Because cosplay originated in Japan, many cosplayers around the world dream of visiting the birthplace of their favourite hobby. Many cosplayers do eventually take the pilgrimage and travel, hoping to see the Japanese side of the cosplay world. Cosplay is very accessible in Japan, and while you’re not going to see cosplayers out in the streets on an average day, you can find cosplay stores and related facilities if you know where to go. Cosplay is not uncommon as a hobby in Japan, and many businesses have capitalised on its unique needs to make a lot of money opening a variety of places for cosplayers to go.
There are a few options for things you can see doing cosplay tourism in Japan. In short, they can be split into three main categories - cosplay stores, photo studios, and actual cosplay events. We will tell you what you can expect to find and do at each of these, as well as make a few recommendations for places to go to get you started in Tokyo and Osaka. Japan can be overwhelming when you’re visiting, and we wouldn’t want you to miss the cosplay scene that is right there to enjoy - as long as you know what to look for.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
For starters, there is an abundance of stores catering to cosplayers throughout Japan. Some advertise themselves very clearly as being cosplay stores, and other stock materials commonly used by cosplayers amongst the rest of their wares. We will tell you about both so that you don’t miss anything on your cosplay trip to Japan!
First, there are several stores dedicated to selling complete cosplays in Japan. The most commonly found one is ACOSTA, which sells brand new cosplays in a few sizes that you can buy and wear immediately straight out of the bag. ACOSTA shops are typically found in anime areas of major cities, like Akihabara and Ikebukuro in Tokyo, and Nipponbashi in Osaka. There are a few other similar stores as well, usually in the same areas. These cosplay stores have cosplays both on displays and in garment bags and are usually sorted by the name of the anime or game that the outfits come from. The tags will list the character name and size, but be warned this is typically only in Japanese. These cosplays cost anywhere from ¥10,000 to ¥30,000 depending on the outfit.
In addition to full cosplays, these cosplay stores also sell a lot of different shoes, bags, glasses, ties, hats, shirts, uniforms, and more to help put together cosplays of your own. You can usually buy pieces of popular outfits as well, such as just a cape from Shingeki no Kyojin, or a t-shirt from Persona 5. Sometimes they even sell a few general props, like handguns, knives, simple swords, violins, balls, and more.
These stores also stock plenty of wigs and cosplay make up to browse through, including eyebrow pencils in every colour of the rainbow and hairpins to match any wig. It’s really useful for finishing off the final touches of a cosplay! Some stores are even dedicated to only wigs and makeup, and will have an even wider variety to choose from. For example, Assist Wig in Ikebukuro has over ten shades and many lengths of every colour you can think of, so you can colour match your character’s hair exactly. The shop staff is usually happy to help you pick out a good colour as well if you bring a reference picture of the character.
Finally, don’t let your cosplay shopping tour finish without visiting Tokyu Hands. Tokyu Hands is advertised as a “life” store across Japan because it has a wide variety of things for your house, stationary, toys, luggage, and for our intents and purposes, DIY. Tokyu Hands, especially in neighbourhoods like Ikebukuro, has an incredible selection of materials to make cosplays and props. Selling everything from paint and primer to latex and plastic sheets, foam board and polystyrene to soldering guns and leather, Tokyu Hands is a one-stop-shop for picking up the base materials to take on nearly any cosplay project. It’s great to see the variety of things available!
Take One-of-a-Kind Photos
One of the most unique and exciting things you can do on a cosplay trip to Japan is to visit a photo studio! Because cosplaying in public is seen as taboo and inconvenient to the general population, Japanese cosplay has adapted to endure cosplayers can still get the best photos possible. Their answer was creating elaborate photo studios in Japan’s major cities, giving cosplayers sets and backgrounds better than they ever could have found out and about anyway. These photo studios have multiple rooms, each with a different and unique theme to match as many kinds of outfits as possible.
Haco is the most popular chain of these photo studios, with locations in Tokyo and Osaka. Their studios feature rooms that look like prison cells, classrooms, Japanese tea rooms, forests, castles, coffee shops, and more! You can choose how many hours you want to attend the studio for, and then within that time, you can take as many photos in as many outfits as you want. The studios have plenty of space to change and get ready, and even a small area where you can take a much-needed break to eat and drink. Bear in mind that entrance to the studio doesn’t mean you are renting it privately; you will be sharing the space with other people. So use your time wisely!
It’s a good idea to check the website for the studio in advance as they have pictures of all the current rooms you can use. That way you can decide just what cosplay you want to take with you so you don’t regret not getting the perfect shot. Also be sure to bring someone to be the photographer as well, or visit with another cosplayer and take turns. The studio provides the space, but it’s up to you to provide the rest.
Attend a Cosplay Event
There are quite a few different events that you can attend while in Japan where you can experience the cosplay scene firsthand. Tokyo has the most events per year, but most major cities have at least one big event that you can check out. A few of the biggest events to get you started are Anime Japan every spring in Tokyo, Comiket in the summer and winter in Tokyo, World Cosplay Summit every summer in Nagoya, and Nipponbashi Street Festa every spring in Osaka. Nipponbashi Street Festa specifically is great for seeing a diverse and rich cosplay world as the event is focused just in cosplay, and people from around the world attend, bringing some incredible outfits.
It’s worth noting that cosplaying at an event in Japan means changing at the event in the designated changing area along with other people of the same gender. This usually involves an additional fee on top of the price of the event itself, but that fee often includes free bag storage while you’re cosplaying. There’s also almost always a second queue to wait in to change into your cosplay after you arrive, so plan to get their early. The queue for the female changing room especially tends to be quite long, especially at the beginning and end of the day.
As with going to cosplay events in any country, be sure to check all the rules before attending an event in Japan. Many of the big events also post their cosplay information online in English as well as Japanese, but you can always use translation software if necessary. Generally, Japanese events are stricter than Western ones about what you can wear. They tend to not let you show skin very freely, whether male or female. Some do not allow body paint. Most events do not allow any military or service uniforms, and some include Hetalia in that rule. While it is becoming less common, some events in the past also had rules against men cosplaying as female characters. It’s safer to check in advance rather than assume and travel all the way to Japan only to not be able to wear your outfit.
Are you ready to pack your bags and head off to Japan in a cosplay tour? Between the rest of your sightseeing, it’s not hard at all to spend a considerable amount of time seeing all the cosplay scene in Japan has to offer. Whether you’re looking to buy a complete cosplay easily, pick up some hard to find accessories, take some of the best cosplay pictures of your life, or do some networking with cosplayers from around the world, there’s more than enough to keep you busy! Cosplay tourism may not be the reason most people come to Japan, but don’t let that hold you back if that’s why you want to visit.
Have you ever done any cosplay tourism in Japan? Have you visited any of the places we mentioned? Do you have any other advice for people that want to do cosplay tourism in Japan? Do you have any questions about doing it yourself? Where would you like to go on your cosplay pilgrimage? Let us know in the comments below!