Harajuku Cosplayers

Mike Grist Japan, Manga / Anime / Cosplay 29 Comments

At the meeting point of the painfully fashionable Omotesando street and the city-looping Yamanote train line, triangulated between Harajuku`s ultra-hip boutique fashion zone Takeshita street, the soaring lines of Kenzo Tange`s 1964 Olympic Gymnasium, and the giant red tori gate at the entrance to the 88 year old Meiji Jingu shrine, you`ll find the Harajuku cosplayers.

`Cosplay` is a Japanese popularization of a common concept: costume play. In other cultures such dressing-up has traditionally been reserved for Halloween parties, college toga parties, and masque balls. In Japan, cosplay is perennial- on the bridge outside Meiji Jingu they can be found ever Sunday come rain or shine.

Cosplay fashion has evolved over the past 10 years or so: when I first arrived in Japan over 5 years ago, `gyaru` or `yomamba` fashion was still popular- a range of bizarre and fetishized takes on a blank canvas of an ultra-dark tan, bleached hair, and intense black and white face-paint, as popularized by J-pop idol Namie Amuro in the 90`s. This style evolved through chic, gothic lolita, hawaiian, and many other permutations. Some of them looked elaborately beautiful, like the voodoo `Calypso` from Pirates of the Caribbean, while others were just the opposite, bordering on the disturbing.

Now gyaru (`girl`) fashion has morphed and been absorbed by the cosplayers, aficionados who dress up in the raiment of their favorite manga or anime character, with a fair mix of nose-bandaged mummies, goth loli`s, and hold-over vampiric gyarus.

On web pages and in common concensus, these creative dressers are often derided as ugly, pathetic, sad, or just plain ridiculous, dubbed victims of a Japanese kind of group-think and inability to individualize- such that their efforts to stand out and be different see them only taking on well-established and much-aped personas. Their colored contact lenses, lines of blood, studs, gems, and other bizarre accoutrements are judged and dismissed as only contrivances, as other ways to conform, as impediments to `true beauty`.

I don`t hold with those beliefs though. I look at how the cosplayers express themselves, how they creatively re-interpret their chosen mold, how they display themselves at once as their self and as their art, and I think- wow: that’s art, that’s empowered, and more often than not that’s downright beautiful.

I’m a sucker for this kind of contact lens- they really draw me in.

Beautiful eyes- before donning cosplay gear.


Young Goth-Lolita waiting for something.


Awesome dude who posed for me.

Glamorous gyaru, very soft image

One of a noisy gang of red bunnies.


Japanese/California vampire.

Awesome mummy.

Clean jazz style.


Goth- the only person there to be showing a little skin (midriff)- she must’ve been freezing.

Eyes, again.

Ubiquitous nose-bandage, I don’t know what the meaning of this is, probably an anime character.

Cheery panda girl, asking for her photo to be taken. That seems to be the natural outgrowth of the hobby- dress up, then get shots of yourself with the other cosplayers. Thus- some hobbyists pose for tourist’s cameras, while others turn their backs or hide their faces.




Makes me think of Final Fantasy.

The emcee.

As you may imagine, I did a fair bit of cropping on these photos. I’ve never really tried that before, but with some advice from other photographer friends I’m beginning to see the value- especially in a crowded place like Harajuku where you can’t control either the background or foreground. Very few of these cosplayers were posing for me, and there was a constant stream of people moving all around. I felt like a sniper- which was pretty cool.


You can see all MJG’s Tokyo content here:

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Comments 29

  1. As always, really interesting article with a tempered tone. Not praising the cosplayers but not beating them down neither.

    I consider it fun if you do cosplay to have a good time with friends or just go a bit crazy; but really sad if you think it’s the reality or if you are a fashion victim thinking that you are wonderfully dressed.

    The jazzy girl is in my honest opinion really classy.

    As for the guy with the nose thing, I think it’s related to a J-Pop artist. Gackt or anotherone.
    Here, take a look at this one:

    Looks like it’s a band named Gazette.

