Dare to Dress Up: A Day with Cosplayer Ren Tachibana

Alright guys. It's October. And you know what that means. It's time to talk about costumes!

One of the very best experiences I had while I was in Japan this summer was meeting up with an unbelievable cosplayer who goes by the name Ren Tachibana. When she agreed to meet me in Shinjuku, I was actually half surprised since I only knew her through Twitter. Meeting online in Japan isn't as common as it is over here, but she said she was excited to share her interest in geeky things with someone from outside of Japan. (You can visit this site to check out more of her work.)

The first thing that I noticed about Ren was how thoughtful she was. As my boyfriend put it, "She's a perfect gentleman...gentlewoman." Always holding doors for people, secretly picking up the tab at lunch, buying an extra umbrella for us when we were ill-prepared for the downpour--the list goes on. Not only that, but I was also impressed by the interesting array of things she was doing with her life: designing and hand-sewing incredible costumes, modeling and attending cons, editing for a gamer magazine and working as an aesthetician. In a former life she was even the illustrator's assistant for the famous manga Knights of Sidonia. Phew! I'm telling you, this girl was cool.

Now I can't say that I personally have a lot of experience doing cosplay, but I've always loved dressing up. As a nature enthusiast, I made up all kinds of crazy Halloween costumes as a kid including an aspen tree, a cumulus cloud and a rose garden! Later I eventually got into more character-based ones, such as the Link costume which I actually wore to a formal university lecture on Halloween day.

Anyway, instead of just talking about cosplay Ren decided to take me to one of Tokyo's most famous costume department stores and to show me the insane array of materials available. Seriously, there was a different floor devoted to almost every category you can think of. Contacts, lashes, wigs, makeup, material, buttons, clasps, patterns, everything. Here I am getting my education:

I know you can get all this stuff online, but it was amazing to see it all collected in one place, and it was cool to see materials that were geared toward cosplay specifically. Pink isn't my favourite colour, but I honestly couldn't resist this wig. Of course I could barely get the damn thing on, but luckily Ren was an expert! 

I would have to say that after spending the day together, it was almost impossible not to get interested in trying out cosplay. Everyone on the planet likes a character of some kind. 

About two days later, we met up again and this time she actually brought several of her costumes. We're not talking cheap, made-on-the-assembly-line stuff: we're talking high-quality, custom-fit pieces made with beautiful materials. I always wondered where people bought costumes of more obscure characters, but according to Ren that's where the real artistry and devotion comes in. She makes every last detail of each costume herself. I was especially curious about the armor, so she brought in this piece:

...and here I am looking significantly more hilarious in the same outfit:

I was lucky enough to get a private mini tutorial on how it's made. Would you guess that it's light as a feather? Here are a couple shots from our makeshift karaoke booth studio!

I have a wonderful interview with Ren that I'm looking forward to sharing with you (though we did it in Japanese, so it'll take a little time before the subs are ready). 

For something that some people consider childish, I think they would be amazed at the craftsmanship and love that goes into this art. Costumes of all sorts are worn in cultures around the world and there's something about them that's powerful and playful at the same time. That's something which Ren embodies beautifully.