An open letter to cosplayers at Obon who don’t seem to know what cultural appropriation is

Subject: An open letter to cosplayers at Obon who don’t seem to know what cultural appropriation is
From: Jenna Yokoyama
Date: 4 Aug 2014

Okay, it’s time for it to be said. For the last 30 years of my life I have attended different japanese buddhist temples’ Obon Festival (a japanese religious festival where we honor our ancestors and traditions) and have noticed a disturbing trend over the last few years.

For the first time in many years, I attended obon festival and DID NOT see cosplayers. I was so relieved to not see them, which really got me thinking about how much it bothers me when I see them. Maybe other Japanese people like seeing people dressed up as fictional Ninja Scroll characters at their traditional holidays, but I am just annoyed by it. In a time where I still get exoticized, fetishized, orientalized on a regular basis without even trying, I am not ready to see one of the few chances I have to connect with with my community, which has already gone through a diaspora in this country due to said exoticism, reduced down to a costume contest.

The japanese-american people at obon are not "wearing costumes." We are honoring a tradition that goes back hundreds of years, not dressing up as fictional anime characters that are CARTOONS. My kimono is not a “costume,” it was a gift from my aunt in Japan. My kimono is not a costume, it is real clothing. I could wear my kimono to a funeral or a wedding, because it is appropriate to do so. Would you where your Freeza costume to a wedding? to a funeral? Please note that in Japan cosplayers would not where their costumes to Obon when they celebrate in in their hometowns in Japan, because it is considered inappropriate to do so. Maybe others will disagree with my opinion, but I ask for y’all to please respect that fact that we are celebrating a real holiday, that for many is deeply personal due to the fact that all of us are there to celebrate the lives of those who have passed in our lives.

Would anyone find it appropriate if I showed up to a Memorial Day celebration by dressing up as Batman? as Micky Mouse? These are American cartoons, so logically I should dress up as them at events that celebrate the lives of deceased Americans? If you are one of those cosplayers who dressed up as Goku at obon, know that many people were laughing at you, or disappointed in your lack of respect for our traditions. People I have spoken with about cosplayers at obon find it to be a upsetting trend. Please please please, think before you cosplay. If you want to show off your sexy Sailor Moon costume, go to comic-con or the cosplay parade in San Francisco. There is a time and place for the celebration of fictional/fanatasy play, and a REAL holiday celebration where I remember the lives of my grandparents is not one of them.

We are more than anime. We are more than ninjas. We are more than Hello Kitty. We are real people with real traditions. Please have respect.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am not anti-cosplay, I’m just anti-cosplay at my religious festival. I invite anyone to come celebrate with us and discover the Japanese-American community that has a long history in this country.

Okay, done ranting. Thank you for reading.