Japanese 'cosplay' draws huge following in Taiwan

by AFP/Amber Wang, Nov 13, 2007 | Destinations: Japan / Taiwan

Taipei, Sept 25, 2007 - Sporting a blue wig, an eye patch and a white lace gown embellished with a pair of wings, 15-year-old Candice Chen looks ready to hit a costume party.

She is among a growing number of Taiwanese youth who call themselves "cosers" and follow a fashion that aims to combine costume and roleplay based on characterisations in Japanese animation, or "manga".

As the fashion catches on across the island, experts have said that it could help Taiwan's young people break out of the strictures forced on them by the traditional Chinese pressure to conform.

Since "cosplay" first hit Taiwan little over a decade ago, its enthusiasts have been dressing up like their favourite manga characters and gathering at cafes, parks and manga expos across the island.

"I started reading Japanese manga in elementary school. I like characters in action and adventure stories and want to be like them," said Chen, describing the role she portrays as "spirited and sportive".

In the capital Taipei where large-scale manga expos are held several times a year at stadiums and conference centres, hundreds of cosplayers gather to show off their flamboyant outfits and accessories.

At a recent expo at National Taiwan University's stadium, cosers were seen portraying a wide variety of roles from princesses to maids, space warriors, martial arts masters and even Death.

"Cosplay helps me release pressure from studies and boost my self-confidence," said a 19-year-old coser who asked to be identified only by her nickname "Dawn".

Lawmaker Cheng Yun-peng, who has judged cosplay contests, believes the role-playing game can stimulate youngsters to be more daring and expressive outside the conventional confines of Taiwan's generally conformist society.

"Taiwan's education does not encourage students to express themselves, to stand out or face the public. Young cosers who dare to do so might achieve more than their shy peers," he said.

"We should not look down on cosplay as a teenage subculture. I don't see why adults can't do cosplay to relive their childhood dreams. It can become a family recreation."

Role playing can help encourage individuality

Huang Chen-yuan, a Japanese professor at the National Kaohsiung First University of Science and Technology, echoed the sentiment.

"Cosplay can be a form of art for teenagers who seek to demonstrate their ideas, creativities and even a sense of fashion through designing," said Huang.

The appeal of cosplay appears to be spreading beyond youth.

Former president Lee Teng-hui, now 84, once dressed up as a school principal character from the Japanese anime series "Sakigake!! Otokojuku" to promote his website.

"The popularity of cosplay shows that Taiwan's society is more diverse and less suppressed as time changes. Cosplay would have been deemed as corrupting morals decades ago," said Huang.

In Taiwan, role-playing dates back to around 1995 but has been gaining in popularity in recent years largely thanks to the Internet, said Mio Chang, supervising editor of bi-monthly cosplay magazine "Cosmore".

"Cosers admire the 'manga' or 'anime' characters and want to imitate them. It is a passion for them to recreate the looks, the costumes and props," said Chang, herself a coser for many years.

"It is similar to worshipping heroes. It's like when we were little we tied a sheet around our neck like a cape and pretended to be Superman saving the world."

Most of Cosmore's readership are high school girls, who also make up the bulk of cosers, said Chang.

The business potential of a niche cosers market appears promising with new cafes, tailor shops and props stores opening up to cater for the growing number of cosers.

Tukuyomi Cafe opened last year in southern Kaohsiung city and features waitresses dressed in lace-trimmed maid uniforms with matching aprons and headpieces. It aims to take advantage of the rising popularity of cosplay, according to manager Red Chien.

"Our staff are Japanese manga and cosplay fans and so are most of our customers. Every Sunday we hold cosplay parties and it's always a full house," said Chien.

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