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Skip to 0 minutes and 5 seconds Ohwada: This cosplay would next spread abroad later - in fact, it would even come to be a new word in English vocabulary - but, Ms. Mari, you’ve consistently attended American sci-fi conventions for many years as well, so when was it that you started becoming aware that, “Oh, now they’re doing Japanese cosplay in America”?

Skip to 0 minutes and 44 seconds Kotani: Hm, I wonder when that was? (Laugh)

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds Ohwada: In short, (this thing which) at first, you originally started doing after obtaining news about overseas’ masquerade, evolved into cosplay, and was then exported to the world; what did you think when you realized this?

Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds Kotani: Well, you know, that “I/we won,” (Laugh) and “Joyous.” Because even within underground culture, in sci-fi fandom more precisely, things like cosplay and fanfiction like yaoi (in particular), were (perceived as) fun to watch or view but not actually be too cozy with those who were doing or producing it. (Laugh) Such conservative attitudes were still strong, plus, a certain sort of literary class system was pretty firmly established within sci-fi by then.

Skip to 1 minute and 46 seconds Ohwada: I see, you mean like a print supremacy?

Skip to 1 minute and 49 seconds Kotani: Yes. Like hard sci-fi supremacy; even if writers and other creators aren’t like that, attitudes which revere the such were prevalent among fans, and there was a bit of a climate of ridiculing feminine things, when, of course, both (cosplay and fanfiction) are genres with a great deal of women. In the latter half of the 1980s,

Skip to 2 minutes and 21 seconds Japan’s oldest sci-fi doujinshi Uchuujin (translation: Cosmic Dust), said to have nurtured the (Japanese) sci-fi world’s very first generation of writers…

Skip to 2 minutes and 34 seconds Ohwada: Written (Cosmic) “Dust” (not “Person,” as in “Alien”), right?

Skip to 2 minutes and 38 seconds Kotani: …yes, that’s correct; the publisher of said doujinshi with “Dust” in the title, Mr. Takumi Shibano, he is like the father, or founding father, of (Japanese) sci-fi fandom, but he happened to ask me, “So why do you cosplay?” And I couldn’t answer him. (Laugh) I replied, “I wonder why; I don’t know.” It was because it held extremely complex significance (to me), being a bit queer, or weird, and since my technical skill wasn’t necessarily as advanced as it is today, it (the result) wasn’t always successful, so it felt somewhat awkward.

Skip to 3 minutes and 19 seconds Ohwada: I don’t think it was awkward. (Laugh)

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 seconds Kotani: Quite painful…it was not stylish. I ought to have been able to produce something more polished, but my skills were a bit amateur and very obsolete. In spite of that, I still participated; I was asked what the appeal was, and I couldn’t answer. It was my homework for a very long time. And much, much later, when I mentioned to him, “Mr. Shibano, you asked me this a long time ago, remember?” he replied, “Oh, I questioned you while knowing the answer already. You do it because it’s fun, right?” and I thought, “Ah, of course.”

Skip to 3 minutes and 59 seconds Ohwada: You should have answered that way (the first time).

Skip to 4 minutes and 2 seconds Kotani: I should have, but I didn’t know, so I pondered it quite earnestly, to the point of essentially going on a quest to find theoretical explanations. And thus, I feel that due to him asking something which made me think in such a manner, he taught me to put into words what cosplay is and why it is fun, beyond just simply moving my hands to create costumes.

Skip to 4 minutes and 33 seconds Ohwada: As a writer.

Skip to 4 minutes and 36 seconds Kotani: Yes. From the latter half of the 1980s into the beginning of the 1990s, something like cultural studies emerged even in the realm of academia, and it was most fortunate that there existed within academia the movement to try to explain in words exactly what the currently ongoing new cultures of youth were. And so, I theoretically pondered cosplay, as well as fanfiction, so to speak. In 2004, at a place called Duke University in America, there was a year-long course on Japanese culture under the auspices of its then Asian cultural studies research institute, taught by three instructors in rotation, and I was allowed to be in charge of two of its lectures.

