The foreign ministry on Wednesday gave an official welcome to foreign cosplayers, hoping to turn the hobby into a diplomatic tool. Cosplay -- short for "costume play" -- refers to hobbyists who dress as imaginary characters, often from Japanese "manga" cartoons, and act out their fantasies.
The ministry, more used to receiving visiting heads of state than cosplayers, invited two Americans, two French and two Brazilians in full attire. The six are in Japan to attend the World Cosplay Summit, an annual gathering of cosplayers to be held this weekend in Nagoya.
Renee Gloger, a 22-year-old American, donned a blue sheet to play the role of schoolgirl-turned-hero Umi Ryuuzaki from the manga series "Magic Knight Rayearth."
"I have always loved manga and anime. Having the opportunity to come to the country where it was created is like a dream for me," she said alongside fellow cosplayers and Senior Vice Foreign Minister Itsunori Onodera.
"Having this dream come true is a great pleasure. Cosplay is a very important part of my life," she said.
Onodera -- who was dressed in a business suit -- said Japan saw manga and animation as tools to win over foreigners, particularly young people.
"Years ago, business was the main motivation for young foreigners to learn the Japanese language. But nowadays, people learn Japanese because they want to read Japanese manga, play Japanese games and read books on games before they are translated," Onodera said.
Onodera acknowledged he didn't recognize the cartoon characters, but said that Japan is serious about aggressively promoting animation and the culture that it represents overseas.
The country has been trying to use the power of pop culture to raise its clout on the international stage, recently appointing cartoon cat robot Doraemon as an ambassador.
"Japanese culture has spread abroad through animation. As a nation, we support animation and hope to make the best use of it as an important diplomatic tool," Onodera said.
Costume play began among young Japanese animation fans but it's now being touted as a major cultural export by the government.
Manga, the name used for Japanese-style comic books, often combines complex stories with drawing styles that differ from their superhero counterparts overseas, particularly in their emphasis on cuteness. Characters often have big doe eyes and frilly costumes.
New Yorker Sonnya Paz, 21, dyed her hair pink and wore red contact lenses to simulate rabbit-like eyes to play her favorite character, schoolgirl Hikaru in "Magic Knight Rayearth." She said she has been "hooked" on Japanese cartoons and manga since her youth.
"She eats a lot, and she is super energetic," Paz said, clutching a fuzzy stuffed bunny.
The idea of winning over people abroad to Japan through costume play and manga doesn't sound strange to people like Paz.
"I learn more about Japanese culture through animation," she said.© Wire reports