NIPPONIA No. 40 March 15, 2007


Special Featuresp_star.gifThe Cute World of Kawaii

Having Fun with Storybook Fantasies

Some young Japanese say that just seeing their favorite characters in animé and video games is not enough — they want to interact with them, maybe even be them. There are ways to bring these dreams closer to reality...

Written by Nagata Yoshiyuki
Photos by Yamade Takashi, Nose Hirofumi and Okuno Tadashi

Cosplay: Costume Play in Fantasyland

Living the life of a cartoon character

Yunose Sora's costume was inspired by the uniform of a video game character. The beret with long ribbon is the costume's most endearing feature.

The "costume play" fad began in the mid-1990s, when young adults started dressing up to look like the characters from an animé or video game. Playing their roles, they arrive at comic book markets in their costumes, turning the markets into fun festivals.

Comic book markets (komike for short) are held every week in major cities throughout the country, and cosplay enthusiasts can also be seen on the streets of Tokyo's Akihabara district. On a street barred to Sunday traffic, young women in costume pose with big smiles for amateur photographers lined up waiting for them. Some "costume players" dream of becoming professional singers, and you might see them sing and dance for the crowd.

Yunose Sora has been into cosplay for seven years. "Some of the costumes I buy, others I make myself. Once I get into the outfit of a character I like, I find it easy to identify with her. I really enjoy getting under the skin of my favorite fantasyland characters.

"I suppose you could say that cosplay is kimokawa." (Kimokawa is an extra-short abbreviation of "kimochi warui kedo, kawaii," which means "weird but cute.") "Maybe it's weird to show a fair amount of flesh or dress up in some outlandish costume. But it makes me into a cartoon character or videogame heroine, and I'm sure everyone finds the costume cute," she smiles.

Today, her cutest favorites are Disney's Lilo and Stitch. "They have really funny, expressive faces. And I like their mischievous side."

Yunose works as a waitress at Little BSD, a cosplay pub and restaurant in Akihabara. During her time off work you may see her singing in a two-person group. This avid kimokawa player enjoys every minute of it.


Amateur photographers snap their shutters when a "costume player" takes up a pose. A scene in Akihabara.

Consumer items featuring Sora's favorite characters. She says customers at the pub-restaurant where she works sometimes give her gifts like these.