Earlier this week, I brought an interview with a cosplayer who goes by Sooyong. (You can read Part the First here.) In this second part of the interview, she discusses what it was like to live and work in rural Japan and shares some thoughts on the cosplay community as it is today. This is a bit of a longer interview, so I hope you feel like reading.
Jacky the Nerd: OK. How would you describe your typical day in Japan based on your living location?
Sooyong: I worked as a full-time teacher and I lived in the countryside, so I wouldn’t say it was very eventful. Everyday life is pretty much the same: Wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for work, etc. I rode a bicycle to work since my workplace was close enough. On the weekends I either stayed home or I went out to Osaka for the weekend for shopping and hanging out with friends. Often times if I had a cosplay project in progress, as my deadline approached I would work on my costume after getting home from work. Sometimes I even brought parts of my costume with me to work, so I could spend my break time working on stuff!
JtN: Back to cosplay specific questions now. What changes have you seen in the cosplay community over the past decade?
Sooyong: I think the number one change I’ve seen is the explosion of social media and how it’s made cosplay better known around the world. Everyone seems to have a Facebook page for their cosplay and/or their cosplay photography, and with Twitter and Instagram, people are sharing more and more. It’s a regular occurrence for Otakon or NYCC to be covered in the news, both on TV and online. As a result, I think cosplay has become more widely accepted. Of course, there’s a flipside to this, and that with social media comes the desire for fame and attention. “Cosfamous” wasn’t a term I had ever heard until a few years ago. For some people, it seems like Facebook likes and Twitter followers have become a focus. There was a reality show about cosplay that raised an eyebrow among many of us in the community. I typically don’t follow famous cosplayers and I’m not a fan of how sites like Kotaku cover cosplay. But I think that, similar with fandoms, if you keep your involvement in the cosplay community limited, you’ll find that the core of it hasn’t really changed.
JtN: What is you dislike about popular websites’ (Kotaku, etc) cosplay coverage?
Sooyong: I take issue with articles where the main focus is either “sexy” cosplay or where the headlines discourage other cosplayers. The first one I tend to ignore, since people will look at what they want to look at, but inadvertently discouraging other cosplayers is something that I don’t agree with. I highlighted this on my Facebook page about a Kotaku article showing photos of cosplayers from One-Punch Man, with headlines praising the cosplayers by telling readers that there was basically no point in trying to do One-Punch Man cosplay because it would never be as good. There’s a difference between “Winning the Internet” and excessive praise through discouragement, and Kotaku had done the latter. Unless we’re strictly talking about construction and quality in competition, “Best” cosplay is subjective. I have a very critical eye when it comes to cosplay photos, and I can say that the photography in that Kotaku article was really good, but the cosplay construction itself isn’t perfect when you look closer. This sometimes ties in with the coverage of “sexy” cosplayers, because some people will overlook the quality of a costume and make a judgement based on the cosplayer’s body or looks.
JtN: What is cosplay like in Japan, and how does it differ from cosplay in the US?
Sooyong: Cosplay in Japan is an experience for sure. While it’s thought by some people that cosplay in Japan is “better” than in Western countries, that’s actually not true at all. People coming from overseas are more likely to photograph the more amazing costumes, and so when those are shown back in the States, some people think that most cosplayers in Japan look like that. In short, it’s really about the same, but I think more Americans (especially men) are a little more bold, so you may find just a little more variety here compared to Japan. Also, many people in Japan buy their costumes. They’re more readily available because the source–whether it’s an anime or a game–was made in Japan.
As far as events, many of them require that you only wear your costume AT the event. This means that you have to arrive in plain clothes and get dressed there at the venue. The changing rooms are actually big spacious rooms where they pack people in next to each other, and everyone is sitting on the floor as they get dressed! Because the vast majority of cosplayers in Japan are women, it’s often a race to the changing room, for a number of reasons. One, because for nearly every event I’ve attended, the space provided is ALWAYS smaller than the number of women cosplaying. We have to get there early because if we don’t, it could be a wait of over 30 minutes for there to be space. On top of that, many events have specific areas where cosplay photography is and isn’t allowed. The cosplay area gets eaten up pretty quickly because of the high volume of photographers and spectators that come in to take pictures. If you’re out there early, it’s easier to find a good space to park yourself or your group. And if that wasn’t enough, unlike cons in the US which run from morning until late at night, many events in Japan only run until early evening. So there’s only so much time a cosplayer should spend getting dressed in order to have enough time to spend in the cosplay area. Because of this, I would often would do my makeup early in the morning before getting to the venue, so that I would only have to get dressed, which still took a long time depending on the costume. That’s definitely a part of Japanese cosplay culture that I don’t miss!
As far as the cosplayers themselves, as a foreigner it can be extremely difficult to become friends with them, unless they speak English or you speak Japanese. I’ve only made a handful of cosplay friends and acquaintances, which mainly started out as one of us asking for a picture of the other, and then me using my Japanese to start a conversation. But once you start talking to them, you find that most of them are very nice people!
And of course, there’s a ton of cosplayers at events who are there specifically to get attention. It’s much more blatant than in the US. They’ll wear really skimpy costumes and pose provocatively, which attracts a lot of guys with cameras. It’s a part of cosplay in Japan that I absolutely hate to be honest, but I just try to ignore it and focus on what I’m doing. Similar to what I said before, limiting one’s involvement in the community is sometimes better.
JtN: What aspect of making a cosplay do you enjoy most, (Sewing, prop making, painting, making armor, etc.) and why?
Sooyong: My two favorite parts of making a costume are painting and prop making. Before I was into cosplay, I did a lot of drawing, so 2D art is something I’m more comfortable with. I like prop making because I don’t have to worry about body measurements and making sure something fits, and I get to work with interesting materials. Sewing is a delicate process and requires patience and precise measurements and specific materials. But with weapons, materials are usually sturdier and can withstand a lot more handling. I often save the prop making for last because not only is the costume itself the priority, but it’s even more enjoyable once all of the sewing is finished.
JtN: What are your plans for the future, cosplay and non-cosplay related?
Sooyong: At the beginning of this year I decided to take a break from work after my contract was up in August and come back to the US, to spend time with family and friends and to give myself a chance to really focus on cosplay. I plan to take a short sabbatical until around mid-2016, and from there I want to prepare to return to Japan by late 2017.
In terms of cosplay, for at least the first half of 2016 I’m going to focus on crossplay. It’s an area of cosplay that I’ve only touched upon recently, but for a while I’ve been very interested in exploring a different side of myself through my choice of male characters. In the past I didn’t feel confident about crossplaying, but now that I’ve improved my cosmetic skills, I’m very eager to try it!
JtN: What would you like to tell the audience?
Sooyong: Thank you for your support, and I hope you’re looking forward to seeing what I have planned for next year!
That’s the word from Sooyong. I want to thank her for being really generous with her time and her answers. As always, I want to thank my readers as well. (You know…all three of you. Even you, Mom.) You can follow me and Sooyong on Facebook!