One very unique Japan-ism is cosplay. That’s the practice of actually dressing up like a cartoon character and going out in public. Now, I’m not talking about dressing up as Sailor Moon for an anime convention….I mean dressing up as a cartoon character as a regular part of your weekend and going out. Doing something similar in any western city and you’ll feel very conspicuous within a few metres of your front door, but Japan is different.
I’ve seen MEN dressed in french maid’s outfits (for some funny reason a lot of JDM cartoon character heroines dress as french maids…and for equally funny reasons you occasionally see men emulating them) walking down the street and no one will bat an eyelid. There won’t be any shaking heads or sniggering. I think that Japanese people are just as judgmental as the rest of us, but it’s a politeness thing not to obviously let it show.
And in Tokyo the epicentre of random acts of cosplay seems to be the Akihabara district, which is where you find lots of electronic shops, but also lots of DVD and bookstores selling anime and toy and hobby stores which stock the anime dolls and related accessories, and cosplay stores which can sell you the sailor girl uniform you need to fit your gawky 6’5ft male frame.
Here’s a cool sendup of the Akihabara cosplay thing by Nike:
And here’s an Akihabara restaurant where the staff dress in cosplay:
And here’s one of those stores which can sell you the anime costume of your dreams: http://jupiter-akiba.jp/top.shtm This store seems to do a lot of the sci-fi type anime outfits, but in my experience, the great, great majority of cosplay enthusiasts you see on the streets are young girls dressed as french maids or schoolgirls. Or more accurately, dressed as cartoon characters who dress as french maids and schoolgirls.
I would be the first to admit that I really don’t get it. Maybe I need to hang out at Akihabara more….