STORY BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
The traditional Japanese celebration of spring returns to Philadelphia with the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival.
The festival runs now through April 17 and will feature events in Center City, Old City, the Main Line and more.
Presented by the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia, not only does the festival celebrate time-honored elements of Japanese culture, such as martial arts, kimonos, sushi, origami, calligraphy, music and dance, but also the colorful contemporary pastimes like anime and cosplay.
Just like karaoke, cosplay — or costume play, the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, video game, etc. and sometimes role-playing — originated in Japan, and has caught on in the U.S. For proof, try an image search on any American comic con.
Cosplay will be highlighted during the festival’s biggest event, Sakura Sunday, from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 17 at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center. Specifically, you’ll find it in at the “Little Akiba” area, which is inspired by the trends of Akihabara, Tokyo’s center for all things otaku (meaning “ardent, passionate fan”). A Cosplay Fashion Show will feature intricate recreations of popular characters from manga (Japanese comic books) and anime.
“Everybody cosplays for a different reason. I think it’s a great way to express yourself. It’s an expensive hobby, but a great hobby. It’s ultimately something I could never give up,” said Leigh Parrott, an Abington resident majoring in Asian studies at Dickinson College in Carlisle. Cosplaying since she was 14 years old, she’s a fan of the manga series “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure” and the Japanese webcomic “One-Punch Man.”
“One of the characters (in “JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure”), Hot Pants, she wears these hot pink clothes,” Parrott said of one character she’s partial to cosplaying.
“There’s cosplayers all over the place,” she said, mentioning that she has many friends in Connecticut that she first met in an online cosplay enthusiast group.
And there’s no denying the creativity of cosplayers. “They’re making armor out of craft foam and (recreating from anime and manga) these impossible hairstyles that no human could have,” said Lancaster resident Ashley McCague, who will be attending Sakura Sunday for the first time this year.
McCague, a fan of the American animated web series “RWBY” and cosplaying as video game characters, went as far as saying that cosplay teaches valuable skills, such as event/project planning and social media marketing. “It was cosplay that taught me how to sew,” she said.
Parrott observed that not only has cosplay found a niche in America, but in some ways it’s better here than in Japan. “The culture is different between Japan and the United States. Cosplay in Japan feels a lot more controlled — you don’t see people cosplaying in the streets,” she said.
Admission to Sakura Sunday is $10, free to children 12 and under. The horticulture center is in West Fairmount Park at Montgomery Drive and Belmont Avenue, Philadelphia. Parking is available at the Mann Center for $10 (includes a complimentary parking shuttle). A round-trip shuttle bus to the event from 30th Street Station is also available for $5. SEPTA bus routes 38 and 43 both stop near the event.
Program changes can be viewed up-to-the-minute at http://subarucherryblossom.org/sakurasunday and additional event information is available by calling (267) 348-0250.
More cosplay fun
It’s not part of the Subaru Cherry Blossom Festival, but sounds entertaining. A family-friendly “Cosplay Cabaret” variety show at 3 p.m. April 17 at the Rotunda, 4014 Walnut St., Philadelphia, features mentalist Joe Riggs as Sherlock Holmes, Shoshanna Hill of Sidetracked as the Tardis, A. Das Baron as The Joker, Anastasia Bischak as Jessie the Yodeling Cowgirl, Michael Broussard as the Third Doctor, and comedian Craig Liggeons. Tickets are $15, free for children under 2. Go to www.fiveminutefollies.com or call (800) 838-3006.