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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Ohwada: In preparation for this interview, I did quite a bit of research on how cosplay got started in Japan, but the further I dug, the more complicated the “facts” became, with various individuals claiming different origins, so today I’d like to ask Ms. Mari Kotani, who was there, what the truth is. First, may I confirm that what set the stage was the existence of conventions focused on non-domestic science fiction?

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds Kotani: Indeed.

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds There is an annual convention, the Nihon SF Taikai (translation: Japan SF Convention) where Japanese science fiction fans gather and celebrate. It is like a Japanese version of the overseas event, the World Science Fiction Convention. The World Science Fiction Convention, or Worldcon, is also held yearly during the summer, but science fiction fans love to come together and talk. Such conventions came into being because there was a time when there were fewer people who shared the same worlds and could exchange information with each other, such as those who liked rockets, time machines, and monsters even as adults, and they felt self-conscious about it, so they decided to congregate once a year and hold discussions with each other.

Skip to 1 minute and 50 seconds Ohwada: And one way that they would express their shared value system at such events abroad was dressing up in costumes, or “masquerade,” correct?

Skip to 2 minutes and 2 seconds Kotani: Fan costuming not only existed, it still continues today. I was curious myself, so I did some research, but there is an individual, Forrest Ackerman, who appeared at (the First) Worldcon in 1939 in a superhero costume. It left quite an impact, with photographs still surviving today. Therefore, the custom of wearing costumes from fantasy worlds has been practiced at Worldcon from nearly the very beginning.

Skip to 2 minutes and 44 seconds Ohwada: Now, I would like to ask about you. You were already part of a sci-fi fan club, “TRITON,” back then?

Skip to 2 minutes and 57 seconds Kotani: That’s right. (For fans of) The anime, “Triton of the Sea.”

Skip to 3 minutes and 4 seconds Ohwada: Osamu Tezuka’s “Triton of the Sea”?

Skip to 3 minutes and 7 seconds Kotani: He was the original creator, yes. There was a “Triton of the Sea” (television) anime (adaptation) which was a very early work of Gundam creator Yoshiyuki Tomino, which aired in 1972 in Japan. It contained a plot development that was earth-shaking to anime fans who were used to the children-targeted anime of the time and, while it is natural to think of a rewarding-good-and-punishing-evil moralistic story to be aimed at children, “Triton of the Sea” was definitely not. It was an anime that presented a worldview that wasn’t just rewarding-good-and-punishing-evil, in which a character thought to be a hero of justice could turn out to be an incarnation of evil, if the value system radically changed.

Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds It had a very science fiction-like impact, (in that) it was a shocking work that almost toppled the world’s value system, plus the art was also very beautiful, so… (Laugh)

Skip to 4 minutes and 31 seconds Ohwada: Well, that is important.

Skip to 4 minutes and 33 seconds Kotani: The boy who was the main character of “Triton of the Sea” was cute, too, so there were a tremendous number of young female fans. And one of those girls submitted (a letter) to SF Magazine’s readers’ column declaring that “Triton of the Sea” is sci-fi. People for whom that resonated began organizing a fan club on a nationwide basis, which was known among sci-fi fans as the Triton Clan. A Triton Clan appears within (both) the manga and anime, and we were analogized to be, as well as likened ourselves to, that Triton Clan. There was a staggering number.

Skip to 5 minutes and 19 seconds Ohwada: You mean the number of devotees nationwide.

Skip to 5 minutes and 22 seconds Kotani: Yes, there were an incredible number of fans, plus to highlight a few points, first, there were many female fans. In addition, through that submission to SF Magazine, sci-fi and anime came to be linked together.

Skip to 5 minutes and 40 seconds Ohwada: This is an important part, so I’d like to spell it out clearly. In short, you, Ms. Mari, a member of the sci-fi anime fan club TRITON, attended a sci-fi convention at a sleepover-style facility, where you dressed up as a sci-fi character that appeared on the cover of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ A Fighting Man of Mars. This is it, isn’t it, on the screen right now, the outfit that you wore.

Skip to 6 minutes and 17 seconds Kotani: Yes, it is. That is what I wore.

Skip to 6 minutes and 21 seconds Ohwada: And this (picture of you in this) costume got spread about?

