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Welcome to the Cosplay Olympics!

With over thirteen years of history, the World Cosplay Summit is a cosplay-based international exchange event featuring the ultimate competition to decide the world’s best cosplayers, bringing together contestants and fans from all over the planet to the host site in Nagoya.

Cosplay—short for “costume play”—refers to dressing as characters primarily from manga and anime, with a variety of events held not just in Japan but in countries around the world.

The World Cosplay Summit began in 2003, with countries sending the winners of their respective qualifying tournaments to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. The biggest cosplay event on the globe, the Summit is where the world’s top cosplayers are crowned. In 2015, the number of participating countries and regions rose to twenty-eight, and the event is now the ultimate aspirational objective for cosplayers worldwide. And with greater media coverage from many countries, the Summit has come to be known as the cosplayer Olympics. Tokumaru Oguri of the World Cosplay Summit executive committee spoke about the path this event has taken and its current outlook.

A mini-program reporting on the cosplay phenomenon and culture, organized by Oguri, then a producer at a Nagoya television station, inspired the inaugural event. “While we were doing research for the show, we learned that cosplay was enjoying more success overseas than in Japan,” he says, “so we organized a discussion and invited cosplayers from France, Italy and Germany along with Japanese cosplayers. Even if they couldn’t speak each other’s languages, their favorite characters all shared the same names. And that’s all it took. They had a great time. And that was the first World Cosplay Summit.”

When the event and cosplay championships took place at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture, it led to widespread international media coverage from outlets such as Reuters and the Associated Press. As a result, many inquiries came from various countries through their embassies, with some expressing a desire to join in. Thanks to this momentum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism began lending their support in 2006, and in 2009 the event gained the backing of the city of Nagoya to establish the executive committee.

Since then the event has vastly expanded in scale each year, and as of 2015, a cumulative total of more than 1.96 million people have attended the Summit and its associated events. At the opening ceremonies for the 2015 Summit, held at Laguna Ten Bosch amusement park, representatives from the various countries gathered around as the ship Thousand Sunny (from the popular manga and anime One Piece) floated in the bay, and conducted a tape-cutting ceremony. Participants streamed this event in real time via social networking services worldwide, sharing their excitement and passion with an even larger global audience.

Another development was the inauguration of the WCS Omotenashi Student Executive Committee in 2013, which consisted mainly of Japanese students and paired up Summit participants with student volunteers (omotenashi refers to the Japanese spirit of hospitality). For the duration of the event, the volunteers provided extensive support—from assistance with cosplaying to translation—with the Summit serving as an opportunity for promoting cultural exchange and creating deep bonds of friendship.

“Over the period of about a year, qualifying trials are held in 15 cities in Russia and 26 provinces in China, and cosplayers from all over Europe gather at the Japan Expo in France,” Oguri says, explaining the flourishing overseas cosplay boom. “Japanese anime and manga are very high quality, and they feature characters that are easy to identify with. And with the advent of the Internet, it’s become easier to access such works. I think this is what served as the foundation for the worldwide cosplay boom. There are tens of thousands of events, both online and offline, where people can come together. Cosplay can be a tool—and one unlike any other—for cultural exchange.”

The World Cosplay Summit has several goals in mind. One is to reduce the number of countries that have indicated interest in participating but haven’t yet been able to do so—currently over thirty—to zero by the year 2020. There are also plans to contribute to the revitalization and creativity of Japan’s regions by sending the majority of overseas cosplayers to regional cities and holding the final qualifying rounds for the World Cosplay Summit within Japan’s borders. Cosplaying has become a common global language, and it continues to generate powerful connectivity and energy to the world.