Ikebukuro in Tokyo is the holy land for female cosplayers. Otome Road (*1) has served an indispensable role in expanding the female subculture in this area, in a way which is not dissimilar to the changes which Akihabara went through in the ’90s when it gradually became known as an otaku district. Let’s examine these changes which Ikebukuro is going through.
Otome Road, the holy land of female pop culture
■The most striking differences between Akiba and Otome Road
Architecture scholar Mr. Kaichiro Morikawa has this to say about the differences between Ikebukuro and Akihabara, as well as the differences between men and women within otaku culture itself:
“Rather than saying that men and women both enjoy otaku culture together, it’s more accurate to say that the places where they differ are precisely their unique characteristics. The areas of the city which represent this separation are Akiba and Otome Road.”
(Taken from “Hanako” 2006 No2/23 P39 Magazine House)
In brief, according to his analysis, Akihabara has developed into a district aimed at male otaku, and this division has given form to the female pop culture which is now present in Ikebukuro.
Also, in contrast to Akihabara there is one more aspect worth noting, and that is the “distance from the train station” at which male-oriented culture is sold. When you look at a map, the area of Akihabara has otaku stores right next to the train station. But on the other hand, Otome Road is a 10 minute walk away from Ikebukuro Station. This separation signals a certain limitation towards exposing female culture. But in the case of Otome Road, this limitation can be turned into a strong point. Since Otome Road is distanced from the station, only people who share the same interests make the effort to walk there. People who have other interests don’t go there. Basically, this distance from the station gives it a second function as a “hiding place”, a “secret place”.
“Otome Road” around
“Otome Road” around
■Desires have shifted!
In regard to these changes taking place in Ikebukuro and the growing prosperity of Otome Road, we interviewed Mr. Daichi Nakagawa, assistant editor-in-chief for the magazine PLANETS, which specializes in the subculture of Ikebukuro.
“Originally, the district of Otome Road was a spot in Sunshine City for the selling of urban fanzines back in the 1990s. Due to this, many anime shops and bookstores also started consignment sales of these fanzines, and it all grew from there. From that point onwards it became a meeting place for people to secretly pursue their interests, such as yaoi (*2) and BL (*3). The area began to actively target this audience of anime fans, and towards the middle of the 2000s there began a propagation of coffee shops where the waiters are dressed as butlers, and other such conceptual coffee shops. From that moment, the district started to establish itself as being aimed at female otaku.”
Mr. Daichi Nakagawa, assistant editor-in-chief for the magazine PLANETS
So, as stated above, the fact that Otome Road is far away from the main shopping district near the station is actually an ideal situation for female otaku. However, according to Mr. Nakagawa’s analysis, Otome Road is getting so much more media coverage that it is becoming more known, and more people who are not anime fans are coming to visit it, such as tourists. Due to these changes, its whole structure is undergoing deep changes.
“To put it bluntly, this is a shift from wanting to hide, to wanting to be seen by others. The way these cultural expressions are spreading on social media and video sharing websites makes me think that otaku culture itself is gradually becoming more open, more casual than before. One thing that is especially significant is how cosplay culture has permeated our society. More than half of cosplayers are women, and since 2010 cosplay has become noticeably prominent in Otome Road. There are now stores which sell costumes and wigs, there are also photography spots, showspaces, and more. In recent years, even Halloween, which originally had nothing to do with cosplay, has merged with this culture and there are now related costume events. Ikebukuro is truly becoming the holy land of cosplay.”
■The place where female pop culture originated!
Koshima ward has noticed this, and has started testing out ways to make use of it, such as by creating a map for Otome Road, as well as giving their support to the Ikebukuro Halloween Cosplay Festival since last year, and sponsoring a cosplay event in the Tokyo Manga and Anime Carnival in Toshima.
“Even as a location, the female pop culture area of Otome Road is becoming wider now, and starting to spread towards Ikebukuro Station. As an example, in November of 2012 the Ikebukuro Animate store moved to a location right next to Higashi Ikebukuro Central Park, which is 5 minutes away from the train station, so the flow of otaku visitors has greatly increased. Also, in October of 2014 the offices of Niconico opened up inside P’Parco, which is adjacent to the east exit of Ikebukuro station. They host daily events for niche singers or fan events for women-oriented games, and this has become the origin for an even further expansion of the otaku culture in the area.”
■”The Ikebukuro Spectacle”
The female pop culture in Ikebukuro has expanded so much that it is no longer “Otome Road”, it is now more appropriate to call it the “Otome Area”. On the topic of Otome Road’s future, Mr. Nakagawa had this to say:
“Starting with cosplay, this otaku culture which was fronted by women and only appeared at events and in closed spaces is now becoming standardized, and spreading across the whole area in what is becoming the ‘Ikebukuro Spectacle’. It is connecting itself together in order to become a type of integral shopping district which is much more varied and mixed. I think it will be interesting if even more unpredictable spots and types of culture emerge from this process.”
Ikebukuro served as a hiding place for female pop culture, but now it is opening as a sort of spectacle where female culture can be openly transmitted to everyone. And finally, it might turn into a town which will be brightly colored by the costumes of these female cosplayers.
These changes in female pop culture are very profound, and the streets of Ikebukuro may also change in a dramatic way as a result of this.
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.
(*2) A field of derivative fiction aimed at women which specializes in love stories between men. It is sometimes written as the numbers 801.
(*3) An abbreviation of “boy’s love.” A field of derivative fiction, original work and other products aimed at women which are based on love stories between men.
(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.