I'm sure cosplay has a deep and long history. It's hard to pinpoint where it all started, since getting in costume can be pointed to many different cultures from the American tradition of dressing up for Halloween, countries with plays and masquerades, even in Japan costume history can go back to the entertainers before the Edo period in Kyoto with Geisha, along with other performerances like Kabuki and Noh Theater.
One thing for sure though, costume culture has spread and been shared between countries. Halloween has become wildly popular in Tokyo, possibly crazier than where it originated, filling the streets of Shibuya and popular parts of the city with crowds of costume-wearers like never before. While in America children customarily dress up to go trick or treating on Halloween, Japan really doesn't follow those traditions,allowing them to make Halloween a giant costume party on the streets. Cosplay has spread across the globe with cosplay culture being represented by people of all countries.
It was in my high school days when I first learned about "cosplay," the combined word of costume and role-play. In America I generally saw cosplay at anime conventions and it's mostly the same in Japan. You generally can find cosplayers at conventions in Japan revolving around anime or games, like Anime Japan, or specific cosplay events and competitions like the World Cosplay Summit.
Events like this are huge, people who enjoy subculture like myself travel far to attend these exciting events. The competitions have participants from all over the world, showing off their costume, and even being one with their character as they perform on stage.
My first cosplay experience was surprisingly when I went to my first anime convention. I was really excited to attend, so I got very into creating my own costume. I could have just attended the convention as a normal attendee, but after finding out about wearing costumes at these events I really wanted to try it for myself. For my first costume I went with a modern Megaman costume allowing me to use more crafty materials rather than needing to sew much (something I'm not very adept at). Admittedly it wasn't that great since I've never made one before, and wearing the costume for the first time was also a little embarrassing. But I remember to this day the many compliments people gave me, commenting on creativity. After that I tried a few more times with characters from anime and games I liked at the time like Fullmetal Alchemist, Code Geass, and Pokemon. For people who aren't as crafty, buying a entire costume for cosplay is also very popular. Whether you enjoy creating a costume or wearing it, cosplaying is a broad and accessible hobby to many people.
The more I got into cosplay the more I learned how big the community is. Meeting other cosplayers through friends and events, I learned about things like cosplay business cards regular cosplayers have along with popular cosplay websites where they like to post and shared their new costume photos and share about any upcoming projects. You can make new friends and learn a lot of tips and tricks for making costumes among the community.
Granted, getting into cosplay in Japan took me a while. My cosplay costumes evolved from unskillfully crafted outfits to using more fancy techniques like utilizing wigs and color contacts. Still, the quality of cosplay in Japan is very high and it did feel a little intimidating since I don't think I can match that quality as a casual cosplayer. On top of that overcoming a language barrier also made getting into the community much more difficult. It wasn't until a friend of mine invited me to join them in cosplaying that I actually did my first costume in Japan.
Overall, cosplay was born out of passion and dreams. While that might sound exaggerated, to many people creating and getting in costume to resemble the characters they love is a big way of expression. To others, cosplay is a dream, a way to truly express themselves by becoming one with a character they relate to. Japan in particular is a country where group mentality is stressed over individuality, and many people are shy and unable to express their individuality in normal society. Finding a place to be able to do so is very important, and the world of cosplay is one place where people find solace in self expression.
In the end, cosplay is less about competition and more about having fun and showing how much you like a character. It's great to see cosplay being accepted in normal society in recent days, with places where anyone can cosplay increasing.You can enjoy cosplay for a short amount of time at places like cosplay studios, karaoke places that have a selection of costumes, or even "purikura booths" that let you borrow costumes to take the pictures. At some anime conventions, special booths even let you rent costumes for the event, so you can experience what it's like to be a cosplayer at a big event without any preparation beforehand! If you end up with any of these opportunities, why not try it out? You'll most likely have a fun time and end up with some cool photos to remind you of the occasion!
*This information is from the time of this article's publication.