Monday, April 28, 2008

Alternate Forms of Gender Illusionment - The Japanese

I discovered this while looking for different makeup techniques. Specifically appliances such as foam latex and silicone for making the face more feminine. I found a site where men use latex masks to look more feminine. The main website for this is called Maskon. I may do a post about that another time. From there I found a link to a Japanese site called Doll House. This Japanese site is not easy to navigate, but this was my first introduction to some of these different forms of gender expression.

First of all let me state that I'm not an expert on Japanese culture. Nor have I traveled to Japan. So what I have gathered here is information I have gleaned from books, the Internet, and other people on message boards. But most recently I've talked to a fellow blogger Silphy. She has tied a lot of loose ends as it were and given me insight as to the inspiration for these forms of expression. Thank you Silphy!

I was going to talk about four different types of Japanese Gender Illusionment: Kigurumi (着ぐるみ), Cosplay (コスプレ), Zentai (ゼンタイ), and Visual Kei (ヴィジュアル系). I was not going to talk about Kabuki (歌舞伎) even though this may be an underlying source of these other four. The reason: even though there was a time that only women performed both roles in Kubki theater and then all men, this seems to correspond to European theater in Shakespeare's time. And, the most characteristic point of Kabuki is the stylized performances, not what gender plays what role. Also, Kabuki formed in a time when homosexuality was considered elegant in Japan. I'm told it is called Shudō. It is considered different than being a modern gay person in the West. I did not want to address sexual orientation within this post. This is going to be hard enough as it is.

But I'm going to tackle Kigurumi and Cosplay only in this post as they relate to the Japanese fandom of Manga and Anime.

Kigurumi in the context of this post is the portrayal of female Manga and/or Anime characters with the use of large costume heads, and elaborate costumes by male participants. Manga would correspond to our comic books, and Anime to our cartoons or animation. Now having said that, Manga and Anime have there own style of drawing and stories. You have to see the variety and diversity of the materials to understand how broad the subjects are. The one Anime you may be familiar with is Pokémon or maybe Sailor Moon, but this is a small portion of the thousands of Manga titles. The Japanese of all ages are crazy for Manga and Anime, so much so they call a person so involved Otaku or an obsessed fan. There is nothing in America to compare this obsession to, maybe pro football is the closest and even then, I don't think so. Otaku watch many different Anime shows on TV, read Manga, go to conventions and festivals that are huge. They collect figurines, pictures and posters of their favorite Anime characters. As an extension of this whole obsession, there are those that dress like their favorite Anime characters. While dressed they do role play, they go to conventions and have their pictures taken at locations around Japan where their character might be from, a sort of pilgrimage

Here's a picture from Silphy's Blog

Photo provided by Tsukino-Tsubasa:

Silphy is the second from the right, her character is Misuzu.

Kigurumi can also mean animal or what we call mascot costumes. Think Goofy and Mikey Mouse at Disney World. Or, they may dress in a Gundam type robot costumes, again think Transformers. From what I gather, the majority of Japanese associate Kigurumi with these types of costumes. So the Kigurumi that I'm talking about could be considered a sub-culture, though it is more related to the Manga/Animie scene. Like any of this stuff, it doesn't always translate well.

Cosplay which is derived from "Costume Play" is also Manga/Anime driven. It is dressing as your favorite character, except without the mask. They are going for a more realistic look. Women and girls are most attracted to this in Japan because they can easily portray both male and female characters. In my opinion, as to why they can do this more easily, is that a lot of the male characters in Manga/Anime are more androgynous than the male he-man type comic book characters here in America, such as X-men or Superman. Some males do participate in Cosplay and portray female roles, but this is not the majority. Sometimes this is called Crossplay a form of Cosplay. And again, there are female Kigurumi players, but they are in the minority.

Here's a picture of two cosplayers titled "Chii and Dark Chii"

Kigurumi attracts male participants (like Silphy by the way) because they have a harder time portraying the female characters due to (again my opinion) the female Manga characters are extremely feminine and/or young girls. It is a lot easier to use a mask and wig, and spend your time getting the female mannerisms right than to fight your biology.

Silphy told me that the history of Kigurumi started with Manga, moving to Anime, then figurines then Kigurumi. Silphy says:
But today, kigurumi (also figure, otaku related cultures) come from different sources: novel(Suzumiya-Haruhi), game(Kanon), DTM(Hatsune-Miku), or anime without original manga(Evangelion).

I'm a big fan of these different expressions of femininity. I'm amazed at the inventiveness of the Japanese, and surprised it hasn't caught on as much here in the states. The younger generation is more in tune with these things, and it maybe more prevalent in the future.


Silphy & Misuzu said...

I read your entry with much interest. There are increasing number of Kigurumi in US and Europe, I hope the community will grow around the world!

Max said...

I saw a video on YouTube where someone wore a Kigurumi Jessica Rabbit costume. I thought it was amazing and wanted to know more. Thanks to your blog post, I've learned a lot. You ROCK!