Manga and anime were the best introductions to Japanese culture I could have ever had. It was whilst I was flicking through my manga did I wonder: Just what is Pocky? Who’s Hyde? So, it was with much delight that I headed over to the ExCel centre recently to check out Japan EX (21 – 22 Jul 2007), an expo with a distinctively Japanese flavour to things.
ANIME UK NEWS (NARGIS) AT THE JAPAN EXPO
For this expo, I decided to cosplay as Light from Death Note. Cosplay, for those who don’t know, is where people dress up as characters from their favourite anime and manga series. After watching the final episode of Death Note I was inspired to go as Light – I mean, how often is anyone inspired by the villain of the story? Dressing androgynously, carrying my trusty Death Note in one arm, it took only 5 seconds from entering the expo hall did I hear someone yell, “Raito.” It then took me another 10 seconds to realise… “Wait… that’s me!” before doing a quick U-turn. The strangest thing about the whole cosplay experience was that I have never worn a suit in my working life and the only time I do, it’s for cosplay!
Walking around, there were plenty of sights to take in. From classical Japanese drumming, a kendo display to a talk with a Geisha. One of the day’s highlights was the Gothic and Lolita fashion show, showcasing a popular style to wear Victorian clothing reminiscent to the Rococco period including: knee length skirts, petticoats, headbands, parasols, frills and lace. Lolita fashions focus on creating a look which is both beautiful and elegant. On the catwalk was Sweet Lolita designs, in soft pastel pinks, Country Lolita, mixing gingham prints to the more well known dramatic colours of Gothic Lolita. I was surprised to see so many styles within the Lolita world.
Another trend both popular in Japan and Korea and with a small but growing following in the UK are Dollfie’s. Also known as Asian Ball Jointed Dolls (ABJD’s), these dolls are anatomically correct, well crafted intricate designs and can move any way a human can. Body parts are interchangeable and with specialist accessories and clothing Dollfies are extremely customisable. They can look like anything from oriental princesses, to J-rockers, to modern day fairies. I even saw a few Dollfies and their owners wearing matching outfits. Speaking to a Dollfie owner I found out that there are awakening ceremonies and bonding rituals when a new doll arrives. Adorable as these dolls are, I should mention that Dollfies can be an expensive hobby with prices from £200 – £1,500! Ouch!
Other stalls ranged from having your own manga portrait drawn, what must have been the world’s supply of plushie’s, Japanese magazines, j-rock cds/anime soundtracks to super cute wallets made from recycled manga. Japanese foodstuffs were in abundant supply with drinks as varied as tasty peach water and milky teas to the more bizarre flavoured candies in melon and tea flavours. Oh, not forgetting the merchandising! I did my very best to stay away from Fruits Basket everything. I mean…. do I really need yet another notebook? Not really, but who cares! It has Yuki and Kyo on the front, and frankly, that’s all that matters! It takes a very brave soul to leave an expo empty handed. But that is part of the fun – buying stuff you don’t really need, but want anyway!
Later on I headed over to the Death Note photo shoot. I wanted to find out more about why others cosplay, so I spoke to Ruth and Conor from London to find out why they chose their characters.
Ruth: “Well I saw Death Note and thought Mello would be a really cool person to go as. I guess he’s a bit similar to me- short temper and likes chocolate! As we usually try to cosplay in pairs I suggested Conor go as Matt.”
Nargis: “Why do you cosplay?”
Ruth: “I enjoy bringing my favourite anime/manga/game characters to life. It may sound cliché but it is the truth. I guess it’s an adult form of dressing up and role playing for me.”
Conor: “I originally decided to as me and Ruth were going to Japan and the Tokyo Game Show. I thought that if there was a time to start cosplaying, that would be it. I had a really good time at the show. I thought it looked fun and so I continued.”
Surprisingly, everyone I spoke to at the expo is on DeviantART, which is fast becoming known as the ‘Myspace for Otaku.’ But far from being the shy retiring types that is often the otaku stereotype, they were lively, fun and very sociable! Out in the cosplay courtyard I was surrounded by characters from Full Metal Alchemist, Bleach and Prince of Tennis to name a few! What was commendable was how much dedication and effort they all put in to their costumes. There were even a number of Haruhi’s from The Meloncholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, performing the now infamous ‘Hare Hare Yukai’ dance routine with twirls and fun hand movements. Even a few ninja style cosplayers jumped in and danced along, which was certainly an amusing sight! What made this expo different was the notable influence of visual kei bands- a type of Japanese music characterised by often eccentric and flamboyant costumes. There were numerous cosplayers dressed as J-rockers, the most impressive being a Gackt cosplayer with large black wings.
Overall, it was a fun and extremely enjoyable experience. It’s only just occurred to me that I haven’t even mentioned any manga or anime, let alone the sushi! But it just goes to show, if you have an explorer’s heart, there is so much more to Japanese culture than you can ever imagine.