Ikebukuro in Tokyo is the holy land for female pop culture. In recent years, this district has begun to be known as a place for doing cosplay. Events like “acosta!”, where female cosplayers dress themselves up in fantastic costumes, have started spreading in this area, so we decided to cover this story about Ikebukuro’s cosplay culture.
■Ikebukuro erupts with female pop culture
On this last 5 and 6 of November, Ikebukuro was drowned in female fans of anime, manga and videogames. It was the Animate Girls Festival 2016 (from now on AGF), which describes itself as a “wonderland for sparkling young ladies.” Centered around Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City, there were many project booths and product booths lined up, and during those two days it welcomed about 77,000 visitors. It was a couple of days dedicated entirely to entertainment which was aimed at a female market, and you could really feel the excitement in the air.
The location of “Animate Girls Festival 2016″①
The location of “Animate Girls Festival 2016″②
■A cosplay event which helps expand its own culture
Simultaneous with AGF, another cosplay event which was held during those days was “acosta!~AGF2016 Special~”
Those days the streets were colored by women dressed in bright costumes. The photography area for this “acosta!” event was in Higashi Ikebukuro Central Park, right next to Otome Road (*1), close to Ikebukuro’s Sunshine City. On the day of the event, many cosplayers who had dressed up as their favorite characters came together in Ikebukuro, and the streets got filled with excitement. One aspect of this event which deserves to be mentioned is that more than an 80% of the attending cosplayers are female. It does not mean that male cosplayers are not allowed, but simply that more women seem to be naturally drawn to Ikebukuro.
“acosta!~AGF2016 Special~” Higashi Ikebukuro Central Park becomes brightly colored by all the female cosplayers
The 1st edition of “acosta!” took place in March of 2014. The sponsors of this event are Hacosta, Inc., who own a cosplay studio in the Otome Road area. Mr. Nishizawa, of their project management department, told us that cosplay used to be something only for hardcore fans, but nowadays it’s becoming more widespread, and even families can lightly enjoy a visit to this cosplay event. According to him, maybe cosplay is now reaching out to a more mainstream audience. Noticing this, they decided to boldly start the first of this series of “acosta!” events, with the aim of transforming Ikebukuro into the holy land of cosplay.
At the time, they were worried about how many people would come, but the figures exceeded their expectations: in the end more than 200 cosplayers attended. Since then more than 2 years and 8 months have passed, and 24 more editions of this event have been held, at a pace of roughly 1 every month. With each new edition the number of attendants grew, and now the number of visitors reaches up to 5,000 people.
During our talk with Mr. Nishizawa, he also told us that the popular form of cosplay these days is “idol costumes”. We tried to actually ask the attendants themselves, and they told us that the most popular forms of cosplay are currently those based on “IDOLiSH7” and “Ensemble Stars” (both of them are smartphone games). They also told us that before these, the popular choice was F6 from “Mr. Osomatsu” (an anime).
These female cosplayers are sensitive to changes in fashion, and are quick to notice which new character costumes are becoming popular. So, by observing their costumes you can also learn what new contents are currently in fashion.
■The growing community of female cosplayers
We asked the female cosplayers attending this event to tell us about its charms.
“This way I can be my true self. It’s an entire day full of fun. (woman in her twenties, company employee)”
“This way I can join in the community. It’s a place to meet fellow cosplayers. (teenage girl, student)”
“As a child I was raised in Brazil, but even over there Japanese anime was very popular. It’s so much fun to become these characters. (woman in her twenties, working part-time jobs)”
We asked other attendants where they had come from, and many of them said they had come to Tokyo all the way from other prefectures, such as Aomori, Akita or Yamanashi. Upon meeting each other, these women exchanged business cards and connected over twitter, thus forming a solid community.
First of all they exchange business cards! They then got in touch through twitter.
While interviewing them we really felt how courteous and polite they are. They all want to protect their own event, so they act appropriately.
■The event takes place in the middle of the streets!
Another one of the characteristics of “acosta!” is that the entire neighborhood approves of cosplay. On these days the event is mainly held in Sunshine City, in a wide area stretching from Ikebukuro station to central Ikebukuro park, and most of the stores in this zone allow visitors to enter their premises dressed in cosplay, to go shopping, eat their meals, and generally walk around town freely in their costumes.
Female cosplayers walking down the street
Cosplay events aren’t only attended by those who enjoy dressing up in cosplay, there are also many visitors who enjoy photographing the cosplayers. Even in “acosta!”, the cosplayers are surrounded by people holding cameras. A peculiarity of this event, however, is that most of these photographers are also women.
There were also many female photographers.
Every time this event is held it becomes more known by the people in this neighborhood, and thanks to the good manners of all the cosplayers there are now more stores willing to collaborate with future editions of the festival, offering their services to the participants. The number of tourists who come to see the event is also growing.
Up until recently, Ikebukuro was an area which left a very weak impression on its visitors, but since this event has been started the kind of visitors it gets is also changing, and the neighborhood is going through a great transformation. In “The future of Ikebukuro – Part 2” we will consider how these changes might be taking place, and discuss this emerging Ikebukuro culture.
A map of Otome road in Ikebukuro (from the official website of Toshima ward)
(*1) A popular name for referring to the 200m stretch of road which goes from the “Shunshine-mae” intersection, all the way to the “Higashi Ikebukuro sanchome” intersection in Kasuga-dori. It’s filled with stores which specialize in anime merchandise and fanzines aimed at women.
>>Continuing onto the second part
(Article by: Kenichi Nakamura)
Fields Research Institute (FRI) conducts research in entertainment.
This article was written by a member of FRI, through the original coverage of his/her interests observed in their daily lives.