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YumeTwins Kawaii Culture BlogWhat is Cosplay? A Look Into Japan’s Unique Pop Culture

What is Cosplay? A Look Into Japan’s Unique Pop Culture

By Linh
May 01, 2022

Apart from sushi and sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms), cosplay is one of the most common terms when referring to Japan. Originating from a small trend a few decades ago, cosplay has now become one of the most popular sub-cultures among Japanese manga and anime lovers all around the world.

An Interesting History

Cosplay was originally inspired by the first World Science Fiction Convention held in 1978, where people dressed as characters in fictional works called “masquerade”. 

Nobuyuki Takahashi, after experiencing the 1984 festival in Los Angeles, created a new term, using the usual Japanese way of combining two existing words into a new word. So, the “cos” (kosu) of “costume” combined with “play” (pure) of “roleplay”, becomes “Cosplay” (kosupure).

In the 90s, thanks to the strong development of television and magazines, cosplay grew more strongly too, and the word “cosplay” was also used by a large number of Japanese. Nowadays, this term is not only a part of Japanese anime culture but also a worldwide cultural phenomenon.

The Art of Bringing Fictional Characters to Life

A woman poses as she does a cosplay of Shinobu from Demon Slayer, a character who wears a white, pink and black butterfly kimono over a black uniform and has an orange flower sword hilt.
For a professional, the experience is about bringing a character off the screen or page and into real life. Image via Shutterstock

As we all know, cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a fictional character who can be from manga, anime, fictional books, movies, or video games, as well as artists or musicians. 

However, cosplay is not simply about dressing in costume, going beyond by recreating the characters in a soulful way. Professionals pay attention to the appearance, gestures, and actions so that people can immediately see the characteristics of that character. In addition to freelance cosplayers who cosplay as a hobby, there are many people who gather in groups to practice and perform together in cosplay competitions or festivals.

Want to celebrate your love for Japanese manga and anime like cosplaying? YumeTwins sends Japanese plushies, figures, accessories, and home goods of your favorite anime characters, right to your door every month, so you can enjoy the magical and kawaii lifestyle in your own way!

Anime & Manga Character cosplay

This is obviously the most popular but most difficult form of cosplay, usually requiring the highest professionalism. Anime and manga lovers who cosplay usually make their own costumes, do their own makeup, and prepare accessories and wigs to make it as close to the original character as possible.

Most cosplayed characters usually come from popular comics that are associated with the childhood memories of people both in Japan and all over the world. Anime like Naruto and Demon Slayer are some of the most commonly cosplayed shows with so many versions from male to female, serious versions to sexy and quirky ones, all of which portray different colors and characteristics, bringing different views to the character. 

It is also a must to mention magical girl anime series including Cardcaptor Sakura, Sailor Moon, Princess Tutu, and more, which never fail to be a role model for their fans and bring the magical world into real life through cosplaying. Plus with so many magical girl anime outfits out there, it’s a popular and varied cosplay genre.

If you are a big fan of Ghibli anime, you’ll know that we all love “No Face” from Spirited Away. No Face cosplay stands out with an emotionless face mask and a black one-piece that might look simple but actually has many funny versions too.

A woman poses with a sword in her hands as she does a cosplay of Saber from the Fate series in front of a poster for a Fate promotion or event.
Don’t worry. We didn’t forget about video game characters. However, video game characters can be hard with so many small details in both armor and weapons. Image via Shutterstock

Lolita cosplay

Lolita cosplay means dressing in lolita-like fashion to cosplay a character wearing this unique style. In general, this style aims to express the youthfulness of a young girl and give off a luxurious, lovely but Victorian vibe since lolita outfits and accessories are influenced by Victorian clothing.

Lolita can be a type of cosplay subculture, but it is mostly known as a cute street style fashion in Japan. Not as it seems, lolita costumes are quite expensive and are not easy to handmake, so this style is not for those who just try it once.

Maid cosplay

“Maid Cafe” – a coffee shop where you will be served by waiters dressed as maids who are usually seen in old Western movies, is probably no stranger to Japanese culture enthusiasts. Compared to Lolita style, maid cosplay is not as difficult and costumes are also much cheaper, making them popular choices for things like Halloween in Japan.

So for those of you who are new to this community or just do it for fun, you can try this form. However, this type of cosplay needs to be cleverly expressed because it can be controversial if done wrong.

Schoolgirl cosplay 

Japanese young people at a cosplay event in Osaka cosplay as characters from Prison School, including the headmaster, a prisoner student, and a regular student.
This may seem strange, but for many Japanese people, student or teacher characters are easy since they most often have or have access to uniforms as a base. Image via Shutterstock

The Japanese school uniform goes beyond its original meaning as a uniform and is now also a fashion style representing youth. So many cosplayers, despite graduating from school a long time ago, still love to dress as high school anime characters. If you are not used to living in Japan, it may be hard to differentiate between schoolgirl cosplayers and real school girls.

Japanese school girl uniforms have various styles like sailor uniforms or blazers with plaid skirts, which are fashionable and affordable at the same time, making schoolgirl cosplay a popular and easy option, even for amateurs and beginners.

Miko Cosplay

Miko (巫女) are shrine maidens in Japan. The image of shrine maidens in red Hakama pants and white Kosode shirt (like a predecessor to the kimono) that is both pure and mysterious has always been one of the most attractive images in the Japanese cosplay community. This is mainly because of all of the interesting characters who wear this outfit.

This amazing sub-culture has no age or gender limit as long as you like to dress up and have a passion for the character you love, so it is an activity that anyone can participate in. Are you a cosplayer? Share with us your favorite cosplay character in the comment below!

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