. There are many stores that sell costumes already made in a variety of stores like Animate (a big name anime store in Japan). The costumes are professionally made and are high quality. They also sell high quality wigs and props for the costumes. These are not cheap, a Piccolo costume is about $120 in Don Quijote (kinda like spencers in America, but higher quality and not all of it is inappropriate). In the United States, you either make it from scratch, alter existing clothes or order online which is costly. If you order online, you are playing quality russian roulette as well, unless you are sure of who is making your costume, you can’t be sure how well it will turn out. There are many pros and cons to the Japanese way of cosplay.
If you buy your costume in Japan (at a store), it will be expensive, but well made. You can usually try it on (make sure you ask permission first) instead of waiting for someone to make it, ship it and maybe find out it is not fitting you properly. Also, the store people will be able to help you select a costume, wig and other accessories that will work with you. At most stores, they have wig stands, tips for cleaning costumes, binding materials and anything else you will need for your perfect outfit. There are some downsides: if you are not up to date on the newest anime, you may have trouble finding a costume. Most stores have a small cosplay section with only popular anime. Today, if you walked into any animate or other store, you will find costumes from Tiger and Bunny, Hetalia, Magi the Labyrinth of Magic, Evangelion, Uta no Prince sama and a few others. Other than that, you will most likely have to make them.
If you make your costume from scratch or you alter existing clothes, you not only have the satisfaction of making something yourself and also you have the chance of winning awards if you choose to enter a contest. It is also fun going shopping for the clothes! Get your creative side going with lots of reference pictures from all angles and just cut, sew, glue etc…
Where can you cosplay?
In Japan, people usually cosplay at concerts, photo gatherings (see the Sengoku Basara picture), Harajuku (usually on Sundays) and at conventions like Comiket. The photo of the Sengoku Basara cosplayers was taken at a Japanese “theme park” modeled after the Edo period. I was in the right place at the right time because of the fact that people don’t just cosplay in public as often as Americans. I personally asked them if they made their costumes and only one of them actually did out of the large group. In America, I know many people who just dress up and go places (the mall, a diner, etc…), that is absolutely unheard of in Japan.
Cosplayers are all human, they all are dressing up for fun. That, we all have in common. Because we love anime and want to show off that character, we cosplay. That is what it is all about.
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