  2. The nose bandage is Gazette. I made the mistake of saying it was Gackt once, and got chewed out. I guess there is some sort of Gackt vs. Gazetta thing. I haven’t picked my side yet-

  3. Great photos and interesting angles! The pink princesses, couldn’t work on it as they were too shy, shame. I’ll definitely pose if I do cosplay. I can try it next time maybe? Good job anyway!

  4. I think this set of photos is an improvement over earlier street photography shots I saw of yours before. Some photographers like to crop, others are against it. I think as long as you are not doing photo journalist work for a newspaper or magazine, then cropping is ok.

    “Contemplative” is the best shot to me.

  5. Lovely photos Michael! I’m liking ‘Beautiful Eyes’ and ‘Awesome Dude’ ^^

    IMO cropping is fine. Can’t always get close enough to get good portraits!

  6. Wow. Great photos. Harajuku on the weekend is one of those things I kept meaning to see in Tokyo, but my schedule never jived. That blurry dude in the background of the goth-lolita one just makes the picture perfect. Ominous or Blakesian or something.

  7. People like these make life interesting. It is the same in LA also. If everyone looked and acted the same, life would be boring. When people have so many different beliefs and personalities like these coplayers, life is more interesting. Even if you think they are weird, we should be glad there are unique people like these.

  8. I would just note that most if not all photographers crop to some extent, even the famous ones like Ansel Adams, Paul Strand, etc. Usually the cropping is done by either the framing itself (ok, maybe splitting hairs here and you mean cropping AFTER taking a photo) or, more frequently, when enlarging. I never processed a negative of my own that I did not crop. In fact, you could use the enlarger to crop or use a frame that you could adjust the sides to get the image you want.

  9. Great shot of a unique place full of very interesting people.
    Whenever I see this I can’t help but wonder if these kids dress up at home and take the train 2 hours into town or change into their garb somewhere upon arrival. If the former, its really gotta freak out the neighbors in suburbia. I guess the ones that hide their faces are changing somewhere once they get to Harajuku.

  10. Kevin, many of these people pull little suitcases with them containing their costumes and change in bathrooms, etc in the train station or near their final destinations. However, some in Little-Bo-Peep dresses and stuff like that do wander around other areas of the city a bit. I’ve never seen anyone with gauz over their nose though, so that must be done all in Harajuku only.

  11. Post

    Jean Rob- Thanks for your comment, and seems we’re of the same mind about this sort of thing- it’s a cool hobby, and can be beautiful. As for the Gazette/Gackt thing, good info- thanks.

    Brian- Good call, thanks for the info.

    SY- Thanks- can’t wait to see your shots. Those pink girls- strange to dress in such an attention-getting way, then avoid atention. As for cosplay, definitely, let’s get into it! I could join too- if I get to wear Rockabilly stuff, or even like the grey awesome guy- yeah, I’m game. Maybe expensive though- but cool.

    Jason- Cheers, and the cropping on these photos is basically down to your suggestion to do so (alongside Geoff and Mike of course). ‘Fill the frame!’ and ‘rule of thirds!’ were ringing round my head as I made the cuts.

    Jay- Thanks, and yeah in real life her eyes were very arresting.

    Mike- Cheers- when ‘beautiful eyes’ looked right into my lens I think my heart skipped a beat, especially cos she continued to gaze for a few seconds. Wow.

    Glenn- Cheers, and me too, though I’ve seen them before, I’ve been meaning to photograph them for years. Glad to finally get there, with a good enough camera to get some interesting shots.

    Reesan- Thanks, and thirded- that guy in the back makes the image- again inspired from Jason and Geoff’s advice.

    Tornadoes- Exactly right- evolution through diversity!

    Flaffer- Thanks, you tuned in well to my concerns about cropping photos- seemed like almost too much post-production to me, but can for sure see the value. And if Ansel Adams does it, hey, all OK!

    Kevin- Thanks, and like Jason says, you often see them toting little rolly suitcases. Along the bridge’s walls all their suitcases were sitting in a row.

    Jason- I’ve seen the maid types around the city too- rarely the manga or anime types though.

