So you’re all ready to go to your first cosplay event in Japan. Maybe you’re living in Japan and it’s time for you to take the plunge. Maybe you’ve bought your ticket and packed your bags, and are getting ready to embark on the ultimate cosplay pilgrimage. You might find yourself wondering if the event in Japan will be the same as what you are used to in your own country. And the answer to that is no, Japanese cosplay events are very unique, and the cultural barriers can be high if you don’t know what to expect and what is going on when you arrive.
Luckily for you, we are here to help you out! So before you roll up to a cosplay event in Japan ready to go but not really sure what to do, take a break and read this first. We are here to give you a quick and efficient guide about just how to attend a cosplay event in Japan - what you should do in advance a guide for what to do what you get there, how to enjoy the event, and a few do’s and don’ts along the way. We want you to enjoy your event as much as possible, so we are here to help you do just that!
Before the Event
Just like planning to go to a cosplay event in your own country, it’s important to read the rules about an event in Japan before you decide to go. Many larger events have websites with English information about cosplay, and even if they don’t provide official English you can use an online translator to check the guidelines. Japanese events tend to have different rules from Western ones, including restrictions on the amount of skin that can show, the size of props, and typically a ban on military and service uniforms (sometimes including Hetalia). Some also have rules about cross-playing as the opposite gender, so it’s best to check in advance before you decide on your outfit.
If your costume or make-up is difficult or elaborate, it’s a good idea to practise at home putting it all together while sitting in a small space. All cosplay events in Japan require you to change in a changing room at the venue, and you will likely have less than a meter of space for you and your cosplay. If you aren’t used to getting changed in such a limited space and with only a portable mirror balanced on your suitcase, it’s in your best interest to practise in advance. That way on the day of the event, you know exactly what you need to do to get ready. Hopefully, it will help make the process faster as well so you can move on to actually enjoying the event!
You’re likely to be travelling to a cosplay event in Japan using public transportation, which is what nearly all other cosplayers will be doing as well. Be smart about planning how to bring your cosplay, wig, and props safely to the event. Most cosplayers in Japan use a small, hard rolling suitcase for their outfit and shoes because it also doubles as a table for makeup and a mirror in the changing room. A common hack for transporting weapons and props is using a soft guitar case with backpack straps to take everything on the train. If you’re really worried about a styled wig, consider storing it pinned to a wig head in a paper carrier bag, or even wearing it to the event if it’s not too extreme of a style.
When You Arrive
Once you arrive at a cosplay event in Japan, the first thing you will want to do is fine where you can change into your cosplay. Typically these areas are well-marked, and some events even post their locations online in advance. If you are unsure, try to ask a staff member where you need to go, though usually following the other people with rolling suitcases is a good indicator of the right direction. Be aware that many events do not have the male and female changing rooms in the same location, and they might be quite spread out from one another. If you’re cosplaying with a friend using the other changing room, make a plan for where to meet up after. Commonly the queue for the female changing area is considerably longer than the male one.
It’s a good idea to have tickets for the event in advance if you can to help avoid a queue just to get into the event itself because you’re very likely to have to wait in a long queue to change once inside. Cosplay events in Japan charge an additional cosplay fee (typically anywhere from ¥1000 to ¥2000) which you will pay at a table near the changing room, and receive a ticket or sticker that you need to keep with you. It allows you access to the changing area and also is proof to staff throughout the day that you paid the cosplay fee and changed in the designated area. The changing free often includes free baggage storage as well, though you should check with each individual event to be sure.
After you have paid your fees, you can make your way into the changing area. This is where you need to do everything for your cosplay, including wigs and make-up. Most changing areas do not allow the use of hair spray due to how close you will be to other people. After you’re finished changing, you can drop your things off at the baggage storage. Be sure you have your wallet, phone, and anything else you may need throughout the day! Many events do not allow you to access your bag freely. And whatever you do, don’t lose your bag ticket. Finally, you can head out into the event.
Enjoying the Event
Remember, you’re at a Japanese cosplay event; it is not going to be the same as the one you might be used to in a Western country. But as long as you don’t expect it to be identical, then you can adapt and have fun! Most anime or video game events in Japan have a special area dedicated to cosplayers, usually outside, that is the main hub to gather in. You’re free to wander around the whole event, of course, but are unlikely to have many photos taken and may find the crowds difficult to move through in your cosplay. The cosplay area is where most cosplayers take their photos! Standard Japanese cosplay practise is to find a good place to stand along the edge or against a wall, strike a pose, and wait for the photographers to queue up. Many cosplayers will stay in the same place all day if they find a good spot, so it's a good idea to get there early to get a good place yourself.
A few years ago, most Japanese cosplayers carried their own business cards, called “meishi,” and photographers had them as well. Some cosplayers and photographers still exchange meishi to get their photos later. In recent years, though, many cosplayers simply have a sign beside them with their social media written on it for photographers to snap a quick picture of, or they just exchange Twitter handles on the spot. If you want to get your photos back or connect with Japanese cosplayers, Twitter is the most popular form of social media in Japan, so make one in advance if you don’t already have one.
Some big cosplay events will even bring some special backdrops to the cosplay area with scenes from anime or just photogenic patterns on them to give you an even better place to pose. Usually, they will list these backgrounds in advance on their website so you can plan what cosplay to bring! The most popular cosplays at Japanese events are from current anime or ones that retain their popularity forever (like Sailor Moon and One Piece). It's rare to see alternative outfits of any characters or lesser known anime. More recently, there are more Japanese cosplayers cosplaying from Western media like Marvel and Harry Potter. For now, though, Japanese anime and games retain their number one spot!
Cosplay events in Japan can be intimidating because they are quite different from events in other countries, but don’t let that stop you from going to one! While they might not be to all cosplayers’ tastes due to the changing rooms and impersonal atmosphere, they are worth trying at least once. You never know what you might discover - you might even like them better! So don’t be intimidated because it's different; hopefully, with our simple guide, you now have a basic idea of what to do and expect to make the most of attending a cosplay event in Japan.
Have you ever been to a Japanese cosplay event? How did you feel about it? Do you like Western or Japanese events better? Are there any other parts of the Japanese cosplay scene you would like to see a similar explanation of? Drop us a comment in the space below!