Cosplay, short for “costume play”, is a subculture centered on dressing as characters from manga, anime, tokusatsu, and video games, and, less commonly, Japanese live action television shows, fantasy movies, Japanese pop music bands, Visual Kei, fantasy music stories, novels, and anything in the real world being unique and dramatic. However, in some circles, “cosplay” has been expanded to mean simply wearing a costume. The most specific anecdote about the origin of the word “cosplay” was that Nov Takahashi coined the term “cosplay” as a contraction of the English-language words “costume play” while attending the 1984 Los Angeles Science Fiction Worldcon. He was so impressed by the hall and masquerade costuming there that he reported about it frequently in Japanese science fiction magazines. The word fits in with a common Japanese method of abbreviation: combining the first two moras of each word. “Cos” becomes kosu and play become pure hence becoming the nearest Japanese approximation of cosplay, which is kosupure. Cosplay can be seen at public events such as video game shows, as well as at dedicated cosplay parties at nightclubs or amusement parks.
It is not unusual for Japanese teenagers to gather with like-minded friends in places like Tokyo’s Harajuku district to engage in cosplay. Since 1998, Tokyo’s Akihabara district has contained a large number of cosplay cafés, catering to devoted anime and cosplay fans. The waitresses at such cafés dress as game or anime characters; maid costumes are particularly popular. Possibly the single largest and most famous event attended by cosplayers is the semiannual doujinshi market, Comiket. This event, held in summer and winter, attracts hundreds of thousands of manga otaku and many thousands of cosplayers who congregate on the roof of the exhibition center, often in unbearably hot or cold conditions. Cosplayers in Japan refer to themselves as reyazu ; pronounced layers. Those who photograph players are called cameko, short for “Camera Kozo” or “Camera Boy”. The cameko give prints of their photos to the players as gifts. Tensions between players and cameko have increased due to perceived stalker-like behavior among some obsessive males who push female cosplayers to exchange personal email addresses or do private photo sessions. One result of this has been a tightening of restrictions on photography at events such as Comiket. While Cosplay arguably originated in Japan, one should not be confused with the idea that Cosplay is considered typical behavior in Japan. While some do attend Cosplay functions that are held in districts such as Akihabara, most Japanese people find Cosplay to be rather silly. In addition, because Cosplay in Japan has adapted such a negative sexual connotation, many Japanese have come to feel that Cosplay is reprehensible. In addition, North Americans who Cosplay typically refer to themselves as “otaku”, which is essentially the Japanese word for “geek”, and use this word in an attempt to embody themselves in a sociological group of which they can be proud. To contrast, in Japan actual “otaku” refuse to admit that they are otaku, because the word suggests a group of people who are engaging in an activity that may seem “just a little different”. In fact, being an otaku in Japan entails standing on one of the bottom rungs of the Japanese social ladder.
Cosplay costumes are radically different from typical Halloween costumes. Because the object of cosplay is to literally become one’s character, the intricate details of the costumes are critical. Costumes must meticulously adhere to the designs of the characters’ attire, and even more generic costumes are often elaborately artistic. Rigorous attention to detail may include ensuring the seams are aligned properly, thread colors are appropriate, and fabric colors precisely match the character and their attire. Some cosplayers will buy their costumes from talented artists, while others may spend months creating the perfect cosplay outfit. Because the costumes are so elaborate, like-minded people gather to see others’ costumes, show off their own elaborate handmade creations, take lots of pictures, and possibly participate in best costume contests at different cosplay events. In Japanese, the term can also mean — and may originate from — the use of costumes for sexual purposes, in which case the “play” refers not to dressing up, but sexual play while dressed up. The term hence overlaps what would usually be known in English as sexual roleplaying or sexual fetishism: for example, wearing a schoolgirl uniform before or during sex would be known as seifuku cosplay, and many Japanese love hotels offer costume rental services. In the Japanese sex industry, sex clubs that specialize in sexual cosplay are known as image clubs. In addition to standard fetishistic standbys such as schoolgirl, nurse, policewoman, an increasing number, pioneered by the now defunct Wedding Bell chain, cater to otaku with staff dressing up as anime characters.