After nearly two weeks of silence, I finally have an interview. While prowling the Cosplay.com forums to make silly jokes and yammer on with peeps, I encountered a cosplayer. After contacting her on Facebook, she said yes to an interview (I still get giddy when people say yes to interviews). She goes by Sooyong online, and she was pleased pink to share her experiences about cosplaying and living in Japan.
Jacky the Nerd: What is your name and/or your cosplay alias?
Sooyong: As a cosplayer I go by the name Sooyong (pronouned SOO-young). I chose that name to pay homage to my Korean ethnic background.
JtN: How long have you been cosplaying?
Sooyong: As of 2015, I’ve been cosplaying for 10 years.
JtN: Why do you cosplay?
Sooyong: I cosplay because it’s fun! It’s fun to escape from reality and become someone (or something) else for a few hours. Making costumes and props is a great way for me to use my artistic skills and improve my dexterity. Cosplay is also a great way for me to express myself and to start a conversation. I’m usually quiet and reserved in person, so my costumes sometimes attract people who share a common interest in a particular game or anime and it becomes easier for me to make friends.
JtN: When you started cosplaying back in 2005, what was the community like?
Sooyong: Back in 2005, I was just starting out and didn’t participate in conventions a lot. I only attended Otakon annually and among my usual group of friends, I was pretty much the first to pick up cosplay. I can say that when I started cosplaying, my experience at Otakon really changed. I went from being an observer and asking for photos to being observed and being asked for my photo. In the beginning, I cosplayed from series that weren’t well known or had few cosplayers, and I’ve found that the cosplay gatherings from those series were small yet full of very kind people! Even if for a few moments, I felt like I was in a intimate cosplay family of sorts. Big gatherings can be somewhat enjoyable too, but if you’re not outgoing or if you’re one of many cosplaying a particular character, it can be easy to feel a little lost.
JtN: If you can, tell us about one of your first cosplays?
Sooyong: My first cosplay was Zhen Ji from Dynasty Warriors 5, at Otakon 2005. By that time, I had attended Otakon twice, and I wanted to try cosplay. That summer I had gone on a 3-week school trip to Japan, and when I came back, there were only two weeks left before the con. I had never made a costume before, but my mom knows how to sew, so she helped me make most of it and taught me how to use a sewing machine. Looking back on it I can see how much I’ve grown! I had no wig, no makeup, and I’m not even sure color contact lenses were available for most people to buy yet! That costume was the start of a journey I never thought I would go on.
JtN: What characters do you tend to cosplay now?
Sooyong: I tend to cosplay as characters from video games (mostly Dynasty Warriors and fighting games), though I’ve done a few anime/manga characters as well in the past year or so. I like cosplaying as video game characters because their costumes are often more detailed and more challenging to make, and also because they aren’t as common to find at a convention. Sometimes it’s fun to bond with cosplayers who are dressed up as the same character, such as when I met up with three other Sailor Star Fighters at a Sailor Moon gathering during Otakon 2014. But I really feel good when I cosplay as a largely unknown character, and there’s just a handful of people who recognize me and tell me how happy they are to find someone cosplaying as that character. This happens occasionally with my Dynasty Warriors costumes, and since I’m a huge fan of that series I get just as excited about being recognized as the person who recognized me!
JtN: All right. I’m going to ask about Japan now. I’m under the impression you have a lot of experience with the country. Would you mind telling us about what Japan is really like versus what people perceive it to be?
Sooyong: That’s a difficult question because, having a Korean mother and an American father who’s kind of a geek, I think I had an atypical family experience from birth. Being introduced to Sailor Moon by my dad, I always felt like anime and games have just been a part of my life. Going on to study Japanese seemed like the natural next step, and then that led to visiting there, and eventually living there. With that being said, I don’t see Japan as being so foreign to me. A lot of pop culture news sites like to give attention to the quirky things about Japan, but the truth is that a lot of those quirky things aren’t really mainstream at all. Anime and games in Japan have as much popularity among the people as American comics and games have among Americans–even though it’s out there and everyone knows about it or has seen it, it’s not something that everyone is interested in. Cosplay is another one of those things; for most Japanese people that I’ve met at work or outside of otaku-related events, I was the very first cosplayer they had ever met.
I think many people visiting Japan, especially the popular cities like Kyoto and Tokyo, will find much of what they expect to see, and that may be because those cities cater to tourists. A lot of “slice-of-life” anime and manga–while sometimes a little exaggerated–portray Japan pretty accurately, at least in my eyes. If you approach Japan with an open mind, you’ll find that even though there are clear differences between many Japanese and American people, there are just as many similarities.
Part the Second of the interview will be posted by the end of the week. Check back to see her talk more about cosplay in Japan, living in Japan, and some of her thoughts about cosplay coverage in the media. While you’re at it, give a me a follow on Facebook so you can stayed updated. You can also follow Sooyong on Facebook, too.