Skip to 5 minutes and 42 seconds One was on Gothic Lolita (fashion), and the other, on yaoi. The students who were taking that class, because it was Duke University, were truly smart individuals.

Skip to 6 minutes and 4 seconds Ohwada: It is a prestigious school.

Skip to 6 minutes and 6 seconds Kotani: And members of Duke’s anime society had taken over the first row.

Skip to 6 minutes and 10 seconds Ohwada: Duke University had an anime society? (Laugh)

Skip to 6 minutes and 13 seconds Kotani: These individuals were very passionate, enough to go to nearby anime conventions in cosplay and, at any rate, there were so many students wanting to take the class that it was tightly packed, and we had to conduct roster cuts. I was a bit startled to see how popular it was. Until then, I had wondered whether there would even be one person doing Tale of Genji.

Skip to 6 minutes and 40 seconds Ohwada: You mean, Japanese studies.

Skip to 6 minutes and 43 seconds Kotani: But instead, it was packed with young students. There were quite a few African-American individuals.

Skip to 6 minutes and 51 seconds Ohwada: Yes, I personally have seen and thought that too, myself.

Skip to 6 minutes and 54 seconds Kotani: Yes, there were many African-Americans. And for any one of them, for example, at a truly brainy event, a typical weekend date with a girlfriend involved watching anime together in his room, and he would say that it was very enjoyable. There was one African-American girl, who had never been to Japan. However, she would come to my lectures in uniform. What I mean is that she showed up in an outfit appropriate to that lecture. To the content of that lecture. When I lectured on Gothic Lolita, she wore a Gothic Lolita-like sailor suit school uniform, but it was of course handmade.

Skip to 7 minutes and 41 seconds She did intensive online research about this Japan(ese) (subject) she had not yet seen and made it herself, by hand, in her own way. When I lectured about yaoi, she wore a similarly handmade school uniform-like outfit. And the Japanese she spoke was the language of Japanese modern literature, so to speak, extremely proper Japanese. She spoke so beautifully that I said to her, “It’s wonderful,” to which she replied, “I’m embarrassed.” “I actually want to sound like young girls in Harajuku. But this is the most I’ve been able to manage in school.” When I asked her, “Why do you like Japan so much?” she said, “Because it’s beautiful,” which startled me and made me wonder, “Huh? The beautiful land of Japan, eh.”

Skip to 8 minutes and 40 seconds (Laugh) By “beautiful,” she did not mean artistically beautiful. What left an impression on me was that she was using the term to connote how Japan represents a certain sort of freedom, plus, at the same time, it constantly provides novel things, materials, that confer certain ideals in terms of her and others’ lifestyles, within that freedom. What came to me in that moment was that this was almost identical to how we (Japanese) sci-fi fans in the 1970s, after seeing American science fiction, thought of and fell in love with it as a free and wonderful world of imagination. I suspect that the heroes of sweaty-smelling heroic fantasies would in real life be brutal and not all that attractive.

Skip to 9 minutes and 44 seconds However, in an idealized state, I feel that they are replete with something that wipes away certain vulgarities of reality; it seems current Japanese pop culture similarly provides young people - and those that feel a bit stifled - with the freedom, and the imagination borne of that freedom, that they seek, and, a big part of it may be that some of it is produced in the form of distorted illustrations. That’s why it is not drawn true to life, but in abbreviated fashion.

Skip to 10 minutes and 31 seconds Ohwada: Abstractly.

Skip to 10 minutes and 34 seconds Kotani: That’s right. And it seemed to me that that might be why one is thereby able to symbolically insert into it one’s ideals, freedom, and things one cannot attain in the real world.

Interview: Mari Kotani, Pioneer of Japanese Cosplay - Global Phenomenon

Continued from the video in the previous step, Ms. Kotani talks about why and how the Cosplay cultures has gone global and become a popular phenomenon around the world.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Japanese Subcultures

Keio University