“Cosplay” is an abbreviation for costume play. It is a practice of dressing up as a character. The character could be from a film, video game or a book. The culture of cosplay is very popular in Japan. In fact, one would say Japan is the world capital of cosplaying. Though, it is quite famous in East Asian countries such as South Korea and China its impact in day to day life is not as evident as it is in Japan. Few western countries too (especially USA) have a sub culture of cosplay.
A World Cosplay Summit (WCS) is held every year in Nagoya, Japan where several countries participate in Cosplay competition. The number of countries participating in this event has grown year on year from its inception in the year 2003. This event is held to promote the Japanese youth culture among likeminded people (mostly students) from different countries. The event itself is colorful with several cosplayers showing their innovative and elaborate costumes.
Usually, WCS would be spread over several days and also in different cities such as Nagoya, Tokyo and Osaka. During this event, there are stage demonstrations for cosplay groups representing different countries followed by a parade where cosplayers often walk the streets. The general public attending the event could watch and take pictures of/with cosplayers.
I was lucky enough to attend the WCS in 2014 in Nagoya and it was quite a spectacle. The cosplayers were quite friendly and open to being photographed. However, some of the younger girls (teenagers) were shy when requested for photograph. The costumes could vary from the very popular and classic characters such as Mario and Darth Vader to the more recent Umaru Chan.
The popularity of cosplay in Japan can be attributed primarily to their love for anime and manga. Anime is basically Japanese animation and manga means a Japanese comic. They are both very popular in Japan and are a big part of Japanese culture. An average Japanese person spends considerable time daily to catch with their favorite anime show or spend his time during his daily commute by indulging in their latest manga. Hence, many Japanese like to dress up as their favorite characters when they get a chance. The costumes can be readymade and cheap (available in 100 yen stores) or elaborate and expensive. There are choices for everybody and for every occasion.
Though, there are designated events for cosplay, I came across several cosplayers roaming the busy downtown or shopping markets in their costumes during regular weekends. I even came across a person once climbing Mt.Ibuki wearing a heavy costume! The Japanese sure love their costumes and it could be quite interesting for a foreigner to see this passion on the streets of Japan.