What Is Cosplay: Exploring Japan’s Subculture

Cosplaying is an activity that according to modern trends isn’t very new, nor is it ancient. However, one thing that is never new about Cosplay—is its recent and rampant development, especially in the western and southeastern parts of the world.

Gone are the days when cosplayers were judged and treated with shame and contempt, rather now Cosplayers themselves have formed a community so big, that it’s impossible to dismiss this hobby, or a way of lifestyle for some as merely “child-play“.

In short, Cosplaying is a subculture of the larger more diverse performance art culture.

In this article we’re gonna go over the history and culture of cosplaying, so buckle up cause it’s a long ride.

Keep reading to know more.

What is Cosplaying?

Harly Quin Cosplaying is “costume playing,” to put it simply.

Cosplaying, in simple definitions is “costume playing“.

So, if we are to divide this sentence into two parts we get:


The bread and butter, the pride of a cosplayer, as time goes on cosplaying customers get more and more elaborate, with some customers being so complex that actual professionals have to be hired to craft it.

This means that cosplaying in itself is not a cheap hobby, rather it’s a costly one, here’s a table for reference to help you get an idea of the basic costs of a costume.

AccessoryPrice (average)
Wigs25$-40$ (depending on the size and texture)
Outfits100$-1000+$ (depending on the fabric and complexity)
Shoes5$-20$ (it doesn’t have to be the highest quality)
Fake tattoos or scars$2-$5
The average cost of cosplay.

So the rudimentary part of cosplaying includes making and putting on a costume, which is inspired by either a fictional or non-fictional character, be it from Anime, movies, or even dramas.

This makes us wonder, if cosplaying is all about putting on an expensive suit, isn’t it like Halloween then? Well, here’s the real kicker.


This second part of cosplaying is the actual differentiator, This playing refers to “role-playing” which means that a cosplayer who puts on a costume, proceeds to completely act, think and converse exactly like the character they are cosplaying as.

This part although seems very simple but is actually really complex, and the validity of a cosplayer’s persona is judged by not only the complexity of their outfits but also the cosplayer’s mannerisms which replicate the persona they are cosplaying as.

So there you have it, In short, cosplaying is costumed role-playing.

What are the origins of cosplay?

People frequently dressed up like mythological characters or even inanimate objects during carnivals in the fifteenth century.

The term “cosplaying” isn’t actually that old, it was minted in 1984 by the renowned Nobuyuki Takahashi of manga Studio ‘Hard’. He used this term when attending the 1984 World Science Fiction Convention (Worldcon) in Los Angeles, in the convention he found himself particularly impressed by the get-up of one of the attendees.

After the convention, he reported it directly to “my Anime” using the word kosupure, English “cosplay” to refer to the elaborate masquerades put up by the convention attendees. Yes, that’s it, This is the reason why millions of teens today spend all their time, effort, and what little money they save up making a cosplay they can resonate with.

Even though this term was minted in the late 80s cosplaying, it, itself is quite old, rooting back to early 15th-century carnivals where people often dressed up as characters from mythology or even as inanimate objects.

And if we dive back further, one can claim that cosplay and specific role-playing came from the Ancient Greeks, where entertainers put on various personas and costumes to entertain the upper-class echelons of Ancient Greeks.

Cosplay in the Modern Era

Anime Expo 2022

Cosplay is now more popular than ever before, at this point it has become a whole culture of its own, with various communities within cities, towns conventions, and even Anime being formed.

Perhaps the biggest contributor to cosplay’s recent boom in the western world is the development of larger, safer, and more accessible conventions, which are like a social hub for all cosplayers to meet up and show off their costumes.

It’s come to the point where people now make money living off of cosplay. You now have famous and growing Instagram and Youtube cosplay models with millions of followers at their fingertips.

A prime example would be Jessica Nigri, a cosplayer situated in New Zealand. Jessica has a whopping 4 million followers on Instagram alonenow that’s fame.

With models like these, cosplaying is becoming even more prevalent, especially among teenagers and the younger generation. It’s hard to say when this rampant growth of cosplay would become stagnant, But if influencers like these keep popping up, you could bet it won’t be any soon.

Is Cosplay Japanese?

Cute Japanese cosplayer

Cosplay is associated with Japan—this is a shared thought process around the world.

This is however factually incorrect— the west has held conventions, where people put on masquerades and personas for many years even more cosplay, became minted in the east.

Cosplay is immediately associated with Anime and Manga, but not with original content such as Star Wars or Lord of The Rings.

Cosplay is now considered inherently Japanese, despite the fact that the concept appears to have originated in the United States and still practices the same things, albeit on a smaller scale.

One could argue that the West is renaming this cultural practice Japanese because it fits the definition of otherness. Role-playing and playing dress up as a literary character may be patronizing of Japanese weirdness and quirkiness.

Even though cosplaying isn’t exclusively Japanese in nature, Japanese culture and the even more influential Manga and Anime subculture have helped push it forward to greater heights.

So although cosplaying is now heavily permeated with Anime and Manga, it’s still an all-race-inclusive activity for everyone to enjoy.

How does Cosplay Influence Behavior?

It’s a widely reported phenomenon that cosplayers who put on a costume and present themselves to the world in said costume, experience unparallel growth in confidence, happiness, and contentment levels, although only when they are in their fictional personas.

While all of this is mainly anecdotal evidence at the moment, it’s not hard to see why this is the case for many cosplayers.

Let’s have a look at a quote from Dr. Drea Letamendi—a psychologist, and also a case from Moon a pseudo-name for an anonymous cosplayer.

She explained:

People who cosplay report enjoying the social connections offered by cosplay communities, the creativity/crafting element of cosplay, and may enjoy the psychological aspects of cosplay as well. The psychological transformation of dressing like a beloved character is a compelling motivation and is cited by cosplayers as one reason it is fulfilling — the exploration of the identity of a fictional character. Based on research, cosplayers report that the enjoyment of dressing as another identity is the most motivating feature.

Cosplaying has helped me a lot when it comes to coping and has had a positive impact on my mental health. I struggle with a lot of things including anxiety and major depressive disorder and also physical health issues (POTS and EDS) that affect me mentally as well. Cosplaying helps temporarily put off the stress of my health.

Moon An anonyymous Cosplayer


  • Cosplaying is an activity that, by modern standards, is neither new nor old. One thing that is new about cosplay is its recent and rapid growth, particularly in the western and southeastern parts of the world.
  • Even though cosplaying isn’t exclusively Japanese in nature, Japanese culture and the even more influential Manga and Anime subcultures have certainly aided in propelling it to new heights.
  • Perhaps the most significant contributor to Cosplay’s recent growth in the Western world has been the development of larger, safer, and more accessible conventions that serve as a social hub for all cosplayers to meet and show off their costumes.

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