  12. Wow, that pic of the first lolita ‘waiting for something’ with that male figure in the background is powerful!!! Amazing. You really do bring Japan to life. THis is just so different from what I saw. So interesting x

  13. We like reviewing Harajuku street fashion photos. We do it almost daily. The street photos give us an idea on what people are putting on in their everyday life, and everybody knows Harajuku styles are followed by many people in Asia and around the world. There are gaps between street and runway fashion, and between Asian and Western tastes. Those street fashion photos are making our reference when we are stocking for our clothes inventory.

  14. i really like those photos, but i must correct you on something, they cosplay band members not anime or manga characters, most of the photos you have up there are cosplay from the band Gazette, and how you said its the same thing over and over again, not because they cant be original, but because cosplay is about trying to look as accurate as you can like the person you went for, many of them cosplay the same guy therefore they all look alike. For example: the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 11th, and the last are cosplay of the same person + the 1st and 11th are cosplay of the same costume, I’m sorry if this sounded like a rant :C

  15. Well… most of the girls are cosplaying the GazettE-Member,
    this is a Visual Kei-Band in Japan..
    Mostly they look like RUki and Reita.. ^.~

    Nice pictures anywhere… baibai

  16. ah~ a lot of The GazettE cospayers
    That’s my favorite band and Ruki the lead singer is a real style icon~
    pic 1,2,4,11,20 are all Rukis
    His read suit used in the video of COCKROACH is veeery popular
    the real Ruki-san

    as also the white one used in TAION video
    Reita is the nose-band dude also from The GazettE
    The ones in lip-ring seems to have cosplayed Aoi the guitarist from the same band

  17. yeah, a lot of the cosplayers are imitating band members from The GazettE, which is actually a really awesome band. There was also Kirito from Pierrot, another great band. I wish we had more of that in the States 🙂

  18. The nose bandage is Reita from the GazettE and the contact comments were pics of other members of that band.

    Thank You putting these up. I enjoyed looking through them 🙂

  19. Most ridiculous Harajuku analysis I’ve EVER seen.
    Learn to do research before giving people the wrong image about people who make real effort in their outfits and looks in Harajuku/Japan and learn about the differences and evolution of the various SUBCULTURES in stead of just putting them together as “some/any kind of cosplay”.

  20. most of them are cosplaying ruki from the gazettE, and the one you called gyaru is a j-rocker. gyaru is a very girlish style. please learn the facts before you write your own assumptions. And also the 6. picture where you thought the girl is lolita, it isn’t, it’s decora.

  21. FYI, Lolita isn’t cosplay. Though very different from most everyday wear, it is viewed as an everyday wear option not as a costume by the wearers.

    One can still be shy but like a fashion enough to dress up in it even if it attracts attention. *raises hand* Not an easy thing to do but worth it 😀

    Most of the Harajuku pictures I’ve seen (if not all of them) only have people who cosplay band members or follow a Japanese fashion trend. I think I may have only seen anime/manga cosplay once. Maybe

  22. War-paint.: ruki’s [the gazette] cosplayer. you can see the costume on gentle lie live concert video on youtube :DD
    Lolita.: no, it’s decora style
    Japanese/California vampire.: i think she’s cosplaying uruha [the gazette] in regret pv version
    Awesome mummy.: it’s ruki’s [the gazette] cosplayer in taion pv
    Goth- the only person there to be showing a little skin (midriff)- she must’ve been freezing.: no, it’s not goth. he/she is cosplaying aoi [the gazette] in -if i’m not mistaken- cassis photoshot costume
    Eyes, again.: it’s aoi’s [the gazette] cosplayer ^^ look at the lip piercing :DDD
    Ubiquitous nose-bandage, I don’t know what the meaning of this is, probably an anime character.: it’s reita’s [the gazette] cosplayer ^^
    Makes me think of Final Fantasy.: it’s uruha’s [the gazette] cosplayer in regret pv.
    The emcee.: it’s ruki’s [the gazette] cosplayer in cockroach pv…

    i envy you because you can took photos with the cosplayers.. ><d

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