Skip to 6 minutes and 25 seconds Kotani: Well, when we showed up, although it was a costume party, (most) everyone was wearing ordinary clothes, not costumes. The only people in costume were members of my club and

Skip to 6 minutes and 37 seconds those of GAINAX antecedent Kansai Geinin (translation: Kansai Entertainers), as they were known then; there were very few of us, not even 20, I believe. And an acquaintance who saw me dressed up said, “You’re Triton, aren’t you?” “Huh? Triton?” (Laugh)

Skip to 6 minutes and 57 seconds Ohwada: You did not intend to dress up as Triton?

Skip to 6 minutes and 59 seconds Kotani: Not at all, but I realized in hindsight that the outfits were similar.

Skip to 7 minutes and 3 seconds Ohwada: Plus, you were a member of TRITON.

Skip to 7 minutes and 6 seconds Kotani: I was, (laugh) you’re right.

Skip to 7 minutes and 9 seconds Ohwada: So it wasn’t really relevant?

Skip to 7 minutes and 12 seconds Kotani: I don’t think I was really… since I thought of myself as a sci-fi fan. I liked both anime and science fiction, but given the circumstances of the time, anime fans were increasing, and girls (fans) were also on the rise, and I believe it was a well-known presupposition in the sci-fi world that that was due to “Triton.” And so, since I belonged to a branch of TRITON, I am sure people saw me and naturally thought, “You must be an anime fan.” In short, “Her being here is a product of the times,” kind of thing.

Skip to 7 minutes and 53 seconds Ohwada: What I think is so, what is it, symbolic, about this narrative is that there existed this dressing up, this masquerade, culture bat overseas sci-fi conventions originally, and you yourself, Ms. Mari Kotani, dressed up in a sci-fi costume. However, the people around you who saw it thought, “no, that’s Triton,” and in that instant truly mistook your appearance, (based on) the overseas masquerade culture, to be this so-called Japanese cosplay.

Skip to 8 minutes and 30 seconds Kotani: Perhaps it was such a moment.

Skip to 8 minutes and 33 seconds Ohwada: Yes, I feel it is extremely symbolic.

Skip to 8 minutes and 36 seconds Ohwada: So what was the hook for you, Ms. Mari, that made you want to cosplay?

Skip to 8 minutes and 42 seconds Kotani: I guess it was the craftsmanship. What it meant to cosplay, back then, since there weren’t any cosplay stores, was that everything was handmade. I feel that the greatest appeal of hand-crafting lies in the fact that we, ourselves, have to create clothes that are not commercially available everyday wear, all by hand. Therefore, and I don’t think it matters whether the origin is a paperback cover or an anime, but, making it into real objects is what is so fun.

Skip to 9 minutes and 21 seconds Ohwada: Because it was originally two-dimensional, fundamentally. That then becomes three-dimensional in this world.

Skip to 9 minutes and 30 seconds Kotani: To craft or create something, oneself, is truly appealing. You know, I feel that the other worlds or universes depicted in some science fiction and fantasy (works) are somewhat escapist, or rather, the creator wants to develop something ideal-like in an imaginary world because he or she dislikes reality, but what is fun for me is that I’m actually taking the ideal-like thing and bringing it into the real world, instead. For example, designers will time travel to ancient Rome and use the armor worn by the Roman army and the like as templates on which to base the sketches they draw or animation they create. And in such instances, one wishes one could touch such objects, to feel what they’re like, exactly.

Skip to 10 minutes and 30 seconds Yet they don’t exist, so one ends up having to manufacture them, but then, I think one starts being like an art college student, with an art college student’s imagination, wondering, “What is the material (they used)?” This desire to create things that don’t exist in our world is truly alluring, I feel.

Skip to 10 minutes and 53 seconds Ohwada: You mean, to sum it up, it’s like you’re in some way overwriting reality with the idealistic landscape inside your own imagination.

Interview: Mari Kotani, Pioneer of Japanese Cosplay - Origins

In this video, Ms. Mari Kotani introduces the origins of Cosplay in Japan, the relationship between Sci-Fi and Anime, and talks about her own experiences of practice and pleasure in Cosplay.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures

Keio University